Once upon a time, Vampires were soulless children of night with a lust for blood that was equaled only by their lust for sex. A vampire stirred both feelings of fear and the guilty (or not so guilty) contemplation of an eternal life with only two rules: avoid sunlight and avoid sharp wooden objects. Even if you loved the idea of joining the ranks of the living dead, you found you could still root for the humans to defeat the monster.
Then “you know who” came along (although in fairness perhaps it was Anne Rice who struck the first pensive blow) and turned the sub-genre upside down. In fairness to Steph, just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve accolades for creating a turning point. Anyway, vampires were no longer soulless they were simply misunderstood. The good ones gave up their lust for blood and sustained themselves with forest creatures (sort of the vegans of the vamp world and just as judgmental in my opinion). And of course, they loved..but only distraught teen aged girls. Oh and forget that whole sunlight thing, how does one pick up high school jail-bait in night school? Vampires no longer succumbed to their lust because they feared that they might draw a little blood from their beloved. And now after hundreds of years of experience and wisdom they decide to take direction from seventeen year old girls. (I’m 46 and the only information I seek from a 17 year old is the meaning of text acronyms.)
Thankfully there remain a number of movies that support the genre in its bloody, lustful, and decadent form and avoid turning the coolest of all evil beings into the three unfuckables (cute, sweet and nice). Although each takes a slightly different approach these are what I consider to be the best of the vampire movies… of course in no particular order.
1. Dracula – Gary Oldman is already the coolest guy around and did a great job as the Count. (Okay the pronunciation of Dracula felt a little odd). A great retelling of the classic and an all star cast in my opinion. They even managed to make you feel a bit sad for the Count, but without making him a weak child. Keanu Reeve’s character is a better man than me because I would never have left that room with the three vampire brides (I hate mornings anyway). No real moments of terror, but with such a great story it wasn’t really required.
2. Blade – The series had some high moments and some low, but overall it delivered. These were vampires you could truly hate and want to see destroyed (dude who kills a blind woman?). The vampires were exactly what you would expect to see in modern times – hanging out at raves, listening to techno music, wearing a lot leather etc etc. The action scenes were of course great, even if the script sometimes sounded a little corny (It was based on a graphic novel after all). Wesley Snipes was at the height of his action film career and Ryan Reynolds was hilarious in Trinity. The Blade series in one where no matter where I come into it on FX or Spike I’ll watch it through.
3. Underworld – Kate Beckinsale in leather pants. I could probably stop right there, but there were certainly other aspects of the film series I enjoyed. These were more old world and traditional vampires or what I like to call Eastern Euro-Cool and the war against the Lycon sparked much better “Wolf or Vamp” debates then “Edward or Jacob.” Did I mention Kate in leather pants? Hey I’m not the only one infatuated, the director of the film wound up marrying her…which I’m guessing Kate’s first husband wasn’t too fond of and made him wonder exactly “what” they were doing during those long hours of filming. The movie maintained a dark Gothic feel that seemed like eastern Europe, yet we never really knew what decade we were in – and who wouldn’t want to write “Death Dealer” on their resume?
4. 30 Days of Night – I wish I had come up with the idea for this graphic novel turned movie. The creatures in this film were by and far the best human-monster portrayal I have seen in a vampire movie. Their facial features were just shy of human and there was not an ounce of compassion in the borrowed blood. The concept of vampires visiting a place with thirty straight days of darkness was brilliant and if its been done before I am not aware. My biggest criticism is the character development was marginal at best. It made it difficult to connect with them and feel any real sympathy, but I guess with just a hundred minutes you have to choose between the action and the development. In the end I was satisfied with the trade off for all the graphic violence.
5. Van Helsing – Light and comedic? Sure, but it did have Kate Bekinsale in it so I forgive them. Honestly I thought it was a really good story line and Hugh Jackman was a bad ass vampire hunter. I liked the way they brought all the classics together, vampires, vampire brides, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster. Overall a nice blend of elements even if there wasn’t a single scary moment in the entire movie. My favorite bride was the red head if anyone is taking notes.
6. From Dusk till Dawn – Quinton is one of my favorite script writers/producers/directors. Maybe it’s because we’re around the same age and watched the same stuff on television in the 70’s. Maybe it’s because I like dialog to drive the character development, maybe it’s because we’re both Italian. Whatever the reason, the grind-house feel of From Dusk to Dawn ranks as one of my favorite vampire tales. I don’t know if the movie ever really knew what it wanted to be, but it just was so reminiscent of those 70’s movies I had to love it. Sure it was a little goofy, but I’d rather spend a film in a strip club than in a high school.
7. Stakeland – I recently mentioned this one, but it’s worth mentioning again here. I’m not making any promises that anyone will enjoy this film with its almost non-existent script and its choppy story line. As I have said the first five minutes should have set the tone and tempo for the entire film (which it didn’t) but for the opening, and the concept of vampirism as a zombie like virus I think the film deserves some credit (I suggest Redbox or Netflix so you don’t feel robbed). So with that fairly slanted scorecard why put it on the list? Well at least the vampires were scary and deadly and in a sub-genre that has so many bad films, you kind of have to bump up even the semi- decent flixs.
8. The Lost Boys – Come on it was the 80’s and teen horror was all the rage. This was a fun little film and pretty much portrayed teen vampires as one would expect…well at least in the 80’s when we apparently didn’t spend a lot of time writing in diaries. The movie had good cinematography and a decent cast to support a decent script. The movie also highlights a big difference between the 80’s and the ‘10’s – In the 80’s teens were played by 20 somethings who acted like teens. Now teens are played by teens who act like 20 somethings.
There are a ton more Vampire Movies out there in the night. Many who deserve honorable mention such as John Carpenter’s Vampires, King’s Salem’s Lot, The Night Stalker, Near Dark, Life Force and all the Hammer Classics. Of course I am not so much a film reviewer as a genre commentator, so I’ll leave the longer lists to fellow bloggers more dedicated to deeper movie reviews.
What I find most intriguing about the vampire genre is the shift in our feelings towards these blood suckers. Somewhere over the years we stopped being horrified and became envious. The monster became a sympathetic creature who no longer represented a threat to our way of life, but instead offered relief from the confines of our culture. Perhaps it’s because we feel that if the world is going to suck the life out of us anyway, shouldn’t we receive something in return? Maybe we, the individuals, have just grown tired of regulations that dictate our life, arguments over what we should or shouldn’t be allowed, and the constant debate over the “morality” of things that should be left a personal decision. The Vampire world is not without its rules and hierarchy, but the laws of the night certainly seem much simpler at times. And so what if one group needs to suck the blood of others to survive. How different is that from taxation?