Ask your grandma about vampires and she’ll say with a shiver ‘ooh, I can still see those twin penlights on Bela Lugosi’s eyes. How evil he was.’ Ask your 14 year old niece and she’ll say with a shiver ‘ooh, I can still see Edwards dark, brooding eyes across that crowded cafeteria. How beautiful he was.’
It’s proof of the vampire’s enduring legend that it can speak to fans across not just the ages but the genre spectrum. The humble bloodsucker’s been the subject of comedy (”Love at First Bite”), political comment about peak oil (”Daybreakers”), soft porn (”Vampyros Lesbos”) and, yes, teenagers in love. The Dracula myth is 110 years old and going strong because it’s simply so easy to apply to just about any cinema motif we care to imagine. Here’s our pick of just a few of the strongest from recent times.
1. David (Kiefer Sutherland), Lost Boys – 1987
The tagline said it all – ‘sleep all day, party all night’. Vampirism was an endless adolescence where you were responsible to nobody and nothing except the pursuit of a good time. There were no parents to tell you what to do, just your buddies, your best girl (Jami Gertz) and the ruins of a whole abandoned hotel to live in. No wonder the lifestyle was so tempting to Michael (Jason Patric), with only his younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) acting as his conscience.
2. Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and new friends, Near Dark – 1987
In Kathryn Bigelow’s road movie, a family of roving vampires echo the posse of evil brothers of western legend, crisscrossing the hick bars and dustbowl towns of the Midwest terrorising the good-natured country folk and enjoying the easy pickings for food. When farm boy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) makes a pass at sweet, all American gal Mae (Jenny Wright), she instead turns him into a vampire like her, giving him little choice but to run with her band of merry men creating havoc.
3. Danny Glick (Brad Savage), Salem’s Lot – 1979
Stephen King made much of the ‘corruption of the young’ metaphor in his groundbreaking novel, but director Tobe Hooper encapsulated the terror of monster children in a single scene that’s still enough to chill your blood. When young Danny Glick is bitten by one of head vamp Barlow’s minions he’s put in an early grave, only to show up at his brother’s window a few nights later. If that’s not unusual enough, it’s the window of a second storey room, Danny’s wearing his little burial suit and his face has the white pallor of death. We still can’t figure out how little Ralphie (Ronnie Scribner) didn’t soil himself when Danny started scratching at the window whispering ‘let me in, Ralphie’.
4. Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt), Interview With the Vampire – 1994
Author Anne Rice dispensed with much of the gimmicky trappings of the mythology. As Louis explains to his interviewer Daniel (Christian Slater), garlic doesn’t bother him and he quite likes crucifixes. But the hell of eternal vampire undeath is the guilt. Louis not only lives with the knowledge of how many innocents he’s murdered because of his never-ending thirst, he knows his former mentor and friend Lestat (Tom Cruise) has killed many more, and done so gleefully. Director Neil Jordan turns the myth on its head and shows us how it really feels to live forever.
5. Max Schrek (Willem Dafoe), Shadow of the Vampire – 2000
It’s the early 1920s and German expressionist director F W Murnau is predating Universal and Lugosi by ten years to film the first serious major adaptation of Bram Stoker’s seminal work. Problem is, star Max is taking it far too seriously, staying in character as a hissing, ratlike ghoul and making the rest of the cast nervous. Or has Murnau actually unearthed a real vampire, promising fresh blood if he’ll behave long enough to play the part of Count Orlock? Part historical document, part satire on going method for your work.
6. Blade (Wesley Snipes), Blade – 1998, 2002, 2004
Though Guillermo Del Toro’s second part was by far the best, this was the first large pairing of the vampire myth with what was essentially an action movie plot. But something else makes it even more interesting. A ready-made antagonist throughout history, Blade is one of the rare vampire heroes (unless you count Peta Wilson as Mina Harker in 2003s dreadful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but let’s not). Though only half vampire, his human side’s won out and his mission is to put his considerable skills in martial arts, swordplay and ready quips to work ridding the world of the undead.
7. Marlow (Danny Huston) and family, 30 Days of Night – 2007
Bram Stoker was in no doubt his titanic literary figure was a monster, but Hollywood marketing has long preferred the suave, handsome rebel who made women go weak at the knees, a heritage that’s led directly from Bela Lugosi’s black cape and stick pin to Edward Cullen’s coiffed locks and downcast emo eyes.
Director David Slade (bizarrely, he went on to the ”Twilight” franchise) stuck close to Ben Templesmith’s dissertation of the other half of the vampire myth – the motley band that descend on Barrow, Alaska are ugly, violent predators, part bald rat, part mad dog. No glasses of suspicious looking red wine or platitudes about children of the night – these guys hack and slash with claws and teeth, leaving a scene like ”The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” in their wake.
8. Eli (Lina Leandersson), Let The Right One In, 2008
We’ve had vampire kids before, but Tomas Alfredson’s lyrical, beautiful hit explored the essential loneliness in the life of a vampire, especially one who’s been 12 years old for ‘quite awhile’. Undergrown outcast Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) has few friends among the bullies at his school, so he gravitates towards the young girl in the flat next door, even if she’s always cold and smells funny.
Eli is just as happy to have someone to latch onto in what can be termed her life, and it isn’t long before Oskar finds he made the right choice. When the bullies accost him at the public pool, Eli comes to rescue not by kicking the bullies’ arses but detaching their heads and arms.
9. Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966)
Over half a century on from the birth of cinema and the well of ideas still hadn’t nearly run dry of ideas. The next logical progression, then, was to mix the Victorian gothic of the classical vampire backdrop with other genres – in this case, the dusty pioneering spirit of the Old West. It opened the floodgates for such pre-YouTube mash-ups as 1972’s Blacula (blaxploitation), 1979’s Love at First Bite (comedy) and 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a like, OMG, teen drama).
10. The Last Man on Earth (1964)
If you saw 2007’s I Am Legend or even 1971’s The Omega Man you’ll known both Francis Lawrence’s CGI crazies and Boris Sagal’s grandmaster funk druids were modelled on vampires in Richard Matheson’s novel. The original outing of Matheson’s work was done ultra-cheap and looks like it’s from the 1930s, but it was the first time the movies looked at vampires as a science fiction concept, paving the way for Tobe Hooper’s Life Force (1985) and the as-yet untapped potential of the genre.