Although story told versions of Demons and the Undead date back millennia to Ancient Greek and Roman times, and are prevalent through Medieval tales, the mythology of the modern Vampire as we might recognise it today, as one of the most beloved stories of horror, dates back to 18th century Eastern European folklore. Becoming immortalised in print with The Vampyre written by English writer John Polidori in 1819, before the most famous of all Vampire novels came in 1897 with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A classic story which defined the legend and brought a character to life, who would then define the genre in 20th Century cinema.
In 1922 the silent German expressionist film Nosferatu (directed by F.W. Murnau) was the first to bring the myth to screen, before Universal Pictures struck a deal with Stoker’s family in order to produce Dracula (1931), the first movie to feature the character by name, and starring the Golden Age of cinema’s legendary Béla Lugosi (Murders In The Rue Morgue), who would go on to play the character a number of times. In 1958 the British Hammer Horror company would remake Dracula with Christopher Lee (The Wicker Man) playing the role of the titular bloodsucker, who would also reprise the character multiple times through to the 1970’s, and rival Lugosi for the most notorious version of the evil fiend.
But it would be in the 1980’s and 90’s that the Vampire genre would really come alive and fully branch out to explore all number of possibilities and ways of telling the classic story, where a number of memorable characters would emerge, creating some of the most iconic horror films of the times in the process. And on that note we take a look back at the ten essential blood sucking movies from this jam packed, plum period of modern cinema … starting with the best :
1. // The Lost Boys (1987)
A stunning movie and one of the most beloved of all 80’s films, The Lost Boys delivered Vampires for the MTV generation. Stylish, sexy and featuring a host of iconic characters and many memorable lines of dialogue, that would see the film achieve cult status. Everything about this movie screamed 80’s ‘cool’, from the soundtrack to director Joel Schumacher’s (Batman Forever) visual tone of the movie, and the carefully selected cast. The film tells the story of Lucy (Dianne Wiest – Parenthood) and her two sons Michael (Jason Patric – Sleepers) and younger brother Sam (Corey Haim – Licence To Drive) who move to Santa Carla ‘The murder capital of the world’, to live with her father. On their first night in town, Michael catches the eye of the mysterious Star (Jamie Gertz – Twister) while Sam bumps into Edgar Frog (Corey Feldman – The Goonies) and his brother Alan (Jamison Newlander – The Blob) comic store workers with a fascination of the macabre.
Michael and Star hook up, and as he’s about take her for a spin on his motorbike he finds out she’s property of biker gang leader David (Kiefer Sutherland – Young Guns) who takes Star and offers Michael the challenge of keeping up with them on an off road ride. From here he is taken to an underground lair, where after joining them for a Chinese takeaway he’ll never forget, he unknowingly drinks wine laced with David’s blood, cursing himself to be inflicted as one of his gang of the undead. From here the story turns into a battle for Michaels soul as his brother and his new found friends help him fight to remain human. Plenty of Vampire mythology cliches are put to the test in a side story as Sam and the Frog brothers put Lucy’s boss Max (Edward Herman – Nixon) to the test, as they search for the ‘Head Vampire’ they believe to be pulling the strings of David’s gang.
2. // Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
The definitive telling of the most famous vampire of them all, was brought to the silver screen for a modern audience by Director Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now). Tracing the legend all the way back to 1462 when Muslim Turks were crusading across Europe and where Dracula (played superbly by Gary Oldman – Sid & Nancy) and who’s name represents the sacred Transylvanian Order of the Dragons, meets them on the battlefield, leaving behind his bride Elizabeta. And although he is victorious in battle, in a beautifully shot sequence by Copolla, with black sillohettes of the warriors set against a raging red background, while Dracula impales his enemies, false news of his death is sent to his castle, and believing him dead his love throws herself from a turret into the river below. On his victorious return Dracula’s world is shattered and he renounces the god he had been fighting for, cursing the church and aligning himself with darkness, providing a background story to the character the audience had not been shown before.
The film then leaps forward to 1897 and faithfully aligns itself with Stoker’s text, as trainee solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves – Point Break) travels to meet with the reclusive Count Dracula at his castle in Transylvania, to conclude a number of property deals he is purchasing in London. From here the Count is struck by the likeness of Harker’s fiancee Mina (Winona Ryder – Beetlejuice) to his own Elizabeta. He imprisons the solicitor and travels to England to find her. From here the films set moves from a visually gorgeous Transylvania to Victorian London, and is a gothic horror masterpiece with a romance and underlying eroticism, that quintessentially lies with the Vampire legend. Although the hip young castings of Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder were somewhat questionable, especially with Reeves dodgy English accent coming in for some ridicule, the film works well and won a number of academy awards for its visual creativity, while featuring a stellar supporting cast of characters including Professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins – Silence Of The Lambs) and Dr Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant –Withnail & I).
3. // From Dusk Till Dawn (1995)
The ultimate pulp Vampire film from the 1990’s, written by and starring Quentin Tarantino, who’s stock was high in Hollywood following his work writing and directing Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and directed by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado). The two film makers combine to great effect to create the ultimate movie of two halves. The film opens as a stylish crime thriller as we meet Gecko brothers Seth (George Clooney – Batman & Robin) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino – Pulp Fiction), who are on the run and heading for the Mexican border, where they take a family hostage to make use of their Winnebago to help see them across the line. Once safely in Mexico they stop at ‘The Titty Twister’, a bar chosen as a rendezvous point to meet an associate, forcing the family inc Jacob (Harvey Keitel – The French Connection) and Kate (Juliette Lewis – Natural Born Killers) to stay and drink with them.
The sleazy bar is full of mysterious characters, with a great supporting cast inc Cheech Marin (Cheech & Chong), Salma Hayek (Desperado) and Danny Trejo (Heat), and as the evening progresses all hell soon breaks loose! From here the movie turns into a fast paced fight for survival, as the crew of characters battle to survive until sunrise, against a seemingly endless blood thirsty hoard of creatures. With a bright colourful tone, a darkly comic underbelly full of snappy dialogue, and a totally unexpected change of pace and style, this movie was an absolute hit at the time and is just as enjoyable on repeat visits. Essentially this is two films in one with all of the blood and guts you’d expect from Tarantino and Rodriguez, as they channel the influences of George A. Romero, Dario Argento and a sprinkling of John Carpenter to great effect.
4. // Near Dark (1987)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break), Near Dark was released in the same year as The Lost Boys, but was tonally the exact opposite with a far darker take on the myth, suffering at the box office in comparison despite being a great movie. Opening with a mosquito sucking the blood from an arm, the film then delivers the feel of a Western, with a minimalist score by Tangerine Dream. Bigelow builds the tension nicely throughout the opening scene as farmers son Caleb (Adrian Pasdar – Top Gun) meets Mae (Jenny Wright – St Elmo’s Fire) in a bar, who then appears to be harbouring a secret as she asks for a lift home and they spend the early hours of the morning driving together through the Oklahoma countryside. A passionate kiss leads to a bite on Caleb’s neck before Mae disappears into the night. As dawn rises Caleb falls ill and as he walks home is snatched from in front of his family by a camper van inhabited by Missy’s ‘family’ led by father figure and elder Jesse (Lance Hendrickson – Aliens) and including the wild and out of control Severen (Bill Paxton – Twister) as well as matriarch Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein – Aliens).
The cinematography is dark, creating a sombre tone that foreshadows the rest of the movie … this is not a film that glamourises Vampires or even mentions the ‘V’ word at any point. Instead it shows their plight in a gritty realism as it follows the pack who travel around together trying to survive, while largely embracing their dark side and enjoying their kills when they come at night, and while having to deal with the problems that come from hiding from the sunlight during the day. At the heart of the film is a love story, as Mae looks to care for Caleb having been the one who turned him, while also having to protect him from her sceptical family members, while he comes to terms with what is happening to him, fighting the need to kill that would eventually overcome his natural instinct. The film features a highly memorable bar scene as the family wreck terror on the inhabitants one by one, and a thrilling climax as Caleb’s two families collide when his father and sister, who have been tracking the kidnapping, finally catch up with the travellers.
5. // Interview With The Vampire : The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
A beautifully made neo-gothic take on the vampire legend, directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and lifted from the pages of Anne Rice’s classic novel of the same name. The film stars a superb 90’s cast with Brad Pitt (Fight Club) starring as Louis, the modern day interview subject of journalist Malloy (Christian Slater – True Romance), as he recounts his life story following the events of being turned in 1971 and subsequently tutored in the dark art by Tom Cruise’s (Rain Man) Vampire Lestat. Louis’s natural instinct initially fights against the teachings of Lestat and the necessity to kill humans, initially choosing to feed on animals as he fights the urge and rebels against Lestat, burning down his home in the process.
Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman) co-stars as the child Lestat turns in order to keep Louis from leaving him, who takes to her fate much more naturally, sharing Lestat’s enjoyment of the lifestyle before she must come to terms with never growing old, fated to remain immortal in a child’s body forever. Her instinct is more viscous than Louis in every way and she attempts to kill Lestat to give them freedom, but his powers are too strong. This sets off a brutal chain of events, before Louis and Claudia travel the world in search of more of their kind. In 1870 they arrive in Paris where they meet the oldest living Vampire Armand (Antonio Banderas – Desperado) and his society of immortals who live in the city’s underbelly. The story then follows Louis through to the modern age with the movie arriving hot on the tails of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in a period delivering fine films to satisfy cinema’s fascination with the genre.
6. // Fright Night (1985)
A stylishly quintessential 80’s movie which pays homage to the gothic Hammer Horror films of the 60’s and 70’s, with just a splash of neon in its take on the Vampire mythology written and directed by Tom Holland (Child’s Play). Teenager Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale – Mannequin:On The Move) becomes obsessed with Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon – The Nightmare Before Christmas) his mysterious and apparently deadly new neighbour, which is heightened by his late night viewing of TV show Fright Night hosted by ‘Vampire Hunter’ Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall – Planet Of The Apes). It turns out of course that his suspicions of his new neighbour are not as far fetched as they might have first seemed, as the strange occurrences Charlie witnesses next door start to mount up.
Soon Charlie is embroiled in a battle of survival for himself and the ones he loves, as his Hitchcock’s Rear Window style spying is picked up on by his neighbour. The vampire here is played as a charismatic, seducer of women, and the film is a darkly comic, fast paced movie, played wonderfully hammy and over the top through to the gruesome finale, as Charlie enlists the help of the sceptical TV Slayer and every Vampire cliche going, in order to kill his neighbourly threat. A perfectly matched 80’s synth score adds to the suspense when needed, and the film also features some memorably gruesome body horror. A sequel followed as did a remake in 2013 starring Colin Farrell (Total Recall), but in this case the original is definitely the best.
7. // John Carpenter’s Vampires (1996)
John Carpenter’s brutal contribution to the blood sucking genre. The film has a great opening sequence, heading straight into the action as we join Jack Crow (James Woods – Videodrome) and his Vampire hunting team as they descend on a rural property in the middle of nowhere, ‘perfect for a nest’, and showcase their skills as they dispatch a number of Vampires, using an arsenal of weapons, then dragging them out into the sunlight to be burned to death, and read the last rites by the teams resident priest. The Vampire slayers are a bunch of mercenaries who collect their kills skulls as trophies, clearly enjoying their work and moving onto a booze and hooker fuelled motel room party, to celebrate. However horror joins them as the vengeful Vampire Master Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith – The Karate Kid Pt 3) descends upon the party, ripping bodies limb from limb in a grizzly scene as he seeks revenge.
Only two hunters survive, Jack Crow and Anthony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin – Mullholland Falls) who take off with the one surviving prostitute Katrina (Cheryl Lee – Twin Peaks) who has been bitten but not yet turned. The two plan their fightback which involves manipulating the psychic link Katrina will have with the master in order to track him. Crow consults with the Vatican who we learn are his puppet masters, and they discover that Valek is the original and most powerful vampire in the whole of existence, and that by defeating him they may lift the curse inflicting mankind once and for all. He is instructed to put together a fresh team of slayers, and is provided with a new priest to be their man on the inside. One of Wood’s most memorable leading roles and as you’d expect, there are trade marks of John Carpenter all over this enjoyably gory film.
8. // Blade (1998)
Lifted from Marvel comics and the mind of Stan Lee, we meet Blade being born in 1967 to a mother who has been admitted to hospital with a fresh bite mark on her neck. Fast forwarding to ‘now’, we next discover a city over run with Vamps, and a secret nightclub underneath a meat packing warehouse which turns into a bloodbath each night. Blade (Wesley Snipes – Demolition Man) is half Vampire and half Human, and he hunts Vampires along with partner Whistler (Kris Kristofferson – Planet Of The Apes), who disintegrate into ash when shot or stabbed with silver, with 90’s CGI creating a comic book / computer game feel. Blade is an all action take on the genre, quick paced and with an accompanying soundtrack full of 90’s Techno / Trance and Drum N Bass,
Directed by Stephen Norrington (The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen), there is plenty of blood splattering horror in this movie which went on to spawn a trilogy of films. Ultimately Blade is on the hunt for the Vampire who killed his mother, while Vampire council rebel Frost (Stephen Dorff – Judgement Night), a deadly and power hungry creature is keen to raise an ancient ‘Blood God’ to bring forth a Vampire apocalypse. A doctor (N’Bushe Wright –Dead Presidents) is unwittingly brought into their world after being exposed, bitten and subsequently cared for by Blade. The movie allows Snipes to utilise his martial arts skills in a number of fight sequences, as it transpires that his own bloodline may pay a vital part in the attempted resurrection of the Vampire deity.
9. // Vampire In Brooklyn (1995)
Produced by and starring Eddie Murphy (Beverley Hills Cop) and directed by horror legend Wes Craven (A Nightmare On Elm Street), A Vampire In Brooklyn provides an interesting and unique take on the tale, as Murphy’s centuries old Maximillian descends on Brooklyn in search of a female descendent of his tribe. He arrives by ship in a dark and misty scene paying homage to the journey of Dracula from Transylvania to London, leaving carnage behind, putting the press and local detectives on his trail.
Murphy tries to play the role straighter than audiences were used to form him before, whilst also delivering Arnold Schwarzenegger style one liners, in a kind of hammy role. His shape shifting character stalks the streets of Brooklyn’s underbelly, butting heads with local hoodlums and engaging local petty thief Julius (Kadeem Harrison – White Men Can’t Jump) to be his helper ‘ghoul’. In fact it is Detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett – Malcolm X) who turns out to be the subject of Murphy’s quest, and a psychologically hypnotic game of cat and mouse ensues.
10. // Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992)
Before the smash hit TV show starring Sarah Michelle Geller arrived in 1997, Buffy The Vampire Slayer was originally written by Joss Whedon (Avengers Assemble) as a high school teen movie directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui (Angel) , and starring Kirsty Swanson (Flowers In The Attic) in the lead role of the Californian student who discovers her birthright in fighting the undead. She discovers that she is the chosen one, descended from a longline of slayers dating back to medievil times. Sceptical at first she begins to learn the truth, which is linked to dreams she has always had about her role in a past life.
Luke Perry (Beverly Hills 90210) one of the teenagers of the hour at the time stars in the supporting role, while appearances from Donald Sutherland (Don’t Look Now) and Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner) added some credibility. The movie is short and fun, a darkly comic bubblegum take on the mythology, full of cliches and capitalising on the interest moviegoers had with the undead at the time, but dumbing down the content for a teenage audience. The film went under the radar for many at the time, but the subsequent TV series arriving later in the decade well and truly put the character of Buffy on the pop culture map.
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