A taste for significant vampires

 The third film in the Twilight series, Eclipse, opened to much hysteria last weekend. The series has been a runaway success, showing once again the public’s fascination with the ‘undead’, especially the sexy, moody misunderstood types. In films the genre started with the 1922 silent movie, Nosferatu, probably the most seriously disturbing vampire of all time because he looks like he could actually be real.

Vampires have been portrayed by the likes of Brad Pitt, Willem Dafoe, Kiefer Sutherland, and, Christopher Lee in the British Hammer films. Indeed the vampire myth has been told in nearly as many different ways as the actors playing them.

The origins of vampires seem to go back to the dawn of time. They appear in all cultures but seem to favour Eastern Europe, possibly because of its deep forested, brooding landscapes.

Certainly the most famous vampire, Dracula, hails from that part of the world from Transylvania, now a part of Romania. The myth of Dracula is based on Vlad Dracu or Dracul (1431-1476), better known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’, because of his penchant for impaling his victims on sharp wooden posts. Dracula means little demon/dragon, or son of the Devil in Transylvanian.

The modern versions stem from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula that brought the legend back to life in the character of a seriously flawed but rather charismatic Count Dracula. Probably Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula would not recognise the restrained romanticism of other-worldly beauty Edward Cullen. But that is the mystery and power of vampires that they can be all things to all people. From the seriously creepy Nosferatu to the Eclipse characters, vampires have evolved and changed, and on the silver screen there will always emerge a vampire that reflects  our times.

Significant Vampires

F.W. Murnau’s silent film certainly features the most realistic-looking vampire ever — Max Schreck. Rumours at the time of the film circulated that the strange looking Schreck was indeed a real vampire. That myth became the inspiration for the film Shadow of the Vampire.

The lighting, music, and flickering old film stock combine to make this what many consider the most disturbing vampire movie ever made.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992
Francis Ford Coppola directs Gary Oldham and Anthony Hopkins in a movie that has sumptuous costumes and settings. Oldham gives Dracula a sense of age and aristocracy and even sympathetic appeal as he believes he has found his lost love in the Winona Ryder character. Best scene: when he turns into a bat to climb the castle walls.

Interview with the Vampire 1994
Interview with the Vampire, a cinematic take on Anne Rice’s epic novel, stars Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and a very young Kirsten Dunst with a taste for blood. It had a new take on vampires and explored the melancholic burden of being a vampire, including Louis’ (Pitt) inner struggle and aversion to killing to satisfy his need for blood. Before Robert Pattinson, the sexiest two vampires were Pitt and Antonio Banderas.

Shadow of the Vampire 2000
Willem Dafoe has the perfect, emaciated looks for a vampire, and in Shadow of the Vampire he channels Nosferatu perfectly.

Based on the making of the film Nosferatu, director John Malkovich hires a real vampire (Dafoe) to play the leading part but does not tell his crew or the leading lady, which results in lots of blood and mayhem.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Gory, campy and fun and features a Queen vampire,  Salma Hayek, who  most men would have no problem baring their necks to. George Clooney and  Quentin Tarantino play bank robbing brothers on the run. The film features one of the best mid-movie plot shifts when it becomes routine robbers on the run to daftness with vampires.

Blade 1998
Wesley Snipes plays the Marvel Comics superhero, part human and part vampire. Referred to as a Day Walker, Blade  has no sympathy with vampires and makes it his mission to rid the world of vampires. Blade has vampire strengths and is a master of the martial arts but has to fight his desire for the taste of blood.

This is an action-packed movie with lots of fight sequences and innovative vampire killing weapons.

The Lost Boys 1981
Teen vamps just want to have fun. No Twilight-like angst here. “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” The cast features Kiefer Sutherland as a punky teen vampire, Jason Patric as the newest reluctant convert, and the two Coreys (Haim and Feldman). Feldman plays one of two wacky brothers (Edgar and Allen) who insist the town is crawling with vampires. They made the phrase “vamp out” famous.