Tuesday, October 29, 1998
Vampire videos with a bite
"Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make," - Bela Lugosi, Dracula (1931).
Another blockbuster hit on his blood drenched hands, John Carpenter's Vampires is THE fright film to see this Halloween season. If screening Vampires has whet your interest in those beguiling cinematic bloodsuckers or you're just looking for a good scare this All Hallows Eve, commit my chronological list of the Top Ten vampire films ever made to memory, hike down to your local video store and rent your own vampire horror movie marathon.
1. The Horror Of Dracula
The film that launched Hammer Films' Dracula series. Slipping in the fangs and donning the cape elevated Christopher Lee far above the status attained by his talented predecessor, Bela Lugosi. Lee's charming personality, looks, sophistication and unpredictable devilish streak perfectly reflect what Stoker envisioned.
Sticking like Crazy Glue to the novel barring some minor alterations, the first reel focuses on Johnathan Harker. Harker (switched from a property wheeler-dealer to a librarian) lands a job working for the sinister Count Dracula in the sunny resort town of Translyvania. The second reel centers on Count Dracula's arch-nemesis the resourceful medical practitioner, occult expert and master vampire hunter (Someone please give this guy a raise!), Dr. Van Helsing. Science wages war against the supernatural.
The ingenious pairing of the dynamic Lee and the intense Cushing was the start of a onscreen partnership the likes of which we don't see very often.
Dir: Terence Fisher. Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling. 1958. Warner Brothers Home Video.
The film that sorrowfully typecast the versatile Lugosi in fangs and cape for the remainder of his days. An underappreciated Dwight Frye, rarely given the credit he deserves for his rock solid supporting performances, is outstanding as Dracula's bug-chewing, mental case of a servant - Renfield. Frye's unforgettable lunatic leer chills the blood.
The forbidding atmosphere generated by cinematographer Karl Freund and Browning's attention to light and shadow pays respect to the impressive set design. Some may find the deliberate pacing as draining as a vampire's nuzzle while patient observers see there's beauty in simplicity.
Dir: Tod Browning. Cast: Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, David Manners, Helen Chandler, Edward Van Sloan.. 1931. MCA / Universal Home Video.
3. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
Dracula's reign of terror lives from beyond the grave. In the shadow his ominous castle, a small village is cursed by legends and rumors. People won't shop there. No one in their right mind moves there. The citizens themselves won't creep outside their doors once the sun sets. The village is well on its way to becoming a ghost town.
The local Monsignor and the parish's priest set out on a mission to put the superstitions to rest. Drac thaws from an icy prison and he ain't none too pleased when he finds a blessed cross nailed to the entrance of his home.
Decorated throughout with snappy dialogue, John Elder's (really John Samson and Anthony Hinds) intelligent script sustains a furious pace slowed momentarily by your run of the mill, poor-boy-meets-rich-girl plot device. Lee's grand "death" (Come on. Does Dracula REALLY ever die?) scene furnishes a bang-up finish.
Dir: Freddie Francis. Cast: Christopher Lee, Veronica Carlson and Rupert Davies. 1968. Warner Brothers Home Video.
4. Fright Night
Something's not quite right with Charley Brewster's new next-door-neighbor. Boxes of dirt were delivered prior to his arrival. Plastic bags containing God know's what are routinely hauled away by a strange, unemotional servant. The enigmatic resident himself, shuns daylight venturing out only at sunset.
The troubled teenage horror buff (William Ragsdale before TV's Herman's Head) has seen enough fright films to realize that even if he went to the authorities his suspicions would be ridiculed. Charley turns to the one person he can trust: late night horror show host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). Skeptical at first, the failed actor agrees to help slay the blood sucker...for a price.
Campy, lively and just plain fun, Fright Night lives up to its name rationing out the chills and thrills generously. The hideous female vampire baring her fangs during the final showdown will haunt your dreams for many a night.
Dir: Tom Holland. Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall and Amanda Bearse. 1985. Columbia-Tri Star Home Video.
5. Salem's Lot
Texas Chainsaw Massacre lenser Tobe Hooper faithfully brings Stephen King's updated Dracula tribute to the small screen. Struggling writer Ben Mears (David Soul - Detective Ken Hutchinson of TV's Starsky & Hutch) returns to his hometown in search of inspiration finding instead that the people he once knew are acting nuttier than a case of Oh, Henry! bars. Playing amateur detective, Mears tracks the evil influence down to the town's infamous haunted house and its mysterious new owner.
Creepier than an uninvited spider crawling into your bed. A King adaptation that does justice to his original vision? Who woulda thunk it possible?
Dir: Tobe Hooper. Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin. 1979. Warner Brothers Home Video.
6. Bram Stoker's Dracula
Extravagant yet thorough treatment of Stoker's classic novel. Virtuoso performances by Oldman, Ryder and Hopkins stake the exhausting running time. One of the only Dracula films to work Stoker's real-life inspiration - the Transilvanyian prince Vlad "The Impaler"Tepes - into its storyline.
Dir: Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Tom Waits. Columbia-Tri Star Home Video.
7. Near Dark
White trash ghouls reluctantly add Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), a hunky Texas farmboy, to their outlaw gang. The dim-witted tumbleweed abandons his family and his humanity for a female vamp and joins the nomadic undead clan on a bloody crime spree. Caleb's subsequent change of heart incurs the wrath of the gang's sadistic leader (Lance Henriksen) putting his estranged family in grave danger.
Cutting edge director Kathryn Bigelow (Blue Steel, Strange Days) goes for the jugular.
Dir: Kathryn Bigelow. Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Hendrikson. 1987. Media Home Video.
8. The Night Stalker
Penned by Twilight Zone series screenwriter and sometime Roger Corman collaborator Richard Matheson, this made-for-tv movie received such an overwhelming public response when it was first aired that it was quickly turned into a short-lived series (Kolchak: The Night Stalker) inspiring future hits like Friday The 13th: The Series, Millennium and The X-Files. Today, it's still a cult favorite.
In the role he made famous, Darren McGavin stars as the hard-nosed, smart-mouthed Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak hot on the trail of a faceless serial killer butchering local prostitutes. Butting heads with his editor and city officials, Kolchak tries in vain to convince them that a vampire is responsible for the murders. Armed with his trusty tape recorder and camera, Kolchak has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.
Barry Atwater is as scary a bloodsucker as they come. Look for Larry Linville (M*A*S*H's Major Frank Burns) as the medical examiner and Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo) as Sheriff Butcher.
Dir: John Llewellyn Moxey. Cast: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Barry Atwater. 1971. MCA Home Video.
The Granddaddy of them all. This chilling Expressionist silent film forged the blueprint for the modern vampire movie. Max Schreck could scare the spots off a leopard.
Dir: F.W. Murnau. Cast: Max Schreck, Gustav von Waggenheim. 1922. Video Yesteryear.
10. The Vampire Lovers
Ruby-red lips. Bountiful cleavage. Lesbian vamps run amok. What more could you ask for? Hammer Films' rendition of Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla has sexy bloodsucker Ingrid Pitt worming her way into affluent families so she can seduce female victims. Gives the term "Girl Power"a whole new meaning.
Dir: Roy Ward Baker. Cast: Ingrid Pitt, Peter Cushing, Pipa Steele. 1971. Embassy Home Video.