Are these the best vampire films ever made? – HeraldScotland

With a century of cinematic outings behind them and thousands of films devoted to them – nobody is sure exactly how many – vampires are undoubtedly the world’s favourite screen monsters. Ahead of the publication of Vampire Cinema: The First One Hundred Years, a new book on the subject by film historian and cultural critic Christopher Frayling, here is our pick of the best the vampire world has to offer
Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror (1922)
The film which started it all. Premiered in the splendid Marble Hall of Berlin Zoo and directed by German Expressionist great FW Murnau, this unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula stars Max Schreck as Count Orlok (pictured below) and features more iconic image-making than you can shake a crucifix at. Much copied and much referenced, it has been re-made by Werner Herzog (in 1979’s Nosferatu The Vampyre) and if the rumours are true then Robert Eggers, director of historical action hit The Northman, is planning a new version. Names mentioned in connection with that project include Anya Taylor-Joy, Lily-Rose Depp, Bill Skarsgard and, er, Harry Styles. But what odds on a fang-tastic return from Twilight star Robert Pattinson, who starred in Eggers’s previous film but one, The Lighthouse?
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997)
Created by Joss Whedon and based on a 1992 film of the same name, the TV series which would become a cult phenomenon first aired in the US in 1997 and starred Sarah Michelle Geller as Buffy Summers, the eponymous slayer of vampires. From its effect on academia to the never-ending rabbit hole that is the Buffyverse, it’s hard to over-state its cultural legacy. Cristopher Frayling is a fan. “The trick is to make the central character a young teenage girl with all the emotional problems of being at high school and to take that concept and plant it in the vampire story,” he says. “That brought the teen audience in and instead of being camp and looking backwards, it propelled it into the contemporary world.”
Vampyr (1932)
A decade after Nosferatu, another beautiful looking vampire film. This one is by Danish maestro Carl Dreyer and is based not on Bram Stoker’s work but on the short story collection In A Glass Darkly by Stoker’s fellow Irishman, Sheridan Le Fanu. Where Murnau’s film is a high water mark of German Expressionist horror, Dreyer throws in elements of Surrealism. An enthralling curio from start to finish, it was Dreyer’s first sound film (it was recorded in three languages) and features as its lead the French-born socialite Baron Nicolas Louis Alexandre de Gunzburg (he later became editor-at-large for Vogue and this was his only acting role) and ill-fated German actress Sybille Schmitz, whose life and death were the subject of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1982 film Veronika Voss.
Let The Right One In (2008)
It isn’t easy to reinvent the vampire genre but Swedish director Tomas Alfredson came close in this now-cult item, blending stunning arthouse cinematography with a chilling coming-of-age story set in a snowbound Stockholm housing estate in the 1980s (pictured below). Eli (Lina Leandersson) is the young vampire who befriends friendless Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) when he comes under sustained assault by the school bullies. It’s based on John Ajvide Lindqvist 2004 novel and even the 2010 American remake wasn’t bad: shifting the action to New Mexico, it features Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the young leads and it was directed by Matt Reeves, who would go on to make The Batman starring Generation Twilight’s favourite vampire, Robert Pattinson. “I think it’s extraordinary,” says Frayling. “It’s so chilling and at the same time so beautiful. That really got to me. I dreamed about it for several nights.”
Dracula (1958)
Christopher Lee played Dracula seven times for esteemed British horror studio Hammer but this was his first outing and for many critics his best. Lee brought in sensuality (and red contact lenses) while Hammer added the décolletage that would nudge the genre towards the X certificate berth it occupied through much of the 1960s and 1970s. Starring alongside Lee is Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in what is a relatively straight re-telling of Stoker’s original novel.
Dracula, Pages From A Virgin’s Diary (2002)
“It retells the story of Dracula from the point of view of the victims, but as a ballet,” says Frayling. “It’s very beautiful and it’s shot in the style of Nosferatu so it’s black and white with lots of contrast and lots of shadows. I defy anybody to watch that and not be struck by the imagery of it.” Directed by Guy Maddin, shot in collaboration with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and using as its score Gustav Mahler’s first and second symphonies, it recreates the mood of the silent era with inter-titles, colour tinted sections and even a Vaseline-smeared lens to give a traditional blurring effect. Probably the best vampire movie you’ve definitely never seen.
Twilight (2008)
Based on Stephanie Meyer’s novel series and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who cut her teeth (sorry) on hard-hitting, teens-in-extremis films such as Thirteen and Lords Of Dogtown, Twilight teamed young actors Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart (below) as uber-cool high school kid Edward Cullen and new-girl-in-town Bella Swan. Edward also happens to be a 108-year-old vampire but, wouldn’t you know it, Bella falls in love anyway. For Frayling, the film was a game-changer and introduced the idea of the vampire as soulmate. “If a lot of vampire films from the 1960s to the 1980s were about sex, Twilight is about abstinence,” he says. “The basic theme is ‘will they, won’t they?’. If they do, she will condemn herself to eternal life as a vampire.” It also has some interesting things to say about masculinity. “The Byronic vampire lives when he comes into the Twilight, but when he arrives he doesn’t behave in a Byronic way at all. He agonises. I would never imagine a vampire story about abstinence would be so successful but it was huge.”
Dracula (1931)
Who’s the most famous screen Dracula? Lon Chaney and Christopher Lee have their boosters but it’s hard to see past Bela Lugosi. The Hungarian-born actor had played the Count on stage in the late 1920s so his heavy accent and intense looks made him perfect for the role in Tod Browning’s Hollywood adaptation, the first English language version of the story. Set in England but shot on the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles, it was a critical and commercial smash. Lugosi went on to star in several more vampire films, among them 1935’s Mark Of The Vampire (also directed by Browning) and The Return Of The Vampire in 1943. Cool fact: a rare ‘Style A’ poster for Dracula showing a lowering Lugosi sold at auction in 2017 for over half a million dollars.
What did we miss? Think cult Ana Lily Amirpour’s cult Iranian skateboarding feminist vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night should have made the, er, cut? Amazed there’s no 30 Days Of Night or Blade or What We Do In The Shadows? Outraged that we left off Tony Scott’s 1983 film The Hunger, which paired rock legend David Bowie with screen legend Catherine Deneuve? Have your say below …
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