By Melissa Houghton
As a child I was terrified of vampire movies. I’d only seen Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi and later Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) with Klaus Kinski, but it was enough to keep replaying in my mind, plus feeling sheer terror recalling shadowy images of the walking dead. My cure for embracing vampires came in a dream. One night, in my dream I was directed to feed the vampire ham. Yep, ham. I awoke the next morning and my fear of this monster was gone. Now, I enjoy vampire flicks whether they be horror or comedic takes on the character. Sadly, I’m still trying to get over nightmares of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Eating marshmallows has helped but I’m not quite there yet. In the spirit of Halloween, here are 10 films featuring a vampire as a central character that deserve attention, to spook or delight.
1. NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)
Nosferatu the Vampyre which stars Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula is a West German vampire film that was written and directed by the great Werner Herzog. The film is a more stylized version of earlier German classic Nosferatu released in 1922. Also featuring French actress Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker and Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker, this is particularly interesting that two releases were done one in English and a German-language version. This remake is very true to the original story about this ancient Dracula. Herzog teaches a film masterclass online if you’re interested.
2. THE HUNGER (1983)
Directed by the late Tony Scott, The Hunger was released during the height of the AIDS epidemic. It was Scott’s first feature length film as director and one of the sexiest vampire movies ever made. Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and John (David Bowie) are the Blaylocks – stylish, cultured, sophisticated, predatory vampires currently residing in New York City. Miriam and John hunt their human prey in goth clubs. They seduce their victims and take them back to ground zero, their chic townhouse where they overpower and kill them. John is Miriam’s current lover-husband who she promised eternal life. Only Miriam knows she can’t grant true immortality and eventually her chosen lover will die, they wither away and live in eternal vegetative vampire limbo. She is thousands of years old and it’s not her first rodeo. John can’t sleep and suddenly finds himself rapidly aging. He visits a reputable sleep disorder specialist hoping Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) can cure him. John is left to wait too long when and Dr. Roberts reappears she notices he’s aged considerably. Feeling guilty and wanting to examine him, Dr. Roberts visits the Blaylock home where it’s love at first sight for Miriam and she seduces Sarah. The lesbian seduction scene is set to a selection from Delibes opera Lakmé “Flower Duet”.
3. THE LOST BOYS (1987)
I finally watched The Lost Boys to the end about 10 years ago. I was busy with life and initially dismissed it as a corny teen horror film. The film was a big success from the beginning and gave birth to two sequels and a comic book series. The new kids in town, Michael (Jason Patric, son of Jason Miller who played Father Damien in The Exorcist), and his little brother Sam (Corey Haim) think the local teens may be vampires. They’ve just moved to a fictional beach town in California and they end up fighting the young vampires who have taken over their little hamlet. Kid vampires are the worst – no rules, no respect and lacking culture or class. The title references the story of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. The vampires like Peter Pan never grow up. The supreme vampire is video store owner, Max (Edward Herrman) who takes a fancy to the boys’ mom, Lucy (Dianne Wiest). Contrary to some reviews, Wiest simply plays the vulnerable divorced mother ever, her performance is refreshing. David (Kiefer Sutherland) is a surly, taunting lead teen vampire who is very effective and freaking scary not simply another vampire on the loose wreaking havoc on the townspeople. This is probably about the time Kiefer was typecast as a badboy and rightfully so with this performance. Apparently Kiefer and Jason are still friends to this day – they bonded on the set of The Lost Boys.
4. NEAR DARK (1987)
Here’s an interesting take on the vampire movie. Near Dark was directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow. We can’t be sure what interested her to direct a western version about a group of nomadic vampires travelling across the Midwest, but it works. The film received mostly positive critic reviews but didn’t do well at the box office – now it’s a cult classic.
5. BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992)
This movie is the most frightening Dracula interpretation of modern time. What could be creepier than watching Gary Oldham as Count Dracula crawling along the ceiling. Much scarier than spiders dropping down on you at night. … Dracula was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and returns more closely to the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. The story is much richer than most – it humanizes Vlad Dracula and shares more of his back story and the catalyst of becoming immortal. The lovely Winona Ryder is Mina Harker, Dracula’s love interest who he believes is the reincarnation of his beloved wife Elisabeta. The cast is rounded out with Anthony Hopkins as Professor Van Helsing but sadly Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker is more wooden than the proverbial stake that is meant to kill vampires – straight to the heart…Dracula won several Oscars. Annie Lennox’s original song used in the closing credits, “Love Song for a Vampire” became an international success.
6. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994)
Directed by acclaimed director Neil Jordan, and based on the Anne Rice novel of the same name, Interview with the Vampire is more than the story of 18th century Lord Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt). It’s a complicated bromance between two vampires. At over 200 years old, Louis sits for an interview in modern day San Francisco with a young reporter (Christian Slater), who eagerly listens to Louis recount his life as a vampire and his complicated relationship with the vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise). Lestat turned Louis into a vampire after the latter lost his family. Louis takes you back to New Orleans in the 1700s, when he’s a companion of Lestat. While Lestat is leading his best life, Louis is refined and wracked with guilt over what he has become. The New Orleans setting and rich cinematography provides the perfect backdrop of dank debauchery. Although Rice originally objected to casting Cruise as Lestat, the film is well worth the ride. Antonio Banderas, Kirsten Dunst and Stephen Rea, round out the cast of the undead.
7. BLADE (1998)
Starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff and N’Bushe Wright. Blade is actually a super-hero out to avenge his mother’s death at the hands of vampires. Blade is a Dhampir, a human with vampire strengths but not their weaknesses. He vows to protect humans from vampires and hunts and kills them using his particular skills with a special sword and martial arts. The vampires Blade is up against are not your average vampiries. They’re a type of technologically advanced breed who are looking for Blade’s special blood type that is needed to summon an evil god to advance their plan to descimate the entire human race. Blade is based on a Marvel character and it spawned two sequels.
8. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)
Filmed in black + white, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a politically-charged Iranian vampire spaghetti western directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. A lonely, skateboarding, hijab-wearing unnamed female vampire preys on local men in Bad-City who disrespect and abuse women. It’s trailblazing for its content of violence, drug abuse and prostitution. Making the film, Amirpour was inspired by American pop culture and said she would never have made it if she could not use Iranian characters. Amirpour is English-born Iranian-American and accepted the film would not be played in Iran due to the nature of the story. She calls it a fairy tale and uses very little dialog which demands you watch the graphic images. Amirpour is considered the next Quentin Tarantino.
9. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2014)
This is a love story directed by Jim Jarmusch about two vampires, a reclusive rock star named Adam (Tim Hiddleston) and his wife, 3,000 year old, artsy, Eve (Tilda Swinton). They’ve been together a long time and the wonderful thing about their story is that even though they have lived for hundreds of years, they’re doing what they can to reboot their curiosity in life. They appreciate life and try to keep curious about music, travel, art, and did I mention they dabble in hard drugs. It’s so offbeat in a perfectly normal way. They live in a tattered neighbourhood in what’s left of Detroit. They’re old-school hipster vampires of a different sort – bookish, into vinyl. I love this film and how it takes it’s time in every scene, and why not, they’re not going anywhere. A kooky Mia Wasikowska, is Eve’s manipulative, party-girl sister. The late Anton Yelchin also starred in the film.
10. SICILIAN VAMPIRE (2015)
Here’s an homage to so many genres and iconic films I couldn’t resist. It’s a batshit crazy mashup, played straight, in a subdued Nic Cage kind of way. Written, directed, scored and starring Canadian businessman Frank D’Angelo, Sicilian Vampire is a peculiar horror drama with an interesting twist on what motivates a vampire. “Family is the most important thing in a man’s life.” At a cabin retreat with his crew of wise guys, Santo “Sonny” Trafficante (D’Angelo) is bitten by a stowaway vampire bat that flies out of a box of bananas. Sonny’s transformation is largely all in his head, at first. Once bitten he gains supernatural powers and begins to reflect on his life as a crime boss and decides to right wrongs. It’s fun to play spot the influences. The Godfather, Goodfellas, Scarface, Analyze This, From Dusk Till Dawn, the TV Sopranos and the Star Wars franchise gets a nod. Sonny gets a call from his dead father (the late Robert Loggia) who tells him “Santo, I am your father”. D’Angelo wrote most of the music except for “Fly Me to The Moon” and “Just A Gigolo”, and he performed all the songs on the soundtrack. D’Angelo is bolstered by a committed and stellar cast: Paul Sorvino, Daryl Hannah, Eric Roberts, Daniel Baldwin, James Caan, Armand Assante, Tony Nardi, Art Hindle, Robert Davi, and Michael Paré. One of the best lines is delivered by Caan as Sonny’s physician, Dr. Isaacs. Caan played Santino “Sonny” Corleone in The Godfather. After taking blood samples to find out what’s wrong with Sonny, to protect Sonny’s identity he asks the nurse to label the vials Jimmy Caan. I only wish D’Angelo had added English subtitles because there’s a lot of dialog in Italian and we miss what’s being said. Sicilian Vampire is a comedic take on the meaning of life from a Sicilian vampire’s point of view.
Childhood memories of sitting with hushed audiences in dark theatres – before, during and sometimes after a shocking conclusion, shaped Melissa’s love of movies. Her passion for film spans many genres and go-to’s are Indies, Sci-fi and Costume dramas. An image of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Ladyexplains her life-long love of hats. Melissa works in marketing by day. She feels the arts saved her life and is a devoted year-round and festival volunteer for several arts and cultural organizations. She’s been a Toronto International Film Festival volunteer since 2003. Melissa recently fulfilled a wish to join the Sundance Film Festival volunteer roster and has a desire to meet Robert Redford. Melissa will be returning to Sundance for her fifth straight year in 2019. During this Sundance working-vacation, Melissa volunteers on the Artist Relations Box Office team as Box Office Associate. Melissa’s desert island picks are Alien, The Godfather, The Witches of Eastwick, Little Miss Sunshine and My Fair Lady. Melissa’s focus will be independent films. By the way, she has not met Robert Redford, yet.