Vampire Awareness Month!
Best & Worst Silver Screen Vampires
A guest post by Gregory Marshall Smith, sports writer and also published author of science fiction and horror.
It seems vampires are bigger than ever, surviving far longer than werewolves, mummies and even zombies.
With that in mind, I decided to look at vampires on the silver screen. Based on my viewing experiences over the past 40-plus years, I have compiled a list of the best and worst vampire movies. Unlike many contemporary lists, these films run the gamut from the silent era to present day.
Please remember that this is a list of, in my opinion, the best and worst vampire movies. Don’t drain the messenger. These lists are done up in alphabetical order:
Blacula -- Made in the 70s during the blaxploitation era, William Marshall stars as an African prince condemned to eternal undeath for refusing to acknowledge Dracula as his master (that whole slave thing).
Blade -- Wesley Snipes is the half human/half vampire hybrid of Marvel Comics fame (or should I say obscurity) who continues his war against a loathsome vampire named Deacon Frost. Snipes is stylish, strong, menacing and kicks ass, while Kris Kristofferson offers fatherly advice and N’Bushe Wright helps us get over the fact that former porn star Traci Lords dies about five minutes into the film.
Blade II -- David S. Goyer (Dark City) handled the script duties for this sequel considered just as good, if not better, than the original. This time, Blade teams up with his vampire enemies to stop a new breed of bloodsucker. Though the mercenary Blood Pack fail to live up to their hype, member Ron Perlman manages to stand out. And who can keep their eyes off luscious Leonor Varela?
Bram Stoker’s Dracula -- Sometimes it seemed muddled, which is only natural since it stars Keanu Reeves, but it is a stylish and effective updating of the source novel. Gary Oldman as the Count, Wynona Ryder as Mina and Anthony Hopkins hamming it up as Van Helsing more than make up for Reeves. And for a bride of Dracula, it’s hard to top Monica Belluci.
Dracula (1931) -- The one that started it all. Sure, it seems dated by today’s standards, but it’s a tension-filled drama that only Bela Lugosi could deliver.
Fright Night (1985) -- A new neighbor moves in next door and people begin mysteriously dying. You investigate, learn the truth and can’t get the police to believe you, primarily because you don’t personally know the mayor. Who do you turn to? Why aging TV show host Roddy McDowall, of course. Great fun.
From Dusk ‘til Dawn -- The only drawback to this Quentin Tarantino blood-spattering extravaganza is that Salma Hayek buys it pretty early. Of course, Quentin does, too, leaving George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Harvey Keitel, Fred Williamson and Tom Savini to try to survive an ill-fated stop at a roadside bar that appears only once in a blue moon.
Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell -- It’s Japanese and it is definitely weird. The passengers and crew of an airliner deal with an assassin onboard, only to fly into a red sky and a UFO that causes the plane to crash. The assassin escapes, finds the UFO and is turned into a vampire out to start a bloodsucking invasion of Earth. The ending is a whopper out of left field.
Horror of Dracula -- Hammer Films took over the franchise from Universal Studios in the 60s, which meant Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. The pair would also revive the Mummy and Frankenstein franchises as well (somehow werewolves never got the facelift).
It: Terror from Beyond Space -- 1950’s grade B camp all the way, but also a lot of fun. Marshall Thompson and company learn the hard way to make sure the doors are closed when visiting Mars. A monster gets aboard and begins killing the crew one by one, draining them of every drop of blood and other fluids. If this sounds familiar, it was the inspiration for Alien.
John Carpenter’s Vampires -- Watch out when James Woods is near any guns. John Carpenter put his spin on the vampire tale with Woods trying to stop a vampire named Valek (supposedly the original vampire). Look for a great cameo from the legendary Maximillian Schell.
Last Man On Earth -- Low-budget, yes, but it had Vincent Price. The first attempt at turning I Am Legend into a movie, its stark black-and-white post-Apocalyptic, post-virus world comes off far more effectively than the special effects-laden spectacle thrown at us in Will Smith’s 2007 version. Plus, when you see Price driving stakes into people, you can believe it.
Lost Boys -- The first attempt at filling that teen-angst void, this movie helped make it cool to be a vampire. Jason Patrick and family move to a new seaside town only to find it ruled by a roost of vampires led by Kiefer Sutherland. Soon, Patric is hanging out with the bad boys and vying for the love of Jami Gertz. Bad moves. Fortunately, the Coreys (Haim, Feldman) are there to save the day.
Martin -- George Romero. That’s all you need to know. Let Romero cut loose and add in horror veteran Tom Savini and you’re set.
The Night Stalker -- Darren McGavin is unconventional reporter (and walking fashion faux pas) Carl Kolchak, covering a series of bizarre murders in Las Vegas. He pins the blame on a vampire, but, of course, no one believes him, not even after the vampire walks through half the police force. With a screenplay by I Am Legend author himself Richard Matheson, this movie was actually the highest-rated made-for-TV movie until the 1980s.
Nosferatu (1922) -- The first translation of Bram Stoker’s classic, the title was changed because director F.W. Murnau didn’t own the rights. So, Dracula became Count Orlok, who was even creepier than Bela Lugosi. Just be aware that this film is silent.
The Thing From Another World (1951) -- Bearing only a slight resemblance to John W. Campbell’s classic short story “Who Goes There?,” this classic chiller from Howard Hawks delivers. Funny and terrifying. It’s 1951 and scientists in the Arctic have found a mysterious object under the ice. The Air Force investigates and accidentally frees the Thing (played by a pre-“Gunsmoke” James Arness). In short order, Kenneth Tobey and company shoot, chop, cut, sic dogs on and burn the alien. In return, the alien mops the floors, the walls and the ceilings with all of them. It even strings several of them up to drain their blood for reproduction.
30 Days of Night -- An interesting little conundrum. Vampires own the night, but we own the day. Unless, of course, the nights are 30 days long.
Vampire Hunter D -- The Japanese have always been on the cutting edge of animation in terms of story content and groundbreaking visuals. This 1985 anime classic deals with a young girl in the distant future who hires a mysterious vampire hunter to kill the bloodsucker who bit her so she won’t fall under his undead spell.
Vampyr -- A moody, atmospheric thriller done back in 1932. Based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel of the same name.
Against the Dark -- It stars Steven Seagal. And it combines vampires with zombies.
Atom Age Vampire -- The title says it all.
Blade: Trinity -- Oh, what a messy finale to the trilogy this turned out to be. From the completely unsexy Parker Posey to the too-much-to-be-believed Jessica Biel to Count Dracula who never really looks or acts threatening, the only fortunate one in this forgettable flick is Kris Kristofferson, who goes out shooting early in the movie. By the way, whatever you do, don’t buy the director’s cut. You’ll see why the added parts were cut in the first place.
Blood, the Last Vampire -- Set on an Army base in Korea, this film looks like it was put together at the last second. Trying to combine the vampire genre with the action of Azumi, it fails at both and gives us a sword-wielding heroine who is neither memorable nor likeable.
Bloodrayne/Bloodrayne 2 -- Director Uwe Boll has always had a reputation for putting out awful films. This time around, he manages to outdo his usual level of putridity by introducing Bloodrayne, a female version of Blade. Unfortunately, sexy Kristanna Lokken can’t act, Michelle Rodriguez does nothing but brood, Michael Madsen looks lost, Meatloaf is dry and Ben Kingsley wonders how he went from Oscar winner to working for Uwe Boll. At least the first film had these actors. The sequel has nobody famous and is also missing a script, too.
Chupacabra -- Poor John Rhys-Davies. For every Lord of the Rings and Raiders of the Lost Ark movie on his resume, there’s also a Lost World and Anaconda III. This film belongs with those obscenities.
Dracula 2000 -- Wes Craven foolishly tries his hand at vampire movies again. Gerard Butler, Jennifer Esposito, Jeri Ryan, Omar Epps, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tig Fong are just a few of the young stars who survived having this tripe on their resumes.
Dracula 3000 -- Check the stars -- Casper Van Dien, Erika Eleniak and Coolio. Check the plot -- Dracula (actually Count Orlok in a poor homage to Nosferatu) in space. If this is the first time you’ve heard of this movie, consider yourself lucky and forewarned.
Innocent Blood -- Anna Parillaud once tore up the French countryside as Luc Besson’s ass-kicking assassin in La Femme Nikita. Here, she’s an escort-turned-vampire who turns mob boss Robert Loggia into a vampire. He then turns his cronies, including Don Rickles, into the undead. No one’s heard of Anna Parillaud since.
Lifeforce -- Only worth watching to see Patrick Stewart before TNG. Yeah, there’s a completely naked Mathilda May (in the movie’s only really memorable sequence), but the movie takes an average book and makes it into a below-average movie.
Lost Boys: The Tribe/The Thirst -- Both sequels feature Corey Feldman as Edgar Frog. The second has maybe a minute of Jamison Newlander as Alan Frog. But, any movie that depends on Feldman is doomed.
The Omega Man -- The second attempt to turn I Am Legend into a movie. This time, Charlton Heston, the man puts the “ham” in “ham” fights the vampires. This one reeks of the 70s and Heston’s final sacrifice that mimics Jesus’ crucifixion has to be seen to be believed.
Queen of Blood -- Astronauts find a nubile green-skinned alien and decide to bring her back to Earth (providing inspiration for Captain Kirk). She’s a vampire and soon she’s feeding on the crew, including a young Dennis Hopper. It’s up to John Saxon to ham his way out of danger.
Queen of the Damned -- If Anne Rice was pissed at Tom Cruise being the Vampire LeStat, imagine how she felt seeing R&B star Aaliyah as the title character. The role was way beyond the novice actress.
Rise -- Lucy Liu attempts to transfer Kill Bill to the world of vampires. Instead, she does to vampire flicks what Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever did to action movies.
Salem’s Lot -- Yet another classic Stephen King novel fails to translate to the big screen. When even James Mason and Lew Ayres can’t save a movie, it’s got to be bad.
Scream, Blacula, Scream -- Completely unnecessary sequel finds a drug dealer raising Blacula from the grave through a voodoo ritual. Not even worth seeing for Pam Grier.
Seven Golden Vampires -- In 1974, Professor Van Helsing is recruited by kung fu experts to get rid of seven vampires, led by Dracula. This is why kung fu movies cannot be mixed with any other genre.
Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood -- We’ve already seen one vampire movie with Erika Eleniak. Here’s the other. Eleniak, Dennis Miller (WTF?) and Chris Sarandon attempt to stop Lilith, the vampire queen, from turning people into the undead. She takes over a local bordello, meaning we’ll get to see lots of topless beauties. Then again, we get to see Corey Feldman in yet another bad vampire movie role. At least we can take solace in ogling Angie Everhart.
Vamp -- Frat brothers head to a sleazy bar to pick up strippers. Awful attempt to cash in on the success of Fright Night. Grace Jones as the head vamp just can’t get a rise out of the undead.
Vampire in Brooklyn -- Wes Craven strikes for the first time. I can forgive Eddie Murphy, who needed the work and Angela Bassett wasn’t known enough to turn down such a role. But, come on, Wes.
Vampires: Los Muertos -- James Woods as a vampire hunter? Totally believable. Jon Bon Jovi as a hunter? Not even close. Especially not when his crew consists of Natasha Gregson Wagner (daughter of Natalie Wood) and Darius McCrary (of Family Matters fame). As you can see by the title, John Carpenter didn’t even want to be bothered with helming this.
Well, those are my lists. Feel free to comment and add on to them if you feel I’ve left some things out.
Please note that the views of this author are his own and not the views of Katie Salidas or Written in Blood. I happen to like some of the vampire movies he hates. Just goes to show how wide a variety of opinions there are out there in the vampire world. There's a vamp story to suit all needs. =)
A little about the author Gregory Marshall Smith
born in Somerville, Massachusetts and raised in historic Medford, is a decorated Navy veteran. Though sports writing is his profession, in his career, he has been, among other things, a national columnist, playwright, engineer, asset protection agent, editor, safety auditor, fingerprinter, training instructor and sometime actor (Heiju trilogy; Life As We Know It; The Odd Life of Timothy Green; Detroit 1-8-7; Contagion; Walker, Texas Ranger).
He is the author of the novellas Crawl and They Call the Wind Muryah, along with two anthologies (Dark Tidings Vol. I & II). He has had numerous award-winning short stories appear in Farspace 2, Writer’s Bump, Far Side of Midnight, Spectacular Speculations and SFH Dominion, among others. Hunters is his first full-length novel.Ever restless, he currently resides somewhere in America. He's the author of Hunters