Should Vampires Sparkle?

Sadly, the answer is yes. Despite your attitude toward Twilight and its ilk of bloodsuckers, this trend toward the romantic vampire was inevitable.

In the 1980’s vampire films were at an all time low. A comedy, Love at First Bite with George Hamilton, out grossed the serious remake of Dracula with Frank Langella.

Love-at-first-bite

Love at First Bite, released April 1979, grossed $44 million.

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Dracula, released July 1979, only grossed $20 million.

Vampires might be able to rise from the dead, but there was no saving poor box office results. The failure of Frank Langella’s Dracula signaled the end of the serious vampire movie. After all, how could these supernatural creatures compete with Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kruger? By all intents, the vampire film, and genre, should have never survived into the 80s.

In 1985, two more vampire films were released. One film was another comedy: Once Bitten with Jim Carrey. The second was Fright Night. The box office results showed that a serious vampire movie could compete again.

ONCE BITTEN

Once Bitten, released November 1985, only grossed $10 million.

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Fright Night, released August 1985, pulled in $25 million.

The secret to Fright Night’s success was a genre pastiche. It successfully mashed up the vampire film with the more popular teen horror flicks. Instead of a dated historic timeline, the movie existed in present day. Instead of stuffy older adults fighting the vampire, teens had to cope with the monster.

Fright Night competed will with other horror films of the time. Look a that some 1985 box office grosses: Return of the Living Dead ($14 million); Friday the 13th part V ($22 million), Nightmare on Elms Street 2 ($30 million).

The success of Fright Night led to nearly all future vampire films having a genre pastiche element. More teen films arrives (Lost Boys , 1987), along with vampire westerns (Near Dark, 1987 and From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996) and plenty of action movies mashed up with vampires (Blade, 1998 and Underworld, 2003).

So what, you ask, has this got to do with the sparkling vampires of Twilight?

It was inevitable that the romance genre would be combined with vampires. A long history of a vampire longing for a lost love existed. The 1960s television soap opera, Dark Shadows, was the first to have a romantic vampire with Barnabas. Several other movies carried this theme along, notably Blacula (1972) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

In 1991, The Vampire Diaries series featured Elena Gilbert, a human girl, who is only moved to passion by Stefan Salvatore, a vampire. These novels jump stared a whole industry of paranormal romance. The meshing of two popular genres: the supernatural and romance. It was only a matter of time before these popular books exploded onto the screen. The small screen for Vampire Diaries. And a four part movie series for Twilight.

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Vampires have so melded with romance, I doubt the two will separate. However, this doesn’t mean that different genre pastiches don’t await us in the future. Would people want to see vampire political thrillers (a bit like the Kindred)? Or supernatural detectives (like the X-Files)? The genre of vampires will not dies. It simply resurrects in different forms.

To read more about how vampires have changed through the years, check out my book: The Changing Vampire of Film and Television.

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Thanks,

Tim Kane

What Sort of Vampire Are You?

With so many choices for vampirism these days, the decision for immortality can be a daunting one. But stay with me, curious reader, as we delve into the murky world of the fanged undead. Stroll the aisles and choose the form of blood-lust that most appeals to you.

Sparkly Vampire

Yes, this the Twilight variety. Able to saunter around in daylight (looking eternally glum in the process), this vampire has some great features to consider. Sunlight has no negative effects. Plus, you become a disco-ball in the blazing sun. Bonus. Add to that the special ability you get by going vampiric (prophecy, telepathy, tracking) and you’re a vampire that’s going places.

God-Fearing Vampires

Good old fashioned undead who shriek in the sight of the crucifix. Nothing beats the original. People often debate what happens when the cross-bearer or vampire isn’t Christian. Stop it. You’re complicating things. Just accept that crosses make the vampire flesh sizzle like bacon on a griddle.

Nosferatu

Also known as the “Ugly Vampire.” These vamps often have chrome domes and pointy ears.  But hey, looks aren’t everything. You get super long fingers, nifty German-Expressionist shadows, and the ability to cause disease. Who’s missing their hair now?

And now, new and improved, Nosferatu with hair. Check out the Radu model from Sub Species.

Public Vampire

Maybe you don’t want to spend eternity in the shadows. Maybe you want to party down with your blood-sucking self. Why not opt for the public vampire. One that’s been outted from the coffin.

True, there are all those fangbangers to deal with. Groupies always flock to the famous. A warning here: with fame comes certain consequences. People want to drain your blood and sell it as the drug V. Now the vampire is the victim. Go figure.

Virus Vampire

Do you want vampire friends, but don’t relish the three bite quota of most vampire conversions? Well look no further, the virus vampire is your answer. Any blood contact, bite, scratch, hangnail, can create new vampires. This variety sprouts a nasty set of teeth, bordering on shark-like.

They have the added benefit of never truly dying. Just a bit of blood is all that it takes to revive them. Take a look at the grandaddy of long-living vampires, Christopher Lee in “Dracula, Prince of Darkness.”

Go ahead, make your choice. After all, if you’re going to be stuck with immortality, you might as well get the features you want.

Tim Kane

Nosferatu: The Film Resurrected (Part 2)

Florence Stoker, widow to Bram Stoker, did all she could to stamp out any imitators to the vampire in Dracula. She had all copies of Freidrich Willhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens burned. Yet Nosferatu did not stay dead. Like any good horror movie, the villain revived himself and carried on the fight. A print of the film resurfaced in 1929, playing to audiences in New York and Detroit. However preeminent Dracula scholar, David J. Skal, writes that the film “was not taken seriously” and that most audiences considered it “a boring picture”. The print was then purchased by Universal to see what had already been done in terms of a vampire movie. The film was studied by all the key creative personnel leading to the Universal production of Dracula in 1931.

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The undead film continued to rise from the grave throughout the years. An abridged version was aired on television in the 1960s as part of Silents Please, and subsequently released by Entertainment films under the title Terror of Dracula, and then again by Blackhawk Films under the name Dracula. Blackhawk also released the original version to the collector’s market under the title Nosferatu the Vampire. An unabridged copy of the movie survived Florence Stoker’s death warrant and was restored and screened at Berlin’s Film Festival in 1984.

Despite its influence on the making of the 1931 Dracula, Nosferatu has few film decedents. It’s theme of vampire as a scourging plague has only been seriously taken up by two films: the 1979 remake by Werner Herzog, Nosferatu: The Vampyre.

Another film (same year) was the television miniseries of Salem’s Lot, directed by Tobe Hooper.

Perhaps if the original Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens had been allowed regular release, this would not be the case. It remains to be seen if Nosferatu will vanish again with the daylight or if this rare film will rise again in a new form.

For more information on the making of the original Dracula, check out David Skal’s book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen.

Tim Kane

Nosferatu: The Film That Died (Part 1)

There is no doubt that Freidrich Willhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Symphony of Horror) is a piece of landmark cinema, both for its Expressionist filmmaking and its unique treatment of the vampire as plague. Yet few people saw this monumental film prior to 1960. Though slated for destruction by Bram Stoker’s widow, the film managed to survive, popping up in the most peculiar places.

NosferatuShadow

Here is a trailer for Nosferatu (colorized, but it’s the best of the batch) that shows just how ominous Max Schrek was in this part.

Nosferatu debuted at the Marble Hall of the Berlin Zoological Gardens in 1922. The movie was the first and last product of a small art collective called Prana Films — the brainchild of artist Albin Grau (later Nosferatu’s production designer). A month later, Florence Stoker caught wind, and she started the legal machines rolling. Her only income at this point was her deceased husband’s book Dracula, and she would not let some German production company steal her meal ticket. During the 1920s, intellectual rights were a bit dodgy, so Florence paid one British pound to join the British Incorporated Society of Authors to help defend her property. Never mind that the society would also pick up the tab for the potentially huge legal bills.

Florence_StokerFlorence seemed unaware that a second vampire film, this one called Drakula, was produced by a Hungarian company in 1921. Although the title harkens back to Bram Stoker’s novel, the resemblance ends there. This film, now lost save for some stills, was more concerned with eye gouging than straight out vampirism. Nosferatu on the other hand took much of its plot from Stoker’s Dracula, changing only the names.

The film continued to be exhibited in Germany and Budapest up through 1925, though Prana was beleaguered by creditors and harassed by Florence Stoker. They tried to settle with the society, offering a cut of the film’s take in order for them to use the Dracula title in England and America. Florence would not relent.

She not only wanted Prana to halt exhibition of the film, she wanted it torched — all prints and negatives of the film destroyed. And she got her way. In 1925 Florence won her case and the destruction order went through. Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens vanished into thin air just as Count Orlock, the vampire in the film, did when exposed to the rays of the morning sun.

For more information on the making of the original Dracula, check out David Skal’s book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen.

Tim Kane

Lucha Libre and Monsters

One of my favorite restaurants I frequent is Lucha Libre near the airport in San Diego. They make a mean chocolate mole sauce and astounding salsa. The theme of this tiny taco shop is lucha libre (thus the name). If you’re not familiar with this odd Spanish term it means “free fighting” or basically Mexican wresting.

The wrestlers of Mexico often don masks when they fight. Remember Nacho Libre, that movie with Jack Black? Same deal. However, the history of this “sport” involves secret agents, musicals, aliens, and monsters.

The first famous masked wrestler was El Santo (The Saint). Way back in 1942, El Santo changed wresting by wearing his trademark silver mask. Yet he was not constrained by the limitations of the ring. By 1958, El Santo branched out to make movies. He rode the wave of Hammer horror films as well as the James Bond films.

You can view many of El Santo’s movie posters at El Año de El Santo (The Year of El Santo). I’ve included some favorites here.

Santo against the Bad Brain was Santo’s first film.

Santo is only referred to as El Enmascarado (the masked man) and has nearly no lines in this film.

Santo and Dracula’s Treasure

This 1968 “classic” features El Santo inventing a time machine. (He was a man of many talents). They travel back in time to face of with Dracula. This movie is most famous for the version you can’t find: Santo en El vampiro y el sexo. That was the same film but with an overabundance of nude scenes.

El Santo is teamed up with Blue Demon. They fight all the monsters (from left to right): Vampire Woman, Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, and Cyclops.

Here’s the complicated plot to “Los Montruos” (1969), see if you can follow it. A mad scientist takes control of the monsters and sics them on the wrestlers. That’s pretty much it.

I sense some copyright infringement here with Marvel. Too bad the movie was made almost 40 years ago in Turkey.

El Santo teamed up with Captain America (which I could totally see, by the way) to take on Spider-man (who is apparently a villain). This gem came out in 1973 in Turkey. Completely unlicensed, the Turks felt they could lift any character to use in their films.

For a full list of Santo’s exploits and reviews of his films, check out The Films of El Santo.

Tim Kane

Nosferatu: The Film That Wouldn’t Die

There is no doubt that Freidrich Willhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Symphony of Horror) is a piece of landmark cinema, both for its Expressionist filmmaking and its unique treatment of the vampire as plague. Yet few people saw this monumental film prior to 1960. Though slated for destruction by Bram Stoker’s widow, the film managed to survive, popping up in the most peculiar places.

Nosferatu debuted at the Marble Hall of the Berlin Zoological Gardens in 1922. The movie was the first and last product of a small art collective called Prana Films — the brainchild of artist Albin Grau (later Nosferatu’s production designer). A month later, Florence Stoker caught wind, and she started the legal machines rolling. Her only income at this point was her deceased husband’s book Dracula, and she would not let some German production company steal her meal ticket. During the 1920s, intellectual rights were a bit dodgy, so Florence paid one British pound to join the British Incorporated Society of Authors to help defend her property. Never mind that the society would also pick up the tab for the potentially huge legal bills.

Florence seemed unaware that a second vampire film, this one called Drakula, was produced by a Hungarian company in 1921. Although the title harkens back to Bram Stoker’s novel, the resemblance ends there. This film, now lost save for some stills, was more concerned with eye gouging than straight out vampirism. Nosferatu on the other hand took much of its plot from Stoker’s Dracula, changing only the names.

The film continued to be exhibited in Germany and Budapest up through 1925, though Prana was beleaguered by creditors and harassed by Florence Stoker. They tried to settle with the society, offering a cut of the film’s take in order for them to use the Dracula title in England and America. Florence would not relent.

She not only wanted Prana to halt exhibition of the film, she wanted it torched — all prints and negatives of the film destroyed. And she got her way. In 1925 Florence won her case and the destruction order went through. Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens vanished into thin air just as Count Orlock, the vampire in the film, did when exposed to the rays of the morning sun.

Nosferatu did not stay dead. Like any good horror movie, the villain revived himself and carried on the fight. A print of the film resurfaced in 1929, playing to audiences in New York and Detroit. However preeminent Dracula scholar, David J. Skal, writes that the film “was not taken seriously” and that most audiences considered it “a boring picture”. The print was then purchased by Universal to see what had already been done in terms of a vampire movie. The film was studied by all the key creative personnel leading to the Universal production of Dracula in 1931.

The undead film continued to rise from the grave throughout the years. An abridged version was aired on television in the 1960s as part of Silents Please, and subsequently released by Entertainment films under the title Terror of Dracula, and then again by Blackhawk Films under the name Dracula. Blackhawk also released the original version to the collector’s market under the title Nosferatu the Vampire. An unabridged copy of the movie survived Florence Stoker’s death warrant and was restored and screened at Berlin’s Film Festival in 1984.

Despite its influence on the making of the 1931 Dracula, Nosferatu has few film decedents. It’s theme of vampire as a scourging plague has only been seriously taken up by two films: the 1979 remake by Werner Herzog, Nosferatu: The Vampyre, and the 1979 television miniseries of Salem’s Lot, directed by Tobe Hooper. Perhaps if the original Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens had been allowed regular release, this would not be the case. It remains to be seen if Nosferatu will vanish again with the daylight or if this rare film will rise again in a new form.

For more information on the making of the original Dracula, check out David Skal’s book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen.

Tim Kane

Top 10 Vampire Movies You Need to Watch

I have watched A LOT of vampire films. Not all of them are wonderful or even watchable. I recall one, Jugular Wine, that I only lasted fifteen minutes. Don’t take that as a dare to watch it. It’s not worth your effort. Although the film Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter sounds interesting, it is too odd to really enjoy. And then there are the musical numbers (yes, you heard me right).

In honor of my book, The Changing Vampire of Film and Television, passing the 500 sales mark, I picked the top ten vampire films every horror devote should see. My criteria for choosing these films were the following: Could I watch this movie over and over and not be bored; was there some nifty artistic qualities (like cinematography, set and costume design, and direction); Finally, did any of it make me laugh.

10. Son of Dracula
Why put a Dracula sequel (the third in Universal’s series), with the inscrutable Lon Chaney Jr. as Dracula, on a list of vampire movies? The short answer is that it sticks with me. Take Dr. Brewster, who pokes his nose where it doesn’t belong as only an American can do. There’s also a very physical Dracula, who strangles his adversaries. The special effects are well done for the 1940s. Dracula transforms into mist and a bat, and also dissolves when the sun rises (the first on screen since Nosferatu).

9. Blacula
Okay, I know this was part of the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s and as a time capsule for that era you couldn’t do any better. This is the one film where a vampire walking around in a cape attracts no attention. Surprisingly, Blacula has a lot to offer even as a vampire film. William Marshall puts depth into his portrayal of Mamuwalde, an African Prince who has been imprisoned in a coffin by Dracula. His original love, Luva, is reincarnated as Tina. And check out this this love line: “I live again, to loose you twice.” In the end, when Tina is destroyed, Blacula decides to take his own life, staggering up into the sunlight and dissolving. After you get past the camp factor, Blacula has a lot to offer as a vampire film.

8. Dracula
I know I’m going to get crucified for putting the Bela Lugosi film in 8th. But let’s be serious, is this film really frightening anymore? The film drags, and this is due to Tod Browning’s direction. Browning did not pay close attention to how the film was shot and edited. In one scene, on the balcony, there is an “endless take” of about three minutes where the camera never moves. Dracula remains, however, a strong film. It has some stunning visuals (due mostly to Karl Freund, the camera man) like when Dracula emerges from his coffin. Bela Lugosi’s performance remains unmatched. Because he had to learn his English lines phonetically, he inserted odd pauses to his delivery, thus creating the famous Lugosi accent. Finally, Dracula would not be complete without Dwight Frye’s manic performance as Renfield. His laughter alone should put this movie on anyone’s list.

7. Return of the Vampire
This film marked the return of Bela Lugosi to the role of a vampire, Armand Tesla. The werewolf servant (now a staple in Halloween lore) had its start in this film with Andreas Obry, played by Matt Willis. He redeems himself in the end, dragging the hapless vampire into the sunlight, which oddly doesn’t kill him. Tesla seems merely stunned by the daylight. Andreas drives spike through his chest, causing the vampire to melt away, a special effect quite gruesome in its day.

6. Underworld
Guns, vampires, werewolves, and tight leather outfits. How could you loose? Underworld takes the art direction of the Matrix and meshes it with a Mafioso-style action movie. The casting of Bill Nighy as the head vampire, Viktor, added just a bit more panache (he also was Davy Jones in the Pirates movies). The film’s original concept was to remake Romeo and Juliet only with werewolves and vampires. If you extract the sappy romance and beef up the Tybalt, you get Underworld.

5. From Dusk Till Dawn
Technically this is only half a vampire flick. The first part is pure Quentin Tarantino dialogue and plot line. Robert Rodriguez’s shoot ‘em style doesn’t take charge until the main characters reach the Titty Twister bar across the Mexican border. Tom Savini (the makeup master for Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th) sports a penis shaped pistol that springs from his belt buckle. The priest, played by Harvey Keitel, can’t bring himself to curse, yet blows away multiple vampires with a shotgun that doubles as a cross. Honestly, if you haven’t seen this movie, then stop what you’re doing and rent it. You have a nearly naked Salma Hayek dancing with a snake. Need I say more?

4. Fright Night (The Original)
A campy vampire film set dead in the middle of the 1980s. With that said, it single handedly revived the vampire genre. What works about this film is that writer-director, Tom Holland, did his homework. The main character, Charley Brewster, has a name borrowed from Son of Dracula. While the actor and vampire hunter, Peter Vincent, is a combination of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing (See Horror of Dracula below). Peter Vincent is unusual in that he is terrified of vampires and cowardly through most of the film. While the vampire Jerry Dandrige, played to the hilt by Chris Sarandon, eats up the scenery, and several apples. I read that Sarandon added the apples because somewhere in his family tree was a fruit bat. (Insert rim shot.) As a film it nears perfection, but you have to overlook the sad 1980’s attire and mandatory dance scene.

3. Horror of Dracula
This film marked the first color Dracula and spawned eight sequels. It also starred a pair of actors that became notorious in their own right: Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Dracula. Hammer Films took full advantage of Technicolor with dripping fangs and bloodshot eyes. The studio acquired the rights from Universal so long as they didn’t use any of the trademark looks or plots from the original Dracula movies. The result is a somewhat haphazard tale set in Germany. In the final face-off between the two adversaries, Peter Cushing crosses two candlesticks to from a crucifix, thereby driving Dracula into the sunlight. A classic move now a part of vampire lore.

2. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Some people hate this film. I choose to embrace it, bad acting and all. In terms of the acting, I am of course referring to Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves. Winona was so adamant about not showing guilt (apparently she doesn’t believe in the emotion) that director and cast members had to shout obscene things to her from off camera to get any reaction. However, this movie best portrays the novel by Bram Stoker. Yes it inserted a reincarnated love. (Remember Blacula? You never thought that movie could be so groundbreaking did you?) Gary Oldman’s performance as Dracula was spot on, adding layers of back story to a traditionally flat character. Finally factor in Francis Ford Coppola’s fauvist set and lighting and you have a masterpiece of a movie.

1. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
Let me say this up front, I am not an Anne Rice fan. However, I love the movie Neil Jordan crafted from her prose. Even Anne Rice, who at first threw a fit over the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat, had to eat crow. Brad Pitt admirably butches up the role of Louis, and a young Kirsten Dunst holds her own as Claudia. One particularly moving scene is when Claudia and her newly transformed companion are set in a sewer at sunrise. We see the light slice down the wall, and strike the couple, now embracing. When Louis discovers them, the bodies flake away as ash. This film is the culmination of the mood and themes from sixty years of vampire films.

I know I will get flack for the films on this list. You may have your own favorites that didn’t make it. Or perhaps you feel the order is wrong. I invite you to share your opinion. Remember, these are all great vampire films, whatever order you put them in.

Tim Kane