Another day, another list … this one of the Ten Best Screen Vampires at the Guardian was winning me hands down until the very end, where once again the confusion about popular equating to good kicked in. Honestly, if you want a vampire struggling with their nature and trying to practise restraint, wouldn’t you go for one that actually makes you feel the true weight of that struggle rather than just mooching about – at best a cad, at worst a dirty old man? Like, say, Louis in Interview, or eponymous Angel, or even Nick Knight (probably more the TV show than the movie)? Still, nine out of 10 ain’t bad (even if I’d probably have plumbed for Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia in Interview as my child representative).
Marianne de Pierres is scoping for readers’ (and viewers’) favourite vampires at her blog, while Nicole Adams has assembled a dubious top 14 vampire stories at hers. Good to see Dracula and Nosferatu made the Phlebotomy cut, despite their lack of supplementary cross-media tie-ins that seem to inform the rest of the selection. Nothing like a list to get tongues wagging, eh?
To whit, I’ve already listed my favourite vampire movies, so, riffing off MdP, here’s my pick of the screen vampires:
Bela Lugosi’s Dracula
Max Shreck’s Orlok
Klaus Kinski’s Orlok
Gary Oldman’s Dracula
Christopher Lee’s Dracula
Ingrid Pitt’s Carmilla
Near Dark’s vampire gang
Buffy’s Drusilla (and Spike, and Darla)
Catherine Deneuve’s Miriam
Willem Dafoe’s Shreck
Tom Cruise’s Lestat
Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia
Udo Keir’s Dracula
That’s 15 and quite a mouthful. I wonder if Kiefer Sutherland and David Boreanaz are unjustly omitted? And you know better than to mention Edward here, right?
So what is it about these screen portrayals that makes them stand out for me? Let’s see. Udo’s a maniac, Cruise excelled where no one expected him to. Shreck is impossible to forget and both Kinski and Dafoe paid amazing homage (Kinski in Vampire in Venice was also divine). Lugosi and Lee are likewise iconic. Near Dark is gritty and nihilistic. Dunst, Oldman, Deneuve and Pitt all offer nuances of characterisation you just don’t often get in a screen vampire. Buffy’s bunch are simply damn good fun, each in their own way. If there’s a theme running through these portrayals, it might be one of dealing with immortality – there’s a loneliness to these vampires, an otherness, that strikes deeper than the usual predator of the night depiction. They might be sexy, zany, insane, downright nasty, but all seem to suffer from the common malaise of being more-or-less alone in their timelessness. Maybe that’s part of why their performance lingers long after the credits have ended.
5 must-see vampire movies
1. Near Dark (1987): Director Kathryn Bigelow takes a vampire gang on the road – the v-word is never mentioned – and mayhem ensues, with help from a superb cast. Tangerine Dream provide the soundtrack.
2. Dracula (1931): Bela Lugosi helps imprint Bram Stoker’s Dracula as the archetype for decades to come, with gorgeous atmospheric cinematography.
cf Dracula (aka The Horror of, 1958) in which Christopher Lee adds his indelible stamp on the character in the first of Hammer’s long series of Dracula flicks.
3. Nosferatu (1922): A German silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, not suffering at all from copyright conflict with Stoker’s widow.
cf Nosferatu The Vampyre (a 1979 riff by Werner Herzog with Klaus Kinski in the title role: glorious!) and Shadow of the Vampire (2000) in which John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe have far too much fun bringing a behind-the-scenes tale of the making of Nosferatu to amazing life.
4. The Hunger (1983): Whitley Strieber’s novel is made all the more classy with Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie caught in a sunlit net of love, blood and death, beautifully directed by Tony Scott.
5. Vampire Lovers (1970): Ingrid Pitt is sensational as Camilla in this Hammer take of Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic lesbian love story.
cf other Hammer standouts Vampire Circus (1972, in which a travelling circus comes to town) and Twins of Evils (1971, a sexy tale of a vampire seeking to tempt — you guessed it, twins in diaphanous gowns — to his way of life. er, death).
* You’ll notice my cop-out with the ‘see alsos’: just couldn’t decide on five from such a vast field that includes worthies such as Interview with the Vampire and Lost Boys. Maybe I should’ve gone for a top 10.
5 must-see werewolf movies
1. The Wolfman (1941): Lon Chaney Jr does for the werewolf what Bela did for the vampire.
cf The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), another ‘traditional’ man-becomes-monster scenario given gravitas by Oliver Reed (who quite possibly was a werewolf; he was certainly a wild man!).
2. The Howling (1981): Psychiatry meets the beast within. No guesses as to who wins in this stylish attempt to move the werewolf into modern society.
cf Wolf (1994) with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer for a similar attempt with a great latrine moment.
3. Ginger Snaps (2000): Puberty is truly blue for two sisters caught up in the change. Two sequels are also notable for actually taking the story somewhere new.
4. The Company of Wolves (1984): Neil Jordan directs Angela Lansbury in a fairy tale about men who are hairy on the inside. You’ve been warned, Red!
5. An American Werewolf in London (1981): great soundtrack, cool corpses and Jenny Agutter. What’s not to like in this fine balance of pathos and humour?
Trivia bonus: David Bowie was a vampire in The Hunger and contributed this lovely song to the 1982 Cat People soundtrack.