The 411 Movies Top 5 11.16.12: Week 343 – Top 5 Vampire Movies
Welcome to Week 348 of the Movie Zone 3 R’s. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.
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5. Blade II (2002)
When it comes to the Blade franchise, most people, naturally, think of the performance of Wesley Snipes as the daywalker vampire killer Blade. Blade is an out and out badass killer, a man you don’t want to mess with, and a man who, despite possessing some vampire traits (strength, speed, a need for blood) absolutely hates them. And when you see Blade in action against vampires the poor bastards really don’t stand a chance. So what should go up against a guy like Blade to make it a fair fight? Enter Blade II‘s Nomak (Luke Goss), a mutant vampire that’s stronger and nastier than a regular vampire. He kills people, sure, but he also kills vampires. In fact, he loves killing vampires. It’s all part of his revenge plot against his father. Blade’s ultimate fight with Nomak is a knock down drag out brawl, a series of vicious beatings. And then there’s Nomak’s goddamn mouth. That’s disgusting and terrifying.
4. Near Dark (1987)
Everyone marvels at the idea of vampires essentially appearing in a western, which is what Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark basically is. But what gets at me, and what I remember about the movie, is its overall sleaze factor (well, that and the whole “vampire kid bursting into flames” thing). From Bill Paxton’s creepy turn as Severen to Lance Henriksen’s Jesse Hooker, there’s absolutely nothing romantic or charismatic about these creatures. They exist to kill and drink blood and, on occasion, spit up bullets. Think about that scene in the bar where Severen drinks blood from that guy’s neck. These people are just awful.
3. Martin (1976)
Directed by George A. Romero, Martin is a vampire movie about a vampire (Martin, as played by John Amplas) that may not even be a vampire. Martin kills people so he can drink their blood, yes, and he has weird beard visions where he’s a sort of “classical” vampire, but we’re not sure if that stuff is real. He could be a vampire, or he could just be an incredibly disturbed young man with a need to kill people. And it’s that mystery that makes the movie so powerful. Martin’s granduncle Cuda thinks he’s a real vampire, but he’s an old guy who believes in magic. Can you trust him? Brilliant stuff.
2. Vampires (1998)
Vampires, directed by John Carpenter, is a movie about a group of men, hired killers, who hunt down vampires in the American southwest. Paid for by the Catholic Church, these hunters, these slayers, are a vicious group of individuals who show no mercy when dealing with vampires. Led by Jack Crow (James Woods), the slayers take great joy in finding monsters and taking them out into the sun to burn. At the same time, the vampires, led by Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), are brutal, nasty creatures that hunt people down, drink their blood, and in the process make more vampires. This movie still packs a punch fourteen years later, and I have a feeling it will still kick as much as in the future.
1. Dracula (1931)
It’s kind of hard to not have Tod Browning’s Dracula as the ultimate vampire movie as Bela Lugosi’s performance as Count Dracula is still the one performance all vampire performers try to top. Christopher Lee almost did it (he’s a close second when it comes to Dracula) and Gary Oldman did a good job, but Lugosi’s Dracula is still the Dracula, still the vampire image everyone thinks of when someone says “vampire.” Lugosi’s voice, his presence, even his dress, it’s still the image everyone tries to surpass. No one has in eighty years. I doubt anyone ever will.
Honorable Mentions: Thirst, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Vampyr, From Dusk Till Dawn, Cronos
5. The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
This is certainly not Roman Polanski’s most well-known effort, but I highly enjoy it because it adds the element of comedy to the vampire mythos. Certainly it’s not the only film in history to do this, but I prefer vampire flicks that avoid clichés and this one is definitely unique. Imagine the Marx brothers starring in a vampire film from Hammer Studios and you have a good idea what to expect here. Polanski’s direction and script (co-written with Gerard Bach) balances the humor and horror quite well. Neither one overwhelms the other, which is not easy to nail down. Jack McGowran and Polanski himself make a hilarious duo, both turning in solid performances. The rest of the cast is top-notch also. Polanski and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (who shot the Indiana Jones films) chose a naturalistic look with a gothic shade that accentuates the vivid terrain. The picture is filled with memorable moments. One of the best is the climactic ball where Abronsius, Alfred, and Sarah dance with the gathering of Von Krolock’s vampire converts, but their true nature is revealed once they step in front of a mirror. This is not a flawless piece of work and many movie buffs are divided about its quality, but it’s entertaining as hell. It is dated and needs some fine-tuning for the pace, but I thought it was a blast and have watched it a few times now.
4. Near Dark (1987)
In her sophomore effort as a filmmaker, Katheryn Bigelow delivered one of the more satisfying vampire movies out there. Bigelow knows how to craft action and drama, which she blends beautifully here, but she also tosses in a sweet love story. She sets the tale in the rural American southwest and creates a sort of Western noir. The ingredients end up mixing brilliantly. You can incorporate the classic vampire trademarks, but ultimately, your movie needs to emphasize character above all else and that’s what Bigelow and co-screenwriter Eric Red understand in this glimpse at lost youth. The pace is outstanding from start to finish and the 95 minutes breezes by. The acting absolutely helps as everyone knows the proper tone for the material. Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Tim Thomerson, and more are all superb. It has been more than 20 years since this was released, but it still feels as alive, fresh, funny, action-packed, and poignant as it did then.
3. Martin (1976)
George A. Romero is mostly known for his …of the Dead franchise and rightly so, but I find it unfortunate that Martin has gone almost unnoticed over the years. I don’t know of any other vampire film like this one. It stands out from the pack. The titular character is fascinating. It follows a young man who believes himself to be a vampire and goes to live with his cousin after his family passes away. Much of the information about Martin is revealed through his conversations on a radio station, which was intriguing. Romero stated that this was his favorite of all his films. His direction is magnificent, transcending the low-budget roots, yet maintaining his graphic sensibilities and realistic approach. This is a study of angst that is impressive because of how Romero manages to infuse ambiguity via dreams, visions, etc. A lot of questions are raised and not all of them are answered, but the mystery adds to the appeal. We’re not quite sure what to think at times. Martin is an ambitious, mesmerizing, and poetic film. The only hiccup with it is that some of the acting is shaky, but John Amplas is fantastic in the lead role and that’s the most important part. The original cut ran at 165 minutes. The available one is 95 minutes. Sadly no copies of this are known to exist. The DVD is out there, but it’s not easy to acquire. Do yourself a favor and check this out soon!
2. Let The Right One In (2008)
This stands as probably the best vampire film in decades. It proves how inventive, absorbing, and emotional a tale about vampires can be. It is a masterpiece that loyal followers of this sub-genre wait patiently for amidst your Twilights and comparably mediocre offerings. It follows Oskar, a boy who is constantly bullied in school. He finds comfort and revenge from an odd girl in his development who turns out to be a vampire. Tomas Alfredson’s direction is intelligent, measured, and unforgettable. His depictions of violence have a certain elegance and beauty to them. This is about two children who need each other and as such it is incredibly moving. The remake Let Me In has merit, but it’s basically a sanitized imitation of the original. I was lucky enough to catch this in the theater and loved it immediately. Since then, the subtitles on the DVD created controversy because they were changed for some reason and dumbed down. Shortly thereafter the remake was released and this issue was swept under the rug, which is a shame. There are copies with the theatrical subtitles floating around. It is worth the effort to find one.
1. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
My favorite vampire movie is 90 years old and is still just as mind-blowing. It is the 1922 masterpiece from director F.W. Murnau. Although it is not an official adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel Dracula, it is easily the best in any form, official or not. Murnau accomplishes things with a camera, such as manipulating shadow and light, in amazing ways that some filmmakers today still don’t know how to do properly. The images Murnau puts on screen are both terrifying and enthralling all at the same time. Watching Nosferatu for the first time will change the way you view horror. Max Schreck is phenomenal as Graf Orlock, a frightening villain whose rise from the coffin is a sequence one will never shake from their head. I love this film and thankfully Kino released an appropriately awesome transfer on DVD in 2007. Werner Herzog’s remake is really good too. The Dracula with Bela Lugosi is by far the most popular, and I would never discount Lugosi’s sensational performance, but the movie as a whole was far from flawless. Nosferatu has none.
Honorable Mentions: Black Sunday, Cronos, Horror of Dracula, Martin, Near Dark, Shadow of the Vampire, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Vampyr
5. Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002)
Probably best known for his 2007 surrealist documentary My Winnipeg, (described by its director as a “docu-fantasia”) Guy Maddin’s silent interpretation of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s take of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is unlike any vampire movie you’re likely to see in modern times. It is a wonderful combination of cinema and theater that accentuates the dreamlike elements of the source material and tells the story we all know and love in a more weird, erotic, rhapsodically artistc manner. More poetry than horror, it is still a vampire film, still the tale of Dracula bent and twisted and an extraordinary new take on an old theme.
4. Dracula (1931)
Bela Lugosi’s performance. Karl Freund’s cinematography. The quotes (“I never drink…wine”). The sets. If Murnau’s Nosferatu is the best, Tod Browning’s Dracula is the most influential and copied, Lugosi’s performance in particular. Gone was the animalistic portrayal given by Shreck; Lugosi’s Count is exotic, deliberate, mesmerizing. Karl Freund, former collaborator of F.W. Murnau (on The Last Laugh), and his cinematography almost upstage Lugosi and also is reported to have taken over directing duties for Browning numerous times during the shoot. It’s the film that launched the modern take on Dracula and on a more human-like vampire.
3. Let the Right One In (2008)
It’s always hard to try and evaluate a recent film’s impact and legacy. Sure, we tend to label a bunch of movies as “classics” and “masterpieces” every year, and we really do believe it when we say it. But it’s rather rare that a film comes out of nowhere and establishes itself as a film of its time and a work which finds universal praise from critics and average moviegoers alike. Let the Right One In still resounds four years later as perhaps the most definitive “misunderstood” vampire movie ever made. Its love story – between children no less – puts the more popular and commercially successful Twilight to shame (many times over) and even its not-really-necessary American remake was really good. It’s chilling, clinical horror told through a coming-of-age story that is resonant and heartbreaking. It is the best vampire movie in the past three-and-a-half decades and one of the best foreign imports as well.
2. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Wener Herzog is one of my favorite directors and he was never better than when he collaborated with Klaus Kinski. Fans of the pair will debate which of their collaborations they prefer, but most will likely agree that Nosferatu the Vampyre deserves serious consideration as the best. Herzog’s ode to F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent classic and German culture before the horrors of Nazism infected the nation, is a film stripped of the usual necessary elements of film. The story – which we already know even if we’ve never seen the film before – is unimportant, the spoken dialogue (dubbed for some cast members) irrelevant. Nosferatu the Vampyre is about Herzog’s evocative direction, Kinski’s disarmingly unpretentious, pathetically tragic take on The Count and on a film that is a beautiful, creepy ode to vampirism and Murnau’s original masterpiece. Nobody would ever accuse Herzog of skimping or merely ripping off past works and his use of Nosferatu/Dracula as the bringer of the Plague to Europe – complete with 11,000 rats – adds an element not as explored in other adaptations of the tale.
1. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
F.W. Murnau would be a prodigious and exemplary filmmaker in any era of cinema history. He had a grasp of direction and photography that few of his contemporaries (and a few modern filmmakers) could even hope to have, but also because he knew how to tell a story through imagery. He’s a giant whose legacy and work is still marveled at, whose films remain some of the works that form the foundation of the art form. Is his Nosferatu scary? No, not particularly. Creepy, eerie, haunting, yes. But not really scary in the sense we’ve come accustomed to by modern horror. What this and the Herzog version have in common is a kind of horror that seems lost today, even though it is of a type that stays with you long after seeing it – much more so than other, more modern and viscerally gratifying forms of horror. Murnau’s masterpiece basically brought the vampire tale to the big screen, used the interplay of shadow and light almost better than anyone else, had genuinely great makeup/effects work and the things that make it great are his more t han Stoker’s. As Dave Kehr puts it: “the eerie intrusions of expressionist style on natural settings, the strong sexual subtext, and the daring use of fast-motion and negative photography.” Max Schrek still gives the best, creepiest take on the Dracula archetype, more animal than man, a rodent who carries the plague and stench of death. Before Dracula became Dracula, before the genre descended into camp and vampires began to sparkle, Nosferatu was the first – and remains the best – vampire movie ever made.
5. The Lost Boys
This movie brings back so many memories for me. I still get nostalgic when I hear Gerard McMann’s “Cry Little Sister”. I saw this movie when I was younger and may have watched it a million times since then. The film is silly at times but it is elevated by the chemistry of a great ensemble cast, which includes: Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Fieldman, and the late Corey Haim – Rest in Peace. Joel Schumacher may have raped our cinematic souls with Batman & Robin, but he shall always have my respect for giving us The Lost Boys.
4. Interview with the Vampire
There are just too many reasons why I love this movie. Many of those reasons have to do with Tom Cruise’s intense performance as the vampire Lestat. Almost every scene that involves his character is a show stealer, which is a rare thing to say about Tom Cruise. Also just the sheer quality of the production is quite fantastic. It’s uncommon to have such tremendous acting, direction, cinematography, and score put together in a vampire film. The Anne Rice adaptation is by far one of the best films to grace vampire cinema and one of the most underrated films of the 90’s.
Say what you want about the career of Wesley Snipes, but this man owned the role of Blade. Snipes incorporated a “less is more” style to the character, creating an unpredictable nature in the half-breed hero. The film also had the benefit of having Kris Kristofferson playing the role of Whistler, who was kind of like a rugged biker version of Batman’s Alfred. Some of the special effects are dated, but the film’s over-the-top gory climax is still a really fun action sequence. Add-in the involvement of a kick-ass soundtrack and this makes for a fun-filled techno-blasting action bloodfest that is worth multiple viewings.
2. Let the Right One In
This film is basically a vampire masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it, change this right now. Let the Right One In deals with a subject most stories don’t in this genre, which is the effects that immortality has on children. The love story between the two characters of Oskar and Eli is so wonderfully performed by its younger leads that Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson look as dramatic as Saved by the Bell. Nothing against the Twi-Hards, but this film adds so much more to the vampire mythos. For example, there is an interesting connection between vampires and cats that the film subtly explores. Also, a horrific detail involving why vampires won’t come in unless they are invited. Let the Right One In is a chilling and unforgettable vampire tale that will stick in your mind long after the experience.
1. From Dusk ‘Til Dawn
I have to give my number one pick to my hometown Texas hero, Robert Rodriguez. I love how the film brilliantly introduces the duo of George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino with its fantastically violent opening sequence. The insane chemistry these guys had during the first half of the movie makes me wonder why Clooney has not worked with Rodriguez and Tarantino ever since. The story also switches genres from violent bandit hostage film to over-the-top B-movie horror with surprisingly little ease. The dialogue in this film is done hilariously well. I don’t think I’ve laughed harder at a description of vampires than hearing Clooney say this, “Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don’t give a fuck how crazy they are!” From Dusk ‘Til Dawn is an exceptionally well done vampire film that will forever be one of my all time favorites.
5. Thirst (2009)
Vampire movies over the next twenty years morphed from action packed superhero movies like Blade into the young adult romance format that many kids today enjoy. However 2009 featured a foreign movie called Thirst that is unlike the teenaged gothic vampire movies in every way. Park Chan-wook created this non-traditional vampire movie about a priest infected with vampire blood thanks to a blood transfusion and begins to lose his grip on his sanity. The movie is dark, demented and horrific, exactly what horror movie fans want from their vampire tales.
4. Dracula (1931)
You can’t make a list of the best vampire movies without one of the two originals, either Dracula or Nosferatu. I choose Dracula because I love Bela Lugosi’s performance in the movie. It was based more on the stage play than on the novel, which Nosferatu was unofficially based on. However, if you want a real treat, grab the Dracula DVD that also has the Spanish version on it, which is superior to the American version. However, both are classics that remain at the top of most vampire movie lists.
3. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
In 2000, one of the greatest recent non-traditional vampire movies traced the fictional making of Nosferatu. Shadow of the Vampire starred John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau and Willem DaFoe as Max Schreck, the actor who played Nosferatu in the original movie. This movie supposes that Max Schreck was, in fact, a real vampire hired to make the movie more realistic in exchange for the neck of the leading lady at the end of shooting. The movie, granted a limited release, garnered enough critical acclaim to earn two Oscar nominations.
2. Near Dark (1987)
The success of The Lost Boys is what hurt Near Dark, a vampire movie that is better in every way than the more teen-centered Schumacher film. Directed by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark is a brooding and violent vampire movie that never once, through the entire film, uses the word “vampire.” A roving pack of blood suckers, led by the child like Homer and the charismatic Jesse, arrive in an Oklahoma town and find a new companion when a young girl in their pack bites and turns a guy, which then drives a wedge into the group. The standout performance in the movie is by Bill Paxton as the sociopathic vampire Severen, stealing every scene in which he appears.
1. Let the Right One In (2008)
This was not the first foreign vampire movie to present the tales of vampirism in unique and interesting ways. In 2008, the Swedish novel Let the Right One In became one of the greatest movies about vampires to ever hit the big screens. Many Americans know the story through the remake Let Me In, but the original holds a power that transcends almost every vampire movie to come before. Ignoring the pathos of teenage love and gothic romance, this story is about childhood friendships, trust, loyalty, murder and eventually betrayal. Out of all the non-traditional vampire movies, Let the Right One In sits at the top as the king of the genre.
What is your choice for the best vampire movie?
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