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Foreign Undead: a Top 10 Vampire Movies
by Michael McCarty

I've seen a lot of vampire movies and read a lot of vampire books while preparing to write my own vampire manuscript 'Liquid Diet'. I did all this research so my undead opus wouldn't be like other vampire books and movies. Then, after I started writing Liquid Diet, I ended up satirising and doing parodies of all the vampire books and movies anyway...
Talking about vampires, this is my list of top 10 vampire films from an international selection. The common misconception about early vampire movies is that the bloodsucker is usually an English blueblood nobleman who lives in a darkened castle. The earliest vampire movies were all foreign films with foreign actors. In 1920, the first film based on Dracula was shot in Russia - no copies are known to survive. In 1921, Hungarian filmmaker, Karoly Lafthay, made the second film based on Dracula, titled Drakula, but no copies are known to exist of that one either. The earliest Dracula motion picture that hasn't turned to dust is the 1922 German fright film, Nosferatu.
   In fact, the first Hollywood version of Dracula featured a Hungarian born actor named Bela Lugosi (whose birthplace is in Lugos, Hungary - which was located some 50 miles from Transylvania). So grab a stake and some garlic, and until the darkness brings us back together, I bid you adieu.

The Last Man On Earth (1964)
Besides Bram Stoker's Dracula, or Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire, Richard Matheson's novella I Am Legend is one of the most intriguing, imaginative and influential vampire stories ever written. Even George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead was inspired by this book, and The Last Man On Earth was the first adaptation of it. Vincent Price is the solo survivor of a mysterious plague that has turned the rest of the planet into vampires. After the sun has set, he barricades himself against the bloodsuckers that surround his home. During the day he gathers garlic, makes stakes and destroys them.
   Price was perfect for the role. I especially enjoy the scenes with him playing loud jazz music and drinking plenty of alcohol to drown out the noise of the vampires trying to break in. His past, however, still plagues him. A creepy and atmospheric thriller despite its low budget, one of the eeriest moments occurs when Price is driving around the streets cluttered with dead bodies. The film was remade with a bigger budget and in colour in 1971 as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, but that movie was even further away from Matheson's material and the vampiric elements were watered down.
   A second remake was in the works. It going to be called 'I Am Legend' and director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator, Total Recall) were supposed to team up for a big blockbuster. The latest word on the I Am Legend remake is that Will Smith (Men In Black) is scheduled to star in the movie. The Ridley Scott project was dropped because it was projected to have over a 100 million dollar budget. I just hope Smith doesn't make I Am Legend a lightweight popcorn seller. The Last Man On Earth is recommended, but more recommended is reading Matheson's book.

Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
This odd colour and sound remake of Nosferatu didn't fare well because it had to compete against Universal's Dracula, starring the fetching Frank Langella, and the Dracula spook-spoof Love At First Bite. Since Dracula had become public domain, there was no need to disguise the storyline, so the film kept the characters' original names from Stoker's book. The opening shot sets the realistic and creepy look of the film - mummified corpses (some of them actual Aztec mummies) of the count's victims - you know this going be a shocker.
   Not as expressionistic as the original, the remake does have moments of scary surrealism. In of the weirdest scenes, Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) tries to escape from Castle Dracula, and falls and lands on the cobblestone street below. As he lies unconscious, a boy plays a violin above him. The two leads are marvellous. Klaus Kinski's makeup is just as ghastly as the prosthetics worn by Max Schreck. Lucy (played by Academy Award nominee Isabelle Adjani) is very beautiful and one of the few women in vampire films to take matters in their own hands. And the love scene between them at the end is hot, hot, hot - probably a little too racy for its PG rating - but I'm not complaining.
   Werner Herzog has a marvellous visual style - dark, moody and beautiful, all at the same time. And the swarms of rats are even more frightening in this haunting remake. Highly recommended is the Anchor Bay widescreen edition, dubbed or with subtitles.  [review]

Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974)
Very weird, a bit too campy, but extremely funny - with an almost wickedly twisted sense of humour, this modern Dracula (an excellent performance by Udo Kier, who more recently played the king of the vampires in Blade) has a terrible dilemma - he must have 'wirgin' blood or he'll die - and this during the heat of the sexual revolution, finding a virgin is a difficult task.
   So, Drac and his butler (Arno Juerging) leave the safe confines of their castle in Transylvania and take a sojourn to nice Catholic Italy and move in with a farming family with four maiden daughters. To the Count's horror, he finds that the macho Marxist gardener (played to the hilt by Joe Dallesandro) has been de-flowering the daughters. Every time the vampire drinks non-virgin blood he violently regurgitates it. Bloody and sick - but very humorous. Not recommended viewing while eating.

Blood & Donuts (1995)
Despite the dorky title, this Canadian vampire movie is extremely quirky and fun. The Toronto vampire Boya (Gordon Currie, who looks like he has a bad Jim Morrison haircut) awakes from his 25-year slumber disoriented because things have changed dramatically over the last quarter century (the last thing he saw was Apollo 11 landing on the Moon). In need of a bad caffeine fix, he hangs out at a dilapidated donut cafe with the pretty waitress Molly (Helene Clarkson), and regular customer Earl the cabbie (Justin Louis).
   Boya has a run-in with local gangster (played by filmmaker David Cronenberg) and his thugs who are trying to takeover the neighbourhood. The movie has some cool tunes too, like Jay Hawkins blues standard, 'I Put A Spell On You,' the Platters' classic 'Twilight Time' and 'Concrete Blondes' bloodsucker anthem 'Bloodletting (The Vampire Song).' The film reminds me of an undead version of the cult classic The Brother From Another Planet. This is a good blend of humour and horror - an offbeat vampire flick that is worthy to watch.

Cronos (1994)
Cronos is one of the most stylist and innovative horror films to come from south of the border. The Cronos is an insect-like device that was designed by a 14th century alchemist to give its owner immortality for the price of blood. The creepy gizmo falls into the hands of the aged antiques dealer and doting grandfather Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi).
   The film's nemesis is a crippled and corrupt millionaire who is inflected with illness and badly needs the Cronos, so he instructs his nephew (Ron Perlman of Beauty And The Beast TV fame, and Alien Resurrection) to get the gadget at any cost. Religious overtones and drug-like dependency makes this a fascinating movie on all levels. Guillermo del Toro is just as gifted a filmmaker as Canadian David Cronenberg was in his early career, when he did Rabid and The Brood. Del Toro recently directed the sci-fi bug picture Mimic and Blade II, which are also gems.

The Vampire Lovers (1970)
This video has it all: big boobed vampires, bloodletting, low-cut nightgowns and sexy lesbian love scenes - totally non-PC, but remember it was made in the late 1960s! This is first of Hammer Films to feature nudity, and they couldn't have picked a better actress for the role than beautiful, buxom Ingrid Pitt. This is also the most faithful screen adaptation of Le Fanu's Carmilla.
   Pitt plays the Carmilla/Mircalla vampire who looks gorgeous after many decades and in her free time seduces beautiful women. She survives the slaughter of her blood-drinking clan by vampire hunter General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), who gets off by decapitating the undead. Years later, Pitt works her way into Cushing's house and starts bedding and bleeding his household dry. The hottest scene occurs when Pitt takes a bath and Pippa Steele is trying on some of Pitt's clothes. They both end up in bed, semi-nude and wet.
   This was part of Hammer's sexy Carmilla trilogy with Lust Of A Vampire (1970) and Twins Of Evil (1971), but The Vampire Lovers is the hottest and best of the lot.

Daughters Of Darkness (1971)
The Hunger (1983), which is one of the most sexy and spectacular vampire movies, owes a lot of its stylist overtones to Daughters Of Darkness (in fact, Catherine Deneuve is a splitting image of Delphine Seyrig - its really eerie if you see both pictures).
   Stefan and Valerie are on their honeymoon at a largely empty seaside hotel during the off-season (the set is great - beautiful, elegant and sad - just like the movie). The only other two guests are the Countess and her secretary Illona (Andrea Rau). One of the hotel employees recognises the Countess who stayed decades before but hasn't aged since. This is a re-telling of the real-life Elizabeth Bathory story, known as the 'Scarlet Countess' because she bathed in the blood of 300 virgins to maintain her beauty. A chilling, titillating movie, and the director's cut from Anchor Bay (with an additional 12 minutes of material) is in widescreen format and is the best version to get.

The Hunger (1983)
The word 'vampire' is never spoken on the screen nor does it appear in Whitley Strieber's novel, but surprisingly this film and book are a favourite of vampire fans. A little too arty for its own good, The Hunger has stood the test of time. This visually striking and sexy thriller is even more chilling today than when it was first released - because of the development of AIDS.
   The story is about Miriam Blaylock, a 2,000-year-old vamp who never ages, but lovers eventually do. Her latest husband, John (David Bowie), starts to prematurely age in a haunting sequence while waiting in the lobby of a hospital; he ages 40 years (superb make-up effects by Dick Smith). John seeks help from Dr Sarah Roberts who has been doing research to reverse the ageing process. Mr Blaylock deteriorates so quickly and becomes so feeble that Miriam entombs him inside a crate next to all her ancient lovers, who are between the worlds of the living and the dead. She promises to visit often, but she doesn't.
   Unfortunately, Dr Roberts gets caught in the middle of all of this. Entranced by the enigmatic Miriam, the doctor becomes her latest lover/victim in a very hot love scene, beautifully filmed with a soft-focus lens and a driving, seductive film score. Once you see The Hunger it will crawl under your skin. Bauhaus perform their Goth-rock classic 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' at the beginning. Showtime had a spin-off series in 1997 produced by Tony and Ridley Scott. Also recommended is Whitley Strieber's sequel novel, The Last Vampire, which continues the Miriam vampire saga.

Martin (1976)
George Romero is famous for his trilogy of zombie movies (Night - Dawn - and Day Of The Dead) and his Stephen King flicks (Creepshow, The Dark Half), but this is his only vampire film. Romero was going to work on Stephen King's Salem's Lot when it was to be a feature film, but dropped out of the project when CBS decided to do it as a mini-series.
   Martin is one of the most gruesome, goriest and greatest vampire movies ever made. If you can stomach graphic violence, then this is definitely a must-see vampire film for you. Martin (John Amplas) is a modern vampire in a modern world. He doesn't have fangs, he doesn't turn into a bat and he can walk in the direct sunlight without being destroyed. A blood junkie, instead of a bloodsucker - he uses hypodermic needles and razor blades to acquire his fix. When he doesn't get blood for a while "things get shaky."
   He lives in a small town outside Pittsburgh (filmed in the seedy areas of Braddock, PA) and resides with religious Uncle Cuba (Lincoln Maazel) who warns: "First, I will save your soul. Then, I will destroy you." Throughout the film, you are not sure if Martin is really a vampire or some kind of sicko who only imagines he is one. There are series of fantasy sequences that could support the argument either way.
   This project was Romero's labour of love. Not only is it one his personal favourites, but he also met his future wife (Christine Forrest) during the production. Amplas does an incredible job with the Martin character. At first you are repulsed by what he does, later you feel very sympathetic towards him. Tom Savini (who also appeared in From Dusk Till Dawn) does a great job on and off screen. On-screen, he plays Forrest's jerk of a boyfriend, off-screen he did the gritty and realistic make-up effects. It was the first teaming of Savini and Romero. They would make many more scary films together over the years.

Nosferatu: The First Vampire (1922)
The earliest surviving film based on Dracula is Nosferatu, Eine Symphonies Des Garuens (roughly translated: Nosferatu, Symphony Of Horror) an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. One of the first vampire movies, it is perhaps on one of the best vampire movies ever made: generally creepy from beginning to the last frame.
   Thick with atmosphere and expressionistic overtones, this movie is undoubtedly one of the most important and influential motion pictures made in the first half of the century. Count Orlock (Max Schreck) is clearly one of the most ugly vampires caught on film. He has rodent-like features, claw-like fingernails and rat-like fangs. The major difference between this version of Dracula and any other is that when the Count finally arrives from Transylvania, he bring with him - a plague. Scores of infected rats infest the city (filmed in Bavaria).
   Because Nosferatu was an unauthorized adaptation, Bram Stoker's widow, Florence, sued the filmmakers for literary theft. After three years of litigations, the Stoker estate won the case. The judgement was to have all copies of the film destroyed. Luckily, a few copies were still preserved and the movie resurfaced in the 1960s after Florence Stoker was long dead. In 1998, Arrow Video re-released one of the best versions of this film called Nosferatu, The First Vampire, hosted by David Carradine (whose father John Carradine, portrayed Dracula in more movies than anyone except Christopher Lee). This digitally re-mastered version features the music of Type O Negative - one of the best Gothic rock bands around. Arrow did a terrific job of coordinating the music with the film. Think of a spooky MTV. The songs perfectly match the mood and composition of the movie. As an added bonus, the Type O Negative music video 'Black No. 1' is featured at the end. Nosferatu deserves the highest recommendation.

Related item:
Blood Frenzy: a Top 10 Vampire Flicks - listing by Ian Shutter

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