Archive for October, 2015

5 Must-See Vampire Movies

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Lesser Known Films for the Vampire Lover

About 20 years ago, I wrote a four-hour radio program about the vampire mythos. In the course of doing research for this show, I watched and read countless vampire movies and stories. Countless vampire movies have been made, ranging from campy to dramatic. Here are a few worth watching.

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

Director: F.W. Murnau

Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wagenheim, Greta Schroder, Ruth Landshoff

Shot on realistic sets in Wismar and Lubeck, Germany, this classic silent film was based on the Bram Stoker novel, Dracula, with minor efforts made to change the names. Therefore, the vampire is called Count Orlock. All copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed due to a legal settlement with the Stoker estate, but a complete copy survived in the possession of one collector.

The special effects are done with simple camera tricks and expressionistic lighting. Even today, however, this film still evokes a feeling of forboding and even terror.

The Spanish version of Dracula (1931)

Director: George Melford

Starring: Carlos Villarias, Lupita Tovar, Barry Norton, Pablo Alvarez Rubio, Eduardo Arozamena

Many people have seen the classic Bela Lugosi version and can quote lines from it. For a brief time in the early days of sound, studios made Spanish versions of movies, starring Spanish actors, instead of simply dubbing the original. The actors used the same sets and sometimes the same costumes, typically shooting at night.

The Spanish version of Dracula is much more compelling and romantic than the Lugosi film, with Villarias as a sensual, charismatic vampire and superior camerawork. Watch both and see if you agree.

The Horror of Dracula (1958)

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, John Van Eyssen

The British studio, Hammer Film Productions, put out dozens of low-budget horror films that are, nonetheless, beloved by horror film fans for their artistry, acting, scripts, and lush costumes and scenery. This role made the career of well-known character actor Christopher Lee, who up until then had only played minor roles.

Not all of the Hammer Dracula movies are as good as this first one — some are very campy — but this film is justifiably praised for its modern, sexy and dangerous retelling of the classic Stoker novel. Though he’s only on-screen for a short while, Lee’s presence is astounding, and Peter Cushing, another veteran character actor, is unforgettable as Van Helsing.

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Director: Robert Bierman

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alva Restrepo, Jennifer Beals

This is no doubt the cheesiest movie on this list, and it is a personal favorite because of its different take on the vampire movie. Nicolas Cage plays a businessman who meets a woman in a nightclub (Jennifer Beals) whom he believes is a vampire. The question becomes: was she really, or is he simply going insane?

Cage’s hysterics as he deals with the results of his encounter are highly entertaining. The script by Joseph Minion is highly quotable. Just don’t expect to take this film too seriously.

Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Director: E. Elias Merhige

Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack.

It’s a good idea to watch Nosferatu before seeing this movie, because it tells the fictionalized tale of the making of that film. According to this account, the actor playing Count Orlock, Mac Schreck, was so convincing because he was, indeed, a vampire. At times black comedy, at times horror film, and at times meta-film about the filmmaking process, the movie easily draws viewers into this isolated, strange world.

Willem Dafoe does a terrific job as Mac Schreck, which is little surprise, since the role was written specifically for him. Udo Kier, incidentally, once played the count himself, in Andy Warhol’s Dracula, a.k.a. Blood of Dracula (1974). This film captures the look of the original amazingly well, and in many ways is just as scary.

Creative Halloween Party Ideas

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Everyone’s favorite spooky holiday is right around the corner. If you’re planning to throw a Halloween shin-dig, consider spicing up your celebration with some of these ideas.

Dead Man’s Party

Ask your guests to come as their favorite dead celebrity or historical figure. Encourage them to think outside of the box and get as creative as they like. When they arrive, ask them to create a tombstone for their character on a piece of tombstone-shaped cardboard. Display these around the party. Have your guests vote on the best costume and award the winner a door prize, such as a small pumpkin filled with candy or a novelty trophy purchased at a party supply store.

Invasion of the Zombies Party

Tell your guests to wear old clothes they don’t care about, because things could get messy, but don’t give away the surprise. Tell one or two of your guests about your plans ahead of time, and make them up as zombies: First cover the face with white or extremely light pancake makeup. You can also use liquid makeup from a costume store, but cover it with white powder to prevent smearing. Use dark gray or black eyeshadow or Halloween makeup around the eyes to create a sunk-in look. Apply fake blood as desired to the face and clothing. Give them a scissors and encourage them to “zombify” their outfit by creating tears or holes. Used coffee grounds are good for adding a “freshly crawled from the grave look.”

Once they are zombified, encourage them to mingle with the guests. One by one, the zombies will hand each person a slip of paper which reads, “You’ve been bitten. Follow me to complete your zombie transformation.” They will then guide the new zombies into a room set up with makeup supplies, where your guests can zombify themselves. It would be helpful to place a set of written instructions in a prominent place so that each zombie doesn’t have to stay and supervise the next one’s transformation.

By the end of the evening, your entire party will be transformed. Or perhaps two or three guests will find themselves the last surviving humans, surrounded by a throng of zombie hoards.

Haunted House with a Twist

The traditional way to decorate for a party on All Hallow’s Eve is, of course, to create a haunted house. Try these fun alternatives to keep your party interesting.

Haunted Las Vegas

Dim the lights and either use strings of plastic pumpkin lights for lighting or find another safe alternative (avoid candles, since they are easy to knock over accidentally). Cover several tables with green cloth and turn them into gaming tables for Blackjack and Poker. Either ask some friends to serve as dealers or encourage guests to do so themselves. The host or hostess can dress up as an undead casino owner, who will make it clear to guests that they are gambling, not for money, but for their souls!

Haunted Luau

Blend the expected elements for a Halloween and a beach party to produce a hysterical hybrid. Some ideas include using tropical-inspired linens, orchids, and tropical flowers. Offer guests spooky versions of Hawaiian tropical drinks, such as the “Boo Hawaii” (instead of Blue Hawaii). You can find a guide to alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, and luau food, in this About.com article. Toss around an inflated beach ball, decorated with a marker to look like a Jack-o-Lantern. Create your own leis from craft store supplies, such as a string of autumn leaves or a chain of skulls. Carve a pumpkin for a centerpiece and place it on a “surf board” made of cardboard (or place it on the floor on a skateboard).

Follow these ideas, and your Halloween party will be the talk of the town.

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