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.
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.
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.