September 28, 2014

Ten Vampire Films to Watch During Halloween

While vampire films are plentiful, there don't seem to be very many decent ones. If you're a vampire lover but haven't seen any or all of the films on this list, I implore you to give them a look. I promise, there's more here than simple, carnal delight; these films were all chosen for their quality and contribution to the genre. Here, in no particular order, I present to you ten great vampire films to watch during the Halloween season!

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) – The seminal classic vampire film, and one of the most widely-regarded pieces of Germany's Expressionist period. Originally conceived as a direct adaptation of the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, the film ran into legal trouble with Stoker's estate and ended up changing the names of characters, places, and even the climax in a vain attempt to avoid copyright infringement. After all known copies were destroyed, it was thought to have been lost for several decades before being re-discovered. Max Schreck's portrayal of Graf Orlok as a twisted, rat-like creature feeding on the blood of innocents still sends chills up the spine. Bonus points if you can find the copy boasting a soundtrack by Type O Negative.

Vampyr (1932) – Carl Theodor Dreyer's film, loosely based on elements of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's In A Glass Darkly, about an occult-obsessed adventurer who gets wrapped up in a vampiric mystery, is equally ahead of its time as well as behind. Dreyer was reputedly only used to filming silent movies, so the film ultimately serves as a sort of “hybrid” of silent and sound, with a limited soundtrack and title cards to help move the story along. Nevertheless, it is widely regarded as a masterpiece of horror, and is certainly well worth the look. Fun fact: the lead actor's name, “Julian West,” is actually the stage name of Nicolas de Gunzburg, a prominent banker and socialite (and, subsequently, the editor of magazines like Town & Country, Harper's Bazaar, and Vogue) who actually helped fund the making of Dreyer's next film in exchange for a starring role in this one.

The Spanish Version of Dracula (1931) – Universal's Dracula starring Bela Lugosi may be a beloved classic, but the Spanish language version, which was filmed concurrently using the same sets and costumes after the English-speaking crew left for the day, is a technical masterpiece that improves on the former in almost every way. Everything is just better here, from the noticeably smoother dolly tracking to the performances themselves. Pay particular attention to Pablo Alvarez Rubio's portrayal of Renfield, who comes across here as a much more tragic and sympathetic character as opposed to his American counterpart, Dwight Frye. If you don't mind subtitles, this is definitely one not to miss!

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) – Werner Herzog's loving homage to the classic Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens is not your typical remake, in that it's almost better in every way than the original. Klaus Kinski turns in an absolutely chilling and vile performance as Graf Dracula (this version retains the names of the characters from the novel), succeeding by leaps and bounds in portraying the Count as a creature that is simultaneously sympathetic and revolting. An English-speaking version was produced concurrently with the German one, so while you don't necessarily have to suffer through subtitles, my suggestion ultimately comes down to the German version. It's painfully obvious that English is not the native language of the actors, and the line deliveries are considerably more wooden. Either way, both versions are perfectly astounding to take in, and the film's haunting soundtrack makes that ride all the sweeter.

Let the Right One In (2008) – Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of a 2004 Swedish novel of the same name tells the lonely tale of Oskar, a young boy living in Stockholm in 1981, who leads a lonely existence and is relentlessly bullied at school. He soon discovers a new neighbor at his apartment complex, Eli, a 200 year-old vampire trapped inside the ageless body of a young girl. What follows is a haunting and beautiful tale of burgeoning emotion and friendship interspersed with extremely dark undertones of the nature of revenge, violence, and doing what is necessary to survive. I can't express enough how this movie affects me; every time the credits roll I'm nearly in tears. It's probably my favorite vampire film of all time.

We Are the Night (2010) – Those crazy Germans do it again, this time in a film that treads a thin line between the heavy cinematic stylization of the Underworld films and a heady, character-driven story like Let the Right One In. A young, drug-addicted, suicidal girl named Lena is “chosen” by Louise, the dominatrix of an all-female vampiric trio, to be the fourth member of their little family, and soon they're living it up in nightclubs, driving fast cars with carefree abandon, and feasting on the blood of whom they please. All of the girls have turned to vampirism as means to the ultimate escapism, leaving their old lives behind to embrace the dark power they have discovered; but what happens when that high begins to tumble down and there's nowhere left to run? Several films and stories have slightly skirted this question, but this film seeks to confront us with the prospect of the harsh reality that, no matter how long you can live, you can't run from yourself forever.

'Salem's Lot (2004) – Possibly the best television miniseries adaptation of a Stephen King novel ever created (largely due with thanks to the absence of one Mick Garris, whose adaptations of King's works are just plain soulless and abysmal), this one retains everything that makes the book so damn great. Rob Lowe, Andre Braugher, James Cromwell, Donald Sutherland, and Rutger Hauer all turn in fantastic performances in this tale of a small New England town overrun by vampires. These films (it's actually a two-parter) pull no punches in depicting vampires the way they should always be depicted—absolutely terrifying. Though a few of the special effects could have been handled better (it's a television production, after all), they hardly detract from a truly masterful retelling of one of King's best novels. There are quite a few shocking scenes on display, which I'm still surprised got the greenlight on network TV (this was made for TNT), and it's great to see that there were no punches pulled in faithfully bringing such a quality production to the small screen.

Great Performances – Count Dracula (1977) – Louis Jourdan turns in a beautifully understated performance as the Count in what is, to my knowledge, the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's magnum opus. There's no denying the production values in this one are a bit lacking by today's standards (since this is a BBC production from 1977), but all the major plot details are there with hardly anything extraneous added. Quincy P. Morris's and Arthur Holmwood's characters are condensed into a single character, Quincy Holmwood, which messes with my OCD, but overall there's very little over which to quibble. A performance of note is that of Frank Finlay, who plays Professor Van Helsing with a sense of dread and urgency lost on many other portrayals of the character. This film is my favorite adaptation of the book. Fun fact: Klaus Kinski, who played Dracula in Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, plays Renfield in a more watered down role, compared to most other adaptations.

Mystery and Imagination – Dracula (1968) – This one is really interesting—not necessarily one of my favorites as far as straight adaptations go, but at the time I saw it, it was just so damn hard to find! It's definitely worth the watch if you've never heard of or seen it. Here, Dracula is portrayed by Denholm Elliot, probably best known in America for playing Marcus Brody in the Indiana Jones trilogy (personally, I fondly remember him as Selsdon Mowbray in Noises Off, his final film before his untimely passing, and arguably one of the greatest comedies of the early 90's). He may lack some of the charm or charisma brought to the role by other actors, but the allure lies mostly in the fact that this rare film was extremely hard to come by before it was posted on YouTube.

30 Days of Night (2007) – This film adaptation of the widely-acclaimed DC comic series is a frightening reminder of just how little chance we humans would actually stand against real vampires given the fact that they physically outmatch us in almost every way. Hand-to-hand fisticuffs? Forget it. You're going to die. There's considerably more gore in this one than in the other films on the list, so be prepared. An excellent performance of note is that of Ben Foster, the "Renfield" of the story who arrives at the town prior to the vampires to assist in sabotaging any chance of escape for Josh Hartnett and crew.

As with any list of great films, there were surely some that almost made the cut but ultimately ended up being left out. Here are ten runners up:

Fright Night (1985)
Dracula (1931)
Horror of Dracula (1958)
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Near Dark (1987)
Thirst (2009)
The Hunger (1983)
John Carpenter's Vampires (1998)
​Interview with the Vampire (1994)

And there you have it. Agree? Disagree? Think I missed something? Let me know in the comments below! And keep an eye out for my next Halloween list: Ten Vampire Films to Avoid During Halloween! Please, if you enjoyed what you read here, do me a solid and spread the word! Post it to your favorite social media site, tell a friend, and subscribe for more updates!

Until next time.

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