It’s no secret that I am big fan of the old World of Darkness RPG series published by White Wolf, and my gaming buddies know I’ve long been a Storyteller of Vampire: The Masquerade in particular. I was a fan of the genre long before Buffy and Twilight – I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Lestat series of books by Anne Rice multiple times a teenager. Vampires were just damn cool.
When White Wolf published their first RPG in 1991 I was instantly hooked – not only did it blend everything about the genre that I loved, but it also broke new ground in terms of the way RPGs were written and executed. The rest, as they say, is history.
5) Shadow the Vampire
This film makes my list as it really appeals to my sense of humour. A complete re-telling of the making of the seminal 1922 film Nosferatu by F. W. Murnau, the film presents the conceit that the actor Max Schreck playing the titular role is actually a real vampire. Actor Willem Dafoe inhabits the role of Schrek with real pathos, and it’s a real shame he did not receive any awards nominations for his work here.
This is not a horror though – if anything it is more like a farce. At the beginning of the film nobody suspects Schrek’s true nature but slowly more and more of the crew become suspicious. In the final act they realise they have no choice but to co-operate with the vampire to finish the film and escape with their lives. It turns out Schrek is only participating in the production as he has been promised the life of the leading actress Greta in payment by the director.
My favourite moment is when the crew ask Schrek about his life as a vampire (believing at the time that he is simply still ‘in character’). They ask him if he has read Bram Stoker’s novel and he replies ‘It made me sad’ and when they ask him why he says ‘Because Dracula had no servants’. He laments the fact that the vampire in the novel had fallen on hard times. And then by surprise he snatches a bat out of the air which he devours with gusto while the others look on in amazement.
4) The Lost Boys
This Joel Schumaker film from 1987 made a big impression not just on me, but on the vampire genre as a whole. Dracula may have seemed hip and cool in the Victorian era, but The Lost Boys made vampires sexy for the modern era.
The story follows two brothers Michael and Sam, who move to a seaside town that happens to full of vampires – most notably the gang run by Kiefer Sutherland’s character David. Michael meets Star, who introduces him to her boyfriend David. David lets Michael hang out with his gang, with a view towards making him a vampire. Meanwhile Michael’s younger brother Sam meets the Frog Brothers – two kids who run a comic shop by day, but are vampire hunters by night. They open his eyes to what is really going on in the town, and what is really happening to his brother Michael.
Full of zinging one-liners and attitude there was a lot to love about The Lost Boys. While the film hasn’t necessarily dated well, the outfits and the soundtrack are still pretty cool even now. And it’s not just all glitz – there are deeper, more serious themes to do with abandonment, growing up and the loss of innocence (the film’s title itself is a nod to Peter Pan).
My favourite part is the showdown at the family home at the end, which finds a number of inventive ways to dispatch the vampires – in particular ‘Death by Stereo!’. This never gets old.
The current Renaissance of Marvel superhero films started right here in 1998 with this surprise hit scripted by David Goyer and directed by Stephen Norrington. Slick, well-paced and unflinchingly violent, the film was perfect vehicle for actor Wesley Snipes, for whom the role of Blade himself fits like a glove.
Blade is a taciturn, no-nonsense guy who is actually a half-vampire, born to a human woman who was bitten and who died after giving birth to him. Bitter at the demise of his mother, and disgusted by his own nature, Blade dedicates his life to one thing: the extermination of other vampires. The film scores points for the myriad of ways in which Blade and his friend and mentor Whistler dispatch their vampire foes. Ultimately though Blade’s weapon of choice is a custom-made katana, which leads to some great sword-fighting sequences.
Blade shares a lot of DNA with The Lost Boys. The visual style is incredibly ‘cool’, the pace is fast, and the script is peppered with glib one-liners. The contemporary soundtrack using rock and techno music gives the whole film a distinct, modern tone. Like The Lost Boys, Blade is less concerned with the plot than it is about just having fun with the genre.
My favourite moment is the opening sequence in the basement nightclub that introduces Blade for the first time. Using the sprinkler system to distribute human blood is a creative and yet disturbing spin on vampire culture. And in walks Blade, alone but armed to the teeth, who systematically annihilates waves upon waves of vampire thugs using a set of awesome weapons. Part-Batman, part-Shaft, in that scene Blade is easily the coolest, badass dude you ever saw.
2) 30 Days of Night
This film from 2007 directed by David Slade was based on an original comic of the same name written by Steve Niles and published by IDW. The story focuses on the Alaskan town of Barrow, which is so far north that it experiences extended periods of day and night. The next time the long night falls, a cadre of vampires descend upon the town to wreak havoc upon the inhabitants. A number of residents hold out against the vampires, praying for day to come.
30 Days of Night makes my list for being the most brutal and unpleasant portrayal of vampires I’ve ever seen. There is nothing romantic or appealing about these bloodsuckers – they are alien, inhuman and unfathomable. In fact, they even have their own language, which is translated in subtitles in the film. They consume blood like locusts, and have no desire to maintain a human pretence. They are truly monstrous creations.
The film does nevertheless have a certain amount of style. Although the film is shot in colour, the dominant colour is the white of the snow. And hence when the blood starts flying there is a stark and striking contrast – a sensibility which is well preserved from the original art of the comic by Ben Templesmith.
There are plenty of standout moments, most of which are pretty horrifying. One of my favourite scenes lies early on in the film where the main characters are holed up in the sheriff station with The Stranger, who informs them all that ‘they are coming’. This is great, sinister delivery by actor Ben Foster that really ramps up the tension.
1) Let the Right One In
Based on the novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist, this Swedish language film adaptation directed by Tomas Alfredson was released in 2008. Largely faithful to the original story, the film is a character piece focused on the meeting of 12-year old boy Oskar with the mysterious Eli, who appears to be a young girl, but who is in fact neither young, nor a girl. An English language remake followed by Matt Reeves but I prefer the authenticity of the Swedish original.
Set in a concrete suburb of Stockholm the film explores feelings of isolation in multiple ways. Oskar is bullied at school and is estranged from his father, who lives apart from him and his mother. Eli hides from from the world out of necessity and relies on the paedophile Hakan to find her the blood she needs to survive. A cast of supporting characters fill the apartment blocks but there is little warmth here, and little sense of community.
Although the mood of the film is quite bleak, there is an underlying message which is positive – this is really a love story. A messed up, convention-defying love story. The fact that both kids seem underage, and are really quite callous to everyone but each other is rather beside the point. Oskar and Eli find a real connection with each other, and you as the viewer feel it with them. This shows great skill and great subtlety on the part of the director Alfredson – in another’s hands the film could easily have become too twee, too laboured or too repellent.
My favourite moment is when Oskar challenges Eli to explain what happens if he does not formally invite her into his apartment. Rather than attempt to explain Eli simply pushes into the room and you watch as she starts shaking and bleeding black blood from her mouth, ears, eyes and nose. Eli quickly invites her and she returns to normal. It is not discussed or dwelt upon, but the horrifying reality of what Eli really is hangs over them for the rest of the story.
Of course there are plenty more vampire films out there and there are many more that I rate, I just couldn’t place them in my top 5. Near Dark, Underworld, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, Daybreakers, Stakeland, Byzantium, Fright Night (the original), From Dusk Till Dawn, The Hunger, Interview With a Vampire, The Forsaken, and the original 1922 Nosferatu are all worth a look.