'I bet you think you know all about vampires. Believe me, you know fuck all.' Lilith Silver, Razorblade
No other screen monster has had as many movies made about it than the vampire. That blood-hungry, nocturnal card-paying member of the undead. There
has been a vampire circus, vampire dances, vampire lovers, a black Dracula, a deaf Dracula, gay Draculas, hounds of Dracula,
a "Drag"ula and even a vampire motorbike that runs on blood, in the dire British film - I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle!
In recent years there has been a half-arsed revival of the vampire flick, following the success of new horrors like
Scream and The
Blair Witch Project. The two most notable examples being
John Carpenter's Vampires and Dracula 2000. In the latter, the count
is dragged out of his coffin once again, to do battle with a modern world.
And do battle it does. The vampire has always
been portrayed as an outsider - in fact it's become, over the years, something of an anti-establishment figure. A rebel (with a cause - that of survival!) These tales being
of a creature condemned to living (well not exactly living) an unconventional lifestyle (to say the least!) This bloodsucking rebel has had its story reworked over and over again in countless books,
and on screen in numerous films, and it shows no evidence of finally lying down dead once and for all.
One of the first encounters with the mythical being on screen was in FW Murnau's, Nosferatu, made in 1922. Count Graf
Orlok played by Max Schreck, unlike the later Lugosi and Lee's Dracula, actually seems like a creature in pain. Dealing with the life (or living death, more appropriately) that it's been lumbered with. This Count is more animal than human with bat-like pointed ears, long fingers and claw-like nails. It's interesting to note that, unlike in the later portrayals, the fangs are in the
centre of the mouth instead of at either side, actually adding to the animal-like look of the Count!
Although the film was based on Stoker's Dracula,
Murnau had to change the title and names because the author's widow claimed that her husband's estate was being ripped off. Even so, the film still ran into difficulties after it was made, with Florence Stoker
successfully suing Prana (the film company responsible for the production) because it hadn't obtained copyright permission
to adapt the novel. In 1925, a court ruled that the negative of the film and
all copies should be destroyed. Fortunately, some copies survived, and it was
finally released in America in 1929.
Murnau's version begins in Bremen, Germany. Knock
(Alexander Granach), a real-estate agent, sends his employee Hutter (Gustav Von Wangenheim) to Orloks castle in the Carpathian
Hutter doesn't take much notice of the local superstition, or fear the Count, until he cuts
himself with a bread knife at dinner. Orlok takes a bit of a shine to his blood,
saying: 'Blood your beautiful blood!' At this point Hutter becomes a little concerned!
When the Count advances on Hutter, he flees the castle and makes his way back to Bremen. Orlok travels by sea. The cargo of the
ship is stacked coffins, filled with plagued earth. The crew sickens and die. One of them goes down into the hold and opens a coffin and rats pile out. In an eerie scene he opens the coffin containing Count Orlok, and the fiend springs up out of a coffin,
The film ends when Ellen (Knock's wife), learns that the only way to stop a vampire is for
a good woman to distract him so that he stays out past the first cock's crow. At
dawn, the sunlight causes Nosferatu to fade.
The film is very atmospheric and unsettling, but it is more eerie than frightening. There are no shocks as in later horror
the next screen appearance by our bloodsucking nobleman fiend was in Tod Browning's 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel,
Lon Chaney Snr. was originally lined up for the part but died in 1930, and short of bringing him back from the dead
- a feat which even a horror studio like Universal were incapable of - another actor had to be found. Enter an unknown Hungarian stage and screen actor by the name of Bela Lugosi! Lugosi had played Dracula on Broadway in 1927 and toured it for two years the rest is neck-biting history!
On our first sighting of the Count, the infamous, 'I am Dracula, I bid you welcome,' scene,
as he descends the stairs of his castle to greet Renfield, Lugosi looks like he's dressed for dinner. As though he's
about to dine. Well in a way he is - on Renfield's blood! This dinner jacket and cape look would become the look most synonymous
During the beginning of the film, we get the impression
that all is not right with the mysterious Count. He casts no reflection in the
mirror and he never drinks - wine.
When he takes an unhealthy interest in Renfield's blood, after his guest cuts himself, it should have sent alarm bells
ringing. Anyone with any sense would smell a rat - or should that be a bat?
- and leg it out of that creepy castle prompto!
Renfield next stumbles upon the Count's three wives (horror of horrors, Drac is not only a
vampire - but a bigamist too!)
When a ship is shipwrecked off the coast of Whitby, Renfield is found grinning madly, the
lone survivor, and is banged up in the local loony bin. Here he develops a fondness
for eating flies and spiders (especially - the fat juicy ones!)
Dracula arrives in London and stalks the streets for young women to satisfy his hunger (for
blood that is - what else?) In one scene a girl selling flowers becomes a victim
after trying to sell him a flower. 'Flower for your buttonhole, sir?' she asks. Lugosi hypnotise her and bends in the direction of her neck.
Bite to your neck, madame?
He sets up residence in the abbey next to the sanatorium where Renfield has got himself
banged-up. He befriends Dr Seward, his daughter Mina, her fiancÚ Jonathan Harker,
and her friend Lucy.
One night while Lucy is staying at their house a bat
flies into Lucy's room while she sleeps. The bat transforms into the Count
who then takes a generous sup of her blood.
After Van Helsing examines the puncture marks on Lucy's neck, he says that they are the same
marks found on the murder
victims around London, and that it is the work of a vampire.
Of course our Dr Seward doesn't believe him.
Next the Count, in bat form again, flies into Mina's bedroom window (handy trick that!) and
helps himself to her blood too.
Seward still doesn't believe Helsing's talk of vampires, until the Count visits him one night
and notices that he cannot be seen in a mirror (oops - the game's up Drac!) Now
all that's left to do is for Van Helsing to drive a stake though the thirsty vampire's heart and get rid of the fiend forever
(well at least until the sequels, endless remakes, etc.)
This early classic, a box office success that virtually
saved Universal studios, seems a bit dated now. The bats, for instance, look,
suspiciously, like they're being dangled on fishing line, and some of the performances by the actors are a bit stagy Bela
Lugosi seems to think that his name is Da-ra-cula.
Lugosi went on to play, Da-ra-cula, in the ludicrous
1943 movie, The Return Of The Vampire, and his
monstrous creation changes its name to Armand Tesla! Funny, still looks like
Dracula to me - he's dressed in the same getup and everything! This time
the story is set during World War II and in this film; a wolfman is thrown in for good measure to act as Dracula's - sorry,
The actor next reprised his Dracula role - and this
time he was actually called Dracula - in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. A film, in which the two lovable, bumbling comedians meet Dracula, the Wolfman, and
the Monster, but never actually meet Frankenstein!
The final film in which Lugosi played, his bloodsucking
character was in Mother Riley Meets the Vampire,
where the Count is used more for novelty value than anything.
After this, the actor went into a bit of decline, hooked
up with worst director of all time, Ed Wood, and became dependant on drink and drugs.
Bela Lugosi towards the end relied on morphine, not blood, to keep him alive!
When the screen legend died he was actually buried in his Dracula cape. His
final performance was in Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space,
using stock footage of the actor and a stand in a taller actor (in actual fact a Chiropodist!) that kept his cape over his
mouth to disguise that fact that he wasn't Lugosi.
Hammer breathed some life into the genre in 1958, arriving in full, glorious, dripping blood red Technicolor! The vampire films that it produced, introduced a more sexual aspect to old Drac, and
also introduced us to sexy buxom vampire wenches in low-cut dresses (and very often those buxom vampire wenches would take
off those low-cut dresses!) Gone where the creaky old black and white, hammy
acting of the old universal days, to be replaced by an altogether more dramatic, kick-ass approach.
Hammer's Dracula was played by Christopher Lee, who
brought us a character a world apart from Lugosi's creation. Gone is the dinner-suit
that made Lugosi look like a headwaiter. Lee's monster is more appealing, attractive,
sexier in fact: tall, dark and, er fangsome!
'Dracula is tremendously sensual,' said Terence Fisher (director
of Hammer's Dracula), 'This is one of the great attractions of evil.'
It is well documented that Lee was very unhappy a lot
of the time about the way his Dracula character was portrayed. He would often
be disappointed with scripts: whether it be due to a lack of dialogue or not sticking to the Stoker character to the letter
(which Lee was always very adamant about).
Lee played the role of Dracula more times than any other actor, including Lugosi - playing him eight times to Lugosi's
five (even if you count the abysmal Plan 9!)
But it was the ladies in the Hammer films who really made the pulses race in the sexual
stakes (sorry) with offerings such as: The Vampire Lovers,
Twins Of Evil, Lust for a Vampire and
the female counterpart of the Prince of Darkness herself, Countess Dracula!
These gothic flicks involved sexuality of all kinds and introduced
us to the lesbian Vampire for the first time (actually not entirely true - they'd done it in European films earlier!)
The sexual aspect to the vampire was really nothing
new at all. In fact the vampire myth derives quite literally from the fear of
sexual disease. Both in the myths of the Hungarian folklore and in the inspiration
for the granddaddy of all vampire stories, Bram Stoker's Dracula itself.
Writer Poppy Z. Brite, who penned her own vampire novel,
Lost Souls, agrees that vampires are subversive and sexual beings.
'The vampire is a subversive creature in every way
and I think this accounts for much of his appeal. In an age where moralists use
that sex is dangerous to prove that sex is bad, the vampire points out that sex has always been dangerous.'
She adds that, 'The vampire is everything we love about
sex and the night and the dark dream side of ourselves: adventure on the edge of pain, the thrill to be had from breaking
And nowhere was the sexual metaphor more prominent
than in the films involving the female of the species, who was even more deadly
than the male. These creatures weren't fussy who they sank their teeth into either:
man or woman!
Even before Hammer or Europe got their teeth into the lesbian vampire, they had already surfaced very early on, in
Dracula's Daughter, which was Universal's follow-up
to its 1931 film, Dracula. It is significant as being the first ever lesbian vampire movie.
Quite bold for its time (remember this was the 30s!)
It begins where Dracula left
off, with police finding the bodies of Renfield and the Count. When a policeman
asks Van Helsing how long's Dracula been dead, Helsing replies: 'About 500 years.'
Van Helsing is arrested for the murder of Dracula. The Count's daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden - who almost resembles
Angelica Housten in the Addam's Family films) turns up and steals her father's
body, taking it off to the woods to perform a ritual on it (like you do!) The
ritual is supposed to exorcise her of her father's influence, but it doesn't work, and soon she has a desire to feed. Her lusting for blood (and other things!) centres especially on attractive young women
(the scene where she is seducing a young model and asks her to remove her blouse is still one of the most sensual in the genre).
Until the 70s the female vampire hadn't been that prominent in Hammer films, and so we have Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's
novella, Carmilla, to thank for its influence, which the studio turned to,
along with the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, which they threw in for good measure.
was a real life vampire who legend has it used to drink the blood of her victims, who she tortured within the walls of her
castle (what better basis for a horror film could that be!)
As I said earlier, the films that came about gloried
in lesbian sex and the slightest excuse for its female stars to get their kit off.
leading light in this new breed of bleeding ladies was the luscious, voluptuous, Ingrid Pitt, who starred in the first of
the offerings, The Vampire Lovers. The film also starred veteran of the genre, Peter Cushing and was directed
by Roy Ward Baker, who introduced Carmilla's lesbianism into the picture. At
the same time (1970)
Vampiros Lesbos began production (if ever a title
needed to be more descriptive - this was it!)
Carmilla made her next appearance in a nineteenth-century
girls' school in, Lust for a Vampire, directed by Jimmy Sangster. Yutte Stengaard and Ralph
Bates replaced Pitt and Cushing. The third fim of Hammer's Carmilla Trilogy was Twins of Evill(1971).
This took as its premise that Carmilla had vampirised her relative, Count Karnstein, and together they had to face
witch hunter Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing). The film starred two twin Playboy models
Madeline and Mary Collinson, who not surprisingly shed their clothes for many a scene!
The Elizabeth Bathory legend finally manifested itself fully in, Countess
Dracula, with Ingrid Pitt playing the title role. the film was made as a follow-up to Pitt's earlier success
in The Vampire Lovers. Here she shed her clothes again and many male (and female) horror
genre fans got their prayers answered.
It was around the same time Hammer unleashed their, Countess Dracula, that director
Harry Kumel released his Belgian film, Daughters of
Darkness, featuring Delphine Seygig, as a modern day Countess Bathory. She befriends a young, newlywed couple. The husband is a sadist;
the wife and Bathory join forces and kill him. Later, the Countess is killed
and the wife, now a vampire, takes her place.
In the Hammer films, and in many films since, the staple of the female vampire being very
often of lesbian persuasion - or at least bisexual - seems to be a deliberately titillating act. Were the
question must sometimes be asked: are the filmmakers making horror films - or soft porn?
There was little sympathy for the vampire in these
early films, representing the vampire instead as a bloodthirsty monster hell-bent on depraved and evil acts. But sympathy for the vampire began to creep into the films that were produced much later on.
Hunger, Mariam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) is a vampire whose main problem is that
her male human partners began to age rapidly, and to decay after a century or so of vampiric life. In her attempts to save her current lover (played by David Bowie), she seduces a blood researcher (Susan
Sarandon), but in the end is unable to find a cure. Early eighties goth kings Bauhaus perform their song,
Bela Lugosi's Dead at the beginning of the film, which sets the tone of this
stylish look at this long suffering bunch of bloodsuckers. In this movie, you
feel pity for these monsters unlike in previous films where it was the victims
you felt sorry for.
There have been numerous variations and permutations of the vampire tale over the bloodstained years.
Lair of the White Worm, Amanda Donahue plays a vampire with a difference - one of the snake variety, with a fondness for seducing boy scouts, and who can be charmed by the sound of the bagpipes!
Actress Matilda May plays a space vampire who wanders through most of Lifeforce
(1985) without a stitch: through the streets of London, the British countryside and with a kiss that could blow
your head off (literally!) What
Grace Jones plays a sexy exotic dancer at the nightclub, After Dark, into
which a group of college kids are in search of a stripper for a frat party. Our
Grace takes a shine to one of the lads, or should that be: "takes a bite out of one of them", backstage and a huge
bite at that (what an appetite these vampires have!)
Dusk till Dawn, Salma Hyek plays another exotic dancer, at the Titty
Twister truckers club on the Mexican border, who transforms into a vampire after her performance, and then together
with her Aztec vampire buddies sets about vampirising the clientele of the entire club!
Kathryn Bigelow directed Near Dark. A
farm boy befriends one of a gang of vampires (Jenny Wright), unknowing that she is one.
Once he's become a vampire, he was unable to bring himself to kill and suck the blood of an innocent victim. He has to rely upon Wright to feed him. The vampires are portrayed
as a bunch of wandering gypsies who have to keep moving. Any exposure to sunlight
causes their skin to burn, or smoulder. The story climaxes in a confrontation
between them, Wright, the boy, and the boy's family.
Renowned director Francis Ford Coppolla resurrected the old Count in, Bram
Stoker's Dracula. Gary Oldman is this new Dracula, and Anthony
Hopkins plays his archenemy, Van Helsing, supported by Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, who put on appalling English accents
and star in this gimmicky version of the story. At times the film resembles a
MTV music video and at others a surrealist art film. Some nice touches though;
at one point the Count's shadow seems to have a life of its own (cleverly sent up later in the Mel Brooks spoof, Dracula, Dead and Loving It!)
Oldman and Hopkins are okay as the Count and Van Helsing respectively, but again Oldman's performance is a bit too
over the top and theatrical.
John Carpenter's Vampires, a more recent addition to the genre, is something of vampire western. In it, Crow (James Woods)
and his band of vampire slayers go after the creatures of the night with crossbows and drag them out into the sunlight on
a winch to destroy them.
Never in any film has the vampire been portrayed more subversive than in Razorblade
Smile, which stars Eileen Daly as a vampire hit woman. The
film contains some extremely bloody scenes and Lilith Silver is not fussy who she beds (men and women) to get her fix of
This is the vampire movie that lives up to Lilith's opening comment just before the bond-like
title sequence. 'I bet you think you know all about vampires. Believe me, you know fuck all.'
It's in the club scene at the beginning where our Eileen
first spouts her anti-establishment ideals, sighting the vampire as an outcast, much like the goths in the club Transalvania, pretending to be vampires, she unknown to them is the real
A wannabe vampirette engages our Miss Silver in a conversation
about what else - vampires!
'Convention sucks: nine-to-five, dress codes, anally
retentative rules and politicians statistics. There's the real horror in life,
the real evil that sucks the soul,' our Eileen informs her.
But she has more to say on the subject. 'A vampire is an unconditional individual who enjoys life beyond talking about petty
problems and piss-boring jobs.'
When a disillusioned goth says to her, 'Think about
what Bram Stoker wrote.' Lilith says, 'Fuck Bram Stoker.'
Now there's sacrilege for you!
Lilith struts through almost the entire movie wearing
a PVC cat suit, brandishing her weapons (apart from her fangs that is - her knives and guns!)
These vampires are shown to be subversive, this is
the underlying subtext contained within the movie; underneath all the blood and fangs that is masquerading as a vampire flick. There is even computer hacking in the movie.
Over the years the screen and the literature vampire has become more and more of a sympathetic character, we feel for
the poor guy! Forced to walk the earth, in a state of un-dead, doomed to find
victims to drink their blood. Vampires are seen as having some weird form of
alcoholism, in need of their fix of blood. Can you imagine the Count and others
at the blood-drinking equivalent of AA meetings?
Films like The Hunger and Near Dark take
this sympathetic stance. It seems that the vampire is no longer a monster that
would frighten you if you ever came face-to-face with it, but a creature for who you'd have pity and who you'd say to, 'You
poor chap, you look a bit peaky,' offer him your neck and say, 'Here, have a bite, take as much as you want - I've got plenty!'
In the days of the old vampires, they feared everything
from sunlight to holy water, but its modern cousin: ain't too miffed about garlic, goes out in the daylight,
and laughs in the face of the cross (as the filmmakers dream up new permutations of the vampire tale.)
These days vampires are played by the likes of Tom
Cruise and Eddie Murphy (Bram Stoker would turn in his grave - or get up out of it even!)