Top Five Vampire Movies
If there are two things the internet needs more of, it’s articles about female body image and lists. I can help with one of those. Lists are fun because they’re easy to read in that you don’t really have to read the blurb if you don’t want to in order to get to the goods. This is based not on an assumption, I’m pretty sure Harvard did a study or something about it. As part of my ongoing series to discuss my favorite genre (and until I get a book or album worth review) I will continue to help you, the reader, sift through a genre saturated with garbage and Twilight. Which is basically two names for the same thing. I have provided for you the Top Five Assholes in Horror and while I work toward providing you the best horror films in every conceivable, esoteric fashion, please take care to note the top five vampire movies because, really, there is no better monster.
5. Dracula (1931)
This is the obvious choice for movie snobs. The fact is, this is a fairly shitty movie on the whole. The script is terrible, it deviates wildly from Bram Stoker’s classic novel, and Dr. Seward inexplicably employs a neglectful asshole who lets mental patients wander freely into Seward’s house. So why is it in the Top Five? Bela Legosi, that’s why. Even if you harbor a strong aversion to older films, Bela Legosi is truly horrifying in this movie. The close-up shots of his hateful vampiric glare scared the hell out of thousands of kids, inspiring countless sequels, remakes, and take-offs. For no other reason than Legosi’s portrayal of the Count, you owe it to yourself to spend the <90 minutes it takes to watch a masterful performance. Thing is, Legosi portrayed Count Dracula in the adapted play and, as a silent film actor, he was a master of non-verbal dramatics. Simply put: he is iconic.
4. Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
Adapted from the Anne Rice novel, this movie takes an undue amount of flak from horror purists. The main problem people seem to have with it is the fact that the vamps in this movie look as though they just walked off the set of a shampoo commercial (I’m paraphrasing) and they question the casting of Brad Pitt. Most likely, you’ve seen this film and I urge you to give it another viewing. Neil Jordan has a very deliberate aesthetic in this movie. He wants things to look a certain way, he wants the vampires to look beautiful, and he wants you to want that beauty. But do you really want it? Rather than focus solely on the tale of Louis and Lestat, Jordan very deliberately cast two actors who are easy on the eyes. His goal is to tempt the viewer into wanting that dark, mysterious beauty that comes with immortality even though he/she has just witnessed the heartache it brings. Case in point: Daniel Molloy (portrayed by Christian Slater) is a clever allegory for the viewer who listens to a tearful Louis confess the horror of his life yet he still wants what Louis has in spite of it.
3. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Even Keanu Reeves couldn’t wreck this movie despite his best efforts. The bottom line is you have two Oscar-winning actors portraying the seminal roles of Count Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing in Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins, respectively. In spite of Reeves delivering the worst British accent (almost as bad as Kevin Costner in Robin Hood though Costner had the good sense to quit trying a quarter of the way through the movie), Coppola delivers the single best adaptation of Stoker’s novel to date. He is as close to the story as anyone has been as well as being true to the story’s inspiration: Vlad Tepes II, Prince of Wallachia. Coppola ties in a neat bit of history (though taking obvious fictional liberty) with the iconic movie monster. Yes, Vlad Tepes was a member of The Order of the Dragon. Yes, he did have his enemies impaled. No, all that blood didn’t come out of the stone cross when he stabbed it with his sword. I mean we can only assume, right? The chief result of Coppola’s choice is that Dracula, the most notorious antagonist in film, is given motivation. He has a reason to be so evil, he has a reason to stalk Mina Murray. The less direct result of this choice is some beautiful iconography present throughout the film. Gary Oldman, for lack of a better word, own this character. He portrays the Count in such a way that we are equally horrified by and sympathetic for him. Anthony Hopkins is the perfect Van Helsing because (this is a personal opinion) he always seemed crazier than Count Dracula. Coppola’s film unfolds such that both primary antagonist and primary protagonist find their purpose though, really, whose is more malevolent? Is it Dracula, searching for his lost love or Van Helsing who believe Dracula to be the enemy he was born to destroy? Add in brilliant set design, incredible costumes, and strong performances by Tom Waits (yes, that Tom Waits), Carey Elwes, Richard Grant, Billy Campbell, and Winona Ryder and you’ve got a force of good capable of standing up to the evil that is Keanu’s acting.
2. 30 Days of Night (2007)
Stephen King hates Twilight and (I’m paraphrasing again) it’s because he believes vampires should be vicious. He’s absolutely correct: vampires are predators who prey upon the living. They want our blood and they will murder us to get it. Considering those nefarious purposes, 30 Days of Night is an adaptation of Steve Niles’ comic that gets it right. While the film itself cannot take credit for Niles brilliant idea – why the hell wouldn’t vampires go someplace where there is no sun for a month? – it succeeds in creating one of the eeriest films in the last decade. Visually, the film is pretty stunning. In addition to the darkness, the characters themselves reflect the setting in that they are isolated, pale, dependent upon one another yet guarded about their privacy. Josh Hartnett gives a strong performance but the real scene stealer is Ben Foster as the drifter. Foster’s frightening strangeness as the vampires’ familiar lets viewers know right away that these will not be the well-mannered, suited creatures we’re used to. 30 Days of Night is gritty, vicious, and it is terrifying because it not only delivers satisfying jump-scares, it successfully conveys the characters’ desperation and fright. There is a strong element of survival horror that, while we’re fairly used to seeing it in shows like The Walking Dead by now, was relatively novel for less-seasoned viewers: characters kill their families and friends in order to survive. Moreover, the vampires in this film are both wretched and terrifying. Their appearance is striking and animalistic and they lack any type of empathy, taking a sheer blood-lust joy in not only devouring but terrifying their victims. In one of the film’s most horrifying scenes, the vampires encircle and gleefully torture a woman who they unsuccessfully used as bait to lure our survivors. Yikes.
1. Let Me In (2010)
Adapted from a Swedish film which was adapted from a novel, Let Me In is, point-for-point, the best vampire film in a very long time. Thanks largely to some very smart artistic choices by director Matt Reeves, Let Me In is dark, scary, atmospheric, uncomfortable, sweet, and shocking. Told from the perspective of a young boy in 1983 New Mexico, the film heavily explores the themes of innocence, violence, control, and infatuation. Owen, a lonely twelve-year-old, is the son of two divorced parents who, because of their utter lack of presence, Reeves never gives us a good look at them to emphasize just how alone Owen is. Owen is bullied at school and the scenes in which he is tormented are some of the most genuinely disturbing scenes you will see because his assailants truly terrorize him. Enter Abby, the little girl who is anything but, and viewers expect a fatalistic young love story of sorts. Played by the incomparable Chloe Grace-Moretz, Abby fills the screen with an endearing sweetness and a horrifying brutality. Anyone familiar with Moretz’s body of work knows that, since she was ten, she was capable of delivering a lights-out performance. This is important to note because while Owen’s character is certainly important, while Elias Koteas and the versatile Richard Jenkins fulfill the other key roles of “Policeman” and Abby’s “father,” and while the cold, dark, and isolated atmosphere control the tone of the film, the project as a whole really rests on the shoulders of Moretz’s Abby. Abby needs to seem innocent enough that we, along with young Owen, will love her but brutal enough to scare the living shit out of us. It’s the role that Moretz was born to play. As a vampire, Abby is frightening: from her facial prosthetics, to her movements, to her snarl, to her malevolent voice, you would be hard-pressed to find a scarier vampire in all of cinema. As the film progresses, Abby the girl becomes almost as scary as Abby the vampire for the simple fact that we stop trusting her. When we learn the true nature of the relationship between her and her “father,” the viewer is forced to wonder if Abby the vampire is true and Abby the girl is merely the façade of a highly manipulative killer. Is she a wolf in sheep’s clothing or is she simply a young girl at heart who, like any other twelve-year-old girl, finds new love interests? While deleted scenes do offer a clearer picture of Matt Reeves’ intent, the film we have reverberates through us purely because of the juxtaposition between lightness and darkness. The same innocence she uses to woo young Owen is used to lure victims into brutal attacks. As I mentioned earlier, motivation makes for a good movie monster. Abby’s motivation is simple: she needs to feed and she cannot always do it alone – in fact, she prefers not to. But having been “twelve” for a “very long time,” we see that she is certainly a highly-evolved predator which leads us to question her every action once we see the film’s conclusion. Let Me In is a dark, masterwork of horror and the easy choice for number one.
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