The history of movie vampires stretches back almost as long as cinema itself. THS’s Fright-A-Thon is built upon these ideals and the want for more great horror content. If 2020 is going to be the year we all stayed in (I sure hope so for some of my readers at least), then we’ll all need some good horror to watch. Vampire films are all over the place on the spectrum of horror. You have the truly frightening in movies like Twilight, you have the western noir vamps of Near Dark, and you have the true classics like Nosferatu and Dracula.
Vampires have been done all throughout history, they’ve had resurgences here and there, but they’ve never truly left the cinematic eye. What does it take for a good movie vampire? Well, Edward Cullen ain’t it. It takes a certain psychological menace. They need to be suave, sexy, and have that bit of emotional damage from being able to live so long. Why do you think vampires travel in packs? You’ve gotta have friends if you live for 500 years. Sometimes vampires don’t have to be suave or even evil though. What We Do In The Shadows is the perfect example of taking these hallmarks of a good vampire, and turning them upside down.
Vampires are practically immortal, but their curse resides in avoiding sunlight, among other things. To save the world from just a list of Dracula characters, we’re going to limit it to three. So, sorry to fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there are three better performances of the famed character. On to the list.
Top 10 Movie Vampires
#10: Santanico Pandemonium (From Dusk Till Dawn)
We’ll start off the list with the vampire who’s on screen the least of the top 10. When you think of From Dusk Till Dawn, you’re likely going to think about the scene with Salma Hayek. It’s the natural turning point for the story to go from seemingly normal kidnap/heist film to “what the hell, there are vampires?”. She’s the ferocious Queen of the vampires at the Titty Twister bar, but she’s quickly dispatched after her transformation. This is one place where a From Dusk Till Dawn prequel or something would have worked wonders. It might be better left up to the imagination of the viewer how Santanico Pandemonium got to be the queen of this group of vampires though.
For a movie that has so much star power in front of and behind the camera, it’s saying something that the most memorable character is Salma Hayek’s. She might not be on screen for long, but she makes a huge impact.
#9: Blade (Blade Series)
If you want to see the REAL reason for all this superhero business these days, look no further than Blade. Half-man, half-vampire, he predates the superhero crazy in X-Men by two years. So if you love the MCU like I do, give some thanks to Wesley Snipes. His story was spread out over three movies. Blade is simply badass. There’s not much more to say about this character. His movies might not be the finest shining examples of cinema out there, but they’re damn entertaining. Also, Mahershala Ali is taking over the reigns from Wesley Snipes, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a Snipes cameo in the upcoming Blade movie from Marvel.
#8: Vladislav/Viago (What We Do In The Shadows)
What We Do In The Shadows isn’t just one of the funniest vampire movies ever. It’s simply one of the best comedies of all-time. And the two characters that drive the film are Vladislav (played by Jermaine Clement ) and Viago (played by Taika Waititi). They’re both portrayed as seemingly normal people who are just vampires and have been for hundreds of years. Their comedy is what makes the film so great and the documentary style of the film work. The mundane everyday lives of these vampires is hilarious. And these two are excellent additions to any vampire fan’s rotation.
#7: Regine Dandridge (Fright Night Part 2)
I’ve already reviewed Fright Night Part 2 for THS’s Fright-A-Thon, so you can read my thoughts on that film, here. Regine Dandridge does a hell of a job living up to the lofty standards set by Jerry Dandridge (her brother from the original Fright Night). In many ways, she’s his equal. In sex appeal, mystery, and just overall menace, she’s an A+. Her plot in the film revolves around capturing Charley Brewster, who “murdered” her brother. She’s a major highlight of a fantastic sequel.
To really get the full appreciation for her character, you have to watch the film though. She encapsulates all that there is to a vampire. She even has the horrifying “bat” form that drives home, the monster that resides within every vampire.
#6: David (The Lost Boys)
The 80’s horror fan debate between The Lost Boys and Near Dark has raged on since both films came out. I lean ever so slightly towards Near Dark. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that David from The Lost Boys is one of the best vampires on screen. Overall, this film’s depiction of vampires is spot on. You have the “grunts” in David and his crew and you have Ed Herrmann’s Max, who leads them all from the shadows. It’s arguably Joel Schumacher‘s best film, but that honor could go to a couple films in his filmography.
David’s character perfectly captures the essence of a youthful vampire. I have no idea how old his character is in The Lost Boys but it doesn’t seem as if he’s a very old soul. His master, Max, on the other hand, depending on how deep you dive into The Lost Boys media is ancient. Either way, Sutherland gave one of the most iconic performances of any vampire on film here.
#5: Severen/Jesse Hooker (Near Dark)
I’m cheating again with this entry. Near Dark has more than one all-time performance as a vampire. Bill Paxton as Severen and Lance Henriksen as Jesse Hooker provide the star power as the villains in the film. Severen is particularly brutal in his kills in this film. Jesse Hooker plays the quintessential western villain here. He leads his gang of outlaws with ruthless intent. These two performances almost make the movie what it is. I had this film as the number one Genre Bending film on my list, which you can check out here!
#4: Jerry Dandridge (Fright Night)
Now it’s time for the best of the “modern” vampires. Jerry Dandridge is the archetypal vampire in my mind. Chris Sarandon plays Jerry with all the vigor, suave, and underlying sadness that a vampire should have. If it wasn’t for the absolute classic performances ahead of him, he would be the number one. Fright Night took what vampire films before it laid down, and improved upon it. Peter Vincent might be the heart of the film, but Jerry Dandridge is the crux of the film.
He just gives off the sexy, suave vibes that is needed for a vampire in a modern day film. At no point besides the climax of the film is he not in control of the situation. It all adds up to one of the best vampires on film.
#3: Christopher Lee As Dracula (Hammer Films)
The Hammer horror films are finally getting some of the recognition they deserve. They’re the bedrock on top of the…. bedrock of Universal Films. Okay, that’s not a great analysis of it, but it makes sense. Universal’s films laid the framework for what horror should be. Hammer took that formula and added color, blood, gothic architecture, and cleavage. Christopher Lee might have distanced himself from the character over the years, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t any less iconic. He gave a charming and elegant performance but included all the evil and lack of remorse that you’d expect out of the Count. It didn’t eclipse Bela Lugosi’s immortal performance, but it comes damn close.
#2: Nosferatu (Nosferatu)
Nosferatu was made in 1922. At the height of the German Expressionist movement. The film is a cinematic masterpiece that highlights everything from direction, acting, set design, costume design, lighting, cinematography, you name it. The film couldn’t be called Dracula because of legal reasons but it fits. The character of Nosferatu might be old hat at this point, but don’t get me wrong, it’s still truly terrifying almost 100 years later. Imagine your worst nightmare, and I don’t mean just one where you’re falling. One where proportions are stretched and thrown off normal human levels. That’s what Nosferatu is. It’s a dream-like film that while silent, is by no means boring. Max Schreck sets the tone for every vampiric performance for the next 100 years and onward in this film.
Vampires might have moved past long fingernails and pasty white skin these days, but Nosferatu is the pioneer in the field of vampires.
#1: Bela Lugosi as Dracula (Universal Dracula Films)
You had to expect this one was coming. If Nosferatu created the archetype for a vampire, Dracula gave you the perfect performance that still hasn’t been topped. Think about any other performance in a movie with a famous character like Dracula. How many times is that character done perfectly the first time around? How many times is that character changed for the times? Well with Bela Lugosi and Dracula, he set the bar, and no one has changed anything about it since.
Dracula is just acted like Lugosi did in this film. That’s how it works. So for any other character, the actor might change a little bit. The stereotypical Dracula is that of Lugosi’s version. The one you see on boxes of cereal or in cartoons over the years? That’s Lugosi. So give the man his due, and this Halloween season, fire up Dracula. It’s a short watch, but if you haven’t watched it recently, it holds up just as well.
It’s one of the first wave of films with sound, but it plays very much like a silent film at times. In the same dream-like way that Nosferatu is frightening, Dracula takes the same notes, but adds a Hollywood sheen to them. It’ll be hard to ever top Lugosi at the top of this list.
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