A Sucker Born Every Minute – Top Ten Vampires

Eclipse, the third installment of The Twilight Saga, came out Wednesday. I was going to review it, but just couldn’t bear paying $10 to subject myself to another round of Stephanie Meyer’s tired Disneyfication of vampire lore. Yes, I did see Twilight and New Moon, chalk it up to morbid curiosity, and the fact that the Los Angeles Public Library rents movies for free. Also, how can I critique something I know nothing about? It was research, mind-numbing research. And I’ll probably eventually see Eclipse, ’cause as much as I’m an opponent of Meyer’s brand of bedazzled bloodsuckers, I actually like David Slade (Hard Candy) and I’ve heard that his is the least painful of the series so far. If you are curious about Eclipse (it’s ok, I understand), head over to Film School Rejects and check out Neil Miller’s review.

So, with my evening free from Bella’s teenage angst and her aggravatingly chaste wavering between Broody McBrooderman and Tits McGee, I decided to watch some much more adult vampire fare and catch up on season two of True Blood. I love True Blood, and not only because it is the antithesis of Twilight, offering a much more satisfying vampire allegory in contrast to Twilight‘s restraint and abstinence; I think it’s actually a great show. Also, Bill would totally kick Edward’s ass, which led me to think about all the vampires out there who are infinitely more interesting than Edward. And frankly, there are a lot… hell, I’d take the Count from Sesame Street or Count Duckula over Edward any day. That being said, I present this list of my top ten favorite vampires.

10. Marie – Innocent Blood (1992) – Dir. John Landis

Marie: When you are alone eternally, you live for the comfort of the senses: food, sex. I’d become very selective and it was getting harder for me to find food, even living in the city. My choosiness about food cost me my lover, and without him there is no sex.

Innocent Blood is John Landis’ attempt to do for vampires what An American Werewolf in London did for werewolves. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as good. It is, however, still entertaining… to me, anyway. Marie, played by Anne Parillaud, is a sultry French vampire whose craving for blood is rivaled only by her desire for sex. In spite of her hunger, she only feeds on humans of a more nefarious persuasion, specifically the local Italian mob. She uses her feminine wiles to lure unsuspecting mobsters to their doom, but when one of her feedings is interrupted before she has a chance to dispatch her villainous victim, a power-hungry mob boss is turned into a truly blood-thirsty monster. A sexy, libidinous vampire with a conscience, who isn’t afraid to bare her fangs (or anything else, for that matter) and show her fearsome side, taking out mobsters in a bloody rampage, what more could you want in a vampire?

9. Valek – Vampires (1998) – Dir. John Carpenter

Jack Crow: Well first of all, they’re not romantic. It’s not like they’re a bunch of fuckin’ fags hoppin’ around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you’ve seen in the movies: they don’t turn into bats, crosses don’t work. Garlic? You wanna try garlic? You could stand there with garlic around your neck and one of these buggers will bend you fucking over and take a walk up your strada-chocolata WHILE he’s suckin’ the blood outta your neck, all right? And they don’t sleep in coffins lined in taffeta. You wanna kill one, you drive a wooden stake right through his fuckin’ heart… Sunlight turns ’em into crispy critters.

Jack Crow, a Vatican-backed mercenary vampire hunter played by James Woods, perfectly sums up what to expect from Valek, the mean, mean mother of all vampires. Though, I am a fan of Dracula, Valek puts Vlad to shame in the vicious department. Dracula went astray after being told that since his true love killed herself she was damned for all time. He was more lovelorn than vicious. Whereas Valek was a Catholic priest denounced for heresy and subjected to a botched exorcism, which ultimately turns him into the first vampire… a pissed off vampire with a serious grudge against the Catholic Church. Again, like Innocent Blood, Vampires isn’t the greatest vampire movie, but it is a thoroughly entertaining vampire gore-fest. It’s a solid B-movie, a little cheesy, kinda campy, not the greatest dialogue, not the best characters, though I do love James Woods as Jack Crow, and Thomas Ian Griffith was born to play a vampire… when he’s not helping Kreese get revenge on Daniel-san. Again, it’s good, but not great, otherwise Valek would be a bit higher on this list. But, in spite of the film’s lesser qualities, Valek’s throat-slashing, heart-ripping, priest-decapitating quest to walk in sunlight definitely earns him a spot on this list.

8. Jerry Dandridge – Fright Night (1985) – Dir. Tom Holland

Jerry Dandridge: Now, we wouldn’t want to wake your mother, would we Charley? ‘Cause then I’d have to kill her too, RIGHT?

Ah… the 80s, an interesting decade for vampires. In the age of Reaganomics, yuppie conformists, rising conservatism, and cold war values, the 80s vampire just wants to blend in and go with the flow. Of course, when “it’s morning again in America,” there’s really no place for a vampire, is there? Jerry Dandridge is the charming vampire next door. He’s stylish, handsome, wealthy, clean-cut, and he’s also a greedy bloodsucker with a taste for prostitutes… practically a poster-child for Reagan-era yuppies… except he’s also a vampire. Chris Sarandon plays Dandridge, and dammit if he doesn’t make him one of the most interesting vampires. Sarandon’s villains are oddly appealing; like Prince Humperdink, even though Dandridge is sinister, there’s something fascinating about his preternatural cunning. I love Dandridge’s haughty wryness. Also, there are some great moments when he abruptly transitions from aloof yuppie to vicious vampire. Still, Dandridge seems like he could actually entertain his guests with some lively conversation and witty jokes, before eating them.

And he’s a pretty good dancer, too.

7. David – The Lost Boys (1987) – Dir. Joel Schumacher

David: Now you know what we are, now you know what you are. You’ll never grow old, Michael, and you’ll never die. But you must feed!

Another vampire from the 80s, David is the antithesis to Fright Night‘s Jerry Dandridge, a rebellious, punk rock vampire, riding his motorcycle, antagonizing beach-goers, loitering… you know, the usual punker mischief, not exactly inconspicuous. Of course, most people who discover that David and his band of outsiders are vampires don’t live long enough to tell anyone about it. As much as I like Dandridge, David is definitely the cooler vampire. The perfect bad boy outsider vampire, brought to the screen by notorious real-life bad boy Kiefer Sutherland. If you don’t think Kiefer Sutherland is cool, then you clearly haven’t ever seen The Lost Boys. Sutherland can definitely crank up the menace, which we also get a pretty healthy dose of in Ace from Stand By Me. Honestly, if it weren’t for his role as Doc in the Young Guns movies, I would have been terrified of Kiefer Sutherland when I was a kid. Kiefer’s menacing voice and steely gaze is definitely what earns David a spot on this list.

6. Count Orlok – Nosferatu (1922) – Dir. F.W. Murnau

Count Orlok: Is this your wife? What a lovely throat.

Count Orlok is probably one of the creepiest vampires ever brought to life on the big screen. Those lifeless eyes, that bald head, the bat-like ears, and those gargantuan, talon-like fingers. Max Schreck’s performance as Orlok is disconcertingly genuine, the way he moves like creeping death. He can instill so much fear with the slightest gesture of his claw. You almost feel like Murnau actually found a vampire to play Orlok in his film. Which brings me to…

5. Max Schreck – Shadow of the Vampire (2000) – Dir. E. Elias Merhige

Max: Tell me how you would harm me – when even I don’t know how I could harm myself.

This film brilliantly operates under the very premise I just mentioned. In an effort to bring the greatest vampire story ever told to life, ambitious director F.W. Murnau finds a real vampire to play the role of Count Orlok in his barely veiled reworking of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Count Orlok was already frightening enough, but the idea that Max Schreck is an actual age-old vampire just adds more fuel to the fire. Willem Dafoe’s take on the twisted Max Schreck is almost more unsettling than Count Orlok himself, granted the advent of sound gives Dafoe a bit of a leg up, his voice and accent adding another creepy element of characterization. Also, Schreck’s body count in Shadow of the Vampire is much higher than Orlok’s in Nosferatu.

4. Maximillian – Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) – Dir. Wes Craven

Maximillian: Interesting. I’ve been stabbed and I’ve been hanged and I’ve been burned, even broken on the rack once, but I’ve never been shot before. Kind of itches a little!

Not only does Eddie Murphy play one of the funniest vampires ever, he’s also one of the suavest, in spite of the unfortunate 90s mullet. Maximillian is an intriguing Caribbean version of Dracula, complete with ability to take the form of a wolf, cloud the minds of mere mortals, etc. But, Maximillian also has the ability to take the form of other people, treating us to some hilarious moments when he disguises himself as a pastor, preaching to his congregation that since there can be no good without evil, clearly evil must be good; he also transforms into a two-bit hood named Guido who robs an Italian restaurant. But it isn’t all fun and games, Maximillian is also a pretty vicious vampire, ripping out loan sharks’ hearts, dismembering thugs, causing police dogs to spontaneously combust, definitely not one to be trifled with. And in spite of his general suave appearance, occasionally he turns up the fright, shaking his gory locks at his victims… and I don’t mean his hair, though that is also kinda scary in its own way.

3. Dracula – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Dir. Francis Ford Coppola

Dracula: I shall rise from my own death, to avenge hers with all the powers of darkness.

Gary Oldman’s Dracula is, by far, my favorite approach to the character. Frankly, I really don’t like the 1931 Tod Browning directed Dracula. I find it a bit boring, and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is hard for me to take seriously, especially after growing up watching Sesame Street’s Count. Lugosi’s Dracula seems rather one-note. I was always much more impressed by Karloff’s monster in Frankenstein. Anyway, back to Oldman, his Dracula is all over the place, reaching these wonderful emotional highs and lows, from prideful rage to pitiful longing to lovelorn sorrow to joyous ecstasy. Oldman humanizes Dracula in a way that I’ve never seen before. Don’t get me wrong, this Dracula is still a pretty diabolical antagonist, formidable even when he appears as an old man. When the ancient Dracula suddenly springs to life, enraged by Harker’s ignorance, brandishing a sword and roaring, “It is no laughing matter! We Draculs have a right to be proud! What devil or witch was ever so great as Atilla, whose blood flows in these veins?” That scared the crap out of me. Granted, I was 9, but still. Though Coppola’s Dracula may have its faults, it stays truest to the source material. And Oldman’s Dracula is perfect in my book.

2. Lestat – Interview with the Vampire (1994) – Dir. Neil Jordan

Lestat: Evil is a point of view. God kills indiscriminately and so shall we. For no creatures under God are as we are, none so like him as ourselves.

I do believe that the vampire Lestat is my favorite Tom Cruise performance, ever. Although Anne Rice herself doubted he could capture the essence of one of her most notorious characters, even she went on to say that, “from the moment he appeared, Tom was Lestat to me.” His portrayal of the vain, foppish Lestat is captivating. He brings a kind of ebullience to the role, evoking Lestat’s almost nihilistic hedonism in wonderfully stark contrast to Louis’ (Brad Pitt) existential brooding. (Louis, by the way, could teach Twilight‘s Edward a thing or two about brooding.) Lestat is witty and sardonic. I imagine Lestat is what Oscar Wilde would be like, were he a vampire.

1. Eli – Let the Right One In (2008) – Dir. Tomas Alfredson

Eli: I’m twelve… but I’ve been twelve for a long time.

As much as I enjoy Kirsten Dunst’s performance as Claudia in Interview with the Vampire, she’s got nothing on Lina Leandersson. Granted, Leandersson’s dialogue was overdubbed by Elif Ceylan to give Eli a darker, more menacing voice, but still, the performance is more than just the dialogue. Leandersson’s physicality, her expression, the look in her eyes, all of these things make me believe that she is a 200-year-old vampire. Eli seems like such an old soul, world-weary, stoic, mysterious. And in spite of the friendship with young Oskar, Eli is still a vicious vampire, willing to tear out the occasional throat. Let the Right One In is probably my new all-time favorite vampire movie. It’s so much more than a horror film, and that’s largely thanks to the child-like vampire. Something about having a vampire that appears to be so young makes this story seem like a sort of dark fairytale. And the setting, the snowy 80s Swedish suburbia, gives the film a surreal, horror-tinged Alice in Wonderland vibe.

So, those are my top ten. What are yours? Who do you think I left off?

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8 responses to “A Sucker Born Every Minute – Top Ten Vampires

  1. you forgot about blade/from dusk til dawn and that makes me sad all day… 😦

    • I didn’t forget about them. Blade’s only half vampire. And as much as I love From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, there isn’t really a single standout vampire antagonist, though Sex Machine did almost make the list.

  2. Great title for your post. Also, I think The Count deserves a spot in the top ten, not just an honourable mention!

    I watched Daybreakers just last night and would highly recommend that movie.

    • The Count is one of my favs, but I was sticking to vampires from movies I’ve seen. And I don’t recall seeing the count in any big screen adventures. If I were to include TV vampires, he’d definitely make the cut, along with Eric from True Blood.

  3. Great list! Lestat is the greatest for me 🙂

    • Bryan Parrill

      You found a few I haven’t seen…impressive. Yes, Lestat is the best. Then Gary Oldman. And then you should have put Eric from True Blood on even though he’s on TV, he’s that badass.

      Also, Bill Paxton in Near Dark deserves a spot for the bar scene alone.

  4. Pingback: Opening Weekend: What Is Best In Theaters? | Shooting the Script

  5. Nosferatu. A better love story than Twilight.

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