Wampyr

Count Yorga. The name just oozes vampire. Blood dripping from razor-sharp fangs, black red-lined cape, Eastern European provenance. Count Yorga was a proper vampire, not one of the sparkly creatures that infest the modern genre. And not one of those vampires that are themselves victims, caught up in an un-life they never asked for and who are just trying to get along as best they can without killing too many people. No, the good Count was a scary vampire with no qualms about murder. After all, killing your food isn’t really murder, right?

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My first vampire experience was with Count Yorga at the drive-in theatre in the Gold Coast of Queensland, where I (sort of) grew up. I’m really stretching my memory but I think it was on a date with Sheryl Boan, a nice girl. Yorga scared us. Yorga scared everyone in the theatre. There’s a scene where two lovers are in a Volkswagen micro bus stranded on the side of the road near Yorga’s estate. They had met the count earlier at a seance and offered him a ride home. After dropping him off, their VW gets stuck and rather than walk back to Yorga’s place they decide to sleep in the bus. Well, Yorga came to them in the night. Hearing noises outside, the girl asks the boy to investigate, which he does but then doesn’t come back. Girl gets alarmed and eventually pulls back the window curtains on the side of the bus only to reveal the vampire’s face, fangs on full display. Total freakout in the theatre (actually in our cars, being a drive-in theater). Things go significantly downhill for the girl after that.

That’s how it should be with vampires. While you may or may not appreciate the scantily-clad fangsters which are part and parcel of many B vampire movies, terror and blood are integral to the vampire. They’re terrifying. They want to drink your blood and maybe enslave you into a undead existence yourself. Vampires appear in your room in the middle of the night, provided you earlier unwittingly invited them in to your house. They hover midair at your second story bedroom window asking to come in if you haven’t, as Stephen King imagined it in Salem’s Lot a classic of the genre.

Beyond the terror, vampires represent immortality, a conscious or unconscious longing for many people. We all want to live forever, to experience centuries – millennia! – of things we could not possibly imagine while tethered to one mortal lifespan. These are the vampires of Anne Rice’s imagination, and others. Dracula is the epitome of such a vampire and has been the most portrayed vampire in movies, with Christopher Lee’s films accounting for a good chunk of them. Older vampires, who seem to have unnaturally clear memories on top of everything else, recount stories of Roman and even pre-Roman times, of Biblical events, of wars long forgotten to all but historians. In True Blood, an HBO series involving good and bad vampires, before relations between vampires and humans takes a nasty turn south, the vampire Bill addresses a town hall meeting in his hometown, regaling the people with stories of their own ancestors whom he knew personally. His personal knowledge and experiences far exceeded anything they had known before from ‘normal’ historical sources. Think of that and then project back two, three, even four millennia. What we could learn from these creatures of the undead. That si, before they ripped opened our throats and drained the life from us.

Sadly, few quality old-school scary vampire movies are produced these days and indeed during the past few decades. Mostly, the modern vampire is considerably less terror-inducing, being either the sparkly type, angst inflicted or vampires that serve solely as vehicles for gore and violence, such as Blade, Underworld and From Dusk Till Dawn.

Salem’s Lot may be my favorite scary vampire movie (and book). Stephen King’s interpretation of what the insidious evil a vampire represents is truly, epically terror-inducing. As the people of the town are one by one turned into vampires, including some main protagonists, you experience a creeping dread. A dread that makes you want to scream No! Don’t go in there! Get away! Not to spoil it, but it doesn’t end well even for the two survivors of the carnage.

Which is not to say I haven’t found other modern interpretations of the vampire entertaining, even if not terribly scary. Two films come to mind: Let the Right One In and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Both are horror but both also involve a sense of humanity not previously found in vampire films, including the angst films. You empathize with the vampire, not their victims.

There are also some quirky movies I’ve liked, such as Only Lovers Left Alive and the really funny What We Do In The Shadows, a pseudo-documentary that is recommended viewing even if you’re not into vampires. But in the final analysis, I prefer an old-fashioned scary vampire. I prefer Count Yorga.

With a little help from the internet to bolster my memory, in no particular order, here are some of the vampire movies and TV series that I have seen. If you like vampires, seek these out and enjoy!

Salem’s Lot (1979), a TV movie based on Stephen King’s horror novel. The residents of a small New England town start turning into vampires after an ancient vampire moves in with his manservant. Very scary – the scene with the kid floating outside the window asking to be let is truly terrifying.

Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), a young couple are victims of a European count who recently moved into town.

The Return of Count Yorga (1971), the count continues to prey on the locals.

True Blood (2008-2014), HBO TV series revolving around an angst-inflicted vampire in love with a fey human. Despite that, this is the best ‘good’ vampire story I’ve seen. I really got wrapped up in this series. The characters are compelling.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), a horror-comedy involving a young woman whose destiny is to kill vampires. Best scene might be the protracted death throes of the vampire played by Paul Reubens (Peewee Herman) after being staked by Buffy. Worth a view just for that.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), TV series directed by Joss Whedon (Firefly) and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Had a large following; it’s pretty good.

Interview With a Vampire (1994), based on the book by Anne Rice, the story of the powerful but reckless vampire Lestat as told by his protege Louis to a human reporter. Anne Rice lays out one of the better vampire mythologies you’ll find, with a lot of historical detail. The film does the book justice with good performances by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

Queen of the Damned (2002), a sequel to Interview With a Vampire but not nearly as good.  No Cruise; no Pitt.

Let the Right One In (2008), Swedish, a different kind of vampire story. A young boy befriends a new girl who moves in next door. But she’s an ancient vampire, not a young girl, and she protects the boy from bullies. A great film.

Let Me In (2010), the American remake of Let the Right One In. Not quite as good but still worthy.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), an Iranian film that tells the story of a lonely vampire who befriends a young man in the midst of troubles with an abusive drug-dealer. Excellent.

Dracula (1931), Bela Lugosi as the venerable count created by Bram Stoker. Lugosi’s Dracula is the model for all vampires and vampire costumes. No one wore a cape like Lugosi.

Dracula/Horror of Dracula (1958), Christopher Lee in the first and best of his roles as Dracula. Retitled from Dracula to Horror of Dracula for American release. Lee would make several subsequent Dracula movies, none of which gave Lee much of a speaking role: Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).

Dracula (1979), Frank Langella as Dracula and Lawrence Olivier as Van Helsing. Langella fans (I’m one) will like it.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), a modern adaptation of the Bram Stoker Dracula story directed by Francis Ford Coppola with an excellent performance by Gary Oldman as the vampire and a poor performance by Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker. Stupid title but a good vampire flick.

Dracula Untold (2014), a film with better special effects than previous vampire flicks, this tells the story of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), the Wallachian prince said to inspire the myth of Dracula, rather than following the Bram Stoker storyline as most other Dracula movies have done.

Nosferatu (1922), F. W. Murnau’s seminal silent film that remains one of the best.  The vampire Count Orlok is both hideous and mysterious. The story is actually an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with the names of the characters changed (per Wikipedia). Because the Stoker heirs sued over copyright issues despite the name changes, all copies of this film were ordered destroyed but a few thankfully survived. Every budding vampire aficionado must see this film.

Nosferatu the Vampire (1979), Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu starring Klaus Kinski as the vampire. If any film needed to be remade, it might be Nosferatu because of the original being a silent film (it’s still great – see above). Kinski puts in a great performance.

30 Days of Night (2007), vampires terrorize a remote town in northern Alaska during the winter when the sun doesn’t rise. The idea of endless night made me think a vampire might want to migrate seasonally between the Arctic and Antarctic circles.

The Lost Boys (1987), film about California vampire gangs starring Keifer Sutherland in one of his earliest major roles.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), an intriguing movie about two older vampires searching for meaning in their undead life. Great performances by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston make this movie a must see.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014), the funniest movie of the lot. Filmed as a pseudo-documentary, it involves four vampires living together in New Zealand that have as hard a time putting up with each other as they do with being vampires. Hilarious.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), a bloody film (it was written by Quentin Tarantino, the modern master of over-the-top blood and gore) with a top notch cast of George Clooney, Antonio Banderas and Harvey Keitel. Basically about criminals that unwitting run into a den of vampires and then kill most of them.

Byzantium (2012), thoughtful Irish vampire film. A mother and daughter, both vampires, on the run from a vampire society. Good flick.

Fright Night (1985), something of a cult movie, it involves a teenaged kid who suspects (correctly) that his neighbor is a vampire who is killing people. Kid enlists the help of a TV vampire hunter to stop an actual vampire.

Thirst (2009), Korean vampire movie. There’s a love triangle with a Catholic priest who gets turned into a vampire.

Vampyres (1974), British, two female vampires lure unsuspecting men for sex and blood. Never turns out well for the men in the end.

Requiem for a Vampire (1971), British, sort of the opposite of Vampyres, two women are lured into a castle and then attempt to flee from the vampires within, mostly the main one who wants them to continue his bloodline.

Innocent Blood (1992), also known as A French Vampire in America, the story involves a modern-day female vampire who doesn’t like taking blood from anyone except criminals but who then unfortunately gets involved with the mafia. Don Rickles has a role!

Blood and Roses (1960), one of the several adaptations of the story of the Blood Countess, Carmilla Karnstein. In this film, a young woman is apparently possessed by by her ancestor, the countess, and embarks on her own killing spree. Stars Mel Ferrer.

The Vampire Lovers (1970), a vampire classic, this film is about the Blood Countess herself.

Subspecies (1991-1998), a series of four movies, Subspecies revolves around the vampire Radu, a rather grotesque creature, as he tries to possess and control the Bloodstone, a source of power. Radu is aided by his minions, the subspecies. There was a fifth film in the series but it involved a different vampire.

Love at First Bite (1979), a comedy starring George Hamilton as Dracula trying to deal with New York City.

Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Frankenstein? Yes, but it’s notable because Bela Lugosi reprises his role as Dracula for the only time since making the film for which he is famous. A comedy, obviously.

Shadow of the Vampire (2000), an interesting concept. While filming a remake of Nosferatu, the actor playing the lead seems to actually be a vampire.

Blade (1998), first of a series about the Marvel comics vampire hunter, starring Wesley Snipes.

Blacula (1972), a blaxsploitation film (as the genre is called). An African prince is turned into a vampire by Dracula.

The Last Man on Earth (1964), based on the book I Am Legend, this film stars Vincent Price as a man surviving in a world where a plague has turned (almost) everyone else into vampires.

I Am Legend (2007), a remake of The Last Man on Earth starring Will Smith.

Planet of Vampires (1965), you remember all those campy sci-fi movies made in the 1950s and 60s? This is one of them. The ‘vampires’ are more like zombies.

The Vampire Circus (1972), A circus comes to town. Unfortunately for the townspeople, they’re vampires.

Bloodrayne (2005),  a vampire/human hybrid takes revenge on her former captors. Inexplicably stars Ben Kingsley.