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Top 10 Big Screen Vampires

Number 10 in your coffin, number 1 in your hearts

By Chuck Francisco     September 18, 2013
Source: Mania.com

As we grow closer to the most exciting season of the the year (Halloween), my proximity to the best of months weakens the resolve to save the best films for their proper time. For hardcore horror fans Halloween is a perpetual state of mind, but there is a unique intimacy attached to savoring monstrous  favorites within the witching season. In a feeble effort to distract myself from the inevitable I set to devouring a box of Count Chocula when a question pounced upon me like a lightning quick lord of darkness: Who is the best vampire? 
 
The knee jerk answer is Bela Lugosi in the same way Sean Connery is brandished when the question is asked about James Bond. For all of the cultural osmosis that appropriated his appearance and mannerisms, adhering them to our mind's eye of Dracula, Lugosi only portrayed the famous bloodsucker a handful of times. It's fallacious to equate quantity for quality though, as there have been a number of actors who only portrayed a vampire once but left a undeniable impression. Here are the top ten cinematic vampires to seek out this Halloween season.
 
10. Kate Beckinsale as Selene from Underworld (2003)
I know what you're thinking (that's not very polite of you), but Selene represents a natural evolution of the vampire mythos combined with gothic action in a post Matrix cinemascape. While the series itself crests the height of movie junk food viewership, Selene is as picturesque as a porcelain idol, albeit one armed to the teeth and vengeful. She meets all comers with a stoic reserve and an arsenal of gadgetry. Consider her a prime example of character rising above the plot they're enshrouded within. The first Underworld also brought a hint of The Crow's charm with it, though no where near as much heart.

9. Wesley Snipes as Blade from Blade (1998)
Sure the Daywalker is a hybrid human/vampire, his mother having been bitten while pregnant with him, but Blade effective functions with all of their abilities so I call it fair to include him. Let's erase from the ledger his third installment, during which he effectively acted as a sidekick to Ryan Reynolds, and bask in the badassery displayed in the first two films of this comic book inspired series. Blade is the ultimate underground operator, effectively keeping the vampire nation in check as part of a two man crew (with occasional help). It's difficult to separate the third film and Snipes' personal life from judgement of the series as a whole, but those who can commonly recognize the brilliance of Blade.

8. Lance Hendriksen as Jesse Hooker from Near Dark (1987)
Near Dark is a brilliant and underrated modern vampire classic from director Kathryn Bigelow. Hendriksen lends his typical gravely menace to the personage of Jesse Hooker, the vampire patriarch to a family of bloodsucking misfit toys. His overwhelming charisma cloaks a vicious predator, forming my favorite combination among the children of the night: charm and danger. He is equal measures vicious, callous, cold, and frightening; all while convincing us that somewhere deep down his tortured soul once held something mildly resembling good.

7. Frank Langella as Dracula in Dracula (1979)
An entire generation of tape swapping 80's monster kids grew up with Frank Langella's interpretation of the Transylvanian nobleman. His turn as the count was markedly more erotic, drawing on the sexual undertones ever present in the Hammer films staring Christopher Lee. In a period piece with an overabundance of style and elegance, Langella manages to exude lusty confidence without coming off as ostentatious.

6. Kiefer Sutherland as David in The Lost Boys (1987)
He lives in a formerly opulent sunken hotel, and spends his evenings beach bumming and boardwalking along the California coast. As if perpetual youth where not compelling enough, David is the coolest of customers, relying on manipulation and trickery (until they fail, of course). He'd earn a spot further up the list if he wasn't partially undone by the combined might of the Coreys (Haim and Feldman).

5. Duncan Regehr as Count Dracula in The Monster Squad (1987)
The Monster Squad is a Halloween classic in my house hold, as it combines the near breadth of the Universal Monsters lineup into a Captain Planet-esk super force for horror cinema awesome. Regehr's version of the legendary bloodsucker was voted the #30 all time villain for Wizard Magazine's countdown in 2006 and he brings a stalking menace to the proceedings.

4. Max Schreck as Count Orlock in Nosferatu (1922)
How good is Schreck as Count Orlock in this unauthorized adaption of Stoker's novel? A deep feeling of dread still works to overcome my calm to this day when viewing the film or still shots of his vampire. It's a seriously criminal offense that Nosferatu was nearly lost due to litigation brought by Stoker's widow. His silhouette is iconic, his face the stuff of nightmares. I dare you to Google image search for Count Orlock with the lights off.

3. Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in an absurd number of films (1959-1973)
Christopher Lee may be one of the most interesting men on the planet. Between his secret work with SAS during world war two, his prolific career spanning more than half a century, being a direct descendant of  Charlemane and cousin of James Bond creator Ian Flemming, and his recent heavy metal work in 2010 (which you really need to own), I could (and likely will) spend an entire Shock-O-Rama on the man. His many jaunts as Dracula came under protest, with some containing no lines aside from hissing (Dracula: Prince of Darkness). Lee's notoriety as Dracula is in constant contest with Lugosi, and I suspect one day it may supersede the Hungarian actor in the role's prominence.

2. Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge in Fright Night (1985)
Jerry Dandridge may indeed be my favorite silver screen vampire. He exudes such confidence, which shines through in the delight he derives from his cat and mouse pursuit of Charley. Briefly humanized by his offer of a way out to his next door neighbor, Jerry is never to be underestimated. Sarandon dons the role with such charisma, relishing each scene with mocking delight. As a vampire in a pop culture world, he's been exposed to the vampire killer's arsenal of tricks, and has thus prepared himself to deftly avoid them. It's this clever skirting of the established pathos which makes Jerry so dangerous and so much fun to watch.

1. Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in Dracula (1931)
With nearly no makeup and utilizing his own accent, Bela Lugosi managed to become the definitive version of Count Dracula. Unfortunately in defining this iconic character, he became lost behind a vampiric facade to casting directors. Lugosi's portrayal is calculated, regal, and knowing, with a threatening air bound loosely below the veneer of civility. While is career was irreparably torpedoed, Lugosi's legacy lives on in the hearts of all monster kids, and on the faces of delighted trick or treaters. He takes the top spot as he and the character are forever linked. 

How would your list differ, Maniacs?

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous  Colonial Theatre  in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 20
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OmegaDean 9/18/2013 1:36:01 AM

I think Gary Oldman's Dracula was pretty tight.

The Master in Salem's Lot from the 70's mini series

 

SarcasticCaveman 9/18/2013 3:20:35 AM

 I'm right there with ya on Gary Oldman, OmegaDean...as for Salem's Lot...great miniseries, but that was the small screen, and this article is about big screen vamps.  But yeah, Gary Oldman got robbed.

Mooncrow 9/18/2013 4:18:24 AM

 1979 "Vampire" with the great actor Richard Lynch as the Vampire. 

And yeah Gary Oldman is just pretty awesome. It should, at least push out Beckinsale and Snipes from the top 10

joelr 9/18/2013 6:19:34 AM

Mmmmm... Chris Sarandon over Christopher Lee? No. Lee has more presence in a single frame. Hell, Lee should probably even get the nod over Lugosi.

And no Oldman? For shame!

Also Henriette Gerard in "Vampyre" deserves some undying love.

Credit for Duncan Regehr though.

Eldogg42 9/18/2013 6:29:47 AM

I'm pretty much in agreement with all of these, but no Oldman? I would switch out Sarandon with Oldman.  All the others are spot on.

monkeyfoot 9/18/2013 8:31:34 AM

Agree on Oldman being on list. He is one of the images of Dracula many recognize.

I thought I was the only one who remembered the '79 TV movie Vampire with Richard Lynch. Nobody else seems to know of it. I think it was meant as a show pilot after the popularity of the Langella movie.

And if we are mentioning TV vampires (we are aren't we?) ya gotta talk about The Night Stalker.

I just recorded Vampyre on my DVR last week. I've never seen it. I have to get around to looking at it.

I also haven't seen Monster Squad. Another genre scarilege. I need to see it at some point.

blankczech 9/18/2013 9:15:00 AM

 Thought Paxton was terrific in Near Dark.

Liked C. Lee's Frankenstein monster more than his Dracula.

I also prefer Sarandon's sneaky vampire to Lee's mute monsters.

Couldn't get into the romantic aspect of the Oldman film.

The two Corey's ruined Lost Boys for me.

Danny Huston was one badass vampire in 30 Days of Night

If you've never seen it...please check out Willem Defoe's portrayal of Max Shreck in Shadow of the Vampire

blankczech 9/18/2013 9:24:22 AM

 ...forgot to mention Tom Cruise's underrated performance as Lestat in Interview with the Vampire

mellowdoux 9/18/2013 10:05:43 AM

 Brilliant list, Chuck.
Some have mentioned Kurt Barlow from "Salem's Lot" and I was thinking the same thing. I'd trade him with Duncan Regher in the Number 5 slot.

@Mooncrow: Good call on Richard Lynch! I loved that TV movie!

mrdjspaz 9/18/2013 10:14:03 AM

What about Leslie Nielsen?

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