Vampire flicks morph through the years

From its centuries-old genesis in European folk tales, the lore of the vampire has always been in flux. Much like the creatures that morph from wolf to bat to human form, vampire mythology continually reinvents itself -- a process amplified for modernity with the publication of Bram Stoker's hugely influential 1897 novel, "Dracula."

Count ChoculaBut as 20th Century culture developed an ongoing obsession with vampires, a curious thing occurred: Beings that were once hideous demons -- or at best, sexy but devastating antagonists -- became charming heroes. As the 21st Century dawned, writer Steve Niles, speaking by phone from Los Angeles, set out to change that.

"I had gotten really bored with vampires, because they just weren't scary anymore. We turned Dracula into Count Chocula, and we've got teenage girls dating vampires on TV," says Niles, a lifelong fan of horror tales who wanted to bring scary back. While reading an article about an Alaskan village called Barrow -- the northernmost settlement on the North American mainland, a town so far north that the sun sets in late November and doesn't rise again for more than two months -- Niles hit upon a simple but intriguing premise: Barrow would be a natural playground for a pack of undead monsters for whom daylight is deadly.

The result was a 2002 comic-book miniseries, "30 Days of Night." (For the record, the writer consciously took artistic license with the length of darkness. " '55 Days of Night' just did not sound as good," he notes wryly.) Now in its seventh printing from IDW Publishing, the hit series spawned several graphic-novel sequels (by Niles and artist Ben Templesmith) and now a movie, which opens October 19th. Niles, who wrote the first draft of the screenplay, hopes the frightening and funereal tale will put the pyre back in vampire flicks.

Anticipating the chills caused by Barrow bloodsuckers stalking humans on the permafrost, we assembled a panel of vampire-film experts to name notable cinematic predators of the past. In addition to Niles, we have: "30 Days" director David Slade, who had a recurring nightmare about vampires as a child; and Chicago director Rusty Nails, who programs the annual 24-hour Music Box Massacre film fest, which unfolds this weekend.


The first vampire film (above), this morbid silent classic by German director F.W. Murnau adds to vampire lore a vulnerability to sunlight (a weakness absent from Stoker's novel).

Slade: "Murnau couldn't get the rights to do Bram Stoker's 'Dracula,' so he made this up. When [Count Orlok, played by Max Schreck] first appears, you've never seen anything like it, and it's terrifying. They must have gone to dark places to find that vampire."

Nails: "So creepy and raw. All these years later, its influence is incalculable."


This horror-comedy provided a brief comeback for Bela Lugosi as Dracula. When the count seeks a brain for Frankenstein's monster, he picks the hapless Wilbur (Lou Costello).

Niles: "One of the best of the Universal monster movies. It was going to be the ultimate team-up movie, with Lon Chaney Jr.'s werewolf and Lugosi as Dracula, before it became an Abbott and Costello vehicle. One of my all-time favorites."

Nails: "I actually have not seen it since I was a boy, and I'm leaving it as a treat, to see it on the big screen with the audience [this weekend]. It's great to be able to make fun of ourselves when we're scared."


Vampires go sci-fi when a plague wipes out everyone save a single survivor (Vincent Price) -- until the dead return as bloodsucking zombies. This apocalyptic tale is being remade under its original title, "I Am Legend," starring Will Smith for December release.

Niles: "One of my top five. It's the first and still the best version of Richard Matheson's 'I Am Legend,' which was the first book I ever read cover to cover."

Nails: "The idea is terrifying. Vincent Price is, as always, wonderful."


Vampires meet blaxploitation in this horror-spoof mashup. The original "Blacula," one year earlier, features the charismatic William Marshall as Mamuwalde, an African prince turned conflicted vampire. This underrated sequel co-stars foxy Pam Grier as a voodoo priestess with whom Blacula forges an uneasy alliance.

Niles: "I love the 'Blacula' [films]. Pam Grier just makes it better -- a true grind-house movie."

Nails: "I love the title, which I've written into one of my next films. And Pam Grier is one of the coolest women to ever grace the silver screen."

'MARTIN' (1977)

Razor blades substitute for fangs in George Romero's art-house deconstruction of vampires. Set in a decaying Pittsburgh, this original take proves cerebral and suspenseful.

Niles: "A wonderful portrayal of vampires from a more psychological approach. I really love that."

Slade: "Not your typical vampire film. I love it."

Nails: "A favorite of mine. The big question in the movie is: Is Martin psychotic, or is he a vampire?"

'THE HUNGER' (1983)

Memorably opening with Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy singing "Bela Lugosi's Dead," director Tony Scott's trippy film features omnisexual ancient-Egyptian predators (David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve). Sure, Bowie is hot, but everybody lusts for Deneuve's smoking seduction of Susan Sarandon.

Slade: "I don't really think of it as a vampire movie, but it is and I love it. So full of beautiful imagery."

Nails: "Deneuve and Sarandon's love scene is one of the most erotic and powerful sex scenes in the history of cinema, hands down . . . and the opening scene is so sexy and so well edited."

'NEAR DARK' (1987)

Co-written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, this cult hit never utters the word "vampire" as it follows a pack of bloodsucking hicks who prowl the South in a motor home. Its excellent cast includes Adrian Pasdar (before he flew on "Heroes"), Lance Henriksen and scene-stealer Bill Paxton.

Nails: "One of the very best vampire films."

Niles: "A day in the life of a vampire -- but it's hard to be scared of them."

Slade: "Fantastic nihilism and great acting. There are so many great moments, like when Bill Paxton tastes the blood in the bar and exclaims, 'Finger-lickin' good!' "

Source: written by Web Behrens / Chicago Tribune

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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