Vampire Film, The: From Nosferatu to Interview with the Vampire

A version of this review will appear in The Vampire's Crypt 18 (Fall 1998). The Vampire's Crypt web site is:

Alain Silver and James Ursini. The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to Interview with the Vampire. 3rd Limelight ed. New York: Limelight Editions, 1997. ISBN 0-87910-266-7; $25.00. (trade paper)

Taking a thematic rather than a purely chronological approach, this third edition of a classic vampire movie reference includes obscure as well as well-known titles in order to reflect "the richness and variety" of works that fall under its aegis. Following a brief survey of vampire lore, historical "vampires," and vampires in literature and pop culture, the authors explore vampire films under such rubrics as "The Male Vampire," "The Female Vampire," "Emerging Traditions," "The Multimedia Vampire," and "The Vampire at the Millennium."

Rather than outlining movie plots, Silver and Ursini usually pick some salient aspect or a few related aspects of a movie to analyze in depth. They describe, for example, how the iris shots in NOSFERATU (1922) suggest "enclosure" (entrapment) and how other visual effects convey the vampire's thought projection and mind control; their description of CRONOS indicates, among other things, how the texture of the marble floor that Gris presses his face against presages what his skin will become. Movies described at length may be analyzed in terms of how occurrences and themes interlace with or balance against each other. Plot highlights of DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, for example, are mixed generously with staging, camera work, and snippets of dialogue to show how director Terence Fisher creates and maintains suspense and uses a solidly material reality to tell a sometimes allegorical story. The several pages devoted to INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE describe its "romantic" (in the theatrical, larger-than-life sense) aspects and analyze use of the character Claudia to highlight the monstrousness of the beautiful vampires: the sexual aspect of the vampires' appetites makes them "child molesters" in their attentions to her; when they actually make Claudia one of themselves, "what could be more perverse than a child that kills?"

Indicating both the beauty and the monstrousness of vampires in INTERVIEW typifies the authors' approach: there are always balances and contrasts, whether within a single movie or between groups of them. In describing Hammer's entry into the vampire film genre in 1958 with DRACULA/HORROR OF DRACULA, they mention how the movie used color to introduce not only realism but its opposite, by evoking a dreamlike atmosphere with blue moonbeams or exaggerating the use of red in portraying the title character. The authors describe another example of balance in "Dracula 1974 vintage," the Dan Curtis/Jack Palance DRACULA. As they observe, this is the first movie to diverge from Stoker and other films by portraying Dracula sympathetically; but the vampire's sympathetic characteristics are balanced by demonic traits. The movie's final sequence, however, again mitigates his monstrousness with a rolling title narrating the exploits of the historical Dracula. Generalizing about vampires of different sexes in "The Vampire at the Millennium," the authors observe that "the male vampire has grappled philosophically with his affliction" while females evince "a mix of fervor and repulsion." They support the latter statement by describing at length a number of films featuring female vampires, including RED LIPS, NIGHT SHADE, and ADDICTED TO MURDER.

In offering coverage encyclopedic in scope, THE VAMPIRE FILM gives thoughtful attention to topics as diverse as Mexican vampire films and the works of Mario Bava. Among the relatively obscure titles analyzed is THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST (1945). Here vampire Web Fallon is described as "more appealing ... than the ostensible protagonist." Setting this work in a literary rather than a cinematic context, the authors compare Fallon to Varney and Ruthven, noting the film's rarely-used motif of moonlight as a means of vampire revivification.

Such a comprehensive text on vampire films is of course complemented by a comprehensive filmography. This one includes numerous alternate titles and plenty of cross-referencing entries. For many titles the credits list is extensive, including not only producer, director, writer, and music, but roles played by particular actors. Unfortunately, a number of titles in the filmography are not described in the text, leaving readers to guess what sort of activity qualifies them as vampire films.

Of interest to readers in search of more books that treat vampire films is the final section: "Vampire Redux: Other Studies of the Vampire Film." Although necessarily brief (only a handful of book-length works devoted solely or largely to vampire films exist), the chapter gives incisive criticism. For example, it praises the scholarly approach of Waller in THE LIVING AND THE UNDEAD and warns of obviously derivative errors in Melton's VAMPIRE BOOK and Skal's V IS FOR VAMPIRE. As the authors say, "We are prejudiced: not against competing volumes, but in favor of common sense and pertinent facts." Amen. And speaking of pertinent facts, THE VAMPIRE FILM includes a quite nice bibliography listing both books and periodicals, as well as an index.

THE VAMPIRE FILM is generously illustrated: For nearly all sections, even the filmography, opening the book means seeing at least one picture -- sometimes several. Occasionally pictures and text don't go together as well as they might: one especial disappointment was the complete lack of stills from TERROR IN THE CRYPT (LA CRIPTA E L'INCUBO, 1963). Its visuals are painstakingly described in the text; not getting to in fact *see* them was rather a letdown. But this is a minor shortcoming.

Because it cuts directly to the juiciest parts of most works, rather than examining them in toto, THE VAMPIRE FILM is more likely to inspire second viewings, or at least second thoughts about particular titles, than to help the uninitiated decide "should I rent this?" in the first place. Its leisurely approach and thematic organization make it more appropriate for savoring at length than for quickly pulling off the shelf to check on a particular movie's content (although the index makes the latter easy enough). Readable and informative for the casual vampire flick fan or the serious film student, THE VAMPIRE FILM will be a useful addition to nearly any vampire fan's bookshelf.

The Mad Bibliographer
Cathy Krusberg

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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