Top 10 On-Screen Vampires
It was announced today that Warner Bros. Pictures is producing a new adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, although this adaptation will be an odd reimagining in which Jonathan Harker is a detective with Scotland Yard. Add that to other projects being developed in Hollywood right now, including a remake of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and an adaptation of Elizabeth Kostova's masterful The Historian (a novel I cannot recommend highly enough), along with the Twilight movies and television shows such as True Blood and Being Human, and you can see that vampires are as popular as ever on screens both big and small. With that in mind, here are the top ten on-screen vampires, as decided by yours truly.
Though known primarily as Prince Humperdink, Chris Sarandon also took a deliciously evil turn as the vampire nextdoor in Fright Night. Fright Night is a great schlock-fest from the mid-eighties in which a young boy named Charlie Brewster becomes convinced that his neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon), is a vampire. With nobody believing him, Charlie recruits the help of late night television vampire hunter Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who decides to humor the boy long enough to discover that Jerry Dandrige is, in fact, a vampire. Sarandon's performance is great because he approaches the role the way any actor should approach the role of a vampire: he takes it seriously enough to sell it, but hams it up just enough to keep us entertained. It's wonderful watching Dandrige coolly explain away Charlie's fears to his mother and friends while slyly directing evil glances at the boy. Granted, the whole thing falls apart near the end when Dandrige finally unveils himself and takes on his true form, but everything leading up to that is worth a spot on this list.
The Underworld films are a slick and stylish take on vampire mythology that has very little to do with actual horror. It's more Matrix than Count Dracula, but it's still speckled with notable acting performances by the likes of Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen. The star of the movies, however, is easily Kate Beckinsale. It isn't exactly her acting that wins her a spot on this list, but the fact that she got in very good shape for the role and is dressed in tight black latex/leather throughout. I know it's a little sexist for me to reward her performance on those particular aesthetics, but I'm surprisingly okay with being a little sexist in this case. I'm sure my male readers will agree. I mean, just look at her. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to achieve that level of sheer sexy awesomeness, and that work should be appreciated as much as possible.
Shadow of the Vampire
In Shadow of the Vampire, Willem Dafoe plays Max Schreck, the enigmatic actor who played Count Orlok in the silent film masterpiece Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror, only in this case, Schreck himself is a vampire. Dafoe is not only tasked with channeling Schreck's iconic performance as Orlok--which he does exceptionally well--but also with playing an ice-cold creature of the night. The movie is kind of strange unless viewed as an allegorical take on the filmmaking process, but even the most casual viewer can appreciate Dafoe's masterful performance. He delivers the darkest of humor as dryly as possible while sporting unnerving smoothness and animalistic twitches. He is both funny and terrifying, and it makes for arguably Dafoe's greatest role to date.
Count Dracula (1977)
The first actor on this list to play the ultimate vampire, Count Dracula, Louis Jourdan is one of those actors who worked hard his entire life and never quite got the recognition he deserved. Most audiences know him as the villain in Octopussy or Swamp Thing, but those roles hardly do his talents justice. In Count Dracula, a surprisingly faithful and psychedelic 1977 BBC adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, Jourdan highlights the immortal Transylvanian's mesmerizing qualities. Jourdan's Dracula is a grinning, silver-tongued demon who drips with sex appeal. He is confident to the very end and secure in his superiority over mere mortals, and thanks to Jourdan's acting, you not only believe him, but you want to believe him.
SIR CHRISTOPHER LEE
Speaking of actors who have played both a Bond villain and Dracula, there's also Sir Christopher Lee. Not only has Lee appeared in more films than just about any other actor (not counting porn, of course), but he has also played Dracula in more movies than any other actor. The greatest thing about his performances as the Carpathian count is that they're all slightly different; Lee has never settled on a single portrayal. He is always playing with the role, tweaking it to suit the tone of the script or changing it up to keep audiences guessing. Regardless of which performance is the greatest (I refuse to make the call), there is little doubt that Dracula is Lee's greatest role. The two are so conjoined that it is hard to think of anything else when you see Christopher Lee. Indeed, even in his recent appearances in geek favorites like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, he still feels at least a little reminscent of Count Dracula. It is distinctly possible, in fact, that Christopher Lee is Dracula, having found a new and clever way to hide amongst us.
-e. magill 2/8/2011