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The Other Side of Twilight: The Coolest Vampires of All Time
Living in a Whisper...
Twilight has once again re-ignited the vampire genre, but Edward and his fellow Cullens are far from the first to capture the imagination of fans of the undead bloodsuckers. We probably all have our favorites, but I thought I would share my personal choices with everyone. Please feel free to comment below on which of my picks you agree or disagree with and which creatures of the night you might include in your Top Ten that I did not mention.
#1 - Queeny
If you haven't seen the movie Suck, then you probably have no idea who Queeny is. You need to change that. Now. Go on... I'll wait... You're back? Okay, let's get started!
As you should now know, Suck is a rock 'n' roll vampire tale and Queeny is just one of the things that makes the movie a classic. The role is played by Dimitri Coats who is the guitarist/vocalist of the band Burning Brides. He takes a little bit from all my other favorite vampires and mixes it with a heavy dose of rock star to create the ultimate vampire.
The story revolves around a band of losers called The Winners who start to have success when their bassist, Jennifer, is bitten by Queeny and becomes a vampire. From there things just get weirder and bloodier as one by one the band members take a trip to the dark side over the objections of the band's leader, Joey.
Notable guest stars in the flick include Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, Moby and Iggy Pop. But the star is definitely Dimitri Coats. How good is his performance in this film? Well, if -- and let me stress that we all know they should not -- but if they were to recast Heath Ledger's Joker role, then this would be the guy to do it.
#2 - Severen
Yeehaw! Ain't living death a kick? Severen, from the classic film Near Dark, stands out among vampires because he has none of the remorse that tends to make some of these guys so much of a downer. (Yes, I am talking to you , Eddie!) He just grabs hold of the nearest fresh meat, sinks his teeth in and drinks up! You always know when you are out on the town with Severen, you are in for one wild night!
Severen fits right in with his small but tight vampire clan. Led by civil war veteran Jesse Hooker, the group also includes Jesse's woman Diamondback, child vampire Homer (and be sure you do not mispronounce it) and the eternally sexy Mae. When Mae bites a young man and turns him, the group has to determine whether he will become part of the group or have to be killed while the young man struggles to regain his humanity.
There have been off and on rumors about a remake of Near Dark. Let's keep our fingers crossed that this never happens. i mean, after all, isn't anything... um... sacred? Maybe that's a bad choice of words, but you know what I mean.
#3 - Count Dracula as portrayed by Bela Lugosi
In the world of classic movie monsters there are some names synonymous with certain creatures. Lon Chaney, Jr. is the Wolf Man. Boris Karloff is the Frankenstein monster. And Bela Lugosi is Count Dracula. This was undisputed. Well, at least from 1931 when Lugosi's Dracula was released until 1958 when Christopher Lee first starred as the king of vampires in The Horror of Dracula. But despite Lee portraying the Count in a multitude of films after his initial portrayal, arguably Lugosi's is still the ultimate Dracula.
It was in this film that most audiences were first introduced to the cast of characters that would return in countless adaptions of Bram Stoker's tale -- Renfield, Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, John Harker, Mina and Lucy. Bela Lugosi gave the character an edgy seductiveness laced with menace.
Bela Lugosi would go on to appear in a number of classic horror tales including White Zombie, Son of Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff as the monster), The Devil Bat and Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (with Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man) as well as some not-so-classics such as The Ghost of Frankenstein (where Lon Chaney, Jr. took over the role of the monster) and the so-bad-it-is-great Ed Wood "masterpiece" Plan 9 from Outer Space.
There was only one film where Lugosi reprises his role as Dracula -- the Abbott and Costello comedy Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein which also featured Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man. While the movie is great for what it is, it really lacked the intensity of the earlier film.
#4 - Count Dracula as portrayed by Christopher Lee
No one has portrayed Count Dracula more times than Christopher Lee and I daresay it will be a long time before any else beats his record. Beginning with The Horror of Dracula in 1958, Lee portrayed the unstoppable count a total of ten times including his classic portrayal in The Satanic Rites of Dracula. It is these two films that earn Christopher Lee his spot on my list though these were not his only excellent turns in the role.
You might think the movie makers saw something in Lee's performance in The Horror of Dracula that made them feel the world wanted more, but it was actually seven years before Lee's second Dracula film, the 1966 Hammer classic, Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave appeared in 1968, but it was two years later in 1970 when Lee really racked up the undead roles with Count Dracula, Taste the Blood of Dracula and Scars of Dracula along with an uncredited appearance as the most notorious bloodsucker in a film called One More Time.
In 1973, Lee starred in The Satanic Rites of Dracula which was really the end of his Dracula reign though he did also star in Dracula and Son, an offbeat film horror-comedy released in 1976 that is not well regarded. The Horror of Dracula and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, are by far my favorite two Christopher Lee portrayals of the Count and certainly among his best by any standards.
#5 - Barnabas Collins
Dark Shadows was definitely something different when it made its television debut on June 27, 1966. A Gothic soap opera whose main protagonist was Barnabas Collins, a vampire born in the 18th century, the show starred Jonathan Frid. Barnabas is freed from confinement by a grave robber and begins to masquerade a cousin from England whose business keeps him away during the daylight.
While a daytime serial based on the life of a vampire would be unusual enough, added to the mix were witches and warlocks, ghosts and spirits, and the occasional trip through time. With its uncommon assortment of characters, the show did well and lasted over 1200 episodes ending on April 2, 1971. Even today the show has a strong cult following and has had two movies based on the series released (House of Dark Shadows in 1970 and Night of Dark Shadows in 1971) as well as a 12 episode Dark Shadows Revival series released in 1991.
Now there is a new Baranbas Collins on the horizon as no less than Johnny Depp has signed on to play Barnabas in a new big screen adaption to be directed by Tim Burton. It will be interesting to see how a distinctive director like Burton and an accomplished actor like Depp will interpret this beloved oddity from the past. It is a sure bet that Dark Shadows will soon be more popular than ever.
#6 - Yutte Stensgaard
Every time I see Yutte Stensgaard name, it makes me think of Joe Pesci, Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne and the movie My Cousin Vinnie. But that's because I pronounce "Yutte" the way it looks (i.e. "yoot") when I really have no idea how it is pronounced. If you do not understand why that is funny, then you need to see My Cousin Vinnie. It is perhaps ironic, or at least humorous, that there would be confusion over the pronunciation as Stensgaard changed her name from Jytte to make it easier on foreign audiences.
But no matter how you pronounce her name, you have to admit that Stensgaard's Mircalla was a vampire to be reckoned with. Lust for a Vampire became known as the "lesbian vampire movie" with many thinking the lesbianism was a gimmick to draw an audience. While that may be true to a degree, the female victims were more likely a reference to the legend of Elizabeth Bathory bathing in the blood of female virgins to retain her youth, though evidence of these atrocities is scant.
Certainly this movie made it possible for more female vampires to take a prominent role in films in the years to come. Of course, in 1971 when the film was released, the women's liberation movement was just beginning to gain steam, so it is not surprising strong female characters were emerging in all genres of film. That being said, I am not sure how Mircalla would fit into that movement, but she is definitely an example of the redefining of female roles in the horror genre.
#7 - Grandpa Munster
The Munsters was a television show full of great characters including Herman and Lily Munster, a Frankenstein monster and female vampire respectively, their son Eddie, the Wolf Boy and their niece, the oddly human Marilyn. Lily Munster is a great vampire, but my favorite vampire on the show was always Grandpa. The antics and hi-jinks in his laboratory always made for a great episode. It was this mad scientist aspect that him something more than your run-of-the-mill bloodsucker.
The show only lasted two seasons from 1964 through 1966 but has been in almost constant reruns since. It is one of those shows you can watch over and over and find something new and refreshing to laugh at every time. Al Lewis, who portrayed Grandpa, also worked with Fred Gwynne, who played Herman, on the early television comedy classic Car 54, Where Are You? Whenever these two got together, it seems laughter would fill the air.
#8 - Count Dracula as portrayed by Leslie Nielsen
With Leslie Nielsen's passing in November 2010, I wrote a hub looking back at some of my favorite characters he played. The only reason his turn as Dracula did not make my list was the wealth of other great characters competing for spots. What a great actor Nielsen was! Though he brought a lightheartedness to this rather dark character, he still managed to make the character his own in a profound way.
Dracula: Dead and Loving it took jabs at practically every Dracula film that came before it as well as many of the accepted characteristics of the genre. Every aspect of vampire lore was fair game for lampooning and no one was better at lampooning than Leslie Nielsen. Surely there were those vampire fans who probably did not appreciate the seeing their favorite monster subjected to such treatment, but for the rest of us, the movie was a breath of fresh air in what, at the time, had become a pretty stagnant field.
Oh, and don't call me Shirley.
#9 - Sandy White
Before there was True Blood, there was Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, the story of a group of vampires led by Jozek Mardulak (who is really the notorious but currently reformed Count Dracula) who have gathered in an isolated desert town where they attempt to survive on synthetic blood they have developed. The loveliest of the vampires is Sandy White, hauntingly portrayed by the always delightful Deborah Foreman.
Sandy is a unique vampire because while she appears to be the typical girl next door, she is actually a gun-toting, blood-sucking killing machine. The argument could be made that though Mardulak is more central to the story, it is Sandy who gives this story the spice that makes it a new flavor of blood-sucking lore.
#10 - Count Dracula as portrayed by Frank Langella
Frank Langella was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Count Dracula in the Broadway play that this 1979 film, simply titled Dracula but sometimes known as John Badham's Dracula, was based on. The source material for the play was Bram Stoker's novel, so we find the familiar cast of characters surrounding the Count - Renfield, Van Helsing, Mina, Lucy, etc. Langella, always a commanding screen presence, was perfect for the part of the suave and seductive Dracula.
Since its release in 1979, there has really been no serious contender, in my opnion, to fill the Dracula cape. Certainly Leslie Nielsen did a great job in a comical romp as the Count, but no serious film has captured the mystique like the older films I have mentioned in this hub. I am certain some will disagree, but that's why there is a comment section below!
Things That Go "Quack!" in the Night
There have been many other great vampires to grace the screen, both small and large, not to mention all the novels, stories, comics and more. Along with older films like The Lost Boys, Fright Night, Interview With a Vampire, the Blade trilogy, Innocent Blood, The Forsaken and Nosferatu, there are current hits like the Twilight series, True Blood, the Underworld series and 30 Days of Night. Clearly vampires are with us eternally.
I chose to only list vampires from television and film in my hub but I do want to make special mention of one of my personal favorites from the world of comics -- Count Duckula. This was always one of my favorite "funny books" along with Casper the Friendly Ghost, Sad Sack and Archie. Certainly not the most ferocious night stalker out there, Duckula still always made the extra effort, no matter how out of hand things got. There definitely needs to be a Count Duckula movie. It would probably be a classic... just like Howard the Duck. Maybe Bessie the Hellcow could so-star.