By Kathleen Murphy
Special to MSN Movies
Read more: Best Scary Movies
"The blhuuud eese ze life!" Thus hissed Bela Lugosi in "Dracula," declaring his dark creed in the ripest of Old World accents. And why not? "Bleeding" -- with or without leeches -- was once considered a cure for what ailed you, and the vampire's crimson kiss, with its promise of immortality, blasphemously mirrors the Christian rite of Communion: "Whoever drinks my blood has eternal life."
And maybe heretical D.H. Lawrence, who wrote "Lady Chatterley's Lover," that much-banned "dirty book," was tapping into Vlad the Impaler's philosophical vein when he urged carnally retarded Victorians to "think in the blood" -- to go with the sexual flow and let passion drown prudery.
That's the heady magic those suave Transylvanian seducers often uncorked: a taste for forbidden pleasure, especially among women brainwashed into believing sex was for making babies and nothing more. A double whammy for the ladies: the sophisticated fellow with the sexy eyes, retro couture and exotic love bites can get you to heaven -- and guarantee eternal youth. Can't have that, sputter all the Van Helsings. Leads to one-night stands, feminism, lesbianism and elitism -- the end of civilization as we know it. Quick! In the name of democracy, patriarchy and phallic superiority, get a stake!
Someone once said that vampires are like cars: there's a new model every year. These days, bloodsuckers, whose florid vamping sometimes makes their sexual preference ambiguous, can't evade the spectre of AIDS. Witness the hilarious "Saturday Night Live" spoof some years back, which featured a flamboyantly caped and fanged James Woods and John Travolta desperately trying to persuade their prospective, ultra-PC victims that they really aren't gay.
But the monster has always been a master shape-changer. Its mutations include sexual predator, romantic hero, teen rebel without a cause, polymorphously perverse Eternal, campy joke, movie/rock star and righteous executioner of its own kind. If, as theorized, the vampire gives form to our most deeply buried urges and terrors -- what's next? Bat flu? An intifada of Islamo-fascist vamps?
"Underworld" (2003) tried a new tack: a vampire king (Bill Nighy), all decked out in Eurotrash hauteur and black leather, looking to breed a master race -- as soon as he exterminated all those pesky, no-class werewolves. When the sequel "Underworld: Evolution" hits the screen, we'll find out whether the interspecies love connection between vampire hottie Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her werewolf boyfriend (Scott Speedman) has staying power. (Ann Darrow and Kong send best wishes!)
Until then, open your heart to some of our favorite bloodsuckers, all available on DVD, each of whom bites to a different beat.
10. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997-2003)
Joss Whedon's TV series spawned a veritable bevy of bizarro bloodsuckers. As romantic hunk, Angel (David Boreanaz) was Buffy's faithful consort, but as black-souled Angelus, he once went "wilding" around 19th-century Europe with drinking buds Darla, William (Spike-to-be) and Drusilla -- as perverse a tribe of fine young cannibals as you could wish for. In present day Sunnydale, ailing Drusilla (Juliet Landau) sulked and drooped about like a festering lily until Spike brought home some warm food for her to play with. Arguably, it was peroxided Spike (James Marsters), simmering with Brit-punk 'tude, who dominated the show's penultimate season. When the vamp with no soul fell hard for Buffy, just back from the grave, the unlikely duo's rough sex literally brought down the house. Self-disgust made Buffy call it off, but Spike's unbridled lust for the slayer climaxed in a shattering scene of rape. Good times in the Hellmouth.
9. "Interview with a Vampire" (1994)
The Cruise-Pitt duet fails to draw dramatic blood in Neil Jordan's "Interview with a Vampire," but Kirsten Dunst haunts you forever as the little girl on whom Cruise's Lestat bestows "the dark gift." A woman imprisoned eternally in a child's body, Claudia's a beautiful doll who can never be more than plaything or perversion to the man she loves. "I want to be her," cries the baby vamp as she gazes up at a voluptuously naked woman framed in a window. But sucking the beauty dry can't alter Claudia's prepubescent body; and when she shears off her rich mane of curly hair, it is immediately luxuriant again. Taking revenge on Lestat, she prettily gifts him with two little boy-toys, filled with bad blood. For that patricide, Claudia and the mother she's "made" for her comfort are exposed to blazing sunlight, until their dead flesh has gone to dust.
8. "Nadja" (1994)
Michael Almereyda's deadpan "Nadja" both spoofs and celebrates vampire mythology, through a cast of mid-'90s indie stars (Peter Fonda plays a tweedy, long-haired, bike-riding Van Helsing!), expressionistic black-and-white cinematography and the use of a Pixelvision toy camera to evoke a vampire's alien POV. Elina Lowensohn's Nadja has the exquisite face of a dolorous angel, with eyebrows like great black wings arched over dark, despairing eyes and a lushly sculpted mouth with AC/DC tastes. Wearing a hooded black cloak, Nadja prowls Manhattan backstreets, hanging out in smoky clubs where she shares cryptic confidences with guys just hoping to get lucky. Luring her pickups into a cab (driven by a "slave"), this succubus loves them to bloody death. Her seduction of a boyish beauty (Galaxy Craze), under a Christmas tree hiply decorated with Dracula dolls, severed rubber hands and blinking lights, is both steamy and scary, with the women's primal communion trumping indie irony.
7. "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola goes stylistically nutso in "Bram Stoker's Dracula." His 15th-century Dracul (Gary Oldman) starts out as a crimson-armored, savage defender of the Cross against the Scimitar. When his beloved wife, believing him dead in the Turkish war, suicides, this grief-ravaged primitive renounces Christ's redeeming blood for a vampire's wine. Welcoming Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), Dracula is all ancient, parchment-skinned androgyny, swathed in red satin robes, topped with sci-fi protuberances of colorless hair. Deliciously, his wall-spanning shadow often acts out, id-like, impulses momentarily suppressed by the vampire. Later, he's a mangy werewolf viciously raping a red-headed beauty on a garden bench; an effete 19th century dandy, gussied up in top hat over very long, wavy hair, shades, perfectly coordinated gray suit and ascot; lusty lover arching in naked ecstasy as his reincarnated Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) sucks from his opened vein; and finally, a towering bat-demon dissolving into a waterfall of rats.
6. "Near Dark" (1987)
The vampire coven in Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark" lives on the run, getting its bloody kicks and calories in Southwestern juke joints and hick towns. Decked out in leather, peroxided and Mohawked, this lowdown "family" is fathered by Jesse Hooker (a superb Lance Henriksen, playing Hooker as a buckskinned badman out of America's bloody past -- Jesse James, perhaps?). This feral clan looks like leftover dregs from drive-in Westerns, biker movies and horror shows. When their sad-eyed siren (Jenny Wright) falls for an all-American boy (Adrian Pasdar), it's a face-off between lurid outlaw life in an endless road movie and home sweet home in the heartland.
5. "Dracula" (1979)
Frank Langella's "Dracula" traced his bloodlines back to brooding heroes in Gothic novels, sexually magnetic but driven by some dark secret, and to the sensitive, yet impossibly virile lovers of the contemporary romance novel. Shipwrecked, this Dracula's first introduced in close-up: his slow hand rises from and caresses wolf fur, signaling eroticism rather than evil as his raison d'etre. With his mane of electric black hair, heated gaze, sensual mouth and purring voice, Langella makes every other male in the vicinity look the weak, sexless fool. After he transports Kate Nelligan's independent-minded beauty into molten ecstasy, the lady's ready to follow her passionate soul mate anywhere.
4. "Daughters of Darkness" (1971)
As Elizabeth Bathory in "Daughters of Darkness," delectable Delphine Seyrig (of "Last Year at Marienbad" fame) slinks languidly about a largely deserted seaside hotel in haute couture that might have graced Dietrich or Garbo. Her blond hair a glamorous '20s bob, her lips redder than blood, she wraps her velvety voice around some hapless honeymooners, mesmerizing them as she savors the horrors she visited on the Transylvanian virgins whose blood once kept her young and beautiful. What's most striking about Seyrig's vamp is her breathy delight in new female conquests, her almost-innocent desire to be admired and loved even as she sucks you dry.
3. Christopher Lee Films
Long before he was Count Dooku or Saruman the White, Christopher Lee played a powerfully sinister Dracula nine or 10 times ("Horror of Dracula," "Taste the Blood of Dracula," "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave," etc.). His Transylvanian demon was suave to a fault, with impeccable manners, as his towering figure swept darkly through English castles and cathedrals in a scarlet-lined satin cape. Lee's black hair, with its extreme widow's peak, seemed painted on his skull, as though an extension of that great cape. His voice was dry, upper-class British nasal, with some vocal sand giving ballast to his every pronouncement. Despite his courtesy, there was always a terrible impenetrability about him, an insistent inhumanity. That quality informed the way this Dracula fed: brutishly, using his buxom victims as a rapist would. His eyes flaring red, tears of blood flowing down his cheeks, Lee was always more panther than wolf or bat.
2. "Dracula" (1931)
Tod Browning's "Dracula" made Bela Lugosi a single-role star and seemingly convinced the unknown Hungarian stage actor that he might actually be a European Count with a few peculiar tastes. Lugosi's a bit of a bristle-browed thug in his tuxedo and full-length black cape, not so sexy as heavily insinuating -- American moviegoers' between-wars idea of how foreigners looked and talked. 1930s-style makeup made Bela's lips look like they were rimmed with dark blood; opening for the big bite, his mouth contorted in an unpleasantly sharklike manner. Every Dracula afterward had to find some variation on his orotund line readings: "Listen to them ... the children of the night" and "I never drink ... wine."
1. "Nosferatu" (1922)
F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" might have crawled out of an abandoned root cellar after centuries curled in the dark: bat ears bracket a white, skull-like face narrowing down to a mouth with two long ratlike teeth. Humped, its etiolated body seems boneless, while hideously extended claws adorn its snakelike fingers. No charming lover here, only a repulsive Otherness (Max Schreck) that spreads plague wherever its unclean shadow falls. Schreck's prey, a good woman yoked happily to a great sexless puppy of a husband, saves the day by keeping Nosferatu up past his bedtime -- until the sun dissolves him in light. Is this grotesque weed what female libido looked like to sexual puritans?
Who is your favorite vampire? Let us know at email@example.com
Kathleen Murphy currently reviews films for Seattle's Queen Anne News. A frequent speaker on film, Murphy has contributed numerous essays to magazines (Film Comment, the Village Voice, Film West, Newsweek-Japan), books ("Best American Movie Writing of 1998," "Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West") and Web sites (Amazon.com, Cinemania.com, Reel.com). Once upon a time, in another life, she wrote speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Art Garfunkel and Diana Ross.
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