October is all about chilly, cozy autumn vibes and binging all things horror. I relish these 31 days spent gorging on scary novels, short stories, movies, art, podcasts, television, comics, you name it and I’m feasting on all the horror right now.
Speaking of feasting—what a segue—vampires are one of the stars of October, no question. If so inclined you could schedule a vampire movie every night of the month and still not get to all the classics. Vampire folklore is practically as old as time itself. We continue to tell ourselves these terrifying tales of the undead bloodsuckers because vampires speak to so many of our primal fears—and desires. Vampires terrify and titillate us at the same time. The act of bloodsucking itself can be strangely erotic, something that many of the best vampire stories understand and exploit to great effect.
In the spirit of Halloween, I’m eager to wax nostalgic about a few of my favorite vampires. While no where near comprehensive—that list would take me a dozen posts to compile, at least—this is a small but important sampling of the vampiric characters that have long held me, and plenty of others, under their sway.
When it comes to cinematic vampires that ooze sex appeal, absolutely no one can top the Polish-born Ingrid Pitt. Not only did the curvaceous and charismatic actor play vampire vixens in the lush, lesbian-themed gothic The Vampire Lovers (1970), historical fiction period piece Countess Dracula (1971), and horror anthology The House That Dripped Blood (1971), but she was also a prolifically published author who penned an entertaining and informative compendium of vampire lore with an appropriately sexy title, The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers. Pitt’s natural sensuality was a flawless fit for her seductive bloodsucker roles. The key to a memorably sexy movie vampire is simple: would you want them to bite you or not? I don’t think there’s a single person on this earth that wouldn’t want the sultry, scorching hot Ingrid Pitt to bite them, making her the supreme celluloid vampire in my book.
One woman stands fang-to-fang (oof!) with Ingrid Pitt for the title of Queen Vamp and that’s Lebanese-born French star Delphine Seyrig, whose performance in Daughters of Darkness (1971) is simply too perfect for words. Exquisite and elegant, she glides through Harry Kümel’s surrealist masterpiece as Countess Elizabeth Báthory, which is based on the historical figure whose pursuit of eternal youth led her to drink the blood of her servant girls, and whom Pitt also played in Countess Dracula the very same year. Where Pitt’s historical Báthory is desperately clinging to youth, Seyirg’s contemporary version is more philosophical and abstruse while also being deliciously coquettish in her seduction of a young couple. Seyrig makes her utterly sympathetic in a moving and enchanting performance that makes us root for her every step of the way.
From Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee and beyond, many an actor has donned a cape and fangs to play the most famous vampire of all, Dracula. For me though, Gary Oldman’s turn in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) is untouchable. Oldman’s chameleonic skills are on full display in various guises throughout, as Dracula shape shifts from scene to scene. From ancient, red-robed and beehive-coiffed castle dweller to multiple monstrous beasts to a debonair gentlemen in an absurdly cool three piece suit, towering top hat, and purple tinted spectacles, Oldman, transforms his entire being to fit each role perfectly. His finest moments though are when he shows us Vlad’s eternal longing for Winona Ryder’s Mina, who he believes is the reincarnation of his lover from four centuries ago. Oldman captures the aching romanticism of the story, making his Dracula one of the most compelling killers in cinema.
I’ve been digging back through old 1970s Marvel horror comics lately to celebrate the season, and have been reminded that none were better than The Tomb of Dracula. Running for 70 issues, Tomb was a sprawling epic, consistently and masterfully mixing a soap operatic tone with pure, brutal horror. The cast of characters was huge, many with ties to the original Stoker novel, including Rachel Van Helsing carrying on her great-grandfather Abraham’s vampire hunting, and Quincy Harker, Dracula’s mortal enemy and son of Mina and Jonathan Harker. Popular cinematic vampire hunter Blade, himself part-vamp, debuted in issue #10 as a jive-talking, swashbuckling blaxploitation hero-type. Writer Marv Wolfman helmed most of the run, which allowed him to tell one long, complete story, a rarity in comics. Artist Gene Colan, whose atmospheric art was a natural fit with horror, drew practically every one of the 70 issues, usually teamed with inker Tom Palmer. Together, these three legends created an eerie, and atmospheric nightmare world. At the center of it all was Dracula himself, a noble but arrogant bastard with little regard for human life. It’s been called one of the best series in comic book history, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Abel Ferrara’s black and white 1995 indie film The Addiction is one of my favorite vampire movies and to this day stands as a unique entry in the genre. Viciously skewering the privilege and obliviousness inherent in academia, Ferrara and writer Nick St. John also cast the net fat and wide for a searing indictment of humanity in general, with constant reminders of our historical propensity for nihilism and genocide. As philosophy grad student Kathleen, Lili Taylor commits ferociously to her vampiric transformation. She is completely mesmerizing. Supporting cast members Annabella Sciorra and Christopher Walken leave lasting impressions in their limited screen time. In his one extended scene, Walken acts as Taylor’s highly literate, wryly condescending undead mentor. Brief though it is, it’s also one of the most memorably eccentric vampire performances ever committed to film. With The Addiction, Ferrara made a hauntingly dreamlike modern vampire masterpiece.
Below, you’ll find links to more of my writing on some of the actors and films mentioned here, interspersed with some pretty pictures, so take a bite (ouch!) out of these shots of some of the actors, films, and comics discussed above.
In all my years of obsessing over pop culture legends, I’ve hardly ever seen one as universally adored and lusted after as the late, great Ingrid Pitt. She occupies the same, rarified space as another massive cult legend, the subject of my all time most popular post here, Sybil Danning. Ingrid Pitt fans and Sybil Danning fans are rabid and legion, and as you might imagine I am a high-ranking member of both clubs.
Obviously then, I love writing about Ingrid Pitt and have done so twice before at the Lounge:
Gary Oldman famously said he took on the role of Count Dracula because, “ I wanted to say: ‘I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you.’ It was worth playing the role just to say that line.” His commitment to both the passion and the terror in the film is insanely impressive, plus he looks like a badass in several of the costumes he sports throughout. Terrifying in some, rock star handsome in others, Oldman is a sartorial splendor to behold.
Last year I further explored the heartbreaking romanticism of Coppola’s Dracula:
Finally, several years ago I praised Lili Taylor’s emotionally wrenching performances in The Addiction for The After Movie Diner. Here’s that link, followed by some haunting shots from what just might be the coolest urban vampire movie ever made.