Thursday Five: Vampires

Continuing the trend of Vampire Week, today’s instalment of Thursday Five will tackle five of the more recognisable and important vampires, and explores some of the more fascinating portrayals of the immortally bloodthirsty creatures and their relations to humanity both on screen and in connection to their audience.

1. Blade, Blade Trilogy

1998’s Blade and the subsequent sequels will perhaps be renowned as action star Wesley Snipes’ enduring legacy, his star never quite shining as bright as when taking the lead of the half-vampire hybrid after succumbing to legal problems and showing an inability to break out in the star-studded action movie category. While charting a hybrid on this list is cheating slightly, the vampire hunter’s effect on the genre is obvious, and it’s commercial success will invariably lend itself to the triggering of the vampire boom that we are currently entrenched in, capitalising on the waves that Buffy was making on television and creating a bad ass, no-nonsense vampire hunter who would remain a keenly recognisable face in the genre.

Based on the Marvel comic of the same name, each instalment of the trilogy made at least double their budget at the box office, with the first two movies tripling their starting expenses, an astonishing turnover for what would become an iconic series in both the vampire and superhero genres. Though the vampire narratives in the movies were alluring to the public, the end product wasn’t up to par critically, but the overwhelming commercial success of the flicks opened the door for superhero movies after less than stellar Batman outings had all but torpedoed the genre, and the huge profit margins meant that the X-Men and Spiderman projects were to be tackled by Marvel to great aplomb. In this sense, the success of the Blade trilogy can be considered as trailblazing insofar as paving the way for future films and series in both genres and speaks massively for the appeal of the vampire genre to a wide audience.

 

2. Lestat, Interview with the Vampire

Tom Cruise’s portrayal of the nefarious and inimitable Lestat in the adaptation of the Anne Rice novel Interview with the Vampire is one of the more celebrated and recognisable examples of the depiction of vampires. Having been primarily cast as the hero throughout his entire career, Cruise looked to be attempting to challenge himself by taking roles of less likeable characters, as seen in this film and also as made apparent by his turn in Jerry Maguire. In undertaking this task, Cruise was rewarded with some of the finer performances of his career, his cool turn as the villainous Lestat outshining the rest of the star-studded cast with his manipulative and indestructible nature in the movie turning the character into an example of a true modern anti-hero.

Perhaps what makes this such an important part of the vampire genre on screen is the relationship between Cruise’s character and his recently sired protégé Louis as played by Brad Pitt. The fact that the cast includes these two goliaths of movie stars means that you sometimes miss the stellar supporting players in Antonio Banderas and a very young Kirsten Dunst, but it’s easy to see why. The complex interplay between Cruise’s vampire and his turned child Louis is what entirely holds you attention throughout, the relationship complicated by two creatures at opposite ends of the moral compass. Through the intricacies of the vampires’ relationship, Interview becomes recognisable as perhaps the first notable example of a film where the humanity of the vampire comes into question, and is what consolidates its legacy as one of the more important examples of the vampire on screen.

 

3. Eli, Let the Right One In

The original adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name is a gorgeous, atmospheric interpretation of the vampire legend, mixing glorious snowy cinematography with a touching narrative of two child outsiders and their search for meaningful companionship. The story details a 12 year old boy named Oskar befriending a child vampire in the face of being bullied in a Swedish suburb. What follows is a heart-rending tale of young friendship, isolation and the difficulties of growing up, with the figure of the child vampire symbolising the vulnerability that occurs even having reached personal maturity and wisdom of the world.

The film is shot magnificently and seems absolutely masterful in the underplayed delivery of much of the dialogue. What also adds to the atmospheric tone is that the film utilises subtitles for the English version, as the dialogue is spoken entirely in Swedish, which adds a wonderfully distinctive timbre and moody style to the picture. In places, the film is particularly visceral and gritty, with some of the imagery of blood and savage attacks still proving shocking to the viewer even in this vampire-saturated market at its release in 2008. The young vampire Eli is played charmingly by the excellent Lina Leandersson, her quiet charisma and subtle androgyny adding a great deal of weight to the impactful tone of the movie. Let the Right One In is an original and beautiful film which spurned an American remake shortly after, however the original is vastly superior and makes the list for its examination of the vulnerability in the vampire.

 

4. Edward Cullen, Twilight Saga

As seen in the previous entry in the list, recent vampire movies have seen the creatures be represented in a more sympathetic and relatable light, with perhaps no greater example of that being the characterisation seen in the adaptation of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series. Sparking an absolutely incomparable reaction from a ridiculously large audience, Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of teen heartthrob Edward Cullen in the series of movies has surged to prominence in the social media age, and is probably the most recognisable vampire character this side of Dracula.

Soaring in popularity in the late 2000s, it’s hard to imagine a world without Cullen and the Twilight series in the present. Capitalising on the popularity of the non-threatening characterisation of the vampire in Cullen, the saga has become one of the most prominent series in history and perhaps the absolute biggest internet meme of all time, the Team Edward/Team Jacob battle bizarrely becoming the most crucial debate of all time to such a huge audience. The movies are a global phenomenon, and it is one of those crazes that will potentially never go away.

 

5. Count Dracula, various versions of Dracula

Finally, we reach the grandest example of them all, with the screen adaptations of Stoker’s iconic character being by far the most recognisable and widely accepted view of the vampire in all of the genre’s history. If you asked somebody to vaguely describe the concept of vampirism, Dracula would invariably be the first character mentioned, as his name is absolutely the most indistinguishable from the genre of its long and storied history. There have been an absurd amount of Dracula movies over the course of the medium’s existence, with the Hammer Film Productions company producing a wealth of campy and ridiculous interpretations of the Dracula legend, as well as some more recent forays channelling the impact of the very name of the vampire.

Perhaps the greatest portrayals of the count are found in the 1922 silent movie Nosferatu with Max Schreck’s Count Orlock being loosely based on the Dracula narrative and possibly the scariest of all interpretatons, while Bela Lugosi stamped his name in history forever for providing what has now become the most stereotypical image of the count, with his slicked back hair and thick foreign accent originating from his amazing performance in the 1931 film Dracula. Furthermore, the Hammer boom of the 50s saw Christopher Lee star in 1958 as the count in what I believe to be the greatest interpretation of the Dracula character of all time. Further reprisals in the 1992 by Gary Oldman deserves a mention, but the list is endless in scope of the portrayal of the finest incarnation of the genre, and will never be replaced in terms of being the most recognisable and important vampire of all time.

 

There are so many examples of excellent vampires in the media and in literature, so feel free to comment below on any you think deserve mention and whether you agree with what’s written in the list.

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~ by jrhett on March 8, 2012.

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