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The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies

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The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies
The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies

From Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, from Nosferatu to Buffy, it’s safe to say our cultural fascination with the blood-sucking undead isn’t going away anytime soon. Not unlike zombies, those other revivified metaphors that feast on the living, the template afforded by these folkloric beings allows for no shortage of insights into the human condition, with the topics of sexuality, addiction, and mortality chief among them. By far the most famous of these, Dracula, is often cited as the most popular fictional character in all of cinema, with nearly 200 separate film appearances according to IMDb. Of course, the legend of these creatures extends far beyond just this particular icon, and those who are quick to mock the Twilight franchise for allowing its fanged characters to appear in full sunlight, unperturbed, are clearly unaware of the elasticity they’ve exhibited throughout both print and film history. Here, a fairly strict definition of the corporeal undead has been employed (apologies to Louis Feuillade and Claire Denis). These 10 films highlight not just great vampire films, but great films, period, and for each that made the cut, there was at least one more vying for inclusion.

Summer of ‘89: Vampire’s Kiss

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Vampire’s Kiss</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Vampire’s Kiss</em>

Beginning with Nosferatu, the vampire has been depicted on film largely as a symbol of pestilence visited upon cities. Just as disease wreaks greatest havoc on places of densest population, the classic vampire sought out the most crowded hunting grounds—the better to find an abundance of prey and the security of anonymity. The traditional movie vampire terrorizes a chosen city, plunging it into despair and either mobilizing it into search-and-destroy retribution, as in most Dracula-based films, or annihilating it utterly, as in Werner Herzog’s fierce reimagining of Nosferatu from 1979, Nosferatu the Vampyre.

But in the summer of 1989, vampirism became instead a symbol of contemporary urban angst. Far from a city in terror, the New York of Robert Bierman’s Vampire’s Kiss is indifferent to, if not completely unaware of, the menace lurking in its midst. Face it: It takes a lot to faze a New Yorker, especially in the era of Gordon Gecko. In Vampire’s Kiss, no one is afraid of, or even especially impressed with, the vampire Peter Loew has become. Or thinks he’s become.

An upwardly mobile white-collar white male from a privileged background, replete with phony mid-Atlantic accent (listen to him pronounce his surname) and sick to death of being always an agent and never an author, Peter Loew was the perfect vessel for a still-young Nicolas Cage to cap his growing reputation for over-the-top characterizations. For both Cage and Loew, self-induced madness becomes the highest form of creativity.

100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

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100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time
100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

From Chuck Bowen’s introduction to Slant Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Horror Film of All Time: “A startling commonality emerges if you look over the following films in short succession that’s revelatory of the entire horror genre: These works aren’t about the fear of dying, but the fear of dying alone, a subtlety that cuts to the bone of our fear of death anyway—of a life unlived. There’s an explicit current of self-loathing running through this amazing collection of films. What are Norman Bates and Jack Torrance besides eerily all-too-human monsters? Failures. Success also ultimately eludes Leatherface, as well as the socially stunted lost souls of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse. What is the imposing creature of Nosferatu? He makes for quite the presence, but his hungers ultimately lead him to oblivion.” Click here to read the feature and see if your favorites made our list. And see below for a list of the films that just missed the cut.

Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

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Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies
Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

With the arrival of the 20th anniversary, 3D re-release of Jurassic Park, what I’d like to convince you of is that the film watered down, significantly, the soul of the novel from which it was based (and we’re talking about a Michael Crichton page-turner for Christ’s sake). Instead of being the kind of decadent, lost-in-the-jungle, labyrinthine cinematic fever dream it could’ve been—one in which the production of the film would’ve eerily re-enacted and factually re-performed the hallucinatory chaos of what it was trying to fictionally record (a la Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, and their respective making-of docs, Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams), Spielberg’s Jurassic Park instead played it safe, and did so in a way that was slick, corporate, and patronizing to its audience. And one of the ways it punted artistically was to almost entirely purge from Crichton’s novel its heavy theorizing about chaos theory and fractals, which, in those days (the late ’80s/early ’90s), had just made its way into the intellectual mainstream. I’d like to briefly make the point that this was a grievous mistake (for the movie), because chaos theory and fractals have everything to do with scary movies, and horror and terror and the kind of man-eating monstrosities Spielberg and his team put so much goddamned time and money into making look realistic.

Blood Sisters Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl and Two Orphan Vampires

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Blood Sisters: Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl and Two Orphan Vampires
Blood Sisters: Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl and Two Orphan Vampires

The latest installment in Redemption Films and Kino Lorber’s rollout of Jean Rollin titles making their Blu-ray debut actually forms a kind of diptych, a matched pair of films that—however far apart in tone, not to mention levels of graphic gore—are at bottom poetic reveries on the paradoxical condition of those accursed creatures known as the living dead. Rollin was always more interested in exploring the misty mid-region between life and death than he was, for instance, in the bounteous bloodshed he was forced to incorporate into The Living Dead Girl in order to secure the film’s funding. With Two Orphan Vampires, Rollin situates his undead protagonists at the center of a decidedly literary landscape, repurposing the stock figure of the vampire, grown overly familiar to genre aficionados through countless incarnations stretching from Nosferatu to the Twilight franchise, all the better to interrogate the figure’s archetypal appeal.

In The Living Dead Girl, the gothic ambience that elsewhere suffuses Rollin’s work smashes headlong against the inexorable advance of modernity. The film opens with the vision of bucolic scenery blighted by the scourge of industrialization: rolling hills sliced up by concertina-capped fences, billowing smokestacks visible in the hazy distance. When some dicey movers deposit barrels of chemical waste in the family vault beneath the dilapidated Valmont chateau, a sudden tremor causes the barrels to spring a leak, reanimating the corpse of Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard) in the process. Probably it’s best not to dwell too long on the rationale of this setup, since plausibility was never really Rollin’s strong suit. At any rate, the metaphorical value of the situation is obvious; like the obnoxious Americans who keep turning up like bad pennies, eager to acquire aristocratic demesnes at cut-rate prices, this wastage symbolizes the ugly face of the consumerist condition to which Rollin opposes his essentially nostalgic vision.

15 Famous Vampire Hunters

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15 Famous Vampire Hunters
15 Famous Vampire Hunters

For high-concept, lowbrow thrills, your hot ticket this weekend is surely Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Timor Bekmambetov’s visualization of Seth Grahame-Smith’s why-the-hell-not novel, which reimagines that most benevolent president as a part-time vamp vanquisher. The revisionist actioner may not be bound for the bloodsucker canon, but its lead character proudly continues a surprisingly prevalent filmic trend: that of the hero whose key duty is to pound a proverbial stake through the heart of evil. From Blade to Buffy, we’ve always needed fearless soldiers to battle creatures of the night, and to make sure that the only thing Dracula and company are biting is the dust.