25 People Who’ve Vamped On Screen
Vampires, those bloodsucking immortals of the night, have been a movie staple for nearly 100 years. Here’s a select list of famous and nearly-famous movie vampires.
The granddaddy of lowlife vampires was played by German actor MAX SCHRECK in F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror. Murnau had hoped to get the rights to do a film version of Bram Stoker‘s novel Dracula, but Stoker’s widow refused. Murnau made the movie anyway, changing Dracula’s name to Count Orlock. After the film’s release, Stoker’s widow cried foul, the production studio went bankrupt — some say as a way to avoid paying any restitution — and the movie was yanked from distribution. It was finally re-released in 1972 and is now widely available. A fictionalized account of the making of Nosferatu is the 2000 film Shadow Of The Vampire.
Though critics say it’s a bad treatment of Stoker’s novel, Todd Browning’s Dracula (1931) has been the benchmark for vampire movies since its hugely successful opening. Hungarian actor BELA LUGOSI played Count Dracula, a dapper villain who could make his victims fuzzy-headed with little more than a stunning glare. Lugosi went on to a career playing mad scientists and vampires, being forever identified with the role of Dracula.
Bela Lugosi was the very image of Dracula for filmmaking’s early era. Later generations grew equally familiar with British actor CHRISTOPHER LEE in the role. Lee was one of the best of cinema’s vampires, starting with The Horror of Dracula (1958, also called Dracula). Lee became of the biggest stars in the history of horror movies, and he played Dracula many times, often in European-made thrillers with titles such as Scars of Dracula, El Conde Drácula and Taste The Blood Of Dracula (all released in 1970). Lee’s Dracula was classy and gentlemanly, but certainly no shirker in the evil department. Decades later he became known to yet another generation of moviegoers for playing the juicy bad guys Count Dooku (in Star Wars) and Saruman (in Lord of the Rings.)
Until the 1970s, horror movies were mostly low-budget affairs. The success of thrillers such as The Exorcist (1973) and other big-budget horror movies meant a reinvention of the vampire genre. GEORGE HAMILTON played Count Dracula in the spoof Love At First Bite (1979), a comedy about a transplanted vampire living in modern New York City. Hamilton’s Dracula was still stylish, but in this case more funny than frightening.
(Photo: George Hamilton and Susan Saint James in a PR photo from Love at First Bite, released by American International Pictures.)
Another updated vampire — one who was scary — was Miriam, the vampire queen in 1980’s The Hunger, played with seductive cool by French movie star CATHERINE DENEUVE. She kept her victims/lovers alive for hundreds of years, but when she was ready to move on, their number was up rather suddenly. Rock star David Bowie played an ex-lover who enlisted scientist Susan Sarandon to help him avoid his fate.
Another beautiful female vampire appeared in Once Bitten, a 1985 comedy starring Jim Carrey. Carrey played the victim of a seductive Countess, portrayed by supermodel LAUREN HUTTON. Hutton played a centuries-old vampire who needed the blood of a virgin to keep her youth; Carrey was her chosen victim in a role from before he was a superstar.
Remember ADAM ANT? He was a British pop sensation in the early days of MTV, known for his hits “Antmusic” and “Goody Two Shoes.” He also played a sweet, charming vampire in the 1993 movie Love Bites. In the story Ant plays a vampire trying to cope with the modern world.
With a big budget and major Hollywood stars Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, director Francis Ford Coppola sunk his teeth into 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It starred British actor GARY OLDMAN as Count Dracula and stayed more faithful to Bram Stoker‘s novel, adding a little to the storyline and adding a lot of sex and violence. Oldman got to chew some scenery as the evil count, who at times looked less than gentlemanly in Oscar-winning make-up.
Also in 1992, PAUL REUBENS played a less than glamorous vampire, a toady to the villain Lothos in the movie Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The movie, a campy cult favorite, spawned a much more serious — and much more popular — TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as a teenager who battles vampires and other supernatural horrors.
Another movie that mixed teens with bloodthirsty ghouls was The Lost Boys (1987). KIEFER SUTHERLAND played David, a teen vampire who made the whole schtick seem kind of fun. Okay, he was evil…but he was also misunderstood, a good boy gone bad.
In 1994, another big-budget production took on one of the most popular new vampire legends, the vampire Lestat from author Anne Rice‘s novel Interview With A Vampire. The movie, Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) starred TOM CRUISE as Lestat and BRAD PITT as Louis, a vampire with a story to tell. Together they transformed a young girl, Claudia (KIRSTEN DUNST), into one of their own.
(Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst as vampires in ‘Interview With the Vampire.’ PR photo courtesty Warner Brothers Entertainment.)
The 2000 movie Shadow Of The Vampire went double-dip on vampires: it exploited the mysterious past of Max Schreck, the actor who portrayed Count Orlock in the 1922 classic Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. In Shadow Of the Vampire, actor WILLEM DAFOE portrayed Max Schreck as a real vampire who agrees to act in a Dracula-like film by German director F. W. Murnau (played by John Malkovich). Dafoe’s vampire is icky, greedy and rat-like. He’s no master of souls and certainly no ladies’ man.
Some vampires have all kinds of personal issues that can make them even more volatile. (Not that emotional problems excuse drinking the neighbor’s blood or creating armies of the undead.) 1998’s Blade featured action star WESLEY SNIPES as Eric Brooks (a.k.a. The Day Walker, a.k.a. Blade), a no-nonsense vampire-hater who was himself half-vampire. Snipes reprised the role in the sequels Blade II (2002) and Blade: Trinity (2004).
Another attempt to bring the work of Anne Rice to the screen was Queen of the Damned (2001), starring the young pop singer AALIYAH in the title role. She played Queen Akasha, waked from the dead by the vampire Lestat (Stuart Townsend) and his loud rock music (and who doesn’t know that feeling?). Aaliyah slinked around looking vampy and dispatched a slew of other vampires in what has been described as a longer, fancier version of a music video. The role turned out to be the last screen appearance for Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash before the film was released.
In the 2003 action movie Underworld, English actress KATE BECKINSALE played a werewolf-hunting vampire named Selene. Sporting a super-tight catsuit and wielding fangs and guns, Selene did more leaping and shooting than biting and sucking, but she still got the job done. Teaming up with a human (of all things), Selene pursued her work as a “death dealer” — a supercop of vampires — whose job was to whup the world’s population of werewolves in a netherworld smackdown. Beckinsale played the role again in Underworld: Evolution (2006) and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009).
ROBERT PATTINSON shifted from wizard to vampire when he hopped from the Harry Potter movies to the 2008 film Twilight. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) he was a student wizard and a rival to plucky young Harry. In Twilight he turned up the hubba-hubba, playing a sensitive vampire in love with Bella, a mortal woman played by Kristen Stewart. Both sets of films were based on best-selling novels, by J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, respectively. Pattinson played the character again in New Moon (2009, Eclipse (2010) and Breaking Dawn, Part I (2011).
(Robert Pattinson, at right, and Kristen Stewart in the film Twilight, in a PR photo from Summit Entertainment.)
Again playing vampirism for laughs, 1985’s Transylvania 6-5000 had GEENA DAVIS as Odette. The movie starred Jeff Goldblum — he and Davis were later married (1987) and divorced (1990) — and Ed Begley, Jr. At the time, Davis was just getting started in Hollywood. Her most memorable movie role up to that point was as a soap opera actress in the 1982 Dustin Hoffman comedy Tootsie. Word has it she was cast because of her height: her chest is about the same height as Hoffman’s eyes. Davis went on to win an Oscar for her supporting role in The Accidental Tourist (1988).
In the over-the-top movie Vampire’s Kiss, NICOLAS CAGE doesn’t exactly play a vampire. He plays Peter Loew, a delusional man who thinks he’s a vampire. It’s one of Cage’s more outrageous turns on the big screen, and that’s saying a lot. As the review in the New York Times pointed out, “the film is dominated and destroyed by Mr. Cage’s chaotic, self-indulgent performance.”
Another famous screen vampire who wasn’t strictly a vampire was ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK. Her real name is Cassandra Peterson, and in the 1980s she made a name for herself as a Vampirella-style host of cable TV horror shows. More about camp than the creeps, Elvira’s tongue was firmly in her cheek, while the rest of her was firmly packed into a tight costume. Somehow Peterson managed to build a lucrative franchise from the Elvira character, peaking with the 1988 feature film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The movie includes one of the few glimpses of Tress MacNeille, an actress known as a voiceover superstar (she’s done dozen of extra voices for The Simpsons, including Jimbo Jones and Agnes Skinner).
EDDIE MURPHY played Maximillian, a vampire out to get NYPD detective Angela Bassett in 1995’s Vampire in Brooklyn. Murphy co-wrote and produced the movie, but he got horror director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) to take the helm. Maybe that’s why the “comedy” wasn’t much of a comedy. A low point in Murphy’s career, the film cost $20 million and didn’t make any money. Film critic Roger Ebert called it a “disorganized mess,” and described it as “darker than Seven, but without sufficient purpose.” Ouch.
The early Robert Rodriguez movie From Dusk Till Dawn is a vampire gore-fest that’s notable because it has George Clooney playing the less-insane brother of Quentin Tarantino. Together they stumble into an unfriendly bar controlled by the undead. The Queen Vampire, Santanico Pandemonium — is played by SALMA HAYEK, in one of her earliest American roles. In terms of character, it’s not much of a vampire role. In terms of sexy vampire hotness, it’s worth the price of admission.
The Charlaine Harris novels about vampires were turned into the TV series True Blood in 2008. Anna Paquin, playing Sookie Stackhouse, had her pick of them. Initially she chose ol’ Bill (Stephen Moyer), a gentleman bloodsucker whose sense of dignity didn’t quite mesh with Sookie’s unquenched thirst for bad boys. That’s probably why vampire Eric Northman, played by ALEXANDER SKARSGÅRD, stole the show. By the third season, Sookie was all over Bill. By the fourth season, she as all OVER Eric.
You know who else has played a vampire? JOHNNY DEPP has played a vampire. Of course! Depp is so quirky he could only play a quirky version of a vampire, and what’s quirkier than a quirked-up retro-take on an old soap opera? The quirk-tastic Dark Shadows, directed by quirkmeisterkind Tim Burton. Released 2012, the campy tale of Barnabas Collins, like almost all Tim Burton features, underperformed at the box office.