My Favorite Vamps
I thought about following up some of my film lists with my top ten vampire movies, but decided to change it up by putting the focus on my favorite vampire characters, and the actors who played them, from films and television. In no particular order:
Count Yorga, played by Robert Quarry in Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) and its sequel The Return of Count Yorga (1971), always infuriated me because he was that really bad, bad guy that always got away. For me, he was the Jason Voorhees of vampires. [Yeah, I know, quite the ironic statement considering the subject.]
Viktor, played by Bill Nighy in Underworld (2003), Underworld: Evolution (2006), and the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009), gave us an immortal that was as bad ass as Vampire: The Masquerade roleplaying game imagined one could be, and I loved how he tossed the Lychans around. Nighy made the character such a powerfully intriguing one that the filmmakers couldn’t resist putting him in flashbacks in the sequel, and making him a central villain again for the prequel.
Dracula, played by Bela Lugosi in Universal’s Dracula (1931) and Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s [and Francis Ford Coppola’s] Dracula (1992), “across oceans of time.” Both gave classic, romantic, gentlemanly performances. Lugosi surrounded by hokey effects and static sets, and Oldman empowered by some of the most stunning and lavish effects and make up of the time, are standouts in a role that has been played by so many and imagined by millions. Everyone has their vision of Dracula, and these are two of my favorites.
Spike/William the Bloody, played by James Marsters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (97 episodes, 1997-2003). If you had a hit series based on a the forbidden love between a vampire slayer and a vampire cursed-with-a-soul, and wanted to break it into two successful shows, would you try to recreate the chemistry of the original show by bringing in another vampire with a soul? I know I wouldn’t! But Joss Whedon and his gang of geniuses did exactly that [over time] by bringing in the Billy Idol-esque Spike, first as a major villain, then neutering him with an anti-violence chip in his brain, and then sending him on a spirit quest to gain a soul to become worthy of the slayer with which he fell in lust and then love. Marsters’ Spike proved such a writer’s dream–saying what most people keep to themselves, and with a British edge to boot–that when Buffy ended its run he was moved to Angel, where he once again became the perfect foil to the brooding titular hero.
Lestat de Lioncourt, by Stuart Townsend and Queen Akasha, by Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned (2002) were sensual, powerful, and deliciously overwrought. Though the filmmakers had more limited budgets and time than the lavish Interview with the Vampire, this sequel did so much with what they had! With the help of Korn’s Jonathan Davis, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, and Disturb’s David Draiman, Townsend’s Lestat became every bit the Rock Star the story needed for it to work. Of course the story also needed a regal, seductive and horrifying figure in Queen Akasha, and Aaliyah provided that, bringing a certainty and icy grace to the role despite her youth. [The major failing of the film, in my opinion, is the unfortunate miscasting of Marguerite Moreau as Jesse Reeves. With Vincent Perez as Marius and Lena Olin as Maharet rounding out the immortals, Marguerite was simply out of her depth. Maybe I’m out of line saying that, but I found her performance awkward and wooden, but that may have been the filmmakers’ intent, as she was a woman trying to find herself. But it didn’t work for me. But I digress…]
Claudia, played by Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994). While child vampires weren’t exactly unheard of in literature or cinema (Joshua Miller as Homer in 1987’s Near Dark comes to mind), Dunst’s turn as an eerily beautiful undead living doll was so chillingly perfect she outshone both Brad Pitt’s melancholy Louis de Pointe du Lac and Tom Cruise’s Master Vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (though he was quite a treat playing the piano in zombie-like tatters).
Ali looked over my list and found my choices to be on the heavy side, and I do so prefer the horrific to the camp, but I did enjoy Chris Sarandon’s tongue-in-cheek vampire neighbor Jerry Dandrige in Fright Night (1985), and, God help me, George Hamilton’s Count Vladimir Dracula in Love at First Bite (1979) is probably as fundamental to my subconscious vampire ideal as Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is to my subconscious sci-fi hero ideal! Or as Ralph Macchio is to my subconscious reluctant martial arts fighter ideal. [They all hit me when I was my most impressionable. Timing can be such a bitch.]
There are also a few really scary, not very talky vampires out there, but my favorite vampires are those that seduce, or brood or philosophize, and make us face our greatest fears through their own fall from grace. They are elegant and brutal, sensuous and menacing, conniving and emotive. I myself have played more vampires than I can recount in various roleplaying games, and I reveled in the imagined power, romance, and horror of having to hunt, scheme and kill to remain immortal. There’s nothing quite like it.
If I’m in the mood for more fangs, blood and terror than gothic romance, if I feel more like self-loathing than self-indulgence, then I turn to werewolves. But that’s a whole other list…