It’s a hundred years since Bram Stoker
had his head removed, and a stake driven through his heart died, and, sure, it’s Friday so I could’ve just found a picture of him eating some KFC and we’d all be happy.
But sometimes, oh, things just get out of hand and here are some of our writers on lesser-seen vampire flicks. Looking at them all together, the words ‘sexy’ and ‘erotic’ crop up a lot of times. What does that say about us? About vampires? What do you think? What would Mr Stoker think?
by Paul Duane
Vampires and lesbianism, it’s a winning combination that has worked time and again ever since Dracula’s Daughter (’36). But I’ve never seen it used quite as Jean Rollin does it. His films are, um, not everybody’s cup of tea, with their absurd plots, creaky mise en scene, poetic (hem-hem) realism and frequently nude ladies. But I defy anyone to watch the opening of Fascination and not be at least intrigued…
Two beautiful young women in 19th century dress stand in a slaughterhouse sipping ox-blood from wine glasses while a lecherous prole abattoir worker watches and leers. One dips her finger in her glass, rubs the blood around her already red lips very… very…. slowly, this goes on for what must be over two minutes, in hypnotic close-up, before the camera tilts up to reveal her mocking gaze directed right down the lens, presumably at the audience. Fascination indeed.
The story is beyond description but the image of Brigitte Lahaie wielding a scythe, wearing only a long black cape, advancing implacably across a bridge towards camera, is indelible. And of all the vampire movies I’ve seen this is the only one to suggest a taste for animal blood is the first step on the road to fullblown cannibalistic vampirism. Being a man with a liking for black pudding, I find this… worrying.
If this intrigues you, Redemption have just issued a bunch of Rollin on Region-Free (!) blurays, it’s the best possible way to experience this very, very specialised auteur’s work.
Everyone’s seen An American Werewolf in London, right? And everyone loves it, more or less. So if there was a knowing, modern vampire movie made by the same director, with an awesome cast and a Prince soundtrack, well, you’d know about it, wouldn’t you? Even if it were a bit shit? Wrong.
Innocent Blood isn’t that shit, actually, but it certainly isn’t a worthy successor to AWIL. It’s basically A French Vampire in Pittsburgh, but not as cool as that sounds. Anne Parillaud is the lead, and is the only vampire since the dawn of time to actually be sexy. And boy, is she sexy. She is a sexy French vampire with a conscience, however, and (foreshadowing Dexter by about twenty years) she only feeds on the criminal and evil. Fortunately for her, Pittsburgh is overrun with Italian character actors in bad suits. Some of these actors, and some of these suits, will later turn up in the Sopranos. One night she fails to adequately drain a particularly nasty mob boss, and he is, in the way of these things, vamped up. He sets about creating an unholy army of undead Italian character actors in bad suits, and only the sexy French vampire with a conscience and her sexy Italian undercover cop boyfriend can stop him.
Right about now you are thinking that this is the greatest movie you’ve never seen, aren’t you? Well, it isn’t. There’s a lot to love about it, but it never really lives up to its utterly brilliant potential. It does have a sexy French vampire lady, though, and vampire Paulie Gaultieri, so you probably should check it out.
by Spank The Monkey
Does Ricky Lau’s 1985 movie really fit in here? The title would suggest that it does. But the vampires in Mr Vampire are actually the Chinese variation known as jiangshi, a vampire/zombie hybrid which devours life force rather than blood or brains. In this blatantly post-Ghostbusters comedy, Lam Ching-ying and his hapless team battle against rampaging jiangshi, incompetent police, and sexy sexy ghosts.
One of the key pleasures of watching Mr Vampire is learning the rules of dealing with jiangshi, which are as arcane and arbitrary as their Western equivalents. Some of these may have a basis in ancient Chinese folklore, others may well have been pulled directly out of producer Sammo Hung’s arse: I’ve spent over two decades uncertain as to which are which. So, if you’re ever attacked by a vampire in China, here’s what you probably should know.
They generally don’t move very fast: the classic jiangshi movement involves bouncing along in a two-legged hop, arms outstretched like a sleepwalker. If you’re approached by one, hold your breath, as that stops them from detecting you. (See picture above for an alternative approach.) If you’re cornered, your best bet is to immobilise them, typically by sticking a yellow Taoist scroll onto their forehead. Do not attempt this in draughty areas.
If you do end up being bitten, don’t worry – the infection’s treatable, and it takes a couple of days before you go completely hoppy and fangy. Sticky rice helps to absorb the vampire infection, but beware of unscrupulous rice vendors who’ll inevitably mix it in with the non-glutinous cheaper stuff. And because this is Hong Kong in the mid-80s, if all else fails just keep kicking the bastard till he explodes.
Daughters of Darkness
by Matthew Turner
My favourite unsung vampire movie is Belgian writer-director Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness (1971). Shot in English but allowing the foreign actors to use their own accents, it’s set in contemporary
Belgium and stars John Karlen and Daniele Ouimet as Stefan and Valerie, a newly married-couple who check into a deserted seaside hotel in Ostend. Shortly afterwards, they meet fellow guests Countess Elisabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig, channelling her friend Marlene Dietrich) and her beautiful secretary / lover Ilona (Andrea Rau) and Elisabeth happily tells them of her “resemblance” to the 17th century Bloody Countess, working herself into a near orgasmic frenzy as she describes the brutal methods of the woman who drank the blood of young girls to stay young.
When Valerie subsequently discovers Stefan is a brutal sexual sadist (the film is often shockingly violent), she tries to leave him and is instead seduced by Elisabeth. Meanwhile, after spying through a window on a naked Valerie (another familiar vampire movie motif), Ilona sets her sights on Stefan but is accidentally killed when he tries to make her shower with him and she freaks out and falls onto a cut-throat razor.
The film is intensely erotic (alongside the frequent sex and nudity there’s an unusual amount of stroking and touching) and Kümel directs with a wonderful sense of style, using weird camera angles (there’s a memorable mirror shot that I’ve never seen anywhere else), offbeat locations (Stefan nearly ends up buried alive in the Ostend sand dunes), fabulous costumes and splashes of startling red (Ilona’s lipstick, Elisabeth’s dress, blood). It’s also strikingly feminist and strongly anti-male – rather than attempting to destroy Valerie, Elisabeth is actually saving her from a much worse fate, as witnessed by Stefan’s call home to “mother”, a creepy-looking man who makes his butler crouch down so he can pat him on the head. On top of that, the film is frequently darkly funny (Seyrig’s reaction to a hit-and-run is priceless) and is packed with unusual, offbeat moments. Great score too.
Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary
by Phil Concannon
FW Murnau’s Nosferatu may be considered the great silent-era vampire film, but the wonderfully idiosyncratic Guy Maddin made a late claim for that crown in 2002 with Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary. Simultaneously drawing its inspiration from Bram Stoker’s novel, the stage production devised by Mark Godden and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the pioneer days of cinema, this screen version of the much-filmed tale has the vivid beauty and feverish intensity of a dream. The characters dance through the plot swiftly and elegantly while Maddin assails us with a dazzling array of imaginative aesthetic techniques, and the result is a film that looks and feels like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Maddin’s vision of Bram Stoker’s story is faithful, if abstract, and it’s driven by a series of extraordinary images that propel us through key points in the narrative. The film is played in a heightened register, with Maddin’s style frequently approaching hysteria, but he also finds room for vital oases of elegance, with the dancers – most notably the outstanding Tara Birtwhistle as Lucy and Zhang Wei-Qiang’s exotic, seductive Dracula – helping the director infuse this tale with a powerful sense of eroticism and threat.
The scratchy, black-and-white visuals and Maddin’s use of intertitles make Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary a convincing facsimile of early cinema, but the director mixes it up in his typically iconoclastic style, with frantic editing, striking close-ups and splashes of colour, like the vibrant red that runs from every wound. Every one of Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary’s 75 minutes is overflowing with the passion, invention and boldness that Maddin and his dancers bring to the project. It’s probably the strangest vampire movie you’ll ever see, but it’s one you’ll never forget.