🎃 Some Vampire Movies for Halloween 🎃

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 1992, US, 127m. Director: Francis Ford Coppela. Streaming: N/A

Count Yorga, Vampire – 1970, US, 92m. Director: Bob Kelljan. Streaming: N/A

Dracula – 1979, UK, 110m. Director: John Badham. Streaming: Peacock

House of Dark Shadows – 1970, US, 97m. Director: Dan Curtis. Streaming: N/A

Innocent Blood – 1992, US, 116m. Director: John Landis. Streaming: N/A

Stake Land – 2010, US, 98m. Director: Jim Mickle. Streaming: Peacock

Subspecies – 1991, US/Romania, 84m. Director: Ted Nicolaou. Streaming: Tubi

Vampire Circus – 1972, UK, 83m. Director: Robert Young. Streaming: Tubi

Vampires – 1998, Japan/US, 108m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: AMC/Prime

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) It’s not clear whether Dracula author Bram Stoker would have approved of this inaccurate but lavish adaptation of his classic novel. In an effort to bring audiences a more “modern” take on the century-old tale, director Francis Ford Coppola and writer James V. Hart borrowed heavily from the speculative 1972 book In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires, which suggests Dracula was a real person—a 15th century Romanian ruler called Vlad the Impaler. In the film, Vlad (Gary Oldman), after returning from war and discovering his wife dead from suicide, curses himself and his family line by swearing off God for all eternity. Hundreds of years later—now a hideous creature of the night known as Count Dracula—Vlad travels from Transylvania to London, where he falls in love with Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), who Drac believes is the reincarnation of his wife. (Reincarnation is not a plot point from the Stoker novel, but the majority of post-sixties Dracula-inspired films used it as a major subplot, which as far as I’m concerned is a Dark Shadows creation.) Despite the flaky approach to the material—and the questionable casting of Ryder, who often seems out of her depth—this is an undeniably entertaining film filled with rich visual trickery and spectacular makeup FX by Greg Cannom, and Anthony Hopkins nails it as a spirited Van Helsing. The movie’s massive box office ultimately helped with the release of Interview with the Vampire (a better film) two years later. B

COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) (AKA: The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire) After arriving in Los Angeles, European transplant Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) tries to woo his new upscale friends with his old-world charm by hosting a séance. Unbeknownst to those involved, Yorga is actually a vampire who’s looking for a third bride to add to his collection of undead wives. Yorga successfully seduces and bites Erica (Judith Lang) and, to the horror of her boyfriend (Michael Murphy), slowly transforms her into a cat-eating creature of the night. Originally conceived as an idea for a porno, Count Yorga, Vampire is a surprisingly intelligent and handsome retelling of the Dracula legend—a wealthy Count takes residence in a foreign, freethinking country, victimizes the local women, and keeps others imprisoned with the help of his Renfield-like assistant—for more modern, New Age audiences. The characters are smart, the pacing is excellent, and the suspense plentiful. In an iconic performance, Quarry is first-rate in one of, if not the best vampire films of the early seventies. Followed by The Return of Count Yorga. B+

DRACULA (1979) John Badham’s lavish but ultimately disappointing update of the Stoker tale moves the action to 1913, but at its core it’s just a remake of the popular stage play and the 1931 film. Ironically, as with Bela Lugosi in the original adaptation, Frank Langella revisits the role of the Count, which he undertook in the stage production revival a year earlier (Langella was nominated for a Tony for his performance). Ignoring the Transylvania scenes entirely, Badham’s Dracula opens in the midst of the creature’s journey to England. After arriving at the picturesque coastal village of Whitby, Dracula takes up residence at Carfax Abbey and makes his move on the neighboring Seward family, lorded over by Dr. Seward (Donald Pleasance), who runs the local sanitarium. After turning Mina Van Helsing (Jan Francis) into one of the undead, Dracula seduces Seward’s daughter, Lucy (Kate Nelligan), into being his new eternal bride of the night, but is thwarted by Lucy’s fiancé, Harker (Trevor Eve), and good old Prof. Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier). A tight script and an undeniably seductive performance by Langella help the film rise above the familiar story—as does the incredible set designs and beautiful country locations. Pleasance is warm, but Nelligan is too cold to muster sympathy for, and Olivier phones in his silly one-note performance. Renfield (Tony Haygarth), here downgraded to an unimportant supporting character, is missed. B

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) The drunken groundskeeper (John Karlen) of the great Collinwood Estate believes he’s found hidden treasure, but instead unearths 200-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid). Disguising himself as a cousin from England, Barnabas sets up shop at Collinwood where he bewitches the family, turns young Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) into a lovelorn vampire servant, and falls in love with governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) whom Barnabas believes is the reincarnation of his lost love. House of Dark Shadows is essentially a truncated version of the Barnabas storyline from the classic sixties television show, Dark Shadows—a daytime soap opera that used famous horror movie motifs as its central structure. Directed by the show’s creator, Dan Curtis, the film is handsomely photographed—a nice departure from the washed-out look of the series (the show was recorded live on videotape)—and well-acted, including Frid who stands out in a role that didn’t give him much to work with on TV, but here delivers a terrific performance. The climactic “vampire wedding” finale is both gorgeous and gruesome. Followed by Night of Dark Shadows. B+

INNOCENT BLOOD (1992) Marie (Anne Parillaud) is hungry. As Innocent Blood opens, Marie informs the viewer through voiceover narration—and in nothing but her svelte birthday suit—that she hasn’t eaten in six days. And by eating I mean drinking blood. Marie, you see, is a vampire—but she’s a good vampire who only feasts on those she feels deserves to die. Luckily for Marie, she finds an unsavory individual named Sallie “The Shark” Macelli (Robert Loggia), a high-up mob boss Marie targets for her next meal (“I’m in the mood for Italian,” she declares). Marie is interrupted by Sallie’s goons while feasting on him and ultimately ends up transforming Sallie into one of the blood-sucking undead. Soon Pittsburgh is overloaded with goodfella bloodsuckers and it’s up to Marie and cop/love interest Anthony LaPaglia to stop them. John Landis’s splattery follow-up to An American Werewolf in London is not as good as that classic, but does offer the viewer several merits of gruesomeness, including countless torn-off limbs and chewed up throats that erupt like geysers—all expertly handled by FX artist Steve Johnson. The cast is excellent, but their characters feel mostly like stale leftovers from The Godfather. Parillaud is charming but vapid, and LaPaglia doesn’t have the chops to pull off the “big city tough cop” act. Even at its worst, Innocent Blood is harmless fun. C+

STAKE LAND (2010) In an interesting twist on the vampire movie, Stake Land presents its fanged subjects as more of an end-of-the-world plague, in vein of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, but by way of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Vampires have taken over the world and turned America into a war zone; militias run large patches of land and don’t take kindly to strangers. Because vampires aren’t enough to contend with, there are also murderous cults and cannibals running amok. At the center of the story is roughneck Mister (Nick Damici), who takes on newly-orphaned Martin (Connor Paolo) as a sidekick. Much like shooting zombies in the head, Mister teaches Martin the importance of a stake to a vampire heart, along with several other fight tricks. In their search for salvation, Mister and Martin come across several other survivors, including a pregnant country girl (Danielle Harris) and a former nun (Kelly McGillis). There’s more of a focus on character than gore, and for most of the time it pulls the viewer in. Scenes of desolate landscapes and rampant death give the film an authentic apocalyptic vibe, despite the small budget. A voiceover narration supplied by Martin comes off as unnecessary and conspicuous, and an unresolved ending leaves one feeling a little lost. But that was most likely the point of this bleak but honest movie. Followed by The Stakelander. B

SUBSPECIES (1991) In present day Romania, an old vampire (Angus Scrimm, in an oversized fright wig) is murdered by his evil son Radu (Anders Hove) in order to obtain his father’s precious Bloodstone. Radu’s plan is hampered by his brother, Stefan (Michael Watson), who not only wishes to take rightful ownership of the family castle but keep the murderous Radu away from the Bloodstone, which can grant special powers. There isn’t a whole lot of plot happening in Subspecies, as a good chunk of the script is focused on Radu’s stalking and feasting on three grad students. This is intermixed with the centuries-old battle between Evil Radu and Good Stefan, which because of the film’s low budget means we get a lot of talky scenes of Radu taunting Stefan and then running off into the night. Subspecies does have the distinction of being the first American-produced movie to be shot entirely in Bucharest, and the place’s Old World atmosphere helps pull the viewer in, even when the story isn’t working, which unfortunately is quite often. There’s a dull romance between Stefan and one of the American students that never feels believable. Two female victims of Radu inexplicably have their breasts exposed, with one woman tied up in a dungeon and tormented by Radu’s pint-sized minions. The make-up effects by Greg Cannom (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) are really the only noteworthy things about this film. Unless you’re a die hard vampire completist, Subspecies is an easy pass. C

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972) Fifteen years after vanquishing a vampire (Robert Tayman) and burning down its castle, a plague-ravaged village is visited by a mysterious traveling circus. The village, which seems to be occupied primarily by dolts, believes the attraction to be nothing but a welcoming distraction from the disease—the witnessing of an animal transforming into a man does little to persuade the villagers into thinking there’s something supernatural afoot. The circus, you see, is actually a family of shapeshifting vampires, seeking revenge for the destruction of Tayman by sacrificing the townsfolk’s children in order to bring the vamp back to undead life. Slick and slightly entertaining, but a lack of a sympathetic protagonist keeps a lot of the film from reaching the heights of earlier (and better) Hammer productions. Filled with bared breasts, blood-dripping fangs, and overwrought melodrama. In other words, a typical seventies Hammer flick. C+

VAMPIRES (1998) Killing vampires is not an easy job. It’s such hard work that supreme vampire slayer, Jack Crow (James Woods), and his merry team of badasses throw a big celebration after their destruction of a vampire nest in the New Mexico desert. Having failed to secure the crime scene, Jack and his posse are attacked by the nest’s Master vamp (Thomas Ian Griffith), who takes a bite out of a hooker (Sheryl Lee) and turns her into a half-vampire, half-human with a psychic link to the Master. This proves useful to Jack when he discovers the Master might be the original source of all vampires and is searching for a tool called the Black Cross that can allow all vamps to walk in the sunlight. John Carpenter’s first and only vampire film is an enjoyable, if not fully successful, variation on the modern western; Wood’s gunslinging “cowboy” works in conjunction with Griffith’s outsider, threatening to take over the land of the good people. Although, it’s the horror/vampire elements that make the film work—and when they do Vampires delivers exceptionally good splatter from the fine folks at KNB EFX—the gruesome dispatch of Mark Boone Junior is a highlight. B

Prince of Darkness, Shadowzone, and Talk to Me

Prince of Darkness – 1987, US, 101m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: Peacock

Shadowzone – 1990, US, 89m. Director: J.S. Cardone. Streaming: Tubi

Talk to Me – 2023, Australia, 95m. Director: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou. Streaming: N/A

PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) The death of a priest leads to the discovery of a secret sect—not even the Vatican knew of its existence—known as the Brotherhood of Sleep, which operated within a rundown Los Angeles church that contains a mysterious green liquid locked away in the basement. A research team of scientists is brought in to study the goo, which seems to have sentient properties and may, in fact, be Satan itself, or at least a close relative. The team is too busy deciphering archaic scripture and solving mathematical equations to notice the slimy evil slowly influencing the minds of the neighborhood’s lower intelligences, including insects and—gasp!—street people. There’s a bunch of talk about Jesus having been an alien, a church cover-up lasting millennia, and even time travel! It’s all trivial to the film’s real purpose, which is to become yet another possession/slasher variant as characters are whittled down by impalement, stabbing, neck-snapping, and decapitation. The silly plot is further hampered by flat direction by John Carpenter and stiff acting by a mostly uncharismatic cast. There’s some interesting stuff thrown in to keep viewers awake—a man’s body disintegrates into a puddle of bugs and gore. But these scenes are too few and far in between the plodding screenplay. C

SHADOWZONE (1990) You have to admire a movie like Shadowzone. Here’s a film that makes absolutely no sense within the realms of its science-based story, yet it’s professionally made, features good acting and likable characters, and is entertaining enough to carry its largely preposterous story from beginning to end. Square-jawed NASA bigwig David Beecroft is given special access to a top-secret, government-funded research facility (dubbed “Project Shadowzone”) located inside an abandoned underground bunker, where scientists are doing advanced experiments in deep sleep and its dream states. Beecroft’s visit is the result of the death of one of the project’s volunteers—judging from their physiques, these male and female volunteers were apparently chosen based on their centerfold layouts. One of the subjects reaches beyond the normal dream state and into a Lovecraftian dimension filled with ugly, shapeshifting creatures. One of these beings eventually crosses over into the real world and forms the shapes of the characters’ worst nightmares, which for the lab’s in-house cook is a giant, mutated rat. Shadowzone resembles From Beyond in large parts and its story structure seems to have been modeled after Alien. That doesn’t prevent the movie from being highly enjoyable for what it is. Excellent make-up FX by Mark Shostrom (Evil Dead II, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3). B

TALK TO ME (2023) Mia has problems. Not only is the poor high school student trying to recuperate after the untimely (and mysterious) death of her mother, but she has to deal with the fact her ex-boyfriend, whom she still has romantic feelings for, is now playing Double Tap with Mia’s best friend (Alexandra Jensen). The arrival of an evil specter, which attaches to Mia during a Let’s Get Possessed and Live Stream It party, doesn’t help matters, especially after it claims to be the spirit of Mia’s mom. Played by Sophie Wilde, Mia exudes such a healthy amount of energy and brains within the first act of Talk to Me that it becomes all the more disappointing when she transforms into a complete idiot—that cliched character audiences scream at to not go into the basement? Mia goes into the basement. The same can be said for the film itself: after a good start, the script stumbles and turns into a hodgepodge of murky character motivations and predictability, including an ending you can smell coming a mile away. It often feels with some of these films the writers lose interest halfway through working on the script—you know, one of those good concept, poor execution deals. This is all the more disheartening given the overwhelming amount of praise Talk to Me received from critics dubbing it the next great horror flick. It’s not. C

Mark of the Devil, Night Train to Terror, and Seytan

Mark of the Devil – 1970, Germany, 93m. Director: Michael Armstrong. Streaming: Prime, Tubi

Night Train to Terror – 1985, US, 93m. Director: John Carr, Philip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Gregg G. Tallas. Streaming: Roku Channel, Tubi

Seytan – 1974, Turkey, 101m. Director: Metin Erksan. Streaming: Shudder

MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) As stated in the opening text crawl, this German shocker depicts historically accurate moments from documented cases about the brutal murder of “eight million” people during Europe’s heretical inquisitions—an exaggeration created by exploitative filmmakers for the benefit of sensationalism, which is all this Witchfinder General rip-off seems to care about. The arrival of notorious witch-hunter Cumberland (Herbert Lom) in a small 16th century Austrian village brings to the stake several local people accused of witchcraft. It’s mostly women in various stages of undress who are graphically tortured by way of infamously archaic devices—the stretching rack seems to be a favorite of Cumberland’s, to which a poor woman is strapped before having her tongue ripped out. Unfortunately Mark of the Devil puts so much energy into its death sequences that when it’s not mutilating victims the film is plodding and dull, with much of the English dubbing so hysterically anxiety-ridden it comes off as comedy. Infamously released in theaters handing out “barf bags” to audience members, although the movie is fairly tame by today’s standards. C

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985) A scattershot anthology that’s actually comprised of scenes stitched together from several unfinished feature-length horror films. While aboard a train heading towards destruction, God and Satan discuss the fate of three individuals, representing three tales of murder, greed, and other distasteful acts of sin. The first vignette features a drunkard (John Phillip Law) committed to a mental hospital, which is actually a front for a business trafficking human organs. The second story is about a struggling musician (Merideth Haze) who joins a secret society called the Death Club that subjects its members to weird experiments, at which one member is randomly killed. In the final segment, a medical doctor (Faith Clift) stumbles upon a several-hundred-years-old plot involving the immortal henchman of Satan. A bizarre hodgepodge of ideas, Night Train to Terror is often too brash and ridiculous to be taken seriously. Yet at the same time, it’s fairly inventive and fun, creating a rough but enjoyable experience for the adventurous viewer. If you expect anything more out of this offbeat cult fiasco, you’re in for a world of hurt. B

SEYTAN (1974) There are remakes, and there are rip-offs. A remake strives to acquire the same quality of production of a film and its story for a new generation. A rip-off ditches quality for quantity by exploiting a popular movie for the sole purpose of making money. Seytan is the latter, a bargain-basement plagiarization of The Exorcist that not only tries to copy that movie’s tone, but also steals entire scenes and dialogue from the William Friedkin film. A literal shot-for-shot clone, Seytan poorly depicts the slow possession of the 12-year-old daughter (Canan Perver) of a single parent (Meral Taygun)—but unlike Ellen Bustyn’s personality-infused movie star mom from The Exorcist, here the mother is a colorless high society rich lady who emits very little emotion besides hysterically bad overacting. A monotonous bore with absolutely no redeeming qualities aside from the unintentionally funny moment here and there. D

The Thing From Another World, The Thing ’82 and ’11

The Thing From Another World – 1951, US, 86m. Director: Christian Nyby. Streaming: Tubi

The Thing – 1982, US, 108m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: Peacock

The Thing – 2011, US, 103m. Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Streaming: Peacock

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) An American scientific research team, isolated in a remote outpost at the North Pole, discover an alien crash site. The ship—and the frozen body of an extraterrestrial—is buried under layers of ice. The creature is quickly exhumed by members of the U.S. Air Force. But bringing it back to the compound proves to be a big mistake when, once thawed, the Thing comes back to life, hungry for human blood. The tall E.T. has a penchant for stringing its human victims upside down and draining them like pigs in an abattoir—a plot point subsequently used in many sci-fi/horror films, including Predator—and its murderous rampage seems unstoppable. A fifties classic, this Howard Hawks production (it’s rumored Hawks himself directed many scenes) was one of the blueprints for the “visiting alien” subgenre (and a subtext for McCarthyism) so prevalent in that decade. The sparse on-screen use of the creature (played by James Arness) plays into the overall effectiveness of the simple story and helps build an atmosphere of tension. The robust score by Dimitri Tiomkin and a fiery finale help to make this Thing a highly memorable scare show. And remember: keep watching the skies! B+

THE THING (1982) Considered a failure upon its initial release, John Carpenter’s modern take on John W. Campbell Jr.’s story, Who Goes There? (and reworking of the 1951 film), is now viewed as a masterwork in eighties special effects storytelling. A more faithful adaptation, this Thing pits a crew of doctors, scientists, and pilots against a parasitic, alien beast at a remote Antarctic research station. Unlike James Arness’s creature from the original, the alien in Carpenter’s film is a nasty and scary creation that can shapeshift into people or animals, ensuring a tense atmosphere of paranoia—and itself inspiring a whole generation of films with a similar theme. Rob Bottin’s jaw-dropping practical FX are the real star of The Thing, but screenwriter Bill Lancaster took care in delivering a tight screenplay with rich, complex characters not usually found in eighties splatter flicks, including Kurt Russell’s antihero, MacReady. Darker in tone (’51’s happy ending is jettisoned here for a bleaker, Reaganesque one), Carpenter’s movie works on all levels and is the rare remake that’s superior to the original. A must-see for any pulp horror aficionado. A

THE THING (2011) Acting as a prequel to the 1982 film, the story centers on the disastrous encounter between the neighboring Norwegian science team and the shapeshifting alien—before Kurt Russell and gang find out for themselves. After discovering the spacecraft and its occupant buried in the ice, the science division brings in American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to identify the creature. Lloyd comes to realize her role is irrelevant to the science team when research leader—and all-around asshole—Dr. Sander Halvorson essentially tells her to speak only when spoken to. The audience comes to a similar conclusion when the film disintegrates into a remake of the earlier movie, in the process becoming a nearly pointless endeavor. It doesn’t help matters much that the filmmakers forgo the two most important elements from Carpenter’s version: the overwhelming atmosphere of paranoia, and Rob Bottin’s masterful make-up FX (here replaced by overused, cheap digital effects that make the creature look too cartoonish). Winstead makes a likable protagonist but unfortunately she doesn’t have much to do besides run and scream. As with the victims in these Thing movies, one can’t help feel this film itself got thinged, and is just a pale imitation of Carpenter’s classic. C

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