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Feature: Vampires

Sleep tight

From its first screen appearance in Nosferatu in 1922, the vampire quickly became a hugely popular and spine-chilling figure. Here, we look at Vampires on film and TV from Count Dracula to Angel…

Nosferatu. Does not this word sound like the call of the death bird at midnight? You dare not say it since the pictures of life will fade into dark shadows; ghostly dreams will rise from your heart and feed on your blood.

These poetic words from FW Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors heralded the emergence of the Vampire on screen in a fully-fledged feature. An undead thing, almost Human, which preyed on the blood of its mortal victims, the Vampire was an instant success. Nosferatu was based upon Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula which was not out of copyright – there was a law suit by Stoker’s widow that called for all known prints of the film destroyed. Thankfully some survived. Nosferatu was premièred at the Marble Gardens in Berlin’s Zoological Gardens in March 1922, and was a great success, thanks to Murnau’s striking photography and a chilling star performance from Max Schreck.

But while Schreck’s image of a bald, pointy-eared bloodsucker will always be an indelible icon, in 1932 Bela Lugosi would change the way that Vampires would be perceived for the next 50 years.

And what an image! Even now it is unmistakable. The luxurious black cape, white waistcoat and bow tie, gold medallion, slicked-back hair and pointy teeth, all the hallmarks of Lugosi’s famous interpretation of Stoker’s Dracula. It was a look which stemmed from legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce, who was also responsible for Boris Karloff’s iconic appearance in Frankenstein that same year. Unfortunately the Dracula image would follow Lugosi to his grave – he was buried in his Dracula cloak, as per his request, in 1956.

But the Dracula image proved difficult to change. John Carradine appeared in two later Universal films, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, still in the cloak, but with a moustache. The image was ‘sexed up’ somewhat by Christopher Lee when he became a rather more full-blooded Count in 1957 in Hammer’s film Dracula, directed by Terence Fisher. This film and its sequels dominated the genre for nearly two decades. By 1972, Lee had made ten appearances as the Count, the majority of them for Hammer (with overseas excursions for Stefano Vanzina’s Italian comedy Tempi duri per i vampiri and Jess Franco’s Count Dracula) before his final appearance in the cloak in Alan Gibson’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula. After that, Lee resolved to ‘Draculate no more’.

In 1978, 10 years after his critical success Night of the Living Dead, George A Romero radically revised the Vampire genre with his serial killer movie Martin, in which a young man is convinced he is an 84-year-old Vampire. And while Stephen King’s TV mini-series of Salem’s Lot, which harked back to the early days by giving chief Vampire Barlow (Reggie Nalder) the Nosferatu look, arrived the following year, as the ’80s loomed, it appeared that Romero’s revisionist ideals for the Vampire genre were gathering strength.

by Grant Kempster

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