Welcome my dear readers to another edition of MONSTER BLOG POST! Don’t know if you guys have been following, but I’ve been doing these for a while now. They aren’t your typical teeny weenie little blog entries, nope these are MONSTER BLOG POSTS! In this edition of Monster Blog Post three bloggers decided to join forces to bring you some of the most unusual vampire movies out there. Tired of the same old generic vampire movies? Tired of whiny vampires who sparkle when the sun hits them? Well, here’s your chance to spice up your vampire movies with these 16 UNUSUAL VAMPIRE MOVIES!
These choice films have been hand picked by three very unusual bloggers themselves. First, theres Shaun Anderson from THE CELLULOID HIGHWAY. Shaun has collaborated with me on various Top Five Countdowns for The Film Connoisseur. Shaun is currently conducting a Werner Herzog Retrospective which I urge you guys to check out, that is if you want to inform yourself on the famous German directors entire filmology. For this monster blog post, Shaun came up with Five Unusual Hammer Vampire Films. Welcome back Shaun! Our other collaborator is Brian Bankston from the excellent blog COOL ASS CINEMA. Don’t know if you guys have checked it out but Bryan does some fine articles on his blog on everything from the sleaziest groundhouse films, to Kung Fu movies, westerns, and even Godzilla movies! Its always great fun reading his blog! For this monster blog, Brian came up with five (and an extra one so that’s really six!) of the most Unusual Foreign Vampire Films. And of course, I, your humble servant, The Film Connoisseur put in my two cents and came up with five Unusual American Vampire Films.
Hope you guys find this blog entry fun, informative and entertaining! And if you got some unusual vampire films to mention yourselves, don’t hesitate to mention them on your comments below! Thanks for reading!
COOL ASS CINEMAS’S FIVE MOST UNUSUAL FOREIGN VAMPIRE FILMS:
This is a list of six quirky, obscure, original, or influential films to feature the fanged toothed undead that deserve to be unearthed, or are rife for resurrection. There are doubtless others that could be included on such a list, but these are titles that I feel offer something different, or unique in this seemingly tired, but undying style of horror movie. Some are long in the tooth while some others go straight for the throat. Either way, all six sanguinary sagas are best enjoyed after dark with your favorite stake and some garlic. Don't forget your crucifix and if you invite friends, make sure they're still among the living before you let them in.
THE VAMPIRE (Fernando Mendez, Mexico, 1956)
This B/W south of the border Mexi-horror classic was one of the big imports by K. Gordon Murray. A definite classic of Mexi-horror cinema, German Robles imbues the role of Count Lavud with a sinister air that rivals (and in some ways, surpasses) many other similar undead epics. Possessing a deeply Gothic atmosphere that's reminiscent of the Universal horrors of old, the numerous B/W Mexican monster movies also foreshadowed the technicolor blood and violence soon to be infused in Hammer's horror. The plot is similar to other vengeful vampire films seen both before and after Fernando Mendez's richly atmospheric tale. Count Lavud attempts to destroy the Sycamore (Sicamoros in the Spanish version) family and take over their estate. That's pretty much it as far as the story is concerned. The frequently creepy visuals do the rest. Robles is probably the liveliest (haha) Count ever on screen. Late in the film, he has a sword battle with the hero played by producer, Abel Salazar. He co-stars both here and in the quick sequel, THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN made the same year. Robles also donned a top hat and cape for the Nostradamus Mexican vampire serial that was edited down into four features for American television shortly thereafter.
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (Harry Kumel, Belgium, 1971)
This surreal, hauntingly and sumptuously photographed Belgian vampire movie is hands down the best retelling of Elizabet Bathory. It's the only film about the blood countess that I can recall that comes closest to what this psychotic female butcher did to her victims. The scene in question has our lady of the night becoming sexually aroused while recounting her past despicable escapades to her noticeably uneasy houseguests. The film itself is about a newly married couple who become stranded at a deserted Hotel run by a mysterious woman named Bathory who has morbid interests and an equally unhealthy interest in the grooms wife. Less a scary, bloody horror film than it is a slow, steady burn, it's a deliberately paced, yet engaging lesbian vampire movie filled with nudity and sex and occasional mild gore. The ending is particularly good, too. One of the most unusual and beautiful of its kind, I'll take this over Jean Rollin's similarly styled opuses any day.
LAKE OF DRACULA (Michio Yamamoto, Japan, 1971)
The second in Michio Yamamoto's intriguing Toho vampire trilogy is arguably the most European of the lot. What makes this Dracula tale of curiosity value, is that there's virtually nothing remotely Japanese about the film save for the cast. It's as if Yamamoto was paying homage to the traditional vampire films from Europe and America. The movie does in fact link the Transylvanian Count to the Japanese setting in a move not unlike the one seen in the Hammer/Shaw Brothers co-production from a few years later. The story concerns a young woman having recurring nightmares in which she encounters a vampire after wandering into an ominous abode. Soon, bizarre deaths take place after a coffin is delivered to a house near Lake Fujimi and it becomes apparent the young woman may be a potential victim. Also known as JAPULA(!), Shin Kishida is imposing as the villainous vampire. He will be recognizable to fans from Toho's GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974). The other two films in this series are THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970) and EVIL OF DRACULA (1974), which resembles the European lesbian vampire films.
VAMPYRES (Jose Ramon Larraz, SPAIN, 1974)
Another unusual vampire film and one that questions whether the main creatures of the night are actually born from the traditional mold of bloodsuckers. Two attractive women living alone in a huge mansion lure unsuspecting passerby into their lair and not only engage in sex, but also gory and bloody finality for their victims. There's relatively little plot although the film does muster something resembling exposition when one of the sex and blood starved vamps falls for one of her proposed meals. Jose Larraz delivered a vampire film that retained a lot of staying power throughout the 1970's and has remained a major cult film since. Boasting some incredibly erotic and violent scenes, this movie will easily appeal to the sex and blood crowd. Quite possibly the quintessential lesbian vampire movie.
MR. VAMPIRE (Ricky Lau,Hong Kong, 1985)
The Shaw Brothers and Hammer first introduced HK vampire horror with the release of the splendid action saga, LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974). But 1985 saw the release of one of the most popular, financially successful and dizzyingly duplicated Hong Kong vampire movies. Spawning several sequels and spin offs, MR. VAMPIRE reinvigorated the career of the late Lam Ching Ying, who made Taoist priests box office gold. Featuring a mythology that will appear bonkers to foreigners, Oriental mysticism and the supernatural are truly a fascinating experience. Ricky Lau's film has Lam playing a Taoist mortuary owner who is paid to rebury a clients deceased father in a more appropriate grave which will in turn bring his family good luck and fortune. Things go awry and the subsequent horror, comedy and martial arts action result in an ingeniously good time. Whether it's MR. VAMPIRE, or the trendsetting SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS (1981) with Sammo Hung, Hong Kong vampires and tales of the undead are unlike anything you will ever see.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden, 2008)
This is one of the most creative and original vampire tales to come along in a long time. A character driven horror story, Tomas Alfredson's dark tale of two lonely friends, one human and one undead, took the critical world by storm. A long movie at nearly two hours, this Swedish horror film is a welcome breath of fresh air when compared with the glut of "bloodless" Hollywood horr-ible movies that have nothing of substance outside of a series of increasingly gory death scenes. Alfredson's movie relies on its characters to propel the story while its occasional violence is secondary. The film deals with two young kids, Oskar and Eli and the peculiar bond the two share. Oskar is frequently bullied by ruthless cretins at school and his newfound friend, the odd Eli won't allow any harm to come to him. A fascinating movie, it may not appeal to those who desire gore over characterization. Still, it's a highly original production in a crowded style of horror movie desperately in need of fresh blood.
THE CELLULOID HIGHWAYS FIVE UNUSUAL HAMMER VAMPIRE FILMS:
THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (Roy Ward Baker, UK/Hong Kong, 1974)
The 1970’s saw Hammer Film Productions coming up with progressively more desperate attempts to halt their slide into destruction. Despite increased nudity, a proliferation of lesbian scenes, and an upping of the gore quotient Hammer still found itself lagging behind the competition like an old nag ready for the glue factory. One of the more exotic and ill considered gambits was a co-production deal with the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong. The result was two films - the feeble and forgettable action caper Call Him Mr. Shatter (1974) featuring a lifeless performance from Stuart Whitman and the eminently more enjoyable The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The logic behind the latter was to combine Hammer’s stylistic gifts for conjuring up gothic horror, and the Shaw Brothers assured delivery of Kung-Fu action. The artisans and technicians of Hammer had an incredible gift in the 1970’s for failing to capitalise on the latest generic trends. By the time they got around to Kung-Fu the bubble had burst. But it is precisely the bursting of that bubble and Hammer’s seeming ignorance to what the marketplace desired that makes this now such a fascinating film. By accident rather than design Golden Vampires possesses many of the ingredients necessary to the creation of a cult following. Its generic hybridity offers us the fun of seeing the superstition of Eastern Europe transplanted into the mythical and mystical landscape of the East. Although the film makes little use of this, and although the action scenes appear to be choreographed by an arthritic pensioner, the film has an infectious charm totally lacking in contemporaneous Hammer films. The film lacks the intelligence to fully explore the clash of cultures, but is not afraid to alter the lore and mythology of vampirism. This is one of those unintentionally hilarious and camp productions that can be admired as much for its stupidity and incompetence as it can for one or two well mounted sequences - the zombie vampires clawing out of their graves for example. Peter Cushing adds the requisite touch of class to the proceedings and with his ever reliable presence somehow manages to legitimise the most nonsensical, but enjoyable, of Hammer’s film.
CAPTAIN KRONOS - VAMPIRE HUNTER (Brian Clemens, UK, 1974)
This is one of Hammer’s more offbeat attempts to drag yet more blood (pardon the pun) out of the vampire stone. The intellect behind this production was Brian Clemens who was more well known as a writer of camp television fantasy like The Avengers and The Protectors and the intriguing mysteries of the underrated Thriller. He was no stranger to Hammer at this point, having already provided the screenplay for the gothic revisionism of Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971). For Captain Kronos though Clemens was invited to go a step further than just writing, and was given his one and only opportunity to direct a film. Kronos (Horst Janson) is an excellent creation - he is a master swordsman and a retired solider, and brings with him the gravitas and code of honour of the military. It just so happens though that his current line of work is the hunting and eventual destruction of vampires. Its good work if you can get it and he is assisted in this perilous task by Grost (John Cater) a hunchbacked expert on vampire lore and mythology. His knowledge differs to our own because Clemens delights in toying with audience perceptions of vampire mythology and throughout enjoys experimenting with audience expectation. Joining them is the voluptuous vision of Carla (Caroline Munro) and together they head across beautiful open countryside in their quest to rid the world of evil. The film overflows with excellent swashbuckling action sequences - the best of which is an encounter in a tavern with a gang led by Ian Hendry. The film has a lot of nice touches - Dr. Marcus’ (John Carson) encounter with the black hooded vampire for example, and the freeze frames that follow. Despite the witty dialogue and somewhat anarchic approach to the material, Clemens is unable to resist positioning his vampire clan as aristocrats. This does give the production a more reassuring Hammer feel, and this is one expectation that Clemens doesn’t frustrate. German actor Janson has the charisma of a corpse, but his dull performance is compensated by the rest of the cast who perform very well. Another fascinating attempt by Hammer to arrest their decline.
DRACULA aka HORROR OF DRACULA (Terence Fisher, UK, 1958)
Hammer’s 1958 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel looms large in both Hammer’s catalogue of gothic creations and the landscape of British horror in general. Along with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) it mapped out the visual and stylistic terrain that Hammer were too adopt throughout their years in production. Outside of Britain the influence of this film could be felt in a number of countries, and instead of vanishing into a cobweb covered crypt Dracula has continued to resurface in the last fifty years, and now enjoys a reputation within the genre as something of a classic. For me the success of the film lies in screenwriter Jimmy Sangster’s daring removal of numerous scenes from the book that would have slowed the whole process down. For example the film opens with Harker well aware that Dracula is a vampire. The filmmakers seem dedicated to offering the most energetic and swift take on the source material and this is reflected on screen in the physicality and liveliness of the performances. This is perfect for someone like me who doesn’t like Stoker’s tedious writing style. The film is like reading an abridged version of the novel with all the superfluous padding ejected. Terence Fisher shoots scenes in an unobtrusive and unfussy fashion, but his genius here lies in a conceptual approach that places a tremendous emphasis on editing. Fisher creates numerous striking parallels, utilising on screen one of gothic literatures most notable tropes; doubling. Beyond the obvious doubling of Dracula (desire, sex appeal, physicality, irrationality) and Van Helsing (celibacy, repression, frailty and rationality), there are intriguing statements on gender and class. Christopher Lee’s Dracula is impeccably attired, cultured and articulate, and his presence haunts every scene of the film. Even when not around the air crackles with the repressed libidinous desire that Dracula seeks to unleash, rich and exaggerated sensations and emotions which are reflected in the lush production design of Bernard Robinson. Peter Cushing is perfectly cast as the force of scientific rationality, though his belief in the supernatural is unquestioned. He holds within him a deceptive energy and strength which Dracula fatally underestimates in the brilliant finale. But perhaps the most important aspect of the film, and one which often gets overlooked is that this presentation of Dracula is brought to life by the vivid colour cinematography of Jack Asher. A true landmark in British horror history, and one we are unlikely to see repeated.
THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (Don Sharp, UK, 1963)
The Kiss of the Vampire is one of Hammer’s most overlooked gothic horror productions. This is almost certainly due to the lack of star power, but somehow the film benefits by not have the destabilising presence of say a Christopher Lee or a Peter Cushing stealing every scene they appear in. Instead the ideas are allowed to permeate to the surface, and once exposed to the daylight, illustrate that this is a more radical approach to vampire mythology than otherwise expected. From the outset Anthony Hinds’ screenplay presents us with a vampire hunter whose motive is vengeance after the death of his daughter. The cold fury of Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) is illustrated in an outstanding prologue sequence set at the village cemetery. The film doesn’t really live up to this brilliant opening, but it does develop Zimmer’s deviation from what one expects of the savant figure. When the token newly wed couple appear in the village, we discover that Zimmer has become a bitter alcoholic whose impotent rage is directed towards the Ravna’s - an aristocratic family who live in a huge gothic chateau that overlooks the village like a sentinel. Naturally for Hammer the aristocrats are the vampires, but they are not the usual bunch of bloodsuckers. They instead belong to a cult of vampires, and their quest is too increase the numbers of their secret coven. Noel Willman plays the head vampire in a suave and suitably sophisticated manner. The film drifts wonderfully into the uncanny in the second half when Gerald Harcourt’s (Edward de Souza) wife is ensnared by the cult only for everyone in the village to deny they had ever seen her. Zimmer of course believes and the stage is set for a thrilling climax. Zimmer has no qualms in using black magic to aid his cause and somehow manages to unleash an array of bats which deal out death to Ravna and his evil disciples. The rural and pastoral community is evocatively conveyed and brought to life by the production design of Bernard Robinson and the solid direction of debutant Don Sharp.
TWINS OF EVIL (John Hough, UK, 1971)
Hammer’s contentious ‘Karnstein Trilogy’ began with the impressive and enjoyable The Vampire Lovers (1970), which was then followed by the truly awful and incompetent Lust for a Vampire (1971). The third and final entry Twins of Evil is the best of the bunch and is the most successful synthesis of the salacious lesbian undertones and the gothic tropes for which Hammer were known. In other examples the sexual content is mere commercial decoration, but here it seems to have been built into the fabric of the narrative by screenwriter Tudor Gates, and is a necessary element to understanding the fraught and tense relationships within the film. The character of Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) with his puritanical hatred of sexual desire legitimises the need for sexual expression in a 17th century village in Austria. Cushing is excellent here and puts in one of his greatest latter day performances for Hammer - his cadaverous features and icy demeanour embody a character bereft of pleasure whose own repressive attitude extends to conducting witch hunts and burning young women at the stake. The witchcraft angle adds a novel element to the vampire narrative and feeds into a strain of British horror of which Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Witchfinder General (1968) were the most successful examples. It is difficult to know which offends Weil the most - vampirism, or the fact that the vampires worship the devil. The eye candy is provided by the Collinson twins, who are less animated than wooden stakes, but they give the film a glamour that is quite arresting. In places the film has the feel of a western - and this is intensified with the brilliant score by Harry Robinson. The filmmakers conjure up a community undergoing enormous strain both within its people (the pressure to religious conformity is overwhelming here) and by the evil external forces of Count Karnestein and his devil worshipping vampire coven. The final reckoning is confidently handled, and John Hough shows mature assuredness behind the camera which he would take into The Legend of Hell House (1972).
THE FILM CONNOISSEUR’S FIVE UNUSUAL AMERICAN VAMPIRE FILMS:
MARTIN (1977, George Romero, United States) -
George Romero is best known for his never ending “Living Dead” movies. He is probably filming something right now that ends with “of the Living Dead”. But, not a lot of people know that Romero also made a vampire movie once upon a time. Martin is the story of a young man (or is he?) who moves in with his religious fanatic uncle named Cuda. Martin’s uncle is convinced that Martin is “Nosferatu!” and is keeping an eye on him, just in case he begins to kill people in order to feed. Martin assures his uncle that he isn’t a vampire and that there is “no magic” in the real world. Problem is, Martin might not fly around or turn into a giant vampire bat, but he does feed on the blood of other humans! He doesn’t have fangs, but his trusty blades will slit open a throat just fine! He doesn’t have a hypnotic stare to lure in his victims, but his syringe filled with anesthetic works just fine! This film is one my top five best George Romero movies ever. It is a very subtle and quiet film, but when it has to get nasty, it does! Martin is a very confused young man. Is he a vampire or isn’t he? Apparently, Romero wants to leave that up to you, because a straight answer is never actually given. And that’s one of the things I loved about this movie. Martin is a character that you don’t know if you should hate, like or pity. Sometimes if feels like he is simply a very misunderstood young man, and at other times, he is a killer to be reckoned with. Be on the look out for Romero’s cameo as a priest who comes visit Martin. And hey, wait till you see that shocker of an ending! Highly recommend this one if you haven’t already seen it!
THE HUNGER (1983, Tony Scott, United States) -
The Hunger comes to us from Tony Scott, Ridley Scott’s brother. This was his first film ever, and it’s a great way to start off his directorial career. If you ask me, his films are not all that great (ever seen Dominoe?) but here we are with his first film, and it’s a decent vampire film. Story is about this Egyptian vampire lady who goes around goth clubs killing club goers every night. She turns her lovers into vampires, but only for a few centuries. The effects on her victims aren’t eternal. So, when the effects of her blood on her companions wears out, they begin to die and wither away, and so Lady Myriam begins her search for a new companion. John, her latest lover is starting to loose his youth, which means his days are numbered. So he searches for the help of a scientist who is researching premature aging, to see if she can stop him from rotting away. What I liked about this movie were the metaphors for falling in and out of love. When you are with someone, you are happy, and full of life, when the “sparkle” in the relationship dies out, it feels like you are rotting away and life looses its joy for a while. One of the benefits of this movie is its amazing cast. Lady Myriam, the Egyptian vampire is played by the always beautiful Catherine Deneuve, whom some of you might remember from Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965). Her new lover is played by Susan Sarandon. The movie is pretty famous for its lesbian sex scene between the two. And to top things off, John, Lady Myriam’s decaying lover is played by none other than David Bowie himself! Tony Scott’s directorial style had not kicked in yet, and so we have a film that imitates the look of some of Ridley Scott’s films like Blade Runner (1984) with lots of shadows, and lots of shafts of light. But all in all this is a very stylish vampire movie, it proved that Tony Scott could make a movie. It has a very dark, gothic aura to it. Its soundtrack goes perfectly in synch with its dark visuals, it includes the famous Bauhaus goth song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”.
LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971, John D. Hancock, USA) -
This is a movie with an unreliable protagonist. Jessica is a girl who has just come out of a mental institution because she has just suffered a nervous breakdown. Apparently, she can talk with the dead! She is haunted by visions of tombstones and cemeteries. But her family and friends decide to take her on a summer vacation to a house in the country. Apart from helping Jessica clear her mind, they also want to get away from the craziness in society, the were living in the 70’s after all. Which brings me to one of the few negative things I can say about this movie, it has a scene where all the characters get together and sing some hippy tunes. But the scene is brief, so give the movie a chance. As you might guess, Jessica’s lunatic tendencies reemerge during her get away. Or have they? Is Jessica seeing things that aren’t there again, or is something strange going on in this place? This one is heavy on the atmosphere, they shot deep in the country, in the middle of nowhere, so there a lot of shots of lonely and eerie landscapes which adds to the creepiness of the film. The actress who plays Jessica (Zohra Lampert) really goes for it when it comes down to playing Jessica’s craziness and paranoia and in this way, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death reminded me of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. You know, the story of a vulnerable girl truly loosing it. That’s right, a character, who’s sanity is in question is the lead character! This is a very old school slow burner of a horror film, but just remember, this is a horror film from the 70’s. A decade where some of the best horror movies ever were produced, so be patient, and trust me, the ending will be more than worth it.
LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988, Ken Russell, USA) -
Ken Russell’s Lair of the White Worm is about as unusual as a vampire movie is likely to get. I mean, this is director Ken Russel we are talking about here. The guy is known for his freaky films. Don’t believe me check out Gothic (1986), Tommy (1975), or Altered States (1980). All visually dazzling, all fall under the category of weird or unusual. On Lair of the White Worm, Russell tells the story of a snake worshipping cult that is taking over a town. Lady Sylvia is a priestess looking to revive the cult that worshipped this giant white snake! Hugh Grant comes along and tries to stop her. This film has many elements that let you know that it is a Ken Russell film you are watching: pagan rituals, virgin sacrifices, trippy dream sequences and lots of nudity and sexual innuendos. Lair of the White Worm also has a few similarities to The Wickerman (1973), because its about a strange cult, willing to do anything for its beliefs, including human sacrifices. It has a subtle sense of humor to it as well. But what I love the most about this movie are its hallucination sequences, this is what Russell is best know for, and this is exactly what he does on this film. Hallucination scenes include Jesus Christ being strangled by a giant white snake, nuns being raped…and freaky visuals I cant even begin to describe with words. It’s a very unusual vampire film with Ken Russell’s distinctive visual touches.
Vampire’s Kiss is one of those films that was marketed the wrong way to get audiences to go see it. For some reason, they decided to market this film as a comedy. I guess the final film was a bit too weird, they didn’t know who to sell it to, so they decided to go with the comedy angle. I guess they decided that because Cage was known for his comedic roles. But the film isn’t really a comedy at all, I mean, Cage’s character, one Peter Loew can be funny at times, but that’s only because he is going bat shit insane! Yes my friends, this is a film about a character who little by little takes a dive to the crazy side! Peter Loew is a guy living the life of a bachelor. He has it all, money, success and women. Problem is that his life is very empty, and void of any true happiness. Maybe its this loneliness that begins to drive him crazy. One night, he is bitten by a vampire bat. And from there on in, he believes that he is turning into a vampire. The film leaves this on a very ambiguous note, we never really know if Loew has turned into a vampire, or if it’s all in his head. The best thing about this movie though is Nicolas Cage’s crazy performance. It’s completely insane, and gets progressively worse as the movie goes on. One scene has Loew locking himself up in his apartment, as he goes through his vampiric transformation, he even eats a cockroach! I’ll just be a bastard right here and say that Cage ate three real cockroaches during the shooting of those scenes! This movie reminded me a lot of American Psycho. Both films are extremely similar. A rich guy who becomes disgusted by society, and his life, so he goes crazy. Is it all in his head? Or did he really kill people? Highly recommend it if you want to see something different. Just don’t expect a comedy!