Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bad Bloodsuckers: Wendigo's 10 Worst Vampire Movies

As an epilogue to Halloween and a follow-up to my vampire-connoisseur friend's ten-favorite list from last week, here is his possibly more controversial chronological list of his least favorite vampire flicks. As a reminder, Wendigo is an ecumenical vampire fan; he does not believe that certain presentations of vampires are "wrong." The films that make this list did not violate some set notion of what a vampire should or should not be, but are, in his view, badly performed or simply badly made.

On a personal note, since Wendigo submitted this list we sat down together to watch Al Adamson's Blood of Dracula's Castle. I'm ready to say that Alex D'Arcy's Count Townsend is easily one of the worst cinematic vampires ever, but Wendigo would rather not pick on easy targets.

1. House of Frankenstein (1944). Universal's monster-rally is a mess that fails to live up to its concept by never having the monsters interact with one another. Wendigo actually thinks that the Dracula episode featuring John Carradine is the best part of the film, but it irritated him to have the vampire out of the picture so quickly. He respects Carradine's interpretation of Dracula, but thinks Long John was better in House of Dracula and slips too often the first time out into "southern gentleman" territory. His part of House of Frankenstein seems too much like a throwaway that inevitably frustrates a vampire fan. The film as a whole is far less than the sum of its parts.

2. Blood of Dracula (1957). A rare pre-Hammer female vampire film that completely fails to exploit any opportunity to emphasize the seductive succubus aspect of the menace, choosing instead to put a bug-eyed monster makeup on the vampire and burdening her with pseudo-science explanations that put it more in line with Poverty Row schlock from the 1940s while maintaining the slightest connection to Dracula. This may strike some as an easy target because it's a low-budget independent production, but it's such a wasted opportunity for its time that Wendigo thinks it belongs on the list.

3. Frankenstein's Bloody Terror (1968-72) -- by which Wendigo means not the original Paul Naschy film that introduces Waldemar Daninsky but the U.S. travesty that makes next to no sense. Naschy had better luck dealing with vampires in Werewolf Shadow and other films, and Wendigo is willing to grant that the film in its original unmangled form might not make this list. But the vampires he remembers from the American edition are weak and uninspired (Count Chocula is arguably more menacing), and the overall presentation of the story as something it isn't is infuriating. None of this is meant to reflect on Naschy, since Wendigo is if anything even more of a werewolf fan than a vampire fan, and therefore holds Naschy and Daninsky in high regard.

4. Count Dracula (1970). Jess Franco's version is one of the most overrated Dracula movies despite a new and admirable approach to the character by Christopher Lee. Unfortunately, no one else involved in the production lives up to his work. The hero (a vague amalgam of Stoker's male protagonists) is hopelessly dull, while Klaus Kinski gives an inexplicably acclaimed performance as a Renfield so understated that it borders on somnambulism. He is a vacuum on film that brings the story's momentum to a halt whenever he appears. This is a huge missed opportunity to do justice to Stoker's story. Lest you think Wendigo has it out for Franco, he notes that Vampyros Lesbos is one euro-vampire film that he likes.

5. Lust For A Vampire (1971). The third Karnstein film from Hammer falls on its face with an obvious drop in production values. The film has nothing new to say and the actress, though attractive, has no way to say it. By now, not even dropping her top can keep you interested in yet another do-over of standard tropes (not to mention a bald do-over of The Vampire Lovers) that shows no real effort on the studio's part to raise the stakes of transgression. A typical product of Hammer in its decline that fails on all levels.

6. Dracula vs Frankenstein (1971). We just let Al Adamson off the hook for Blood of Dracula's Castle, but despite what I said about Alex D'Arcy, echo-chambered Zandor Vorkov gives the worst vampire performance ever in a film that hurts even more by spotlighting the degradation of J. Carroll Naish and Lon Chaney Jr. The big vampire-vs-monster battle is really lame, as is Dracula's laser-beam ring and his disintegration into a pile of maggots.

7. Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (Dracula's Dog, 1978). A movie about a vampire dog. What more is there to say, other than that it's a depressingly silly concept. There are glimmers of worthy ideas from its source novel, but nowhere near enough to justify the inadequate adaptation. There's stuff you can do with infected animals, but this film tries too hard to force the canine into classical vampire mold, down to sleeping in a coffin and other foolishness.

8. The Lost Boys (1987). From the awful "Thou Shalt Not Kill" opening music on, this is a depressing experience, especially once you learn what it was meant to be rather than the quasi biker movie it ended up being. There might have been a unique horror fantasy film here, but Joel Schumacher never seems sure whether he's making an action film, a horror film or a comedy, and ends up doing none of the genres well. This film suffers in comparison with its contemporaries Fright Night and Near Dark, doing many of the same things those films do, but worse. Its only original contribution is not a good one, the idea that vampires in humanoid form can fly like Superman. Wendigo will give Kiefer Sutherland credit for bringing a charismatic menace to his role that the script doesn't provide, and the film has one strong horror moment in the vampires' attack on the beach party. But the inconsistency in tone is fatal, and Wendigo hates to see vampires killed by squirt guns. This is a landmark vampire film only in the eyes of people who don't see many vampire films or don't care about the genre.

9. From Dusk 'til Dawn (1995). This is a love-hate film for Wendigo, in that there are parts he loves, but more parts that he hates. It's a well-made thriller with interesting characters and relationships until the cast arrives at the Titty Twister. But after Selma Hayek does her sexy dance the movie grinds to a dead halt and never recovers. The film jumps the shark when her character turns into a fat rubber-suited critter and cavorts with her peers like something out of Octaman. Tom Savini and Fred Williamson as vampire hunters are wasted, all too quickly turned into special effects. The film is doomed by its mandate to show off special effects above all else. No matter who's backing the film, effects should service the story, not vice versa.

10. Dracula 2000 (2000). There's a temptation to give this film another chance now that Gerard Butler is a sort of star. He has done good work in his career, but not this time. He shows none of the charisma he will show later in the decade, and how can he in his silly costume and hairdo that force this mighty man into a Lestat mode which, given what the movie claims about Dracula's biblical origins, doesn't seem quite right? This film was probably doomed as soon as it received the deadly "Wes Craven Presents" stamp. The likes of Omar Epps, Jeri Ryan and Nathan Fillion are built up only to be wasted and disposed of in perfunctory fashion, while Butler participates in one of the lamest CGI-morphing scenes ever when he slowly lopes with widely swinging arms in the process of becoming a wolf. Other clunker moments are D2K's rave review of the Virgin Megastore ("Brilliant!") and the lamest debate with an inanimate Jesus since Sam Neill in The Final Conflict. If anything, it's more disappointing in retrospect considering all the talent involved.

As the cartoon Dracula of our collective unconsciousness says, "Blah, Blah!" to all involved.


J. Astro said...

As much as I fervently disagree with it, it's a, um, bold move to put fan-favorites like THE LOST BOYS and FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN on this list, especially considering the piles & piles of vampire shit that can be found littering store shelves and internet search engines.

The Vicar of VHS said...

I have to take issue with one of the films included here, and it's NOT the Naschy one! (Though I think the vampires aren't nearly as bad as many others I could name, they're so outmatched by Naschy's werewolf that I can see counting them among the least successful.) No, it's LUST FOR A VAMPIRE that I love, and I will defend Yutte Stensgaard's undead seductiveness to my dying day!

Still, no accounting for taste--mine least of all! ;) Happy belated halloween, and I *did* enjoy the list!

Professor Brian O'Blivion said...

Good list, some interesting choices. Also liked your write up for Thug City Chronicles, Volume 1. Just picked up that set.

hobbyfan said...

The makeup on the vampiress in Blood of Dracula is right up there with Nosferatu and Salem's Lot. Similar in design, but not much else.

Considering how Dracula was portrayed in the comics alternately as a nobleman and a despot, I guess Carradine's Drac isn't as off the mark as you'd think.

Wendigo never saw the made-for-TV Drac Dan Curtis made w/Jack Palance, did he?

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that "Bram Stoker's Dracula" didn't make the list.

hobbyfan said...

Yeah, now that I think of it, "Bram Stoker's Dracula" didn't make either list. Maybe that's because it's filed under "Keanu Reeves sucks".

Scary Manilow said...

Ah! I love BLOOD OF DRACULA-- the blatant vagina shot at the end is a comedy goldmine.

Bleaux Leaux said...

You'll never catch me championing "The Lost Boys", but no way is it one of the 10 worst vampire movies ever made.

Bunche said...

I'm with you on LOST BOYS, Wendigo. I saw that POS in the theater when it came out and I could not believe anyone dug it. Pre-TWILIGHT vampiric foofery at its worst. And people ask me why I favor lycanthropes!

Oh, and I'm also glad to see someone else finally — FINALLY!!! — call otu LUST FOR A VAMPIRE as the turd that it is.

Kirsi said...

I´m with Vicar: LUST is great. I saw the prologue of From Dusk Till Dawn and it was such shockingly bad garbage, that I stopped in the opening credits!