Critical Essays Selected Filmography


The following selected filmography does not attempt to be, nor does it wish to be, exhaustive or complete. Nevertheless, the listing does present the more interesting and noteworthy "vampire" films. Every attempt has been made to include those films which possibly can be seen by contemporary audiences.

Unfortunately, some films have disappeared or have been lost; therefore, no attempt has been made to include those films. In addition, most foreign productions have been excluded. Of the foreign productions, only those films which possibly can be seen by American audiences have been included. The notes and annotations on the films produced by Hammer Studios of Great Britain are dependent largely on A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema 1946-72, by David Pine (London: Gordon Fraser, 1973).

Rating Scale

***** A film that is a "must-see"; both artistically brilliant and influential in the history of cinema.

**** An excellent film, distinguished by its innovation on the genre because of its technical brilliance, yet artistically insubstantial in some way.

*** A good film, which, due either to negligence in production or to technical incompetence, resulted in no special distinction; most likely, a work which is exploitive of the genre; nevertheless, a film that is valuable.

** Mediocre. Technically competent, nostalgically interesting, yet it carries no special distinction whatsoever.

* Poor. A film in which, in addition to the producer's irresponsibility, the directorial integrity is in question.

Nosferatu (or, A Symphony of Horror) (1922). *****

Directed by the acclaimed German Expressionist F. W. Murnau and photographed by the brilliant Fritz Arno Wagner (M), this is one of the most critically acclaimed horror films. Max Schreck's appearance in the film is perhaps one of the most memorable in all of cinema history: Pale and thin, his version of a vampire has a shaved head with two elongated front teeth, sunken cheeks, wide bulging eyes, and fingernails which are extremely long, curved, and pointed like claws. Because Murnau did not have the literary rights to Bram Stoker's Dracula, he changed the setting, altered the plot slightly and changed the vampire's name to Count Orlock. Nosferatu can be considered the first vampire film in much the same way that Stoker's Dracula is the first vampire novel; every subsequent artistic attempt must measure itself against both this film and the novel.

London After Midnight (1927). ***

This silent film was directed by Tod Browning (who would eventually direct Dracula for Universal). It starred Lon Chaney as Inspector Edmund Burke, alias "Mooney," a fake vampire. The story was based on Browning's own novel, entitled The Hypnotist. London After Midnight may be, in fact, the first full-length American vampire film. Murnau's Nosferatu did not reach the United States until 1929, when it was released as Nosferatu, the Vampire. Curiously, Chaney's make-up is similar, though not identical, to Max Schreck's in Nosferatu.

Dracula (1931). ***

Directed by the "Edgar Allan Poe of the Cinema," Tod Browning, and photographed by the Expressionist cinematographer Karl Freund, this film is the first vampire sound film and is still one of the most popular vampire films. Its popularity is probably due to Bela Lugosi's Dracula, who, with his authentic Hungarian accent and satanic appearance, captured the popular culture's imagination as an authentic vampire. The script for the film was not based on Stoker's Dracula, however. Instead, it was based on a popular play by John Balderston and Hamilton Deane. Lugosi, in fact, recreated his stage role for the movie. While this original movie is a popular film, it is not a great film. Browning's direction is adequate but not compelling; it does not match the energy of his earlier films — such as The Unholy Three (1925), or The Unknown (1927), which are more lavish and carefully directed; nor does it approach the genuinely grotesque horror of his next film, Freaks (1932). Freund's photography is rather lackluster; his next effort, Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), made with Robert Florey, is a more appropriate example of Freund's innovative technique. Still, Dracula, like the novel, has managed to capture the public's imagination ever since its release.

Vampyr (1932). *****

This film is one of Carl Theodore Dreyer's best movies, a film which relies on suggested rather than visible horror. It has a remarkably gloomy sense of atmosphere; every shot is as carefully composed as the finest photograph. It is probably one of the most artistically crafted of any vampire film, perhaps of all horror films — with the exception of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Nosferatu (1922).

The Vampire Bat (1933). **

A rather run-of-the-mill horror picture which has a superb cast: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye, who played the role of Renfield in Browning's Dracula, as well as the hunchbacked laboratory assistant of Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein (1931). The story takes place in a remote Balkan village, where a "mad" doctor tries to conceal his bizarre experiments by creating a vampire "scare."

The Mark of the Vampire (1935). ***

Made in 1935, but not released until 1972, the film is a re-make by Tod Browning of his earlier silent film London After Midnight. Browning expanded the original story by adding a seductive female ghoul (played by Carol Borland). The movie is memorable because it was the last of Tod Browning's horror films — four years later, in 1939, Browning retired from filmmaking altogether.

Dracula's Daughter (1936). **

This film was directed by Lambert Hillyer for Universal. Hillyer was a prolific director, responsible for directing dozens of "B-grade" westerns. The story is based on a short story by Bram Stoker entitled "Dracula's Ghost," which was originally part of Dracula, but extracted just before the novel's release. Thus, one can see how derivative vampire films were becoming. The direction was increasingly hackneyed, and the writers were desperately lacking in inspiration. Universal did the same thing with the Frankenstein series; they produced countless spin-offs of the original, and each subsequent film was representative of uninspired artistic conviction.

The Vampire Bat (1940). **

In this film, vampire bats are bred for instruments of revenge by a "mad" scientist (Bela Lugosi). A rather uninspired film which exploited both the audience's attraction to vampirism and Lugosi's cult personality.

Spooks Run Wild (1941). *

Another film which exploits the cult of personality surrounding Lugosi; in this case, he plays Nardo, a magician suspected of being a vampire. It is a rather shoddy attempt to adapt the plot of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to a vampire story.

Son of Dracula (1943). *

Written by Curt Siodinak (creator of the original script for The Wolf Man (1941), a true classic of the horror film genre), the premise is hardly original. It is, basically, the plot of Dracula all over again: The son of the Count emigrates to England in search of new victims, except that his name isn't Dracula, but, instead, it is Alucard — Dracula spelled backwards. This kind of comic book gimmick is indicative of the inspiration for this banal film. Moreover, casting Lon Chaney, Jr., an actor capable of eliciting a great deal of sympathy for his (often) confused and misunderstood "Beastman" was a serious mistake.

Return of the Vampire (1943). *

The plot of Dracula again, except adapted to World War II England. Instead of searching for new victims, the screenwriters suggest that the vampire (named Armand Tesla) is in England seeking revenge against those who tried to kill him.

House of Frankenstein (1944). *

As the popularity of the Frankenstein series declined, Universal (which produced every American Frankenstein picture until 1948) attempted to capture an audience by tossing into the plot every "monster" popular at the time — the Wolf Man, Dracula, Frankenstein, and even the ever-present "mad" scientist. A predictably silly and banal film.

House of Dracula (1945). ***

Directed by Erle C. Kenton, House of Dracula contains an acting performance by Onslow Stevens (as Dr. Edelmann) which approaches the sublimity of Ernest Thesiger's in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), possibly the best horror film ever made. Edelmann discovers the Frankenstein monster and is prompted to revive it, but is convinced by his beautiful, yet hunchbacked laboratory assistant (played by Jane Adams) to forsake his attempt to revive the monster. Eventually, Edelmann, who has become infected by a vampire's blood, chooses to revive the monster. The material, however, is never quite under control by director Kenton; the film stumbles and plods along at its own unique pace, while the preposterousness of the action proves to be the very reason why the film works. Despite its B-movie status and its illogical plotting, the film is ultimately both humane and moral.

Isle of the Dead (1945). *

This RKO-Radio production, directed by Mark Robson and produced by the phenomenal "boy wonder" producer Val Lewton, promises much and produces almost nothing. The story centers around a group of people stranded on an island and menaced by a malevolent force, and the situation seems insolvable. In other words, the plot is as banal as an exhausted horror genre can make it. When plague breaks out among the group, an old peasant woman suspects the presence of "vorvolakas," demons which "drain all the life and joy from those who want to live." Isle of the Dead is essentially a poorly done "stalk and slash" movie and has no vampire per se.

The Vampire's Ghost (1945). ***

A film notable for the script and story by Leigh Brackett (1915-78), one of the best of the American screenwriters (she wrote the script for Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep (1946) along with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, as well as the screenplay for Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), among others). The film has a disturbingly oppressive atmosphere and concerns a vampire terrorizing a small African village.

The Thing (1951). **

The Thing is memorable for several reasons: As a piece of popular culture trivia (James Arness was "The Thing"; as the first science fiction film which utilizes the vampire figure; and as one of the few science fiction films of which critics are fond). Yet, The Thing neither merits the lavish critical acclaim it has received, nor does it truly deserve to be forgotten. The plot of The Thing is stereotypical horror: A group of victims are stranded and isolated in a remote location and are stalked by a hostile presence.

Plan Nine from Outer Space (1966). *

A 1-star rating for this film was given reluctantly. The film is so badly done that it must be seen to be believed. Its alternative title gives one a clue to its plot: Grave Robbers from Outer Space. It is Bela Lugosi's last film. In fact, Lugosi died during production of the film, and he was replaced by a look-alike who always kept his cape up around his face so that the audience (presumably) wouldn't know that the actor wasn't Lugosi. Essentially, the plot concerns a group of aliens from outer space who intend to implement "Plan Nine" — the revival of corpses which will be used as troops against living human beings.

The Horror of Dracula (1957). *****

This is the first of Great Britain's Hammer Studios' vampire films, and it is a true classic of the genre. It was directed by Terence Fischer and was written by Jimmy Sangster, who based the film on Stoker's novel. Sangster managed to return the Count to the tradition of the English gothic villain: He is a charming and intelligent aristocrat who transforms his female victims into carnal, lascivious creatures. The death of the Count is similar to the death of the vampire in Murnau's Nosferatu: He is tricked into staying out until daybreak, and then he is exposed to sunlight, which causes him to crumble away into dust. Not only does the villain's demise allow special effects, but it culminates the hero's ritualistic chase of the villain to his castle.

Blood of the Vampire (1957). ***

An interesting film which revolves around a prison warden who is also a vampire and supplies himself with blood from his prisoners. Prints of this film are rare.

The Brides of Dracula (1960). ****

Brides was Hammer's sequel to The Horror of Dracula, and it features the same writer and director as the previous effort. This film also has a climactic chase scene and a sufficiently bombastic demise of the vampire.

Black Sunday (1960). ****

Based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol entitled "The Viy," Black Sunday (also known as Revenge of the Vampire) was labeled by critic Carlos Clemens as a "relentless nightmare," and it has been said of cinematographer Ubaldo Terzoni's photography that it was "the best black and white photography to enhance a horror movie in the past two decades." Directed by Mario Bava, the film depicts a witch/vampire's vengeance on the descendants of the people who ritualistically killed her in the seventeenth century. Virtually unknown outside of the horror film, the film stars Barbara Steele, who has become, curiously, a cult figure.

Kiss of the Vampire (1962). ***

Hammer Studios eventually found it difficult to continue resurrecting the Count, but this film, directed by Don Sharp, features a clever script about a young couple seduced into depravity while on their honeymoon in Bavaria.

Devils of Darkness (1964). **

Interesting only as trivia, this was the first of the British vampire films in a modern setting — that of "swinging London."

The Last Man on Earth (1964). ***

Based on Richard Matheson's classic science fiction novel I Am Legend, in which the sole survivor of a horrible plague is a man who wanders around in a grim, deserted world and is relentlessly stalked at night by a group of vampires. Shot in black and white, the film is quite unrelenting in its vision of terror. Vincent Price plays the title role. The story was later re-made in the United States (this production was Italian), and it was entitled The Omega Man (1971).

Dracula — Prince of Darkness (1965). ****

Directed by veteran director Terence Fischer, this film is a true gem of the vampire cinema. A group of bored and provincial Victorian couples are stranded in a remote castle, where a lone, devoted follower of the Count murders one of them and uses the victim's blood to resurrect the Count by pouring it over his ashes. Unfortunately, the Count had degenerated into a one-dimensional character: He is just menacing; no longer is he charming or refined or even rapaciously seductive. The Van Helsing figure in the novel is replaced in this film by a priest — Father Sandor, who stalks the vampire to his castle and brings about his demise.

Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966). *

Perhaps the worst horror film — if one can call it that — ever made, along with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1965); both were directed by William Beaudine. The most amazing thing about this film is why — and how — it ever got produced.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). ***

This is Roman Polanski's much over-praised vampire film, an attempt to parody the genre, a task easily enough accomplished given the trivialized state of the contemporary genre. At least, however, Polanski got the mythology right, but the humor is rather juvenile, and his attempts at eroticism are adolescent.

A Taste of Blood (1967). **

A run-of-the-mill horror film about an American who is infected with the vampire blood of one of his ancestors. Its form is that of the "stalk and slash" movie — the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel stereotypical formula.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968). **

A Hammer Studios' film in which, as the title implies, the plot is banal and the writer's inspiration is sorely lacking.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). ****

Hammer Studios hired Hungarian-born Peter Sasdy to direct this sequel to 1968's Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, using a script by John Elder (Anthony Hinds). Coupled with Arthur Grant's superb photography, Hammer achieved its best effort since 1957's Horror of Dracula. In this picture, the Dracula presence is explicitly associated with the disintegration of the family, coming much closer in spirit to Stoker's novel. Certainly one of the best vampire films Hammer ever made.

The Scars of Dracula (1970). *

Produced immediately after Taste the Blood of Dracula and directed by Roy Ward Baker, this film is one of the most seriously flawed vampire films which Hammer ever attempted. A vicious, unbelievably cruel film.

Count Yorga, Vampire (1970). **

Directed by Bob Kelljan, this production features a vampire in the tradition of the English gothic villain. Courteous and refined, Count Yorga seeks the blood of Southern California teenage girls. Unfortunately, the situations have become stereotyped, and the plot is absolutely predictable.

Daughters of Darkness (1970). *

Harry Kumel's film is concerned with the sexuality of vampirism. This film features bisexual female vampires and lots of self-consciously "arty" scenes composed of red, black, and white colors. This kind of sophomoric symbolism is indicative of the artistic pretensions of this silly little soft-core film. The film did well, however, when it premiered in the United States in May of 1971.

House of Dark Shadows (1970). *

Another of the bumper crop of vampire films made in 1970 which exploits the teenage fascination with Dark Shadows, a gothic soap opera of the late 60's. The vampire in this film and in the TV series was played by Jonathan Frid.

The 'Karnstein Trilogy': The Vampire Lovers (1970). **

Directed by Roy Ward Baker; Lust for a Vampire (1970) 1/2 directed by Jimmy Sangster; and Countess Dracula (1970) ** directed by Peter Sasdy. These films are based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's short story "Carmilla" (1871), a story of vampirism with lesbian overtones. Thus, these films exploit the sexuality of vampirism — specifically, a female vampire whose favorite victims are the daughters of nobility. Most of the action of these films centers around Karnstein castle. All of the films feature wonderfully stylized sets and (self-consciously) "arty" photography, creating a rather dream-like atmosphere. The Vampire Lovers, the first of the series, was a huge commercial success, and thus inspired Hammer to produce more of the same. The second film, Lust for a Vampire, is probably the best of the trilogy, although it too exults in lots of free-flowing blood. Countess Dracula features a vampire who bathes in the blood of her victims in order to restore her youth and beauty. All of these films are blatant "soft-core" pornography and were extremely popular with American teenage audiences.

The Omega Man (1971). *

A competent film adaptation of Matheson's I Am Legend (see The Last Man on Earth, 1964) starring Charleton Heston in the title role. This film has rather stylized production values, though its symbols — such as that of Heston's crucifixion at the end of the film — is rather blatant and heavy-handed. Nevertheless, a thoroughly competent and delightful film.

Twins of Evil (1971). **

This film was a further attempt by Hammer Studios to exploit Le Fanu's "Carmilla," with predictable results.

Dracula, A.D. 1972 (1971) * and Dracula Is Dead (1972). *

Both of these films were directed by Alan Gibson and scripted by Don Houghton. The second of the above films is a sequel to the first. These films represent Hammer's attempt to set the story of Dracula in modern London. The results are wretched. In both films, Christopher Lee played the vampire while Peter Cushing played the protagonist.

Vampire Circus (1971). ***

Directed by Robert Young, this film is one of Hammer's plethora of films during the 1970-71 period which have any merit at all and is well worth seeing.

The Return of Count Yorga (1971). ****

With the aid of Yvonne Wilder on the script, who also plays a featured role in the film as a Cassandra-like mute, Bob Kelljan was able to surpass his mediocre Count Yorga, Vampire and create something close to a classic of the genre — albeit, for the most part, forgotten. With the aid of cinematographer Bill Butler (Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Kelljan was able to create a film with an overpowering sense of menace and pervasive horror. The presence of the vampire is similar to Stoker's — an indication of growing social disruption. Count Yorga and followers completely disrupt an orphanage and pervert all relationships. The ending of the film is one of the best of the vampire cinema. Butler unleashed his visual pyrotechnics; it was filmed in slow motion freeze frame for optimum effect.

Blacula (1973). ***

Shakespearian actor William Marshall played the role of the vampire in this picture, which is neither one of the great vampire films nor a "blackploitation" film. The film has a spirit of fun which wasn't present in any vampire films of the previous decade.

Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973). **

Director Bob Kelljan was not able to achieve the merits of the original Blacula (directed by William Cram), much less approach the artistry of his best film, The Return of Count Yorga, with this picture.

Andy Warhol's Dracula (1975). ****

Released a few months after Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (May, 1974), this film, like its predecessor, evaluates its particular genre, in this case the vampire cinema, and it views it as one which exploits the subliminal psycho-sexual fears of its audience. Of course, the assumption of the film-makers is that these audiences are awaiting some kind of ludicrous confirmation of those subliminal fears through ritual enactment and formulaic plot. Thus, the proceedings of Andy Warhol's Dracula are predictably ludicrous and necessarily silly. They are also, paradoxically, quite disturbing.

Old Dracula (1975). *

An American International release — in the worst sense of that infamous genre. This film, which stars David Niven as the vampire, is a prolonged practical joke at the audience's expense.

Dracula (1979). **

Directed by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever), this production attempts to be quite stylized and original. The script is based on a popular Broadway play of the same title, and Frank Langella re-created his stage role for the film. The film focuses on Dracula's seductive charms, and it features him as an archetypal Byronic lover. The premise is not so clever (or original) as the film-makers thought. The plot is predictably stereotyped.

Nosferatu (1979). **

The nature of this film is the natural result when a world-acclaimed artistic director sees fit to give his stamp of approval to a genre which has undergone pop culture trivializing. This is Werner Herzog's re-make (called homage by the director) of Murnaus classic. The film was, predictably, self-consciously "arty" and did not transcend the genre to any large degree whatsoever.

Love at First Bite (1980). **

Premise: Dracula is kicked out of his Transylvanian castle by local officials and comes to America, where he falls in love (with a beautiful woman) for the first time in his life. As a Dracula "spoof," it exhibits some degree of comic sophistication, thus rendering the film pleasantly innocuous.

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