While still quite popular today, vampires have suffered from some pretty lame cinematic adaptations in recent years. Along with the popular “tween” nightmare that was the TWILIGHT franchise, we’ve also had to endure the mediocrity of VAN HELSING and DRACULA UNTOLD. It’s enough to make Count Dracula want to flee to the safety of his coffin!
Though preceded by several Dracula films that have sadly been lost to the annals of history, F.W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU (1922) is the oldest surviving vampire movie. Since its inception, hundreds of other vampire films (many of them featuring some incarnation of Dracula) have been spawned, with the most famous ones coming from Universal Pictures and Hammer Studios.
However, the good thing about the popularity of Dracula, is that there’s always someone out there offering their own idiosyncratic take upon all-things-fanged. So here’s a look at some of the weirder movies that show that there’s many sides to this mythical monster.
As far back as 1920, oddball Russian filmmakers have been making movies about Count Vlad, but one of the weirdest early vampire movies has to be the 1932 European Horror film VAMPYR. This black and white classic may lack the big budget of movies like BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992), but the eerie avant-garde imagery and sinister cinematography make it infinitely more spooky than most genre fare. Plus, it serves as a great introduction to the work of Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer who went on to make 1943’s witch-hunt classic DAY OF WRATH.
The 70s also saw vampire films branch out into other genres, making for some wonderfully strange cinema. BLACULA (1972) introduced the world to its very first African-American vamp. Portrayed by William Marshall, BLACULA features an African Prince named Mamuwalde that is betrayed by a racist Dracula, and turned into a creature of the night that awakens in “modern day” America. Marshall’s love-sick vampire would return a year later after being resurrected by voodoo magic in SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM!
1973 also had another black vampire, namely anthropologist David Hess (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Duane Jones!) in GANJA & HESS. After being stabbed with an ancient dagger by a suicidal research assistant, Hess finds that his wounds have healed quickly, and he now has a nearly insatiable appetite for blood (i.e. he’s a vampire). Things get even more complicated when he begins to fall in love with Ganja Meda (Marlene Clark), the wife of his former assistant.
In 1974, Hammer Studios teamed with The Shaw Bros. to create a sensational kung-fu Horror epic, namely THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (a.k.a. THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA). Dracula awakens and escapes from Transylvania after taking the form of a Chinese monk. He then travels to a small village in China to awaken a gang of ancient kung-fu vampires, and their zombie minions. Only Van Helsing (Peter Cushing!), his son, and seven martial arts masters (and their sister) armed with weapons of pure silver, can stop the vampire menace once and for all!
Think that’s probably the weirdest film you’ve ever heard of? Well buckle up because I’m about to introduce you to something even more insane, namely 1978’s ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA (a.k.a. DRACULA’S DOG). A Russian road crew accidentally unearths an ancient crypt, and discovers the remains of a dog in a coffin. After the wooden stake is removed, the dog, Zoltan, returns to life and resuscitates its undead owner. Together, they travel to America to seek out Dracula’s last living descendant, Michael Drake (Michael Pataki) with plans to turn him into their new vampiric master!
But even ZOLTAN pales in comparison to 1988’s completely nonsensical, and totally unbelievable ROBO VAMPIRE. Cobbled together from at least two completely unrelated films, this Godrey Ho disasterpiece attempts to tell the tale of a deceased narcotics cop that is built into a powerful cyborg. Then the mega low-budget ROBOCOP clone attempts to rescue an undercover agent, and battles an evil druglord, hopping vampires, and the dreaded Vampire Beast! This movie must be seen to be believed!
With just about every type of scenario utilized for vampires in film, it came as no surprise that they would eventually end up in outer space. In 1985, Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE introduced the world to naked space vampires! Led by frequently nude actress Mathilda May, the intergalactic vamps invade London to drain the life out of anyone foolish enough not to run!
In the insipid DRACULA 3000 (released straight to DVD in 2004), a salvage ship in space comes across another vessel in the “Carpathian System” called the Demeter. While inspecting the seemingly abandoned ship, some coffins are discovered in storage, one of which contains “Count Orlock.” Soon the vampire count is on the loose and it’s up to Casper Van Dien, Tiny “Zeus” Lister, and Coolio to destroy him! (Pretty star-studded cast, no?)
While we’ve been discussing mostly older films, have no fear because there’s plenty of weird vampire action on the horizon. Gangsta rapper Ice-T is starring in a Prohibition-era vampire movie called BLOODRUNNERS (due out in Spring 2017), and Will Smith is getting in on the action with his biblical take on the vampire mythos in THE REDEMPTION OF CAIN. (Also due out next year.)
And we are just scratching the surface here Vault Dwellers, because there are so many other oddball vampire movies out there: 1966’s BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA pits the legendary gunfighter against John Carradine’s Drac, while 1989’s SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT has rival vampire clans duking it out in a Western ghost town. In Hammer’s CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER, the title hero battles a different breed of vampire that drains the youth (not blood) from their victims.
For more weird vampire hijinks, watch Nicholas Cage go insane because he thinks he’s becoming a vampire in the dark-comedy THE VAMPIRE’S KISS (1989), Stephen King’s THE NIGHT FLIER (1997), which has a vampire that flies to secluded airfields in a single-engine plane, and feeds upon unsuspecting victims! I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the aptly titled I BOUGHT A VAMPIRE MOTORCYCLE (1990), which features a vengeful bloodthirsty motorcycle that attacks The Hell’s Angels!
Now this is just a taste of the (frequently absurd) vampire sub-genre, as there are plenty of other films I could have touched upon. So please help me out by commenting below with any titles that you think I should have mentioned, and also be sure to share your favorite bizarro vampire films too! Thanks for reading, and for your continued support Vault Dwellers!