I Was a Teenage Vampire
Vampires have always been immortal but why is it that they keep getting younger – and hotter?
Think about it. The movie’s first notable bloodsucker was Max Schreck as Count Orlock in the German silent classic Nosferatu (1922). Coincidentally, Schreck is the German word for “terror”, but it was the actor’s real name. He was in his early 40s at the time, but the bald, bone-thin, rodent-like Orlock could easily have been in his 60s. I don’t think I’m alone in rating Orlock a real ugly bug.
Next up was the authentic Transylvanian Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning’s Dracula (1930). Lugosi was 48, and his Count was a mature, debonair aristocrat in a tuxedo and a cape. Lugosi was a ham with an accent as thick as his eyebrows, almost a caricature of the continental smoothie.
While Lugosi played vampires off and on for the rest of his life, surprisingly, there wasn’t another major mainstream movie version of Bram Stoker’s novel until the UK’s Hammer Films revived the property in 1958. Christopher Lee was 36 when he first played the Count, and in his mid-40s when he reluctantly repeated the role in half a dozen sequels, notably in 1965’s Dracula: Prince Of Darkness.
Between them, Lee, Lugosi and Schreck pretty much sealed the image of what a vampire was supposed to look like. Tall (6’5), wearing his dark hair greased back like Lugosi, rarely speaking, Lee was another upper class bloodsucker seemingly able to hypnotize his victims. All three men preyed on the wives and daughters of local peasants through an uncanny sense of entitlement – as if rape and murder was just another plank in the feudal system (which in many cases it was).
Was Christopher Lee a sex symbol? Certainly the Hammer films played him up as a gothic romantic playboy, Rochester with fangs. And as the series went on into the 1970s the vampires’ carnal appetites seemed to have less to do with sustenance and more to do with plunging necklines (see also Ingrid Pitt in The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula).
Lee made a couple of contemporary vampire movies, but his Old World Dracula looked like an anachronism, better suited to tongue in cheek horror comedies like Fright Night and Love At First Bite than to anything really scary. No, the key to the vampires’ booming popularity in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries lay in radical rebranding and rejuvenation.
Two 1987 movies revamped the genre forever. In Near Dark – directed by The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow – and Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys, studly bloodsuckers like Adrian Pasdar, Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Haim may have been kicking around for centuries but they’re forever young.
Neither was a huge hit at the time, but they reset the ground rules in a way that clearly influenced everything from Twilight to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries and True Blood. Both movies imagined vampire gangs, no longer European but 100 percent American, misunderstood misfits doing their thing to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. The tag-line for The Lost Boys summed up the appeal very succinctly: “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.”
What teenager couldn’t relate to a pitch like that? Today vampire movies don’t necessarily endorse that kind of hedonism, but they do pay more than lip service to the idea that the undead are somehow sexier than their mortal counterparts. Just check out our hot list and, uh, hold the garlic…
The Hottest Vampires You’d Hope to Bump into on a Dark Night
Titles related to this article