Vampires Forever
Must-See Vampire Films and Television Shows

By John W. Whitehead

But first, on earth as Vampire sent,
Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corpse…
The Giaour, Lord Byron

What is a vampire? According to The Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (1998), a vampire is "a preternatural being, commonly believed to be a reanimated corpse, that is said to suck the blood of sleeping persons at night."

How long have vampires been around? Crawling from the trees of Eden and hissing through their bloody fangs, vampires staked their claim on humanity from the beginning—so much so that they are part of our collective unconscious.

The vampire legend is universal, and stories about this bloodsucking fiend have been told throughout the world for centuries, perhaps as long as tales have been told. The villagers of Uganda, Haiti, Indonesia and the Upper Amazon all have their local variety of vampire. The Native American tribes, Arctic Eskimos and many Arabian tribes know the vampire well. Many of the stories are obviously myth, but some, no doubt, have their roots in reality.

The so-called instances involving actual vampires have been chronicled by monks, ministers and virtually every form of writer. In fact, the highly respected French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, wrote: "If there ever was in the world a warranted and proven history, it is that of vampires; nothing is lacking, official reports, testimonials of persons of standing, of surgeons, of clergymen, of judges; the judicial evidence is all-embracing."

Even at the dawn of the scientific age, scholars and members of the clergy were convinced of the vampire’s existence. This was no doubt due to the numerous publicized instances of vampirism, such as the classic case of Vincent Verzini who terrorized an Italian village from 1867 to 1871. Verzini’s method of attack was to seize a victim by the neck, bite her on the throat and then such her blood. He murdered two women and victimized others before he was apprehended. Although Verzini’s examiners found "no evidence of psychosis," there is little question that his vampirism was a deep expression of derangement. That this is clear is shown from Verzini’s own words:

I had an unspeakable delight in strangling women, experiencing during the act erections and real sexual pleasure…. I took great delight in drinking…blood…. It never occurred to me to touch or look at the [women’s] genitals…. It satisfied me to seize the women by the neck and suck their blood.

When we begin to examine the elements of truth behind the legend of the vampire, we soon discover that the myth disguises a very real morbid reality. "Today," writes Brad Steiger in The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings (Visible Ink, 1999), "medical science recognizes a vampire psychosis wherein troubled individuals may become convinced that their life depends upon drawing fresh blood from human victims. The persons suffering from such a psychosis may, in extreme cases, actually believe themselves to be dead."

Then there are the increasing numbers of actual cases of vampires that continue to surface. For example, take the case of 17-year-old Rod Ferrell, a self-professed vampire who was the leader of a coven of vampires. Ferrell, who pled guilty to the murders of Richard and Naomi Ruth Wendorf on November 25, 1996, said he had initiated the Wendorfs’ daughter into the cult with a blood-drinking ritual in a graveyard. Ferrell’s mother was also a member of a vampire cult and pled guilty in 1997 to attempting to seduce a 14-year-old boy as part of a vampire ritual.

In appearance, the traditional vampire is a grotesque, demonic presence—perhaps best captured cinematically in the film Nosferatu (1922). In other words, it is a monster. However, as Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897) became popular and was successfully translated to theater and film, the image of the vampire changed. He went from being a hideous demon to a suave, sophisticated, handsome, well-dressed man who would fit in anywhere there was a social event or a party. And now the vampire, along with his beautiful, sensuous sisters of the night, is primarily portrayed as an attractive, seductive presence—an emissary, so to speak, of the alluring dark side.

Much of the legend surrounding vampires encompasses the figure of Dracula. Dracula, of course, was a very real person. His name was Vlad Dracul (also known as the little Dracul, or Dracula), and he lived in the mid-1400s and was the ruler of Wallachia in Transylvania. The Romanian word dracul means dragon. Thus, he was called little dragon (dracula being the diminutive of dragon).

To make a long story short, Vlad Dracula is better known as Vlad Tepes, meaning Vlad the Impaler, a nickname assigned to him because of his favorite method of execution. In fact, there is a 1499 woodcut portrait of Dracula showing him presiding calmly over his wooden table, which is covered with a fine white linen cloth and set with a pitcher (presumably filled with wine), a glass and a plate laden with meat and a hunk of bread. He is wearing a fringed cloak and scrunched hat befitting a gentleman of his time. He is bearded, almost impassive, with a hint of a smile on his face. Dracula’s eyes are turned to the horrific scene to his left—"a writhing mass of impaled men and women," write Anna Szigethy and Anne Graves in Vampires: From Vlad Drakul to the Vampire Lestat (Key Porter, 2001), "their eyes bulging, their mouths gaping open. Most have been run through from front to back, some through their spines. In front of Dracula there is a man in tunic and hat, dismembering a body. Dracula is gesturing toward this spectacle, as if giving instruction. Heads and arms lie all around, causing speculation as to what kind of meat he is dining on."

The text above the scene is in German and reads: "Here begins the very cruel and frightening story about a wild bloodthirsty man, voivod Dracula. How he impaled people, roasted them and boiled them in a kettle, and how he skinned them and hacked them into pieces. He also roasted the children and their mothers had to eat their children themselves. And many other horrible things are written in this tract and also in which land he had ruled."

Dracula went on to impale thousands of his own countrymen (some have put the number as high as 100,000). He also impaled and roasted alive many more of his archenemy Turks. Later captured, released to domesticity and finally having his head severed in battle, Vlad Dracula served, with other tales of gore, as a model of sorts for Stoker’s Dracula.

Because of the influence of the Catholic Church, dracul (that is, dragon) later became synonymous with the Devil, the fallen Satan. In Christian tradition, Satan is often represented as a dragon—although dragons were flying over Transylvania long before Christians converted the people. Back then, however, not all dragons were thought to be evil.

Thus, myth, legend, fact and Christian theology have intermixed to give us our modern conception of the vampire. Over time, as inherited from eastern European thinking, the vampire was either Satan or Satan’s demonic forces. The suggestion of a vampire’s connection to Satan is found in Stoker’s Dracula, where Stoker has his spokesperson, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, offer the following reflection upon his vampire adversary:

The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermannstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.

This helps to explain the use of the cross and holy water to repel vampires. In fact, a focus of Roman Catholic piety is the crucifix, which is seen not merely as a symbol of the sacred but as the bearer of the sacred (and, thus, its effectiveness against those of the dark). Moreover, Satan, like the vampire, was a deceiver and one who seeks to steal the soul—one who creeps about in dark places waiting to prey on the innocent.

However, as humanity has slid into more secular times, the way in which we view evil and confront its manifestations—that is, vampires—has changed. In fact, as the Church has lost its dominance, the challenge to the effectiveness of Christian relics in some modern vampire novels and films symbolizes a larger challenge to the role of the supernatural in modern life. "It also includes a protest," writes J. Gordon Melton in The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (Visible Ink, 1994), "against the authority of any particular religion and its claims of truth in a religiously pluralistic world."

The Hollywood, theater and literature mills have all nevertheless adopted many of the older practices and have added sex, fear, danger and gore to weave an irresistible symbol of the underdog vampire who fights and fights again but can never win against the forces of God and men. And now the vampire, in a sense, is so tightly interwoven into our cultural matrix that it seems at times as if the vampire’s torn and ripped spirit is one with us.

Indeed, vampires are special, in part, because of something in their character that is reflective of us all. The image of the vampire is forever shifting and changing, reflecting not himself but our own fears and secret longings. The vampire casts no reflection in the mirror. He doesn’t have to—it’s our faces we see when we gaze into the vampire’s eyes. As Bob Madison writes in Dracula: The First Hundred Years (Midnight Marquee Press, 1997):

For Stoker, Dracula was Darwinism run amuck, a foul, smelly mixture of man and beast, complete with fangs and hairy palms. He was man’s prehistoric nature, crawling from regions beyond England’s empire, to challenge a rational and modern scientific world.

To Germany of the 1920s, still reeling from the devastation of the First World War, the Dracula seen in F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu was pestilence incarnate: a hideous force of nature that implacably plodded forward, like war, disease, and grim death.

And so on. Dracula in the 1920s and 1930s was an undead lounge lizard, a soulless alien who wore an aristocrat’s face. To Americans in the 1940s, as the world slipped into the most catastrophic war in human history, Dracula and his vampiric horde represented the bloodthirsty foreigner. As the 1950s and 1960s brought greater freedom of expression to the media, the sex and violence implicit in Stoker’s narrative became explicit, with liberal amounts of both in a new series of color films.

Dracula’s redemption started in the warm and fuzzy 1970s, and he returned to the fold of brooding, doomed, sympathetic vampires that were in vogue before Stoker’s masterwork. It is this complex Dracula, both predator and victim, that is still with us today in the current atmosphere of New Ageism, recovery programs, and cloudy morality.

Much of our modern-day conception of the vampire comes from the image that has been formulated in movies. And, of course, the vampire films are legion—over 600 have addressed vampires, figuratively or otherwise. Unfortunately, some of the more recent ones have not been the best. But there have been classics and some very fine modern-day spin-offs. The following are some of my favorite vampire films and television shows. And I’m sure there’s a new vampire film or television show in someone’s mind at this moment, which will soon be available. Thus, one thing is certain: although he may change, the vampire is not going anywhere.


Nosferatu (1922): F. W. Murnau’s film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s "Dracula" remains one of the creepiest and most atmospheric versions. Werner Herzog’s tribute to Murnau, Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), starring Klaus Kinski, is worth comparing.

Dracula (1931): This is Bela Lugosi in his most famous role, Dracula, as based on the Stoker novel and directed by the remarkable Tod Browning. The 1999 re-release was re-scored by Philip Glass and performed by the fantastic Kronos Quartet.

Vampyr (1931): This is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic dream world full of visions from a young man who believes he is surrounded by vampires. It has an atmosphere that is soft and haunting, and although it’s a bit difficult to follow, it is still a classic. In German with subtitles.

Dracula’s Daughter (1936): Dracula’s daughter is an obsessively evil, larger-than-life lesbian. This film has had a major influence on people, including novelist Anne Rice, who admitted that it was an inspiration for her. The gay subtext in modern vampire films can be traced to this production.

The Thing (1951): Seen as the first science fiction vampire film, this classic is more horror picture than anything else. James Arness (later of Gunsmoke fame) is a large killer plant from space that drains the blood of soldiers and scientists in a remote Arctic outpost. Christian Nyby and Howard Hawkes (uncredited) directed this ghoulish fest. In 1982, John Carpenter made an updated, high-tech version that, although effective as a horror flick, deleted much of the vampire emphasis.

The Horror of Dracula (1958): Inspired by the Bram Stoker classic, Dracula is given a new, elegant, ruthless persona as he battles Professor Van Helsing after coming to England. This film made Christopher Lee a star, and some believe it is only second in importance in vampire cinematic love to the 1931 Tod Browning version of Stoker’s work.

Black Sunday
(1960): A witch executed a century before returns with her vampire servant to do the bidding of Satan. Some striking imagery has made this import from Italian maestro Mario Bava a classic. Tim Burton has offered his praise for this film.

The Last Man On Earth (1964): Adapted from Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend (1954), Vincent Price here is at his over-acting best. Price is the last human being alive after a strange wind-born plague leaves the rest of humanity in a vampire-like state. This U.S./Italian film, often overlooked, portrays a creepy atmosphere of dismay. Night of the Living Dead is strikingly similar in approach and texture.

Night Of The Living Dead
(1968): George Romero’s cult classic radically altered the horror genre, and there have been many attempts—including by Romero himself—at remaking it. (One of the better swipes is Tobe Hooper’s Life Force (1985)). A space-borne plague reactivates the unburied dead who feed upon the living. This dark, nihilistic, unhappy, bitter film tapped into the sentiment of the times, when optimism was low and the belief in God was at an all-time low

Count Yorga, Vampire
(1970): Robert Quarry plays Dracula as a caped bloodsucker in modern-day California, setting up a cover and conducting seances. Now a cult classic, it had me speeding home from the drive-in theater to grab the garlic, holy water and a cross and lock the windows.

The Night Stalker
(1971): Vampires enter the modern world, as reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) tracks a vampire killer in contemporary Las Vegas in this made-for-television movie. The film spawned a highly influential television series of the same name. Indeed, Chris Carter (creator of The X-Files) cites the TV series as his inspiration.

Rabid (1976): David Cronenberg directs porn star Marilyn Chambers as a young woman who, after plastic surgery, develops a weird protrusion in her armpit through which she drinks human blood. This is Cronenberg at his best.

Martin (1977): George A. Romero returns to the vampire theme with Martin, a charming young man who admits to his need to drink blood. He is, to say the least, slightly mad and has found a new, abhorrent means of killing his victims.

Dracula (1979): Frank Langella here reprises his Broadway role of the famous vampire. Langella plays Dracula as a romantic and tragic figure in history—more a victim than victimizer. Good direction by John Badham. This film has been overlooked.

The Hunger (1983): Tony Scott’s beautifully shot film centers on Miriam (Catherine Deneuve), a 2,000-year-old vampire who has been creating human companions one after another over the centuries and who promises them they will be with her forever. Her present lover, John (David Bowie), discovers that Miriam cannot fully pass on her immortality to those she infects and soon deteriorates rapidly right before our eyes. In fact, after a century or so, all of her lovers begin to dissipate. Vampirism for Miriam’s victims, thus, serves as a metaphor for incurable, infectious diseases—anticipating the AIDS epidemic—and the hunger for human blood is symbolic of drug addiction. Although its lesbian subtext is overplayed a bit, this is one of the better films of the ‘80s in its approach to the meaning and/or non-meaning of life. Informed in its texture and look by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1980), this film has some fine performances—Deneuve, Bowie and Susan Sarandon, among others.

Fright Night
(1985): Chris Sarandon is impeccable as a modern-day, hip vampire. Roddy McDowell, as an aging horror movie star, is the reluctant hero Peter Vincent (as in Peter Cushing and Vincent Price). A high schooler who can’t convince the cops that his neighbor is a vampire enlists McDowell’s help. One of the most enjoyable and entertaining vampire films of recent years.

Near Dark (1987): A family of vampires suck their way across America’s heartland—cowpoke style. Lots of blood and plenty of special effects gore. This one’s packed with fine performances from a very good ensemble cast, especially Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen.

The Lost Boys (1987): Michael, his younger brother and divorced mom move to seemingly tranquil Santa Cruz, where they find that the rock ‘n’ roll biker, partying teens are really vampires. Joel Schumacher’s film has plenty of bloodletting violence and a fine cast—including Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest and Corey Feldman.

Vampire’s Kiss (1989): Nicolas Cage, in his breakthrough role, is transformed from a pretentious cad-dude to a psychotic yuppie from hell. This tragic film explores vampirism as a metaphor for me-first Reaganism, and some believe it to be the defining vampire film of the ‘80s. Cage is marvelous and shows that he is at his best in roles that lean toward the comedic.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992): Francis Ford Coppola’s version of this classic is a highly charged view of the vampire tale. A visually stunning film (that is packed with a heavy dose of eroticism), it suffers from a weakness in plot and seems to borrow from Dan Curtis’ Dracula (1973). Coppola’s film is worth the watch, if for nothing other than Gary Oldman’s amazing characterization of the vampire.

Interview With the Vampire
(1994): Neil Jordan’s cinematic adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel is a vivid portrayal of the decadent world of vampires and their unfortunate prey. The story line drags a bit, but Jordan is adept at bringing humor to the dark mix. Good cast, including Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Stephen Rea and others.

Cronos (1994): An aged antiques dealer comes across the mysterious title object—a 14th century golden egg possessing magical powers to grant eternal life. However, can its possessor stand the consequences, which include a developing taste for blood? This gory Mexican film is a stylish variation on the vampire theme. In Spanish with subtitles.

The Addiction (1995): Director Abel Ferrara delves into the philosophical depths of Kirkegaard, Nietzsche and Sartre in this dark, chilling film. A Ph.D. candidate (Lili Taylor) is bitten by a vampire while attending the University of Manhattan. Thereafter, she becomes driven by a ferocious blood addiction, paralleling that of drug addiction. Christopher Walken is excellent as a brooding, mentor vampire.

Blade (1998): In this techno-hip film, Wesley Snipes is Blade, a half-vampire/half-human who fights to prevent the evil, ambitious Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) from unleashing a vampire apocalypse upon humanity. Full of power-packed action, Blade is adapted from the Marvel comic book character.


Dark Shadows (1966-1971): Set in the brooding Collins House in Collinsport, Maine, this soap opera was a radical departure from other daytime serials. It featured vampires, ghosts, haunted houses, werewolves and other assorted Gothic surprises. Telecast in the afternoon slot, it was especially popular with teenagers and university students (I cut class in college so I wouldn’t miss an episode). Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, a 200-year-old vampire, was superb. Dan Curtis, who served as executive producer, went on to produce The Night Stalker movie and television series. Available on video.

The Night Stalker (1974-1975): This hour-long fantasy series was spun off the television movie of the same name. It starred Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, a gritty reporter for the Independent News Service who stalked a new and mysterious murderer each week; whether it be a vampire, swamp monster, werewolf or Jack the Ripper. Only 21 episodes were filmed. The Night Stalker, however, was highly influential on a lot of young eyes that went on to write and produce similar shows in the future. Available on video.

Forever Knight (1992-1996): On April 20, 1989, Rick Springfield starred in Nick Knight, a made-for-television movie about an 800-year-old vampire who is purging himself of his past sins of vampirism by working the night shift (of course) for the Los Angeles Police Department. This led to the popular television series Forever Knight, which, during the 1992-93 television season, emerged as one of the more popular alternatives to talk shows. Then CBS added Forever Knight to its late-night umbrella show, Crime Time After Prime Time, and it starred Geraint Wyn Davies as Nick Knight. Desiring to return to mortality, Knight stopped drinking human blood and joined the police force where he battled not only criminals but also other vampires who disapproved of his new lifestyle. Available on video.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-present): Inspired by the 1992 movie of the same name, the television series is much, much better. In fact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the brainchild of Joss Whedon) is one of the best-written and produced television shows of all time. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller) is a typical mall gal concerned with shopping and cheerleading until a mysterious watcher, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), proclaims it her destiny to slay vampires that have suddenly infested Sunnydale, California. This stylish television show has a fine ensemble cast of young actors. Far-out viewing, even in re-runs, especially the first three years. After that, the show began deteriorating due to a decline in the quality of writing and a cast that seemed to grow old right before our very eyes. Also available on video and DVD.

After all the stories, legends, books and films, the question still remains: Do vampires really exist? You will have to make up your own mind on this. But skeptics should remember one of Professor Van Helsing’s shrewdest observations: "The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him."


Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, Dracula: Prince Of Many Faces (Back Bay,


Bob Madison, ed., Dracula: The First Hundred Years (Midnight Marquee Press, 1997).

J. Gordon Melton, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (Visible Ink, 1994).

J. Gordon Melton, Vampires On Video (Visible Ink, 1997).

David Skal, ed. Vampires: Encounters With The Undead (Black Dog and Leventhal, 2001).

Brad Steiger, The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings (Visible Ink, 1999).

Anna Szigethy and Anne Graves, Vampires: From Vlad Drakul To The Vampire Lestat (Key Porter, 2001).