Vampire movies never go out of style.
Just this year we’ve seen “Renfield,” a comedic spin on the genre as well as “The Last Voyage of the Demeter.” The latter expanded a singular sequence from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
Ironically, neither fared well at the box office, but that won’t stop Hollywood from going back to the subgenre again and again.
Vampire films struck a near-perfect note in the 1980s. They were campy and silly, grisly and powerful. They made us howl in fear and laughter, and some we just can’t stop re-watching.
Here, in no particular order, are the best ’80s vampire movies:
“Fright Night” (1985)
It’s the decade’s greatest vampire film and a near-perfect horror-comedy mashup. Not bad for a film starring the lead from “Herman’s Head” – William Ragsdale.
The actor plays Charley, a well-intentioned teen trying to get to second base with his squeeze (Amanda Bearse of “Married … with Children” fame). His amorous plans get short-circuited by a mysterious new neighbor.
He’s tall, dark and handsome, but that’s not what sets Chris Sarandon’s character apart from Charley’s neighbors. He attracts beautiful women to his abode and they never seem to leave. Except, perhaps, in a large black body bag.
Beware the vampire next door…
Director Tom Holland’s ’80s one-two punch included “Fright Night” and 1988’s “Child’s Play.” Here, he delivers a rollicking adventure filled with indelible characters.
Remember Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), the nerdy teen who develops a taste for blood … and revenge? What about the great Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, the fictitious vampire slayer?
They all come together in a cult classic that’s as lively today as it was during the 1980s.
Holland says “Fright Night” was a tricky sale at the time thanks to the lukewarm reaction to 1979’s “Dracula.” He made sure the film had a personal connection for him, reflecting his early years as an avid horror buff.
“The story of Fright Night was very specific. It’s about a teenage horror movie fan who becomes convinced the neighbor next door is a vampire. OK? That was me. And I was writing about the movies that I loved when I was 15, 16, 17, and they were the AIP and Hammer Horror films, which starred Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price… that’s how you get Peter Vincent, the horror movie host,” Holland says. “And so I was writing about myself and my growing up.
“The Lost Boys” (1987)
Here’s another horror-comedy hybrid with a still-growing fan base.
A divorced mom (Dianne Wiest) and her teen sons move to California to stay at her father’s sprawling home. The teens struggle to fit in with the local scene, but Michael (Jason Patric) eventually bonds with the mysterious Star (Jamie Gertz) and her curious collection of mates.
Yes, they’re vampires led by the charismatic David (Kiefer Sutherland in his breakthrough role).
Meanwhile, young Sam (Corey Haim) seeks out a pair of self-described vampire slayers (Corey Feldman, Jamison Newlander) to figure out if their town is as infested with the undead as they fear.
Director Joel Schumacher combines his visual panache with a sturdy sense of time and place. This film feels like a horror movie, from the cavernous sets where David and co. roam to the carnival-like atmosphere of Santa Carla, Calif.
Sutherland, coming off a scary turn in “Stand By Me,” remains stunned at the film’s staying power.
I didn’t realize that it was going to represent a time in filmmaking. I certainly didn’t expect to run into grandchildren — and, in a couple cases, great-grandchildren — who said, “My dad showed me this movie, do you mind signing it for me?” That film, for whatever reason, has gone through three or four generations. That’s something I’m really proud of. You just didn’t expect it to do what it did, and it never stopped. You just look back and go, “God, I was lucky I got that audition.” I was lucky Joel Schumacher hired me.
“Near Dark” (1987)
This Kathryn Bigelow film made little noise at the box office back in 1987 – just $3.3 million domestically. It slowly but surely ascended into the pantheon of great vampire films. The film’s Neo-western aesthetic gives it an edge over its undead competition.
Adrian Pasdar stars as Caleb, a troubled soul who flirts with the wrong gal. His kinship with a cute hitchhiker (Jenny Wright) leads to a living nightmare.
Wright’s character nibbles on Caleb’s neck, turning him into a creature of the night. He’s not cut out for killing, though, which leads him into a confrontation with the hitchhiker’s creepy, quasi-family. That includes Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen as nasty blood suckers attempting to teach Caleb the tools of the trade.
Bigelow looks back at “Near Dark” as a pinnacle point in her directorial career, one that banked on her personal interests … with a twist.
That film gave me a tremendous amount of confidence. First of all, I had a phenomenal cast. And I think I realized for the first time that I could do this, make films. This was a language that fascinated me, compelled me. I was interested in making a Western. And I knew that that was going to be difficult. And so I set about making it as a hybrid, a kind of horror/Western.
Chris Makepeace became synonymous with the young Everyman in the late 1970s and ’80s. He played the bullied student in “My Bodyguard,” the object of Bill Murray’s teasing in “Meatballs” and a teen sucked into the D&D vortex via “Mazes and Monsters,” co-starring then-unknown Tom Hanks.
In “Vamp,” he stars a college student looking to hire a stripper for a fraternity. Makepeace’s character and two pals (Robert Rusler and Gedde Watanabe) get more than they bargained for when they meet Katrina (Grace Jones), the club’s star attraction.
Said club is more than a place for hormonally charged types to spend their hard-earned cash. It’s a vampire’s den, and the students will be lucky to escape with their lives.
Jones’ singular presence proved the film’s calling card, but seen today it’s a sturdy, tongue-in-cheek shocker with Makepeace grounding the mischief.
It’s still Jones’ film, and her spectacular dance introduction is better than any CGI effect.
“The Hunger” (1983)
Vampire movies can be funny, no doubt. They also can send our pulse rates soaring if the casting decisions are just right. Think Frank Langella’s suave monster in “Dracula” or the various “Twilight” films featuring the dreamy team of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.
This 1983 oddity features two comely stars – Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve and pop icon David Bowie. They’re part of an outlandish love triangle interrupted by age and an incurable disease – vampirism.
Deneuve’s bloodsucker, a temptress named Miriam, seduced Bowie’s character many years ago, granting him eternal life. There’s a catch, alas, and suddenly Bowie’s doomed soul is aging before our eyes. That leads him to Susan (Sarandon), a gerontologist he hopes can cure his illness.
That appointment leads Susan to Miriam, who would like nothing more than to replace her aging lover with a new, virile one.
The film’s atmosphere and sexuality carved out a place in vampire lore, and the presence of Bowie in and of itself set it apart from most genre fare. The film marked Tony Scott’s directorial debut, showcasing his style over substance brand of storytelling.
Vampire movies often fared poorly in the ’80s only to have a long, successful shelf life. That certainly proved the case with this Tobe Hooper film, which gained attention for its stark nudity (it’s a Mr. Skin favorite) and slick special effects.
A space mission uncovers a craft containing hundreds of dead creatures and three human-like bodies kept alive by suspended animation. The Earth loses contact with the rescue mission, and a separate ship is set to investigate.
That ship brings back the three humanoid creatures, a decision that everyone involved quickly regrets.
The alien beings suck the energy, not the blood, from humans. And they’re very, very hungry.
The movie earned little praise during its theatrical run but has enjoyed a robust second opinion since then. Surely the terrifying effects deserve some of the credit. The humans sapped of their energy devolve into ash-like husks that employed the best practical effects available at the time.
Hooper remains famous for “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Poltergeist,” but “Lifeforce” remains a credible part of his film canon.
“Vampire’s Kiss” (1988)
It’s the movie that launched a thousand memes.
Nicolas Cage perfected his over-the-top persona in the ’80s with films like “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Raising Arizona” and this comedic romp.
Cage plays a literary agent, Peter Loew, who falls for a woman who happens to be a vampire. Who says opposites don’t attract? Except Peter’s mental state was in doubt at the start of the film, and there’s a chance he’s imagining every last ounce of this vampiric delusion.
He takes it seriously, though.
He starts avoiding sunlight, behaves bizarrely and even picks up a pair of cheap plastic fangs when his teeth remain free of vampire-like points.
It’s a role tailor-made for Cage, and he leans into the film’s farcical elements, hard.
An unhinged Cage is always worth a look, and back in the 1980s he wasn’t aware of the brand he was building with his work like he is now.
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