Chain Reaction: Wanna Neck? An October List of Vampire Stories

To me, Halloween is way more exciting than Christmas. The entire month of October is just a holiday that just happens to end in an actual holiday. (It’s not just for kids!) My friends and I are free to read horror stories, scare ourselves by watching horror movies, dress up as our favorite characters, and/or flout homeowner associations by decorating our yards and porches. We go to Halloween parties, sing along to The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack, connect with the neighbors, give out candy, build and admire costumes. What’s not to like? We get a whole month to scare ourselves crazy, and no one bats an eye because it’s October, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in October.

Speaking of scaring myself crazy, I missed out on the Our Scary Stories Roundtable post; otherwise, I would have shared my own horror weakness: vampires. When I was a kid, the idea of vampires creeped me out. I didn’t want anyone to climb through my bedroom window, suck my blood and turn me into a vampire, too. (This is, of course, long before I was aware of the suggestive overtones of the Dracula myth.) Also, drinking blood just sounds gross, doesn’t it? I roped my siblings into my paranoia, and we used to ask anyone who came to our front door to smile while we took their picture. We didn’t want to invite inside anyone who sported fangs or showed up as a blur on a Polaroid. Even the preacher was suspect. (Of course, right?)  This lasted until our dad took the Polaroid away and made us pay him back for the film. 

Now that I’m an adult, I know vampires don’t really exist. Suffice to say, it’s been a long time since I was a kid. I can tell, because although the idea of drinking blood is still just plain gross, the idea of immortality scares me more. But that’s another post for another time.

That said, I can’t stay away from vampire stories — they’re excellent for a good scare and/or a good time. Here are a few vampire stories that I enjoy, starting with the heyday of vampire lore, which is not, as some might think, nineteenth-century England. Nay, let’s talk about the 1970s and the 1980s, and then we’ll move on to the early 2000s. Before I do, though, right up front I am not going to include Bram Stoker’s Dracula, because I think we’re all aware of Dracula as the basis for the rest of these stories. So, without further ado…

‘Salem’s Lot (1975): Stephen King’s classic Gothic story of vampires in a small town scarred me for, well, life. My use of the word “classic” is deliberate; most people think of Dracula and ‘Salem’s Lot when they think of vampires. ‘Salem’s Lot is the story of writer Ben Mears, who returns to his Maine hometown to research an old house with an illustrious history. Said house has been purchased by two business partners, Kurt Barlow and Richard Straker. And right about the time Barlow is said to be on a buying trip for their prospective antique store, children and townspeople start disappearing and vampires start appearing. Mears joins forces with local kid Mark Petrie and a gaggle of townspeople, but the town is lost to the vampires. Eventually only Mears and Petrie escape. The not-so-feel-good ending of ‘Salem’s Lot kept me awake at night, hoping the tap-tap-tapping on my bedroom window really was just the tree outside and not someone floating around waiting to be asked inside. For weeks I couldn’t sleep unless I safety-pinned my curtains shut and ran a bungee cord between my closet doorknob and a desk leg. When my sister helpfully oiled the hinges to the closet door, I went apoplectic, because it meant I wouldn’t be able to hear the closet door creak open if something were to try to get out.  

Near Dark (1987): In the 1980s, you couldn’t throw a stake without punching through a vampire movie: Fright NightThe Lost Boys, The Hunger, My Best Friend is A Vampire, and Once Bitten all come to mind, and those are only a few out of the many. But I hold a special place in my heart for an underrated vampire flick, best described as a horror Western, called Near Dark. Before Adrian Pasdar was making a nuisance of himself in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Supergirl, he starred as a young Oklahoma man named Caleb who falls in love with a drifter named Mae. Except Mae is a member of a group of vampires traversing the backroads of Oklahoma. When she turns Caleb into a vampire, her cohorts kidnap him to try to make him kill and thus realize his newfound potential, then they go after his sister Sarah. Released the same year as The Lost Boys, this film didn’t get half of the fanfare, but has developed a well-deserved cult following since. It was helmed by Kathryn Bigelow (of Zero Dark Thirty fame) and includes Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, and Bill Paxton as the vampires and Tim Thomerson as Caleb and Sarah’s father. The spare melodies in the soundtrack composed by Tangerine Dream give you an idea of the film’s overall atmosphere. 

Blood+ (2004 -2005): The English version of this fifty-episode anime series stars Kansan Kari Wahlgren as the voice of Saya Otonashi, a conflicted teenage girl dealing with amnesia. Blood+ is oh so complicated to explain, so I’m going to talk about how it starts, and let viewers delve into the mythology of its later seasons. Teenage scholar Saya can’t remember anything from her life before the previous year, but her adoptive family, George and his two sons Kai and Riku, try to help her find answers. When she is attacked by a monstrous bat-like creature called a Chiropteran and kills it, Saya starts to recover some of her memories. She is recruited by the Red Shield, a biotech organization aimed at wiping out the Chiropterans, which can only be killed with Saya’s blood, and a mysterious stranger gifts her with a specially grooved katana designed for that task. The Red Shield promises to help Saya discover her true nature — and her origin — if she will help them hunt down Chiropterans. But of course, the Red Shield knows more than it’s telling. Saya finds out she has a murderous twin named Diva, and that they are both tied to the development of Chiropterans. The family dynamic is partly what drew me to this series; later on that is disrupted and the series loses some of its steam (and appeal), but draws to a satisfying, tender conclusion.

Let The Right One In (2008):  This Swedish film was remade in 2010 as Let Me In, but I love the original so much I’ve actually never seen the American remake. Excellent performances by Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson and an eerie, quite atmosphere contrasted with chilling scenes anchor the Swedish film. Its plot focuses on the friendship between a rudderless, nearly parentless, bullied boy named Oskar (Hedebrant), and the mysterious Eli (Leandersson), a secretive girl about Oskar’s age (or so he thinks) who lives in the neighboring apartment. Eli tries to help Oskar stand up for himself against the bullies; meanwhile, Oskar, who displays tendencies toward mass violence, suspects that Hakan, Eli’s guardian, may be killing local passerby. But when Hakan dies, Eli risks divulging her true nature to Oskar — who turns out to be a loyal friend. The movie is dark, but beautifully atmospheric — and nowhere near as dark and twisted as the novel, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, in which Hakan is actually a child predator. NOPE. I only made it halfway through before I quit. 

If the 1970s and the 1980s were the heyday of vampire movies, and gave us a wild, sometimes comedic approach to vampire life (and escaping it), then our most recent decade spawned movies that focused on the tragic immortality and ennui of vampirism itself. 

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) is Jim Jarmusch’s moody, atmospheric study in contrasts to its predecessors. Set mainly in decaying Detroit, Tilda Swinton and Loki — er, Tom Hiddleston — star as Eve and Adam in a sad tale as a married vampire couple who really behave more like addicts than true vampires. In between finding and paying suppliers for pure blood, Adam and Eve fight their immortal ennui the best they can — by composing music, reading good books, and joining in the occasional kill while ruminating about the passage of time.  But they’re also giving in to “end-of-life” — most of their companions have succumbed to starvation or to diseases incurred by drinking blood — with all its recent impurities, environmental and biological, blood will kill them. Eve finds among Adam’s possessions a gun and a custom-made wooden bullet.  Their existence is interrupted by Adam’s sister Ava, who brings chaos into their lives by quickly drinking up their stash and killing their supplier (played by Anton Yelchin, RIP). This is a long, slow movie with a lot of silence, but with an excellent soundtrack and a haunting ending.

Need more? The Irish movie Byzantium (2012), starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan, puts a feminist spin on the traditional vampire tale, as Arterton and Ronan play a 200-year-old mother-daughter pair of vampires living in a decrepit hotel that Arterton has turned into a brothel. Their heartfelt, harrowing story is told through flashbacks (trigger warning for assault) and introduces a twist on the origin and future of vampirism.

On the satirical end of the spectrum, check out What We Do In the Shadows (2014)Some people hated this movie. I can only assume it means they did not previously watch a lot of vampire movies, or were not well-acquainted either with vampire lore or any of the Flight of the Conchords comedy. What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary chronicling the travails of vampire roommates Vlad, Viago, Petyr, and Deacon, who must balance vampire life with paying rent and getting invited to nightclubs — and coming to terms with new roommate/vampire Nick.

And last, but not least, Stephen King’s 2013 novel Doctor Sleep returns (sort of) to the vampire genre by telling the story of a grown-up Dan Torrance from The Shining as he tries to help Abra Stone, a psychically gifted teenage girl, escape a group of greedy immortals called the True Knot, who feed off people with psychic energy.

Aside from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (in both movie and TV series form), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the 1990s is a gap in my memory as far as vampire lore. So, keep the chain going! Share your favorite vampire stories from the 90s or elsewhere in the comments below!

11 Comments

  • Shara White October 24, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Okay, so I have to say I really tried to watch Near Dark this weekend after editing your post, but I. could. NOT. find. it. ANYWHERE. Not to rent or stream. I mean, short of ordering a dvd, but that’s not what we were looking for. WTH?

    Let the Right One In is AMAZING, and I don’t remember much of Let Me In except I don’t think I found it offensive, so the fact I don’t remember it much for good or ill may say enough on its own.

    I adore The Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s one I really want to watch again.

    You’ve got me wanting to watch Byzantium now (iTunes hides the fact that they’re vampires, teases a “surprising secret” and when I told my husband they’re vampires, he got mad about me spoiling the “surprising secret.” Oh well?).

    Also, if there are people out there who hate What We Do In the Shadows, I’m not sure we’d get along (unless they live under a rock and don’t understand vampire tropes at all, in which case I’ll make them study vampire stories and THEN make them watch it), because that movie is freaking hysterical and one of my favorite movies of all time.

    Reply
    • Carey Ballard October 25, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      Aww.. see? Once upon a time Near Dark was offered on Netflix, but since they yank things every once in awhile, it might not be there anymore.

      Yup, there are people who don’t understand WWDITS. I think that they have *not* watched vampire movies. One guy just hated the mockumentary style and wondered why they even made the film.

      Let the Right One In is one of my favorite films, and I do rewatch Only Lovers Left Alive every so often. When I have time to kill (pun intended?)

      Reply
      • Shara White October 25, 2017 at 12:58 pm

        We checked EVERYWHERE, including Netflix. We were so bummed!

        Why they even made the…. what tha…. ?!?!?!?!?!

        I can’t wait for the sequel! It’s called…. wait for it…. WE’RE WOLVES. Get it!?!?!?!?

        Reply
      • Shara White October 25, 2017 at 11:07 pm

        Okay, Byzantium watched! Very good! I enjoyed it quite a lot. And talk about a lot of commentary to be made, there, with the structure of how vampires conduct themselves….

        Reply
  • Lane Robins October 24, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Someday I will have to rewatch Near Dark because all I really remember about the movie was how different it was from all the other vampire flicks I was watching at the time. I was more perplexed than appreciative. One of my all time favorite weirdo vampire movies has to be Pale Blood which … I can’t even explain that movie to save my life. It’s equal parts scene chewing and music video and the vampire is the most rational creature there.

    Reply
    • Carey Ballard October 25, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Near Dark is perplexing; it doesn’t stick to the vampire mythos much at all. Which may be one of the reasons why I liked it. I also liked the moody cinematography.

      I haven’t even heard of Pale Blood… I’m going to go look that up now…

      Reply
  • Nicole Taft October 24, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    OH MY GOD – Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton, and Tangerine Dream?? This movie sounded like something I needed to see before I even read that part! Sign me up immediately please!

    And I’ve always wanted to watch Only Lovers Left Alive. It sounded so different and interesting…

    While I don’t own any vampire films myself, I have to say that at some point I should just get one that you mentioned – The Lost Boys – because I do enjoy that movie very much!

    Reply
    • Carey Ballard October 25, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      I know, right? If it helps, there’s actor crossover because Kathryn Bigelow was once married to He Who Shall Not Be Named But Is Raking Wonder Woman Over The Coals.

      I have to rewatch the Lost Boys every so often, myself. Is there a better example of an 80s vampire movie?

      Reply
  • Kelly McCarty October 25, 2017 at 1:07 am

    I still love Anne Rice books and the Interview with the Vampire movie. I enjoyed Let the Right One In the book and I think I saw part of the American movie version. I need to see the original movie. I thought What We Do in the Shadows was hilarious. “We’re werewolves, not swear wolves.”

    Reply
    • Carey Ballard October 25, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      I purposefully didn’t include any Anne Rice books, or films based of her books, because I have never seen or read any of them. I’ve seen parts of Queen of the Damned and that was because I wanted to see Claudia Black (Pandora) in something besides Farscape.

      Reply
      • Shara White October 25, 2017 at 1:01 pm

        I’ve only seen (and read) Interview with the Vampire. I’m glad you left her off the list though (albeit for the obvious reason you haven’t read/seen her stuff) because people always associate her with vampires. She’s kind of a go-to, and it’s good to see stuff on the list people may not have heard of.

        Did you ever see Claudia Black in the later seasons of Stargate SG-1?

        Reply

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