Movie Article

Prints of Darkness

Eight essential vampire movies -- ''Dracula,'' ''Martin,'' and ''Near Dark'' are some we recommend

Like their counterparts in legend, great screen vampires never die — and they don't play well in the daylight. The nitty-gritty details of blood-sucking may have changed over the years (holy water isn't the all-purpose repellent it used to be) and the genre's increasingly preoccupied with flashy MTV imagery (think of The Hunger and The Lost Boys), but the following flicks still have the power to chill.

Nosferatu (1922)
The silent masterpiece from German director F.W. Murnau is the closest the movies have come to the feel of a nightmare. As chillingly portrayed by Max Schreck (the last name means ''terror'' in German; his real identity is unknown), this vampire is no ladies' man but a stark, staring creature from hell. A+

Dracula (1931)
It's creaky as an old coffin lid now, but this film set Hollywood's image of vampires for decades. Bela Lugosi is a plump, epicene diplomat from the underworld — not very threatening but undeniably creepy — and Dwight Frye's spider-chomping Renfield is a delight. C+

Vampyr (1932) The plot — a man (Julian West) tries to save two sisters from satanic bloodsuckers — doesn't begin to hint of this Danish film's dreamlike power. Directed by the great Carl Theodor Dreyer, with visual set pieces (a death in a flour mill, the hero envisioning his own burial) that will lodge in your skull for years. A+

The Fearless Vampire Killers Or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck (1967)
A sloppy, good-natured send-up from, of all people, Roman Polanski. He costars, too, with Sharon Tate. Low-brow highlights include a gay vampire, a Jewish vampire, and the credit ''Fangs by Dr. Ludwig von Krankheit.'' Very silly — and better for it. B

Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Glum-looking newlyweds are drawn into a kinky vortex of blood, lesbian sex, and gorgeous sets, with Delphine Seyrig the most potent female vampire to yet hit the screen (her character is based on Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian ''Blood Countess'' of the 17th century). Dracula for Eurotrash. B

Martin (1978)
Is geeky Pittsburgh teenager Martin (John Amplas) a real Nosferatu, or is he just a garden-variety serial killer? George (Night of the Living Dead) Romero's most cohesive film leaves the verdict up to you, but not before delivering a scary psychological portrait amid unnervingly banal violence. A-

Near Dark (1987)
Reinventing the Dracula legend, director Kathryn Bigelow and scripter Eric Red devise a rank, sweaty, white-trash family of undead (including Bill Paxton) careening through the Midwest in an RV and reducing rednecks to no-necks. Rudely amusing, very bloody, altogether brilliant. A

Vampire's Kiss (1989)
The first film to equate yuppies with vampires may not be the last. Nicolas Cage is hilariously out of control as a smarmy trend-monger who wants to become a creature of the night but is stuck being a plain, old, unhip psychotic. A-

Originally posted Jan 18, 1991 Published in issue #49 Jan 18, 1991 Order article reprints
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