I might have waxed poetic about the written vampire before, but as I said in that post, there is something to be said for the onscreen demon. Watching a vampire incarnate, all charm and danger and sex appeal on the television screen, well. It conveys this excitement that literature cannot always guarantee. Besides, the freedom of the camera allows for slightly more depth. Visual clues can hint at scope for evil in a mere camera pan, a twitching lip can signal eternal hunger, a twinkling eye can add personality to the tortured soul. That being said, there are favorites. Amidst the Dracula knockoffs, the Hammer films, the eternal sexiness of Damon and Stefan and Bill Compton, there are some celluloid vamps that deserve my special attention and love.
“Bad Blood”, The X-Files
This might seem like cheating, putting an entire episode of a TV show, one not even primarily concerned with vampires, on my list about favorite vampires. To those naysayers, I have one response: it’s my list, and if you don’t approve of including The X-Files at any opportunity we have some core fundamental differences, and I might recommend a different pop culture site. “Bad Blood” is one of the first things that comes to mind with vampires on screen. A lot of that has to do with its place in The X-Files canon, as this Vince Gilligan-penned* script shows a Mulder/Scully counterpoint that must be experienced, setting the two against each other as they recall the events in Cheney, Texas, adding their own peccadilloes and interpretations.** This is episode is also unique in its portrayal of vampires. Yes it’s humorous, a rarely seen trait I’ll touch on more in a moment, but it also plays up the stereotypes while keeping an underlying menace. These vampires seem campy but still pack a punch.
* Yes, that Vincent Gilligan
** “And it wasn’t even real cream cheese; it was light cream cheese!”
Viago, What we do in the Shadows
Speaking of the humorous vein of vampire screen lore, something we’ve alluded to but haven’t quite discussed, Viago is by far my favorite. A close runner up is Paul Reubens in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, with his extended death scene, but Viago wins the chuckle-off between the two. What We Do in the Shadows is a recent film, still in theatres near you if you’re lucky, but it’s well worth recognition. A hilarious mockumentary that gives Christopher Guest films a run for their money, Shadows follows vampire roommates as they traverse their afterlife. Viago is one of the youngest, a mere 183-years old, and still hangs on to some of the genteel markers of the Victorian age. A polite, fastidious vampire, Viago’s humor comes from his naturally sweet personality, especially as contrasted by the necessary bloodthirstiness of vampires. Watching him narrate his “hunting” process might have been the hardest I’ve laughed in a while.
Claudia, Interview with the Vampire
All vampire stories tend to skew towards one type: young and sexy. With the promise of eternal youth, why wouldn’t vampirism be attractive? What a tempting offer, to be at your prime forever. Claudia, the scheming “child” vampire played by Kristen Dunst in Interview with the Vampire, disabuses viewers of that notion with remorseless efficiency. Killed by Louis and revived by Lestat, the five-year old begins her eternity simply enough, learning about the world and murder from her two older companions. But then she grows mentally throughout the years, entering maturity internally while externally remaining cherubic. The division drives her mad. Having the capability of an eternal being while trapped in the body of a minor leads Claudia to become one of the most vindictive, heartless creatures. Incidentally, that’s what makes her so fascinating to watch.
Nosferatu, Nosferatu the Vampyr (1979)
Nosferatu is the original on-screen vampire. F.W. Murnau’s unapproved rip-off of the Dracula story introduced viewers to a stalking menace. The original is a gorgeous movie, currently found on Netflix, and if you have the disposition to sit through silent films it’s well worth your time, building an astonishing air of menace that aged beautifully. But if silent isn’t your thing, consider Werner Herzog’s version, which more than preserves the fear and desperation of the original. Klaus Kinski is absolutely astounding as Nosferatu. While the original Max Schreck was rumored to actually be a vampire, I willingly believe it with Kinski. He achieves an entire era of hopelessness through one frame, the pale face and staring eyes striking terror and pity in the heart of any who look upon him. As he ushers in plague and walks suddenly into frame, Kinski’s Nosferatu is the epitome of ageless villain.
Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The ultimate bad boy, the king of quip, the punk prince of darkness, and hands down the best vampire in the Buffy-verse. Eat your heart out, Angel (and Angelus, while you are almost interesting, you just don’t measure up to this amount of wonderful). Spike isn’t just the best vampire on TV, he’s the best vampire to watch. He fits all requirements a fan could possibly have: he’s totally violent and insane, and yet there’s heart. He has the slight stalker tendencies that make every Twihard’s heart flutter (I won’t elaborate further on those Buffy-bot years), but they develop into a rich tortured soul, the demon besieged by a bad case of the loves. Watching Spike progress throughout the seasons, all snark and sexiness, is enough to justify the vampire’s eternal life on screen. Writers take note: this is how you do a vampire. And trust me, with Spike, I’d like to.