The Vampire Hall of Fame
Since the creation of film, dozens of actors and actresses have played vampires, and while there are a few who stand fang and cape above the rest, there are several other notable performances that must be mentioned, in particular the 1973 American made-for-television production of Dracula starring renowned character actor Jack Palance, who with Frank Langella and his 1979 performance triggered a resurgence of Dracula popularity. Well suited to the role with his intimating physique, distinguished guise, and menacing voice, Palance breathed new life into the immortal bad boy, benefiting from a script written by I Am Legend author Richard Matheson and Dark Shadows director Dan Curtis.
Starring as Dracula in the 1979 version, Frank Langella is considered by many to be one of the finest actors to play the role. Supremely indulgent in its Edwardian setting and graced with Sir Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Seward, Langella's fiend is the epitome of charm, seduction, and demonic manipulation.
Based on the Deane/Balterston stage play, it is at times almost campy in its efforts to revive Lugosi's original Dracula but with a decidedly modern edge meant to keep female audience members in a hypnotic swoon.
Easily one of history's most prolific actors, the patriarch of the Carradine family played Dracula on numerous occasions (second only to Christopher Lee) on the stage and both big and small screens, most notably during the 1940s in House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.
In 1956, he had the distinction of playing the first television Dracula in an episode of Matinee Theatre. He then went on to portray the bloodsucker in the comedies Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) and Nocturna, also known as Granddaughter of Dracula (1979), while also appearing in a number of campy vamp flicks. Suffice to say, that in the vampire hall of fame — Carradine is one of the creepiest.
It's a rare occurrence when a horror or sci-fi star receives an Oscar nod, which tells you just how amazing Willem Dafoe's performance was in the 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, which told of the making of the 1922 film Nosferatu. Portraying actor Max Schreck, Dafoe showed a depth of introspective depravity rarely seen in vampire cinema, one that played well to the film's ultimate twist — that F. W. Murnau's obsession to cast his “perfect” vampire leads to the ominous conclusion that perhaps Schreck so perfectly encapsulated a vampire because he was a vampire.
Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt
In 1994, the long-awaited adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles at last came to fruition. It was a lavish period production, but there appears to be little gray area in regard to audience reception — people love it or revile it, with opponents citing Neil Jordan's ultimate casting of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as a calculated effort to entice the teenage contingent.
Regardless, Interview, which ranks third among the all-time grossing vampire films, remains true to the novel and is proficient in relaying the eternal drama of the charming, complex, and magnetic Lestat de Lioncourt and his reluctant fledgling Louis de Pointe du Lac.
Based on Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles (a combination of The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned), the 2002 Queen of the Damned gave us our second glimpse of the most famous vampire since Stoker's Dracula. Taking on the highly revered Lestat for this adaptation is Stuart Townsend, who on many levels does due justice to the sheer complexity of a vampire whose journey in this installment takes him from his awakening as a rock star to destroyer of Akasha, the ancient mother of all vampires. What Cruise lacks in depth, Townsend finds in his ubergoth arrogance and willingness to irk every vampire on Earth by breaking the code of anonymity.
As the second-highest-grossing vampire film of all time, the 2004 film Van Helsing has much to offer in its action-packed Transylvanian travail, not the least of which is a stellar performance by Aussie actor Richard Roxburgh. Fighting his mortal — or immortal in this case — enemy Gabriel Van Helsing, Roxburgh is arguably one of the best Dracula's we've seen in years. Frightening in his emotional depravity, and utterly manipulative, Roxburgh's evil demon is driven to the point of frenzy in his goal of unleashing his progeny on the world while also playing a wicked hide-and-go-bite with Van Helsing in an epic battle of bat versus werewolf.
Born of a mother who was bitten by a vampire just prior to his birth, Wesley Snipes as Blade brings a new dimension to the vampire realm. Not only is he half-human, half-bloodsucker — he's a vampire hunter. Born of Marvel Comics in its 1973 offering The Tomb of Dracula, Blade has the distinct advantage of being a “daywalker,” meaning he has no aversion to sunlight and relatively few entrapments suffered by the typical vampire. Packed with mega-action, the Blade trilogy ultimately epitomizes the reluctant vampire to the extreme. Blade doesn't feed on humans or animals, instead using various injectables to quench his thirst.
In Wes Craven's Dracula 2000, Gerard Butler takes his turn as the black demon. In a very modern tale with a truly inspired plot, Butler's Dracula goes neck-to-neck with both Van Helsing and his unwary daughter, Mary. Unlike the bloodsuckers of old who were typically descended from Stoker's amalgam of Vlad the Impaler and his father Vlad Dracul, Craven chose to link his vampire to a biblical source, namely Judas Iscariot — the betrayer of Christ. With several excellent twists and turns, Dracula 2000 is one of the better vampire films of the modern era.
In his portrayal of Barnabas Collins in the 1970s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, Jonathan Frid saved the program from imminent cancellation by showing us the multi-dimensional — if not campy — side of a vampire torn apart by reluctance and primal urges. The first serious television bloodsucker, Frid's role led to two feature-length films, and many thousands of diehard fans who remain devoted to this day. Frid maintained his own website, and regularly responded to comments from his adoring fans.
The precursor to Wesley Snipes African-American vampire was a man by the name of Prince Mamuwalde, played by William Marshall, who made the grave mistake of attempting to deal with Dracula during the late 1700s in regard to banishing slave trade. Bad idea. Mamuwalde wakes up in 1972 only to realize he's become Blacula. A classic blaxploitation film, it's no mystery that Blacula came on the tails of the Civil Rights movement, but Marshall deserves props for playing the somewhat campy vamp with dignity, panache, and a rugged charm that led to the sequel Scream Blacula Scream in 1973.
Though it's often classified as a B movie for its direct-to-video releases, the Subspecies series is unique in its willingness to forgo the traditional debonair Dracula in favor of one more typical of folkloric vampires and Nosferatu's heinous Count Orlock. Anders Hove's portrayal of the ghoulish Romanian vampire Radu Vladislaus, with his huge fangs, drippy drool, mutant features, and raspy voice, is truly the stuff nightmares are made of.