Vampire films have been a staple since the era of silent films, so much so that the depiction of vampires in popular culture is strongly based upon their depiction in films throughout the years. The most popular cinematic adaptation of vampire fiction has been from Bram Stoker's Dracula, with over 170 versions to date. Running a distant second are adaptations of Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. The legend of Elizabeth Báthory, the "Blood Countess" has also been an influence. By 2005, Dracula had been the subject of more films than any other fictional character.
As folklore vampires are defined in their need to feed on blood and on their manipulative nature; a theme held common through the many adaptations. Although vampires are generally associated with the horror and sometimes splatter genre, vampire films may also fall into the drama, action, science fiction, romance, comedy or fantasy genres, among others.
Early cinematic vampires in other such films as The Vampire (1913), directed by Robert G. Vignola, were not undead bloodsucking fiends but 'vamps'. Such femme fatales were inspired by a poem by Rudyard Kipling called "The Vampire", composed in 1897. This poem was written as kind of commentary on a painting of a female vampire by Philip Burne-Jones exhibited in the same year. Lyrics from Kipling's poem: A fool there was . . . , describing a seduced man, were used as the title of the film A Fool There Was (1915) starring Theda Bara as the 'vamp' in question and the poem was used in the publicity for the film.
An authentic supernatural vampire features in the landmark Nosferatu (1922 Germany, directed by F. W. Murnau) starring Max Schreck as the hideous Count Orlok. This was an unlicensed version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, based so closely on the novel that the estate sued and won, with all copies ordered to be destroyed. It would be painstakingly restored in 1994 by a team of European scholars from the five surviving prints that had escaped destruction. The destruction of the vampire, in the closing sequence of the film, by sunlight rather than the traditional stake through the heart proved very influential on later films and became an accepted part of vampire lore.
The next classic treatment of the vampire legend was, an adaptation of the stage play based on Stoker's novel Dracula, Universal's Dracula (1931) starring Béla Lugosi as Count Dracula. Lugosi's performance was so popular that his Hungarian accent and sweeping gestures became characteristics now commonly associated with Dracula. Five years after the release of the film, Universal released Dracula's Daughter (1936), a direct sequel that starts immediately after the end of the first film. A second sequel, Son of Dracula, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. followed in 1943. Despite his apparent death in the 1931 film, the Count returned to life in three more Universal films of the mid-1940s: House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945)—both starring John Carradine—and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). While Lugosi had played a vampire in two other films during the 1930s and 1940s, it was only in this final film that he played Count Dracula on-screen for the second (and last) time.
A transition between the Universal tradition and the later Hammer style is exemplified by the 1957 Mexican film El Vampiro that showed the vampire fangs (Universal did not).
Dracula was reincarnated for a new generation in Hammer Films series, starring Christopher Lee as the Count. In the first of these films Dracula (1958) the spectacular death of the title character through being exposed to the sun, reinforced this part vampire lore, first established in Nosferatu, and made it virtually axiomatic in succeeding films. Lee returned as Dracula in all but two of the seven sequels. A more faithful adaptation of Stoker's novel appeared as Dracula (1992) directed by Francis Ford Coppola though also identifying Count Dracula with the notorious medieval Balkan ruler Vlad the Impaler.
A distinct sub-genre of vampire films, ultimately inspired by Le Fanu's Carmilla explored the topic of the lesbian vampire. Although implied in Dracula's Daughter, the first openly lesbian vampire was in Blood and Roses (1960) by Roger Vadim. More explicit lesbian content was provided in Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy. The first of these, The Vampire Lovers, (1970), starring Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith, was a relatively straightforward re-telling of LeFanu's novella, but with more overt violence and sexuality. Later films in this sub-genre such as Vampyres (1974) became even more explicit in their depiction of sex, nudity and violence.
Another development in some vampire films has been a change from supernatural horror to science fictional explanations of vampirism. The Last Man on Earth (1964, directed by Ubaldo Ragona), The Omega Man (1971 US, directed by Boris Sagal) and two other films were all based on Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend. They explain the condition as having a natural cause. Vampirism is explained as a kind of virus in David Cronenberg's Rabid (1976) and Red-Blooded American Girl (1990) directed by David Blyth, as well as in the Blade Trilogy to a limited extent.
Though always a representation of passion and desire, since the time of Béla Lugosi's Dracula (1931) the vampire, male or female, has usually been portrayed as an alluring sex symbol. Christopher Lee, Delphine Seyrig, Frank Langella, and Lauren Hutton are just a few examples of actors who brought great sex-appeal into their portrayal of the vampire. Latterly the implicit sexual themes of vampire film have become much more overt, culminating in such films as Gayracula (1983) and The Vampire of Budapest, (1995), two pornographic all-male vampire films, and Lust for Dracula (2005), a Softcore pornography all-lesbian adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic.
There is, however, a very small sub-genre, pioneered in Murnau's seminal Nosferatu (1922) in which the portrayal of the vampire is similar to the hideous creature of European folklore. Max Schrek's disturbing portrayal of this role in Murnau's film was copied by Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog's remake Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). In Shadow of the Vampire (2000). directed by E. Elias Merhige, Willem Dafoe plays Max Schrek, himself, though portrayed here as an actual vampire. Dafoe's character is the ugly, disgusting creature of the original Nosferatu. Stephen King's Salem's Lot (1979), notably depicts vampires as terrifying, simple-minded creatures, without erotism, and with the only desire to feed on the blood of others. This type of vampire is also featured in the film 30 Days of Night.
By far, the most well-known and popular vampire in the films is Count Dracula. An amazing number of films have been filmed over the years depicting the evil count, some of which are ranked among the greatest depictions of vampires on film. Dracula has over 170 film representations to date making him the most frequently portrayed character in horror films; also he has highest number of film appearances overall, followed only by Sherlock Holmes.
Blacula (1972) – a blaxploitationcult film in which an African prince is turned into a vampire by Dracula. The film is also notable for featuring the first two gay male vampires in film history: both victims of Blacula.
Van Helsing (2004) – action film only loosely connected to the original Dracula; Richard Roxburgh is Dracula. Van Helsing's appearance is heavily based on the look of Vampire Hunter D, a vampire hunter who is the implied son of Dracula.
Blade: Trinity (2004) – Drake the vampire is supposed to have had many forms throughout the centuries, Stoker's Dracula being one of them.
Black Sabbath (1963) - a portmanteau Italian horror film, introduced by Boris Karloff, in three segments, the last of which is based on Alexei Tolstoy's vampire story The Family of the Vourdalak (1839) about a father (played by Karloff) who returns to the family home as a vampire.
Le Viol du Vampire (1968) - vampire erotica by cult French director Jean Rollin. Followed by several more films of much the same sort, by Rollin, each usually featuring several attractive naked Frenchwomen in vampiric roles such as La Vampire Nue.
Cronos (1993) - by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, features a vampiric parasite encased inside a clockwork beetle, cunningly devised by a medieval alchemist to pierce the skin of those who handle it, turning them into blood-thirsty vampires. Vampirism in the film is also used as a metaphor for the predatory financial exploitation of Mexico by the US.
^"vampire n." The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Twelfth edition . Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. York University. 23 October 2011
^Per the Oxford English Dictionary, vamp is originally English, used first by G. K. Chesterton, but popularized in the American silent film The Vamp, starring Enid Bennett
^ abNina Auerbach (1997) "Vampires in the Light" in the Norton Critical edition of Dracula: 389-404
^Butler, Erik. Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film : Cultural Transformations in Europe, 1732–1933. Rochester: Boydell & Brewer, 2010. Electronic.
^Wayne Bartlett and Flavia Idriceanu (2005) Legends of Blood: The Vampire in History and Myth: 42