Fang Banging


Written by Georgie Hobbs
16 Monday 16th August 2010

Throughout Film4’s Summer Screen in London this year, Pimms and Pizza Express take-outs were consumed under designer sleeping bags and Somerset House heaved despite the typical seasonal torrential downpours. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the current global obsession with all things blood-sucking, the bloody double header of Let The Right One In (2009) and The Lost Boys (1987) proved to be the most successful in its 10-year history. And with Matt Reeves’ remake of the stark Swedish horror opening here in October, and a dodgy Corey Feldman-produced The Lost Boys 3 underway, the courtyard-screening was a well-timed tribute to idolised blood-suckers of the recent past and a perfect closing weekend to Film4’s mini-festival.
Ahead of the screening, Film4 FrightFest’s Allen Jones conducted a discussion about the Immortal Appeal of The Vampire.Dapper horror critic Kim Newman and actor/critic Jonathan Rigby share their thoughts on the topic with us.
What is the immortal appeal of the vampire?
Kim Newman: Vampires are better dressed and better spoken than other monsters. You can talk to a vampire, you can have an interview with a vampire! You can’t have an interview with a werewolf, it’d last two seconds: “Hello. What’s it like being a werewolf? Argh, ouch!”
Where did it all start?
KN: I think it was the cultural, rather than folklorist, beginning. I think it took prominence with the Romantic period and even slightly before. For me, vampires don’t get interesting until 1819 with Dr Polidori’s The Vampyre; a cruel cartoon character based on Lord Bryon. All the things we think are cool about vampires start with that 20-page story, which was, in fact, part of a story Lord Byron wrote and threw away and that his personal physician [Polidori] picked up.
Jonathan Rigby: Looking at poems like Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Coleridge’s Christabel, you see vampires are a favourite theme of the Romantics.
KN: Yes, the basic image of a vampire is still a floppy-haired poet – they were the first lifestyle fantasists.
What about the vampire’s ‘look’ through the years?
KN: Dracula is the ultimate dirty foreigner. In the book he is awkward and badly dressed. Remember that passage in the book when Dr Van Helsing describes him as a ‘tall man, thin and pale, with high nose and teeth so white, and eyes that seem to be burning. That he be all in black, except that he have a hat of straw which suit not him or the time.’ He is always much better looking in the films!
JR: The reason Dracula is so much more dignified in the films is because of the stage play which preceded the [1931] film. In order to create a cheap play in the 1920s they had to refigure Dracula as a lounge-lizard because of what provincial British theatre was like back then; drawing room dramas. He had to be someone you’d invite into your drawing rooms and the character is the book is not someone you’d invite into your living room!
KN: In the 1920s, ‘vampire’ actually meant something else. It referred to a woman who was a Goldigger or ligger or young WAG. For a long time that was the primary meaning of the word, and it wasn’t until the Béla Lugosi film Dracula (1931) that ‘vampire’ changed its meaning. Lugosi is the most recognisable Dracula there is. When someone asks you to do an impression of Dracula everyone does Lugosi, not Gary Oldman, not Christopher Lee…
And what about moving forward through the decades?
KN: More vampire movies were made in 1971-73 than at any other time. Then it fell off for a bit, then in 1980s you had the MTV generation: Fright Night, The Lost Boys, Near Dark. Near Dark seemed like a dead-end at the time but they’ve made a lot of movies like it ever since. It came out on the same day as The Lost Boys, which seemed a little cruel. All the critics slammed The Lost Boys and praised Near Dark.
JR: But the audiences all went to see The Lost Boys.
KN: Yes! There weren’t many vampires movies made after that, and it’s only recently, with Twilight, that vampires are everywhere again. It is strange, but every time I think there’s nothing new that can be done to the genre, somebody goes and does it. In Twilight I love the families playing baseball because I’ve seen everything else in that movie but I have never seen vampires play baseball in daylight! I’m also a big fan of Chinese hopping-vampires and, like you Jonathan, am an aficionado of Italian and Spanish ones from the 1970s and 1980s. There are even Indian vampire movies! In India everyone is cremated and there aren’t even any graveyards for vampires to live in, but they still made a vampire movie. It’s two hours long and has songs and it’s very good. Then there’s the Turkish one, Dracula In Istanbul, and the ones from the Philippines with excrement…
JR: And the amazing Guy Madden film, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary. It’s a ballet. If you haven’t seen that yet, this is a recommendation!
What’s the future? Will we ever stop making vampire fiction?
KN: I don’t think True Blood or Twilight will last the same way as Dracula lasted because they can’t. True Blood may be temporarily popular like The X-Files once was. But it is too late to get rid of vampire movies; they are embedded in our culture. Like police or hospital shows, you’re never going to stop making shows about vampires.
What about the Twilight spoof, Vampires Suck? Is that not the death knell?
KN: The only thing I can truly predict about that movie is that it will be terrible. But, they said that Airplane (1980) would kill disaster movies and it did for around 10 years. But then came Independence Day (1996), Con Air (1997), Armageddon (1998) and there were disaster movies everywhere, just as stupid as they were before Airplane! And while they did stop making Westerns because there was a glut, there will be a new vampire movie every 10 years the same way that every 10 years somebody redoes The Three Musketeers.
Finally, what is your one recommendation for the best vampire move of all time?
Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman: Daughters of Darkness (1971); the best vampire movie ever made! And it’s just come out on DVD!


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