Strictly speaking, one of them wasn’t a vampire and one of them is my own creation, but myths have to start somewhere. Contrary to what people will tell you vampires are not yesterday’s news, they’re still the top of the foodchain when it comes to folklore. Here are my top five bloodsuckers and bloodthirsty individuals.
5 . . . Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, tv series.)
If you’ve ever seen Billy Idol you’ll probably recognise where James Marsters was coming from when he brought life to the undead in the form of Spike. Bad to the bone, Spike was a constant thorn in the side of Buffy, but over several seasons their love hate relationship brought a fascinating twist to the old theme of vampire and vampire hunter.
Marsters played it straight and in doing so brought a plausibility to Spike’s character. His estuary English and constant mockery of Rupert Giles created an endearing character you loved to hate. But he wasn’t just a monkey with a mockney accent; Spike was ruthless, self-centred, cold-blooded and deadly, and it was that double edged blade of good and bad that made him the perfect anti-hero.
4 . . . . Susan Bekker (Toten Herzen)
When you invent a new vampire character you should make it a good one. In Susan Bekker we have a vampire who contains the old and the new: a ruthlessness to balance her vulnerability; charm and vulgarity; violence and compassion. A nod of the head and the black hair cascades forwards, and she has you eating out of the cold palm of her hand.
For those who don’t know her, Bekker is a lost soul in a crazy world, apparently hidden away for forty years, but to those who do know her, she is the epicentre of that craziness, the ringmaster turning everyone in circles until she’s done with them and got what she wants. Ask any of her victims from Linda McVie driven insane on a flight to Dallas, or Torque Rez, the music producer who literally loses his head to her. She uses her vampirism to further her ambitions and never leaves prisoners.
3 . . . . Elizabeth Bathory (Portrayed by Ingrid Pitt)
Hammer Horror took advantage of the arrival of colour in films and vampires were the perfect vehicle for the new technology. In 1971 they produced Countess Dracula, but whilst Elizabeth Bathory wasn’t a vampire, some believe she was a contributory factor in Bram Stoker’s creation of Dracula.
She was the wife of Ferenc Nádasdy and during his absence fighting the Ottomans earned herself a reputation for bloodlust. According to legend she killed for blood, bathing in it in a deranged quest for immortality. More serious historical research suggests her reputation was concocted by political enemies, trying to remove her and husband from power. They succeeded. Bathory was arrested and found guilty of murder in 1610, but being a noblewoman was sentenced to being walled alive inside a set of rooms in Csejte Castle.
For Ingrid Pitt, the role of Elizabeth Bathory was the perfect excuse for another rumbustious performance. With her pointy nose and twinkle in her eyes she ran rings round the men and drew enough blood from the women to fill several swimming pools. Bathory’s reputation never stood a chance and what we know today is informed as much by Ingrid Pitt’s tremendous melodrama as a library full of academic studies?
2 . . . . Selene (Underworld)
In 2003 director Len Wiseman and writer Danny McBride brought us the Underworld series and created an exquisite entry into a bloodthirsty canon of work. In a world of modern vampires at war with shapeshifting werewolves, Selene was a pint sized ball of energy and bother. These vampires were more likely to riddle you with bullets than bite you in the neck.
Played by Kate Beckinsale, Selene rumbled and rattled her way through one set piece after another, bringing a steeliness to a character that in retrospect makes you realise just what vampires used to be before the pathetic travesties of Twilight and the Vampire Diaries derailed the myth. The Underworld franchise lost the plot in the third film featuring Beckinsale, but the first two will remain up there as being game changers in vampire lore.
1 . . . . Dracula (Ah, but which one?)
Bram Stoker’s original was white haired and carried a cane. But you wouldn’t know that if film and television are anything to go by. From Nosferatu to Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman’s foppish dandy or Louis Jourdan’s menacing host, Dracula has appeared in many forms.
Outstanding amongst them was Christopher Lee’s portrayal for Hammer. Lee played the part so many times, in films with increasingly ridiculous scripts, that he eventually refused to speak the words, resulting in the film Dracula Prince of Darkness in which the title character wanders around in silence!
For me, the 1974 adaptation of the novel by the BBC is the most atmospheric, the closest to Stoker’s original novel and in French actor Louis Jourdan, the most symbolic portrayal of the archetypal vampire. Elegent and yet disconcerting, passionate and gruesome, a menace and a comfort, he seduces Mina, destroys Renfield and terrorises Whitby. The forty year old special effects look crude when viewed today, but that shouldn’t distract you from a tour de force and a mesmerising rendition of a literary classic.
Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla may have predated Dracula in the vampire stakes (no pun intended) and John Polidori’s The Castle of Otranto may have set the scene for the Gothic novel, but Stoker’s Dracula was the genesis of a literary tradition that still enthralls us in its many incarnations. Without Dracula we wouldn’t have the ruthlessness of Spike, the cunning of Bekker, or the supernatural strength of Selene. And the name. . . . say it slowly. Dracula. For that, and here’s the real twist, we have the real thing to thank!
Vlad Dracula. You couldn’t make it up.