FANGS FOR THE MEMORIES: Vampire Films of the 1980′s Part I

by Jake on October 23, 2012

Once the popular concept of the vampire had been introduced, it did not change much for decades. By the time the 1980′s rolled around, the culture had adapted to new points of view. The vampire in literature was moving away from the Dracula model, while audiences had a different mentality regarding monsters in general.

Movies had also made great strides, particularly in the area of visual and makeup effects: now, things were possible to show in films that simply could not be done before.
And the example of the slasher genre meant that violence, gore and sex could be depicted at a level far beyond even the Hammer films.

Plus, the fashion was rockin’ and the tunes were, like, fabu!

So we’re going to take a look at seven vampire movies, all from the 1980′s, but all different enough to be worthy of discussion. There were many, many others, of course, but these films are the most well-known. They also, each in their own way, are representative of their time period. Since they vary so much, let’s simply take them in chronological order.

The Hunger‘The Hunger’ (1983) is very loosely adapted from the novel of that name by Whitley Streiber. From the opening sequence, we realize we are seeing something different. In the US, the Goth movement is largely associated with the 90′s, but the rest of the world was already looking at the dark side during the New Wave period. ‘The Hunger’ has all the pre-Goth New Wave accessories: sunglasses, jaded Eurotrash in tacky outfits, the music of groups like Bauhaus. Very decadent stuff!

Catherine Deneuve stars as Miriam Blaylock, a vampire so utterly ancient that one wonders if even she knows how old she is! Her current companion, John, is played by David Bowie. John Blaylock has been with Miriam for over 200 years and, until now, has fully expected to be with her forever – which technically he will, but not like he expects. Turns out that while Miriam is indeed as ageless as she is immortal, John Blaylock is just the latest in a long string of lovers she has transformed throughout history. Eventually, the vampire virus (more on that in a moment) causes rapid aging.

Not having been clued in on this little detail, John consults Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a doctor who specializes in aging, but she doesn’t believe him. Eventually, he withers away, but does not die. None of them ever die. So Miriam keeps them all locked away in trunks and takes them with her forever as she travels about. So you start as a lover and end as luggage.

Sarah has seen John rapidly growing old, so now she tracks him down. Miriam, who does not waste time, apparently, seduces Sarah and intends to make her the new vampire companion. Thus does not end well.

So with this movie, we get some radical new ideas – at least in motion pictures. The Gothic and religious trappings are stripped away. Vampirism is likened to a virus, rather than a curse. Interestingly, these vampires do not have any of the physical traits generally associated with vamps. No fangs, no weird eyes (well, Bowie, but he really looks like that). They draw blood with their little ankh pendants, which conceal razor sharp blades. Yes, the ankh, Egyptian symbol turned 90′s fashion accessory – here in ’83! See? Goth.

The film also likens vampirism to addiction, which makes the jaded party lifestyle of the Blaylocks even more appropriate, as they are hunting in a world filled with sex, drugs and excess. By abandoning the vampire cliches, ‘The Hunger’ manages to show us the horror of addiction and disease from the vampire’s point of view.

Fright NightIn 1985, a little film called ‘Fright Night’ took a different approach: grab every vampire cliche in movies and toss them all together. This movie is a horror movie, a comedy and just really fun.

The story is pretty basic: Charley Brewster’s new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire. Nobody believes Charley. That’s all I’m gonna say, because if you’ve never watched ‘Fright Night’, you need to do so NOW. Seriously, bookmark this page and come back and finish the article later.

Seriously, did you watch it? Wasn’t it GREAT?! Whoo! I gotta say, this movie is a hoot and a half! Chris Sarandon (Susan Sarandon’s ex-husband) really runs with the Jerry Dandridge part. In fact, what makes Jerry interesting as vampires go is that he rarely acts “like a vampire”. Jerry is just a happy guy, with s great sense of humor, who enjoys who he is and what he does. Whether he’s chewing fruit or the scenery, Sarandon makes Jerry seem like a guy you’d be willing to hang out with – right up until he murders you, that is.

Roddy McDowell shines as Peter Vincent, the Great Vampire Killer, a has-been horror actor who finds out monsters are real. The vampire makeups look cool and in some cases, genuinely scary; the special effects are mostly great.

Oh, and let’s not forget Evil Ed!

And that BAT! Oh, and Billy Cole, Dandridge’s servant – he gets some great scenes. Amanda Bearse goes from virgin to vamp as Charley’s girlfriend, Amy. Plus, the clothes are just, just ridiculous. Seriously, this movie is SO 80′s!

Once Bitten1985 also gave us ‘Once Bitten’, a flat-out comedy (well, theoretically) that stars Lauren Hutton as the vampire Countess and a then unknown Jim Carrey as her mark, Mark (ha!). Cleavon Little is great as Sebastian, the Countess’ prissy manservant. This is not a GREAT movie, but it’s not unwatchable, and does have some good moments.

Mark is a virgin. He’s been trying to change this, but his girlfriend, Robin, won’t consent to, er, you know. Since the Countess needs the blood of a virgin three times each year at Halloween to maintain her existence. Virginity being a rare commodity in LA, Mark is her only hope. Soon, he starts wearing sunglasses all the time and acting strangely – which will crop up a LOT in 80′s vamp flicks. Mark becomes the object of a tug of war between the ancient vampire queen and Robin, the good girl.

Again, not a great movie, but not as bad as, say, ‘Saturday the 14th’.

Come back tomorrow and we’ll pick up with part II of this article. Hey buddy, you try and capture the 80s in less than 1000 words!

Related posts:

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment