“The Last Voyage of the Demeter” sailed into theaters last month, and will no doubt be streaming on Peacock this October – perfect timing for an isolation thriller built around one of the most harrowing chapters of “Dracula.”
As we all know by now, in space no one can hear you scream, but that’s also true at sea. Being trapped on a ship leagues away from land with a bloodsucking beast has to be one of the most horrific scenarios I can imagine. There’s no escape, no hope, as your shipmates are picked off one-by-one.
And the “Alien” comparison doesn’t end there, because this version of Dracula isn’t the sophisticated, suit-wearing dandy Bela Lugosi or Gary Oldman would have us expect. No, this Drac, played by monster movie maestro Javier Botet, is a thing of nightmares. Blending the classic “Nosferatu” look with demonic bat details and corpse-white skin makes for one of the creepiest takes on a vampire yet.
Now, as a lifelong fan of vampires, I’ll concede I enjoy a romantic vamp when it’s done well. I do like a conflicted, tragic bloodsucker like Louis of “Interview With the Vampire” (and his far less conflicted, absolute brat of a boyfriend, Lestat) and tortured detective Nick Knight of “Forever Knight,” so desperate for absolution.
I adore endearing idiot vampires like the crew of “What We Do in the Shadows” (both the film and the series). Gary Oldman’s beguiling Drac absolutely sinks his teeth into me with “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” and the punk aesthetic of “The Lost Boys” is tons of fun.
But the breed of vampire I love the most is probably always going to be the nasty, gross, horrifying, truly monstrous vamp. The ones with appalling table manners and atrocious hygiene, who could never seduce or charm, who prove that sometimes immortality comes at too high of a price. One look at these vamps, and your blood curdles.
5. “From Dusk Til Dawn” (1996)
OK, sure: the vampires in this Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez flick initially look like humans, and some of those vampires are pretty dang gorgeous (Salma Hayek is perfectly cast as a paranormal being/evil goddess, considering her beauty is supernatural).
But once the fangs come out, that all changes, as these vamps – also called culebras in continuations of the franchise – become downright reptilian.
This movie is hyper-violent, frequently gross (it’s Tarantino, so of course there’s foot stuff) and often crass (there’s a character literally called Sex Machine). But blending Mexican/Aztec details into the vampire design and mythos is really, really cool. Leaning more towards snakes than bats makes for a unique twist on a monster that’s literally been done to death. And if you like your vampire movies very bloody and gooey, this one’s a must-see.
(Sidenote: The TV series adaptation that ran for three seasons is a much slicker, more polished and far more interesting reboot, and I honestly prefer it to the original film. But the culebras also are less monstrous, which is a bummer.)
If you haven’t seen this underrated gem yet, I highly recommend you do so immediately. In a world where the vast majority of the population has become vampires, the remaining humans (and their blood) are an extremely valuable commodity. Especially when vampires who don’t consume enough blood devolve into “subsiders,” rabid, deformed bat-like creatures.
This is an action-packed horror film built around scarcity issues, which will feel even more relevant in our current COVID-19-plagued, climate-collapsing world. The neo-noir aesthetics are fantastic. Sam Neill dominates as the primary baddie. Willem Dafoe plays against type as a human rebelling against the vampire status quo (lol).
And those subsiders are both scary and pitiful, equal parts ravenous creatures of the night and tragic victims of both disease and societal ills.
3. “Nosferatu” / “Shadow of the Vampire”/ “Nosferatu the Vampire”
I can’t talk about monstrous bloodsuckers and not tip the hat to my boy Nossie (aka Count Orlok), the OG of Nasty Vampires. As portrayed by Max Schreck (the 1922 original), Willem Dafoe (“Shadow”) and Klaus Kinski (“The Vampyre”), Orlok has become so influential that any vamp that even slightly resembles him – bald, extremely pale, long-fingered, rat-like fangs, pointed ears – is usually called a “Nosferatu vampire”.
Orlok is so obviously unnatural that no one in their right mind would approach him; the only reason he can get away with using folks as his own personal juiceboxes is because he’s rich and titled, just proving humans will ignore a LOT of red flags in pursuit of money and acclaim. Definitely some commentary on class issues right there, even beyond the obvious “rich sucking the life from the poor to maintain their way of life” thing.
2. “30 Days of Night”
Vampires are typically associated with bats for obvious reasons: there’s an actual blood-drinking bat in nature and vamps can often fly (with wings, by levitation, or by transforming into literal bats). Thanks to Tarantino and Rodriguez, they’re also sometimes reptilian or snake-like.
But you know what’s another great animal perfect for vampire comparisons? One that can smell blood from a mile away? A shark. And “30 Days of Night” gave us some killer shark vamps, with their soulless eyes that Quint from “Jaws” would absolutely call “dead, doll’s eyes,” their rows of serrated teeth and their fish-belly pallor.
Outwardly, at first glance, the “Night” vamps still look human. But get a better look at their oddly elongated faces, their clawed hands, and the Uncanny Valley aspect of them makes them truly terrifying. Any time something looks human but is just a little bit off, oof, that’s some prime horror fodder right there. And these merciless hunters are some of the most threatening monsters I’ve seen in film.
1. “Blade II” / “The Strain”
If you’re a long-time reader or know me at all, you had to expect I’d give Guillermo del Toro’s vamps top billing. But it’s not just because of personal bias, I swear! Del Toro’s vamps just remain the coolest, most monstrous take on the creature to date!
First seen in “Blade II”, and then refined and made even more horrifying in the book/TV series “The Strain,” del Toro’s vamps initially look like the now standard Nosferatu breed: bald, pale, pointy eared.
But then they open their mouths …
And they just keep opening them …
Until their entire face splits apart (UGH!), revealing a toothy tentacle tongue and broken jaws that now become clutching vises that latch onto their prey. In the case of “The Strain” vamps, those bitten aren’t just infected with a vampiric disease via saliva and blood – they’re also injected with worms (DOUBLE UGH!) that carry the undead virus.
These vampires quickly lose all vestiges of humanity, and that includes hair, ears, noses and certain other, ahem, parts that literally fall off their bodies. Due to the restructuring of their mouths and throats, almost all of these vamps lose the ability to speak and are reduced to hive-mind creatures driven only to feed, who communicate via rudimentary telepathy.
It’s one of the most drastic and terrible transformations I’ve come across in all of my horror reading/watching, and is definitely the nastiest way to become a vampire. Del Toro firmly nailed the coffin shut on the idea of the romantic bloodsucker with these creatures, setting a bar so high I doubt anyone will ever surpass him.
Angie Barry is a contributing columnist for Shaw Media. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers topics in pop culture, history and literature, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.