The idea of vampires battling it out with werewolves seems an awesome one; they’re both terrifying, albeit fictional, creatures of the night, and I’m sure the brawl would be a viciously entertaining one. However, the idea also brings to mind the “Twilight” saga, a teenage-targeted fantasy film series in which glittering vamps and oversized Chihuahuas regularly rip off their tops, speedily gallop towards one another and furiously prepare to get their bitch-slapping on — that is, when they’re not moaning about the complicated love triangles they frequently stumble into accidentally on purpose. As such, the idea of vampires battling werewolves becomes significantly less awesome and more, well, homoerotic.
With the “Twilight” saga’s fourth chapter, “Breaking Dawn – Part 1,” hitting cinemas on 18 November, I thought I’d take a look at the vampire and werewolf cinematic sub-genres. Both sub-genres have been around since horror first sprung up in the world of film, and both have since presented many howlers that lack bite as well as some very effective spook-em-ups that sink their fangs right into your neck. But which sub-genre is the most bestest ever? Well, there’s only one way to find out: making lists!
So, let’s take a look at the five best werewolf films and the five best vampire films to ever grace cinema screens, starting with vampires (because “v” comes before “w,” and because Edward is totally hotter than Jacob).
ROUND ONE: VAMPIRES
5. “Fright Night” (1985)
First up, it’s Tom Holland’s cult classic vampire horror-comedy “Fright Night,” which primarily takes place in the suburbs. The film centres on Charley Brewster, a teenage boy who, through perverted window-peeping, discovers that his mysterious new neighbour is in fact a vampire. In reaction, Charley seeks out elderly TV vampire hunter Peter Vincent (a play on Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, of course) and begs that he help Charley kill the vampire. Peter reluctantly agrees and, after sufficient evidence, sets out to slay Charley’s undead neighbour, but the vicious bloodsucker will not be slain quietly. More funny than it is scary, the frequently amusing “Fright Night” delivers a whole heap of thrills, laughs and features terrific performances from a brilliantly hammy Roddy McDowall as the vampire slayer and an irresistibly sexy Chris Sarandon as the villainous vamp. Colin Farrell and David Tennant, eat your hearts out (just kidding, you guys were awesome in the remake, seriously).
4. “The Lost Boys” (1987)
Acting rather well as a time capsule of ‘80s culture, “The Lost Boys” is Joel Schumacher’s vampiric tale of a young man, Michael, who becomes involved with some rather dodgy individuals (read: vampires) when his family moves to California. Turns out these dodgy individuals are, gasp, vampires, and they’ve sneakily turned Michael into one of them too! So, Michael, along with the help of his younger brother, Sam, sets out to stop the bloodsucking biker gang, all the while trying to find a solution to his worsening case of vampirism. Sometimes funny and sometimes bloody, this slick and cool vampire horror is a highly entertaining and slightly sexy career-high for Schumacher; it’s much better than his escapades with a certain Batman and a certain Robin, anyway…
3. “Dracula” (1931)
When you think “Count Dracula,” you think Bela Lugosi. Or maybe you think Christopher Lee. Or maybe Gary Oldman. Y’know, Frank Langella was pretty good as him too… Anyway, Lugosi is widely considered the number one king of the vampires, and rightfully so. His first (and best) performance as Dracula was in this 1931 Universal production directed by Tod Browning. The film follows the plot of Bram Stoker’s classic novel fairly closely, with the castle-dwelling eponymous count meeting with an Englishman and soon moving to England to feast upon two lovely ladies. Sure, the film has pacing issues and becomes less interesting after the mesmerising first act, but Lugosi’s legendary performance makes it worthy of a watch from any film buff. The role is in fact one Lugosi understandably never outlived; indeed, he was even buried in his Dracula cape.
2. “Let the Right One In” (2008) / “Let Me In” (2010)
I’ve counted both of these films as one because, let’s face it, they pretty much are the same film, just with minor differences here and there. They are both based on “Let the Right One In,” a vampire novel written by John Ajvide Lindqvist; Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” is a Swedish adaptation (for which Lindqvist wrote the screenplay) and Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In” is an American adaptation. Both tell the tale of a bullied young boy who becomes infatuated with the young girl who’s just moved in next door. Much to the boy’s glee, they soon strike up a friendship, though the boy begins to suspect that something is a tad askew with his newfound friend; for one, she eats people. Whether you prefer the Swedish version or the American version (I personally prefer the latter), there’s no doubting that they are both overwhelmingly atmospheric and oddly beautiful chillers that will chill you right to the bone; they’re essentially “Twilight” for the arthouse crowd, in a good way.
1. “Nosferatu” (1922)
The only silent film to appear in this article, F. W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” is an unofficial German adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” But instead of the charming Count Dracula, this time we have the repulsive Count Orlok, a bony-fingered, rodent-faced monster played magnificently by German method actor Max Schreck. In the film, the hideous Orlok lives on his lonely lonesome in a gothic castle and is doing a deal with real estate agent Thomas Hutter. Orlok, being the monster that he is, very quickly yearns for the sweet taste of Hutter’s blood, as well as that of Hutter’s wife, Ellen, and gets to quenching the monstrous thirst that doth overwhelm him. Ninety years later, this horror masterpiece is still persistently frightening and relentlessly haunting, thanks in large part to Schreck’s legendary performance as creepy creeper Mr. Orlok; it’s as badass as Darth Vader, but, like, scary and stuff.
Honourable mentions: “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992), “Fright Night” (2011), “Horror of Dracula” (1958), “Nosferatu the Vampyre” (1979), “Shadow of the Vampire” (2000)
Right, so, that’s the vampires done with. And now we move onto the werewolves. First up, it’s “Dances with Wolves”… wait, what do you mean that’s not a werewolf musical with a break-dancing Kevin Costner? It isn’t? Damn it. Okay, first up is this:
ROUND TWO: WEREWOLVES
5. “The Wolf Man” (1941)
“The Wolf Man” was Universal’s second attempt at a werewolf film, following the 1935 box-office flop that was “Werewolf of London,” Hollywood’s first stab at werewolf horror. Fortunately for Universal, “The Wolf Man” proved to be significantly more popular and has since become a rather iconic part of the sub-genre it helped kick-start. Starring as the eponymous creature in this George Waggner-directed monster movie was Lon Chaney, Jr., son of make-up maestro and silent film legend Lon Chaney, Sr. In the film, Chaney, Jr. plays Larry Talbot, an American who, while visiting his ancestral home in Wales, is unfortunately bitten by a werewolf. Soon enough, whenever the wolfbane blooms and the moon is bright, Larry transforms into a werewolf himself; either that, or he turns into a drunken hobo who forgot to shave for a few days. While it didn’t quite climb to the heights of fame reached by “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man” is nonetheless highly regarded among horror buffs and essentially set the standard for werewolf fiction, fully launching knowledge of the mythical beast into the mainstream. And people have been scared of unshaven drunken hobos ever since.
4. “The Howling” (1981)
Sadly overshadowed by the success of fellow 1981 werewolf flick “An American Werewolf in London,” Joe Dante’s satirical horror “The Howling” has nonetheless become something of a cult classic over the years. It centres on Karen White, a news anchor who, as part of a police investigation, decides to meet up with a serial killer in a dark and dirty porno theatre (clearly nothing can go wrong here). The meeting, surprise surprise, goes horribly wrong, leaving Karen in a state of shock and suffering from amnesia. She is advised to stay in The Colony, a treatment centre in the countryside, while she recovers. However, The Colony turns out to be the worst possible place for her to be staying in; I mean, it’s inhabited by werewolves, for starters. “The Howling” features very impressive makeup work and state-of-the-art prosthetics, most notably during the nauseating transformation sequences; it’s also splendidly entertaining and is one of those rare horror films that actually manages to be a genuinely terrifying experience. Also, it’s got kinky werewolf sex in it, which is always a plus.
3. “Dog Soldiers” (2002)
“Dog Soldiers” is the first feature-length film from writer-director Neil Marshall, a filmmaker who has proven time and time again that he loves drowning his actors in pools of blood; his debut is no exception. It follows a group of British soldiers who are sent into the Scottish Highlands for what appears be a routine training mission. Unfortunately, they soon find themselves barricaded inside a small remote house, determinedly fighting off a large pack of bloodthirsty, limb-tearing werewolves; they‘re Scottish werewolves, the worst kind. Tremendously gritty and yet helplessly goofy at the same time, the intensely suspenseful “Dog Soldiers” is a blood-soaked, shit-scary and blackly comic horror debut from the guy who would go on to give us the utterly terrifying “The Descent” and the utterly dreadful “Doomsday.” Stick to horror, dude, ‘cause apocalyptic thrillers ain’t your strong suit.
2. “Ginger Snaps” (2000)
“Ginger Snaps” is a film that uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty; you know, that time when hair grows where it never grew before, when sexual urges begin to develop and when you start viciously devouring your neighbours’ mouthwatering flesh. Ahhh, such confusing times. The film is set in a town in which local dogs are being mysteriously mutilated by either an animal or a person — maybe both… Goth sisters Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald venture out into the woods one night and are unexpectedly attacked by a werewolf. Unfortunately for her, Ginger is bitten, and thus begins her slow but inevitable transformation into a howling, prowling creature of the night. There’s not a dull moment in this low-budget, Canadian indie horror from director John Fawcett; it’s relentlessly entertaining, oozing with jet-black humour, blood-soaked carnage and witty dialogue featuring the constant moping of two sibling Goths; if you don’t like it, you’re, like, a conformist and you should, like, totally kill yourself. Chyeah.
1. “An American Werewolf in London” (1981)
“An American Werewolf in London” is a fish-out-of-water movie, or should that be a werewolf-out-of-America movie? Directed by John Landis (he did the video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” y’know), this classic horror-comedy sees two American tourists being attacked by a big, bad werewolf in the middle of the English moors. One of them lives, the other meets his maker. The one that lives, however, was bitten, and soon begins suffering from deeply disturbing dreams, visions of his dead friend and undergoes a horrifying transformation whenever the moon shines full in the night sky. Laden with rib-tickling dark humour, quite a number of frightful frights and a fair share of grisly gore, “An American Werewolf in London” truly is the ultimate werewolf flick. However, it’s probably best known for Rick Baker’s gruesomely ground-breaking special effects, most notably those shown off in the infamously nasty transformation sequence. That scene is still stomach-churning to this day; it sure put me off becoming a werewolf.
Honourable mentions: “Bad Moon” (1996), “The Company of Wolves” (1984), “Ginger Snaps: Unleashed” (2004), “Silver Bullet” (1985), “Werewolf of London” (1935)
AND THE WINNER IS…
Neither. I’m sorry, I really cannot decide between the two; both have their fair share of great movies under their belts, and deciding between them is like deciding if the pear is better than the banana; I like both, goddamn it! However, what I will say is this: the best movie of the two sub-genres without a doubt comes from the vampire side in the form of “Nosferatu;” it’s the only film here I can say is a masterpiece without too much hesitation.
Anyway, I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments below, as I’m sure many will have a personal preference between the two contenders, unlike my indecisive self. So, which do you think is the better sub-genre? Which creature of the night has delivered the most goods over the years? You must decide: vampire or werewolf? Bloodsucker or lycanthrope? Team Edward or Team Jacob? Let me know, or I’ll set the wolves and the bats on you — yes, they bite.
By Stephen Watson