I’ve frequently dropped Top 5 lists on my RVA peeps, but this is more like a Top 6 or a pair of Top 3 lists. You may have seen a post or two referencing my novel, Trailer Park Trash & Vampires, which I’m extremely proud of. I like to think of it as the anti-Twilight, as it ditches sweetheart vampires and sappy romance in favor of bloodthirsty beasts born of nightmare.
I’ve frequently dropped Top 5 lists on my RVA peeps, but this is more like a Top 6 or a pair of Top 3 lists. You may have seen a post or two referencing my novel, Trailer Park Trash & Vampires, which I’m extremely proud of. I like to think of it as the anti-Twilight, as it ditches sweetheart vampires and sappy romance in favor of bloodthirsty beasts born of nightmare. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t any books or movies centered on vampires that I enjoy. Some of my genre favorites fall under that fanged umbrella, and pondering how I would rank some of these offerings for a recent RVA interview led to this article. Here, then, are my Top 3 Vampire Books, followed by my Top 3 Vampire Movies:
Top 3 Vampire Books
1. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
If I were a critic, I would go with Dracula at #1 and Salem’s Lot at #2, but I’m not. ‘Salem’s Lot is probably my favorite book of all time, and it’s certainly my favorite work boasting vampires, be it novel or film. This was King’s second published novel, and even the master himself has gone on record as stating that it is his favorite. Ben Mears is a fabulous hero, maybe the finest protagonist aside from Roland that King’s fertile mind has given birth to, and the town of Jerusalem’s Lot is so well-defined and utterly fascinating that it becomes a character in and of itself. As this masterpiece unfolds, we come to know and love both the characters and the setting for this riveting epic. By the time the tale draws to a close, nearly all of the players and the town itself have suffered a grisly fate.
This is just my kind of book; King takes his time with the story, building a strong foundation before unleashing hell in a frantic third act that takes no prisoners. No one is safe in ‘Salem’s Lot, and the action is both brutal and realistic, giving the supernatural yarn an air of authenticity. The basic premise is rooted in the absurd, yet this feels like a poignant character study of the highest order. If I’m gushing, that’s probably because I truly love this book.
‘Salem’s Lot is a fabulous read that I would recommend to anyone, and that holds true for those who don’t really care for stories about things that go bump in the night, as well as those who cherish horror. I have often said that King’s work is typically equal parts genuine affection for the horror genre and meditation on American culture. This 1975 smash hit is no exception, and I believe it stands as the maestro’s finest hour.
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Written in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula still stands as the definitive take on vampires. ‘Salem’s Lot may be my personal favorite, but it’s fair to note that King’s book came to be largely because he stopped to ponder how things might pan out if Drac came to Maine in the 70s. The writing here is remarkable; Stoker took an epistolary approach to his book, composing the entire story of journal entries and newspaper clippings. That was surely a daunting undertaking, and though it wouldn’t come to be as revered as it is now until it became a staple of the stage and then the screen, it is safe to declare Dracula a total success. Yes, Dracula’s popularity grew exponentially when Bela Lugosi donned a cape for one of Universal’s most beloved pictures, but it was always an incredibly rich work of fiction.
Those who regard classics as stale vessels that can’t excite modern readers will be shocked at just how thrilling and sensuous this book is. The characters are vivid, the various locales are inviting, and the chills are both frequent and provocative. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a legendary book that continues to shape one of the most popular sub-genres of fiction. This novel should be considered both horror and literature at their very best, and I’m not sure that any other book can make that bold claim.
3. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The third book I chose for this list is another classic, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. A case study in isolation and loneliness and a genre epic all rolled into one, this book packs a mean punch. Matheson has an incredible body of work, but this 1954 epic is his best offering. Haunting and insightful, Robert Neville’s gripping struggle culminates with one of the most compelling endings in the history of storytelling. That’s high praise indeed, and may explain why Hollywood has put this tale on film several times now without embracing the bravery and the finesse that bringing the conclusion to life would require.
The clarity and the pace that define this work provide readers with a stirring adventure that unfolds quickly. Matheson has always believed in shipping the freight, and I Am Legend is a fine example of his ability to paint a vivid picture without any unnecessary brushstrokes. Much like the other books I’ve featured on this list, I would highly recommend this title to any reader, regardless of their feelings on the horror genre. I Am Legend is a legendary book (forgive me) and that climax will stick with you forever.
Honorable Mention: Vampire$ by John Steakley
Top 3 Vampire Movies
1. Fright Night
Leading the way for my Top 3 Vampire Movies is a thrilling feature that dishes out equal measures of horror and humor. Roddy McDowall steals the show as horror film icon and vampire killer extraordinaire Peter Vincent. Do I really need to break that homage down for you? Chris Sarandon is spot-on as Jerry Dandridge, a dapper vampire charming his new neighbors in suburbia, and the direction courtesy of Tom Holland is top-notch. I had a blast watching this one shortly after it debuted in 1985, and I find it just as entertaining today.
The recent remake was average at best, but there are so many things about the original that make it unique. Much like my favorite werewolf movie, An American Werewolf in London, it is self-aware enough to skirt the line between parody and fiction, but sincere enough to remain genuine. The cast is terrific, the characters are likable, and there are some rather absurd and terrifically exciting set pieces. Suave vampire takes 80s dance club by storm, anyone? What about a fading movie star who specialized in staking vampires falling to pieces when he comes face-to-face with the real thing? Fright Night never loses momentum. In fact, it gains traction as it speeds toward a harrowing finale. This is an extremely entertaining movie that belongs to Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon. They deliver in spades, and as a result, this movie earns the top spot on my list.
2. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Here we go again. Bram Stoker’s masterpiece is in second place once more, even though it shouldn’t be. When Coppola directed a film based on Dracula that can stand alongside his finest pictures (Apocalypse Now and The Outsiders), he produced the best feature on this list. Yes, Fright Night is my personal favorite, but the version of Dracula that hit the big screen in 1992 is nothing short of spectacular. Everything that makes the book such a triumph is here–the horror, the excitement, the intrigue, and most importantly, the scope required for an ensemble piece of this magnitude to succeed.
The cast is superb. Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins provide the best performances, but everyone involved does a great job. Winona Ryder (who actually inspired Coppola to make the film) is great as Mina, Keanu “Whoa” Reeves makes for a fine Harker despite the negative reviews his presence typically inspires, and Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant, and Billy Campbell excel in their roles. Coppola is at his most inventive, and I strongly believe that this movie boasts his most creative and intriguing work as a director.
This is a story that has been told many times, but despite Dracula’s rich history in print, on stage, and on film, this is the most faithful and the most rewarding adaptation yet. Seriously, movies don’t get much better than this, and the title character will always tower above all other vampires.
3. From Dusk Til Dawn
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez had a blast with a whorehouse full of vampires in 1996, and in doing so they provided us with the fiendishly invigorating romp that is From Dusk Til Dawn. Anyone who enjoys QT or Rodriguez won’t be surprised by the wicked shape this raunchy thrill ride takes. There are dangerous convicts on the loose, depraved vampires at play, and enough carnage to make your head spin.
This is another ensemble piece, and the cast includes George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Harvey Keitel, and QT himself. Tom Savini appears as Sex Machine, Fred Williamson plays a deranged Vietnam vet, and Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek, and Cheech Marin sink their fangs into juicy parts as vampires. The dialogue is highly entertaining, the gore is magnificent, and the thrills and chuckles come fast and furious.
From Dusk Til Dawn is a heaping serving of vulgar fun topped with an ocean of blood. For a good time rooted in gruesome mayhem, head south of the border with those dastardly Gecko borthers and kick back, relax, and watch the bodies hit the floor.
Honorable Mentions: The Lost Boys, Near Dark
I’m also going to give special praise to Ravenous, which combines vampirism and cannibalism, to terrific effect. Of all the books and movies that I’ve included in this article, Ravenous probably had the biggest impact on how I chose to depict my vampires in TPT&V.
As always, I welcome your feedback and I hope this article spurs some debate. Yes, I ignored Anne Rice and Team Edward completely. Yes, I failed to include Universal’s Dracula or Nosferatu on my list. Hell, I offered up my opinion on Coppola’s best films, and I assure you that those movies about that Godfather guy weren’t MIA because I forgot about them. At the end of the day, it’s all in fun, and I hope you enjoyed reading my take on one of the most bloated, and yet also one of the most entertaining, sub-genres out there.
James Wayland’s Trailer Park Trash And Vampires is currently available from Amazon.com as a non-illustrated e-book, for the low introductory price of $3.99. At the moment, illustrator Chris Visions is still hard at work on the illustrated e-book and trade paperback editions of Wayland’s novel, but they will be released soon–keep an eye on James’s Amazon author page for details on those formats.