Released just in time for Halloween, Christopher Frayling's Vampire Cinema - The First One Hundred Years is a lavish coffee table art book that traces the rise of the vampire from the rural backwaters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to becoming horror cinema's leading man...
As much of our latest issue has shown, few creatures of the night have taken root in popular culture quite like the vampire. To mark a century since F.W. Murnau’s gothic masterpiece, Nosferatu, first brought the count to the silver screen, cultural historian Christopher Frayling has produced a lavish coffee table art book that tracks our fanged friends’ rise to international stardom, from their origins in the muddy fields of Eastern Europe all the way to the, hopefully not too, bright lights of Hollywood.
Of course the vampire had existed in folklore long before Murnau’s, very, thinly disguised adaptation of Dracula, made a star of both its lead, Max Schrek, and established the vampire as a box office draw, and Frayling traces its bloody journey from the rural folktales of the eastern fringes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, into the salons of Parisian haute societé via diplomatic dispatches before dramatically entering popular culture.
Frayling explores how books like John Polidori’s The Vampyre -conceived on the same stormy night at the Villa Diodati that gave us Mary Shelley's Frankenstein- introduced us to an aristocratic, abusive, seductive and often sexual character. Lord Ruthven, The Vampyre's Byronic antagonist, would set the template for the vampire as we know him creating, in Frayling’s words, ‘a sophisticated urban figure, rather than a yokel’ and started a craze for vampire fiction that would culminate in Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.
First published in 1897, Frayling describes Dracula as a ‘synthesis of the various vampiric themes and motifs which had been resurrected, interred and resurrected again over a seventy-five year period’ and its success, not least when adapted for theatre at Stoker’s own Lyceum Theatre, set the stage for the vampire to become 20th century horror cinema’s leading man.
Whilst the image of the urbane Count may have stuck, the bloody meat of Frayling’s book -an incredible visual archive of movie and television stills, production shots, posters and prints, many that have been aptly unearthed for the first time in years - shows just how malleable a monster the vampire actually is.
All images taken from Vampire Cinema - The First One Hundred Years [Reel Art Press] © mptvimages.com
Having warmed us up with Max Shrek’s unnervingly feral Count Orlock, the suave top hat and tails of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee’s magisterial performance in Hammer’s Dracula, the vampire would explode across screens in the 1960s and 70s as they became the subject of everything from straight up horror to psychedelic experiments, action thrillers, comedies, blaxploitation films. erotic movies -especially, it must be noted, those featuring lesbian vampires- and so much more.
Each decade has given us its own, multiple, takes on the vampire, reflecting (or not) our current culture and its concerns; as Frayling points out ‘By the late 1980s, the point of Bram Stoker’s original story had been inverted, with the Count becoming the liberator and his victims the forces of orthodoxy and repression’ and he takes us right up to date as we bear witness to the genius as Buffy (the television version at least) and Twilight’s lovelorn glittery vampires provide us with the ultimate transition from ‘soul-less fiend to lost soul to soul mate’. Frayling even finds space for the subject of one of 2022’s weirdest movie memes, Marvel’s much maligned Morbius, though what that last one says about our current culture we’ll leave for future historians to ponder.
So, villain, victim, hero, anti-hero, lech, liche and lover, the vampire has occupied many roles, often at the same time, and as we career through the 21st century our love affair with Frayling’s ‘pallid saigneurs’ shows little sign of abating. Vampire Cinema - The First One Hundred Years then is a worthy, well researched, tribute to these much-loved monsters in what ever shape they choose to take; a visual feast filled with stunning imagery and fascinating stories of the Count’s cinematic exploits you could do a lot worse than invite this book into your house this halloween.
This piece originally featured in Wyrd Science Vol.1 Issue 3 - The Horror Issue