When I was researching to create a list of the greatest vampires of all time, I found that there have been approximately 143,547,812 vampires who have appeared on televisions or in movies. Needless to say, it was difficult to cut the list down to 7.
But this isn’t a Montessori website, there aren’t any ribbons for 17th place. Only the 7 greatest vampires of all time make the cut, meaning that many deserving vampires got cut (Sorry Blacula. You are #8 in my [points to heart]).[divider]7 Greatest Vampires of All Time[/divider]
7. Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) – Dracula
Us whipper-snapper nerds need to learn the proper respect for our elders, not to mention the Elder Gods, which goes without saying. Much like nearly every video game today owes a debt to D&D, nearly every vampire trope, legend, or cliché owes a debt to Bela Lugosi.
In 1931 Bela Lugosi starred in Dracula and in one turn at playing the role he solidified so many of quintessential aspects of how we visualize Dracula: the cowl, the coffin, the slicked back hair, and not least, the thick, heavy accent that gave us the slow delivery of lines (“I vvont…to drink…your blood….”).
And before we go on to other great vampires, let’s not forget the story beats that Bela Lugosi popularized in our culture:
- A castle in Transylvania that the local village fears.
- A carriage driver taking him along a craggy pass, only to have a disappearing driver replaced by bats.
- A charming but eccentric Count, who unbeknownst to visitors, is a vampire capable of hypnotism.
- A coffin.
- Dracula entering rooms, feasting on the blood of young damsels while they sleep.
- Professor Van Helsing and the trinkets used for protection from vampires.
With Bela Lugosi a legend was born.
6. Dracula (Christopher Lee) – Horror of Dracula and a dozen more.
Before he was Count Dooku, Christopher Lee was Count Dracula and he took the role to such new heights that he made Lugosi look like an understudy. Sure, Christopher Lee built off of popular beats first seen from Lugosi, but no one questions that it was Lee who became the definitive old school Dracula.
At 6’4″ Lee was physically imposing and used body language and sparse dialogue as he hissed and sneered, creating and sense of menace and monster.
Outside of a silly incident where he fell into a grave on set while carrying and actress around, Christopher Lee was the one who first made us truly fear Dracula.
5. Count von Count – Sesame Street
Now that we’ve established the monster, let’s take a step back for a moment and recognize the other ways that Dracula has made his way into pop culture. And apologies to Grandpa from the Munsters, but it is Count von Count who best exemplifies that the character can be light-hearted as well.
Sure, it’s hard to picture Count von Count as among the greatest vampires of all time, but it’s equally hard to picture having no representation for the playful ways that vampires have invaded our culture. Around since 1972, Count von Count is the reason that kids know how to count to 10, while also letting us know that it’s OK to let out a slow, deliberate laugh after every number. “AH! AH! AH!”
(Interestingly, one of the lesser known myths about vampires is that they are, in fact, obsessive compulsively obsessed with with counting. This was demonstrated once by Mulder in a brilliant X-Files episode where he tried to distract a vampire using sunflower seeds.)
4. Santánico Pandemónium (Salma Hayak) – From Dusk to Dawn
As much as it is important to recognize that vampires have also invaded our culture in innocuous ways, it’s foolish not to recognize that the past couple of decades has focused on the sex appeal of vampires. And it was largely Salma Hayak who ushered in that trend.
Hayek played Santánico Pandemónium, an erotic dancer at a south-of-the-border nightclub that doubled as a popular vampire hangout. Hayek wasn’t the first female vampire by any means, but she was far from just another Bride of Dracula. She was the star attraction – the Queen Vampire – who both upped the sex appeal of vampires, while also eradicating any pretense that vampires needed to be in grim and stodgy Transylvanian settings.
3. Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) – Dark Shadows
As much as Salma Hayak helped to usher in the sex appeal of vampires, it was the Barnabas Collins character from Dark Shadows that helped usher in the sympathetic vampire, a trope that certainly persists to this day.
In keeping the classic look of Lee and Lugosi, Collins sported a black onyx signet ring, a double-breasted suit, and a silver-handled wolf’s head cane. He also sported the same danger and bloodlust.
But then there was another side as well, a kind of kindness, an element that has been picked up and threaded in most vampires since. It was a seductive mix of both danger and an attempt to mind his manners.
2. David (Kiefer Sutherland) – Lost Boys
But before vampires could fully latch on to that sympathetic thread and star in Young Adult novels everywhere, that had one bastion of pure unabashed hedonism in the character David, played by Keifer Sutherland in Lost Boys.
There was no way that Keifer Sutherland was going to settle down in the suburbs and drive a Volvo. No, he was motorcycles, thrill-seeking, and self-indulgence, mainly in using his powers of suggestion on young damsels.
And while the character injected the self-gratuitous fun back into vampires, it also injected something else into the psyche of popular culture, which was the idea that a bleached hair bad boy teen vampire is cool. Without that, we might have never had #1 on our list.
1. Angel and Spike (David Boreanez and James Marstens, respectively) – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Because I’m a cheating cheater who cheats, I’m using one spot to list two vampires, mainly how would you choose between Angel or Spike?
Angel had that lovestruck, moping, shadow-lurking, agonized, sulky, pathetic, in need of a hug, sympathetic vampire down cold. No vampire on screen has ever done it better.
Angel was a vampire with a soul, a brilliant schtick that opened up innumerable story opportunities, all of which David Boreanez took advantage of.
Likewise, there was Spike, but much less mopey and much more bad boy. In contrast to Angel, Spike’s personality remains the same, soul or not, but underneath it all, Spike loves deeply and earnestly in a way that was very human.
It helped that James Marsters played Spike perfectly with his posh 18th Century London mockney accent with a quick, sarcastic wit.
In fact, as much as it is difficult to place Spike or Angel above one another, it’s worth noting that the other vampires from both Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and later Angel) – Drusilla, Darla, Harmony – could have made this list as well, proof that those characters now stand as the quintessential take on vampires in popular culture. I’m good with that.
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