Vampire films have been around since the earliest days of motion pictures. Each decade has brought its own unique flavor to the vampire genre. With the remake of the much loved “Fright Night” now in theaters it’s a perfect time to throw the spotlight on vampire films of the 1980s. The decade saw some fantastic iterations of this legendary monster, as well as a few missteps.
By the start of the ’80s make-up effects advanced by leaps while also becoming less expensive. This caused a surge of horror films throughout the decade. Many of the best known horror franchises started during this decade and vampires fit in with this surge. Rather than the gritty and exploitative horror movies of the previous decade, these new films were more interested in being fun than making the audience uncomfortable.
That mix of fun and scares is what makes the original “Fright Night” such a classic amongst horror fans. “Fright Night” took its fun from the young protagonist, played by William Ragsdale, and his horror idol portrayed by Roddy McDowall. Meanwhile the scares were provided courtesy of the vampire, played by Chris Sarandon, who moved in across the street. Add to the mix the equally funny and disturbing “Evil Ed” played by Stephen Geoffreys and the results are just as fun today as they were in 1985.
Other high energy vampire films of the 80s include “The Lost Boys.” Earlier vampire movies tended to feature the monsters very much in the mold of Dracula, sophisticated to the point of being stilted. Enter Kiefer Sutherland as David, the leader of a vicious vampire motorcycle gang. These were young punks who would never have to grow up and love every second of it. Adding to the distinctly ’80s flavor of the film is the first on-screen pairing of the two Coreys: Haim and Feldman. The legacy of this film has been tarnished of late due to a series of direct to video sequels but the original still stands strong.
Another vampire film with raucous energy is the western flavored “Near Dark,” from Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow. This was a movie that dropped the more comedic aspects of “Fright Night” and “The Lost Boys” in favor of deathly seriousness and it pays off. Following Adrian Pasdar as a man turned into a vampire against his will. He tries to escape and then fight against the gang of vampires who turned him. Though it wasn’t a big success at the time it’s become recognized for its stylish presentation and the villainous performances of Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton as two of the evil vampires.
Of course not all of the vampire flicks of the 80s could be winners, but even the failures still had a few things going for them. For example the 1983 film “The Hunger” suffers from a slow story and painful pacing yet is drenched in enough gothic atmosphere that it maintains a cult following. Even 1985’s poorly received “Lifeforce” has the outlandish concept of space vampires going for it. So at the very least it tried for a different spin on the creature, even if the results didn’t pan out.
Sadly this can’t be said for the 1985 comedy “Once Bitten.” This lame story of a vampire diva, played by Lauren Hutton, feeding on virgins should have been quietly forgotten. And it would have if it had not been for the young lead, a fellow named Jim Carrey, becoming a megastar a decade later. But only one completely sour note in the bunch leaves the 1980s as a good decade for vampire movies.