Menacing, seductive, and sinister; words that could aptly be used to describe the likes of Count Dracula. The one label rarely assigned to vampires is… funny. This week, Tim Burton brings to the screen the film adaptation of the 1960s/70s television series Dark Shadows, centering on the undead fiend Barnabas Collins. Though the series was hardly hilarious, except on the few occasions wherein we giggled at the rampant cheesiness, the film version takes a decidedly more comical approach to vampires. That got us thinking about our favorite blood-sucker comedies, and we’ve listed a few of the battiest below.
It’s gotten to the point that when Nicolas Cage’s name is listed amongst the cast of a new film, we happily head to the theater just to see how unhinged his performance will be. While this is something that’s certainly become more pronounced of late, Cage’s propensity toward lunacy is nothing new. In 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss, he plays a publishing executive who believes he has been bitten by a beautiful female vampire. He then spends the remainder of the film spiraling into full-blown madness. His accent becomes cartoonish, he chases his employees around the office, and he begins to model his physicality after Max Schreck from the classic Nosferatu. I think my favorite moment is when Cage goes running down the streets of New York screaming, “I’m a vampire, I’m a vampire,” at the top of his lungs. And you thought he was a nutjob in Ghost Rider.
Before Jim Carrey was a Grinch, a cable guy, or even a pet detective, he was virginal high school student Mark Kendall in 1985’s Once Bitten. It’s the story of a geeky guy who gets tired of waiting for his girlfriend to “give him a taste,” and his desires lead him right into the arms of a gorgeous vampire. From that moment on, Mark experiences changes not quite in keeping with those of the other boys his age. Carrey proves perfectly cast in this silly, sexy, and unrepentantly '80s comedy; the countess’ coffin looks like something right out of Miami Vice. His rubber-faced comedic presence is where the film derives most of its laughs, and provides a fitting foreshadow for the performances that would later define his career.
I know what you’re thinking, Fright Night is a horror movie and not a comedy, right? While the majority of the film is aiming for shrieks over chuckles, Roddy McDowall provides us with plenty of comedy fodder. He plays Peter Vincent, former horror film star reduced to hosting a campy late-night scary movie show on television. When a local teen comes to him and tells him of an actual vampire loose in the city, Vincent is forced to play the hero for real. Unfortunately, he’s a bit of a coward. In one of the film’s most hilarious moments, Vincent musters the courage to confront the villainous vamp (played with devilish poise by Chris Sarandon) with a crucifix, only to see him crush the cross in his bare hands. The speed and cravenness with which McDowall exits the room is hysterical.
Love at First Bite
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Dracula were suddenly transported to the 1970s? Well if you watched Hammer Films’ Dracula A.D. 1972 and found it to be strikingly devoid of funny, perhaps you would be better suited by Stan Dragoti’s 1979 comedy Love at First Bite. After having to vacate his Transylvanian castle, Dracula (George Hamilton) travels to New York City. There he stalks a tasty-looking Susan Saint James while her boyfriend, Richard Benjamin, tries to expose Drac for exactly what he is. Love at First Bite has an impressive comedic wingspan. Arte Johnson’s Renfield is outstanding, Richard Benjamin’s impotent and erroneous attempts to slay Dracula (at one point with silver bullets) are riotous, and if there is anything more absurd than seeing a vampire on the disco floor, I don’t believe I’ve seen it.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It
While not likely to stake a claim as Mel Brooks’ premier horror comedy, that title still firmly belongs to Young Frankenstein, I really enjoy his irreverent approach to Count Dracula. In Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Brooks takes a bite out of everything from Bela Lugosi’s iconic first incarnation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale to Francis Ford Coppola’s arty 1992 iteration. The great Leslie Nielsen trips masterfully into the role, once again demonstrating his adeptness for slapstick and nonsense. You also can’t help but love Brooks himself as an entirely whacked out Van Helsing. To me, the film’s funniest moment is the one in which it harkens back to the classic Hammer Drac films. As Jonathan Harker (played by Wings’ Steven Weber) drives a stake into a female vamp’s heart, he is dosed in a bucket of blood disproportionate to reason.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.