The Last American Vampire

The Last American Vampire

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Edwin Brown was wasting away. For the better part of two years, he grew increasingly thin and weak. As tuberculosis ravaged the once-strapping young man in March 1892, Edwin struggled to breathe as he continually coughed up blood. He had sought a cure in the rarified air and mineral waters of Colorado Springs, Colorado, but the 18-month trip offered no healing powers and only left him homesick for a small town in America’s tiniest state.

Edwin Brown returned home to Exeter, Rhode Island, where his father tilled the soil as a Yankee farmer. George Brown had watched helplessly as the disease known as “consumption” took the lives of his wife, Mary Brown, in 1883 followed by his 20-year-old daughter, Mary Olive, six months later. While his only son grew weaker and weaker in the winter of 1892, tuberculosis also took his 19-year-old daughter, Mercy Lena Brown, who passed away after a year of sickness on January 19, 1892.

The disease that took three members of George Brown’s family was the top killer of its time in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly in New England. Tuberculosis passed easily between people in close quarters, which is why it tended to sweep through entire families such as the Browns.

While the disease was all too common for the townspeople of Exeter, what happened next certainly wasn’t. In 1892, tuberculosis was still poorly understood. It wasn’t widely known what caused the disease or how it spread. Doctors were unable to explain the wave of sickness washing over George Brown’s family, but relatives and friends thought they knew where they could find the cause—6 feet under.

With medical science failing to help Edwin Brown, distraught Exeter residents turned to superstition and the supernatural in a desperate attempt to save his life. Two hundred years after the Salem Witch Trails, a vampire hysteria gripped the New England town. A group of Exeter residents believed that Edwin’s mother or one of his sisters may be undead—caught between heaven and hell—and sucking the life out of him from beyond the grave, which meant the cure could rest with their bodies.

With the extremely reluctant blessing of George Brown, who at first discounted the vampire theory, his relatives and neighbors visited the Brown family plot in the town’s Chestnut Hill Cemetery on March 17, 1892. In the small graveyard behind the town’s Baptist church, they exhumed the bodies of Mary Brown and Mary Olive Brown. They opened the caskets and, as would be expected, found only their bones inside.

The townspeople then turned their attention to the casket of Mercy Brown, who had died eight weeks earlier. Accounts differ as to whether Mercy’s body had already been buried or if it rested in a crypt until the ground could thaw and undertakers could dig a grave. However, when the lid was lifted off of Mercy’s coffin, her body was found on her side. Her face appeared flush, and there was blood in her heart and in her veins.

Dr. Harold Metcalf, who had raised his objection to the entire affair, assured everyone that the lack of decomposition of Mercy’s body was perfectly consistent with the fact that she had been dead for less than two months. Knowing that medicine had done nothing to save the Browns, the people of Exeter ignored the doctor’s proclamations and took the presence of fresh blood in Mercy’s heart as a sign that she was undead.

They gathered firewood and kindled a bonfire on a pile of nearby rocks. Then they cut out Mercy’s heart and lungs and cremated them on the pyre. They returned to Edwin Brown’s house with the ashes of his dead sister’s heart and mixed them with water. Edwin consumed the concoction, but the tuberculosis continued to consume him. He died two months later on May 2, 1892.

This was not the first time the folk remedy of burning the organs of the dead and mixing the ashes into an elixir for the sick had been tried in Rhode Island, even in Exeter. In 1799, the townspeople exhumed the body of Sarah Tillinghast, suspecting her of being a vampire. Author Diana Ross McCain reports there were 18 documented instances of the exhumation of family members in suspected vampire cases throughout New England in the 18th and 19th century, but the case of Mercy Brown would be the last.

After digging up Mercy Brown, the townspeople buried her heartless body into the ground of Chestnut Hill Cemetery where under a weathered tombstone she now rests in peace.

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Mercy Brown vampire incident

The Mercy Brown vampire incident occurred in Rhode Island, US, in 1892. It is one of the best documented cases of the exhumation of a corpse in order to perform rituals to banish an undead manifestation. The incident was part of the wider New England vampire panic.

Several cases of consumption (tuberculosis) occurred in the family of George and Mary Brown in Exeter, Rhode Island. Friends and neighbors believed that this was due to the influence of the undead. An attempt was made to remediate. She died January 1892 aged 19. [ clarification needed ]

The First Vampire Clan

Ambrogio later moved back to Italy, now as a full-fledged vampire.  Legend traces him to the city of Florence (Firenze), where he creates the first Vampire Clan.

We don't know a whole lot about this clan, other than they were most likely willing volunteers - humans who wanted power and immortality, and were willing to trade their souls for it.  It was believed that the curse would continue for any vampire where their souls would remain in the Underworld (aka Hades aka Hell), where they could return to claim them, but then could never leave.

From what we know of the history of vampires, the clan grew in size and strength, until infighting created something of a "civil war" within the clan, and many vampires left to form their own clans.

What happened to Ambrogio and those who stayed with him is largely unknown, though many believe that he still resides somewhere in Florence.

Vampires of Europe

Because of this, vampire scares tended to coincide with outbreaks of the plague. In 2006, archaeologists unearthed a 16th-century skull in Venice, Italy, that had been buried among plague victims with a brick in its mouth. The brick was likely a burial tactic to prevent strega—Italian vampires or witches—from leaving the grave to eat people. (Read “‘Vampire of Venice’ Unmasked: Plague Victim & Witch?”)

Not all vampires were thought to physically leave their grave. In northern Germany, the Nachzehrer, or “after-devourers,” stayed in the ground, chewing on their burial shrouds. Again, this belief likely has to do with purge fluid, which could cause the shroud to sag or tear, creating the illusion that a corpse had been chewing it.

These stationary masticators were still thought to cause trouble aboveground, and were also believed to be most active during outbreaks of the plague. In the 1679 tract “On the Chewing Dead,” a Protestant theologian accused the Nachzehrer of harming their surviving family members through occult processes. He wrote that people could stop them by exhuming the body and stuffing its mouth with soil, and maybe a stone and a coin for good measure. Without the ability to chew, the tract claimed, the corpse would die of starvation.

Tales of vampires continued to flourish in southern and eastern European nations in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the chagrin of some leaders. By the mid-18th century, Pope Benedict XIV declared that vampires were “fallacious fictions of human fantasy,” and the Hapsburg ruler Maria Theresa condemned vampire beliefs as “superstition and fraud.”

Still, anti-vampire efforts continued. And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, one of the last big vampire scares occurred in 19th century New England, two centuries after the infamous Salem witch trials.

Meet the Real-Life Vampires of New England and Abroad

A little more than a century ago, vampires stalked Rhode Island. Or rather, New England farm families were digging up dead relatives suspected of being vampires and desecrating the bodies in a misguided effort to protect the living. Often these latter-day vampire hunters removed and burned their loved ones’ hearts.

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Though the corpses were typically re-buried, modern scholars continue to unearth the stories of real-life “vampires,” whose historic tragedies underlie classics like Dracula as well as Hollywood’s latest guilty pleasures.

The practice of disinterring accused vampires likely began in Eastern Europe, spreading to western countries including France and England in the 1700s, and then to rural New England, where vampire panics were common up through the late 1800s – particularly in Rhode Island.

At home and abroad, vampire scares usually began when a person died – often of a contagious disease, and in New England almost always of tuberculosis – and others in the vicinity began dying, too, usually of the same sickness. Ignorant of germs, people surmised that the dead person had come back to drain family members’ blood, and the exhumation and staking, burning, beheading and whatever else followed (practices varied with geography) were an effort to insulate the community against further harm. Often the vampire-hunters were not disappointed when they pried open the graves: many natural signs of decay, like bloating and bleeding from various orifices, looked like evidence of midnight feasts.

Here are a few  “vampires” from America and elsewhere, the real lives behind our modern legends. 

Peter Plogojowitz: This Serbian villager and accused bloodsucker was exhumed and staked through the heart a few weeks after his death in 1725. In his book, “Vampires, Burial, and Death,” folklorist Paul Barber treats Plogojowitz as the quintessential European vampire, because his exhumation closely follows the broader pattern of the superstition. Plogojowitz was the first in his village to die of a sickness, and subsequent local deaths were blamed on his late-night predations. A rather gruesome-sounding autopsy revealed what were considered the tell-tale signs of vampirism:

“I did not detect the slightest odor that is otherwise characteristic of the dead, and the body…was completely fresh,” one witness wrote. “The hair and beard… had grown on him the old skin, which was somewhat whitish, had peeled away, and a new fresh one had emerged under it … Not without astonishment, I saw some fresh blood in his mouth.”

Arnold Paole: In the early 18th century, this rural Serbian broke his neck after a fall from a hay wagon. Like many others before him, he was accused of posthumous vampirism and exhumed after a series of deaths in his village many of his supposed victims were dug up as well. Austrian military authorities in control of the region investigated the deaths, and their published account was widely circulated. Paole’s case is thus credited with spreading the vampire superstition to Western Europe, where it took hold before reaching the New World.

Nellie Vaughn: Just 19 years old, she was buried in 1889 in West Greenwich, Rhode Island. Today this so-called vampire is almost as famous as Mercy Brown, whose exhumation was covered by international newspapers. Vaughn’s cemetery has frequently been visited, vandalized and her headstone broken. But in his book, “Food for the Dead,” folklorist and vampire scholar Michael Bell presents evidence suggesting that Vaughn’s is a case of mistaken identity, and that her contemporaries never accused or exhumed her. The superstition probably arose in the last half century or so, and may be a result of confusion with Mercy (who died nearby at a similar date and age) and the admittedly creepy epitaph on Vaughn’s tombstone: “I Am Waiting and Watching For You.”

Frederick Ransom: A Dartmouth College student from a well-respected family in South Woodstock, Vermont, he died of tuberculosis in 1817 and is an example of an educated person ensnared in a vampire panic usually associated with misinformed farmers. Ransom’s father had his body exhumed in the hopes of saving the rest of his family: his heart was burned in a blacksmith’s forge. “However, it did not prove a remedy, for mother, sister, and two brothers died afterward,” Ransom’s surviving brother Daniel later wrote. “It has been related to me that there was a tendency in our family to consumption, and that I…would die with it before I was thirty.” Happily, when Daniel Ransom wrote these words he was more than 80 years old.

Bristoe Congdon’s child: A “black” man named Bristoe Congdon and several of his children died of tuberculosis in Rhode Island in the 1800s. “The body of one of the children was exhumed,” one source wrote, “and the vital parts were burned in obedience to the dicta of this shallow and disgusting superstition.” Though it’s not entirely clear whether Congdon was African-American or American Indian, the case was the first that folklorist Michael Bell has found suggesting that the vampire tradition crossed racial lines.

Annie Dennett: She died of consumption at the age of 21 in rural New Hampshire.  In September of 1810, a traveling Freewill Baptist Minister from Vermont named Enoch Hayes Place attended her exhumation, which her family undertook in an effort to save Annie’s father, also sick from tuberculosis. Place’s diary entry is a curious example of the participation of a respected New England minister in a vampire hunt. “They opened the grave and it was a Solemn Sight indeed,” Place wrote. “A young Brother by the name of Adams examined the mouldy Specticle, but found nothing as they Supposed they Should…. There was but a little left except bones.”

Becoming a Vampire

Their self-described nature begins to manifest around or just after puberty. It derives, according to them, from the lack of subtle energies their bodies produce — energies other people take for granted. That’s the general consensus anyway. It’s a condition they claim to be unable to change. So, they embrace it.

The real vampire community, like the legendary figure it emulates, knows few national boundaries, from Russia and South Africa to England and the United States. Particularly in the internet age, vampires are often well attuned to community issues.

This is more true for some than others though. I found the vampires of Buffalo to be keen to keep up to date with the global community, while those in New Orleans were often more interested in the activities of their local vampire houses (an affiliated group of vampires usually led by a vampire elder who helps his or her house members to acclimate to their vampiric nature).

The story of Mercy Brown: New England’s last vampire

In 19 th- century New England, there was an outbreak of tuberculosis known as Consumption through Rhode Island and other parts of the country.

It was called the New England vampire panic and the most famous case was that of the Brown family and their 19-year daughter Mercy Brown. The Mercy Brown vampire incident occurred in 1982 when Mercy died from the disease.

The incident of Mercy Brown was part of the New England vampire panic

An article from the Boston Daily Globe that describes the vampire beliefs in Rhode Island

During the panic, The Brown family lived in the small town of Exeter in Rhode Island. George and Mary Brown were well-respected farmers and there was no reason to suspect that they were anything but a normal family.

The unusual case started with the death of Mary Brown in 1883 and in 1888 their eldest daughter Mary Olive died from the same disease. After their deaths, in 1890 their son Edwin became ill and his father tried everything to keep him alive. In the meantime, Mercy died from the Consumption in January 1892.

The gravestone of Mercy Brown in the small cemetery of the Baptist Church in Exeter Photo Credit

Scared from the terrifying symptoms of tuberculosis, the locals started to believe that this illness was influenced of the undead and it was caused by vampires. They concluded that one of the demons lived in one of the Brown graves. It was determined that Mercy Brown was a vampire who draw the life out of her entire family.

Mercy Brown was considered to be the last vampire of New England Photo Credit

On the morning of March 17th, 1892, the bodies of her mother and sister were dug up and it was determined that neither was a vampire because the bodies were decomposing as would be expected but, when they dug up Mercy’s body they found her in excellent condition.

There was no decay and her body was not in the position it had been buried. They found fresh blood in her heart which was immediately removed from her chest and burned to ashes on a nearby rock. The remnants of her heart were mixed with water and given to Edwin to drink them. His father was hoping that the ashes of a “vampire heart” could cure him. The ritual failed and Edwin died within two months.

The Baptist Church in Exeter Photo Credit

Mercy Brown’s body was held in a casket above ground in winter and many modern scientists were convinced that her body was in excellent condition because of the freezing temperatures.

Still, no one can explain how her body wasn’t in the same position. After being violated, Mercy’s body was buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery behind the Baptist Church in Exeter. The legend about Mercy Brown continues to live on throughout the centuries.

2 Paja Tomic

Although most Europeans stopped taking vampires seriously by the 20th century, belief in the creatures persisted in some rural areas. In the Bosnian village of Tupanari, for example, a vampire was reported to be active between April and May 1923. Cvija Tomic, a widow, complained that her late husband, Paja, had returned as a vampire and ran through her house each night.

Some of Cvija&rsquos neighbors were skeptical, but others thought she was telling the truth. After another month, Cvija&rsquos sons, Stevo and Krsto, held a town meeting and agreed to destroy their father&rsquos body.

They led a mob of peasants to the cemetery and disinterred Paja&rsquos body. The mob stabbed the corpse with a hawthorn pole, cremated the body, and then tossed the surviving bones back into the vampire&rsquos plot.

The 20 Best Modern Vampire Movies, 1979 to the Present

Our review of this week’s Dracula Untold doesn’t inspire much hope: “This Dracula Begins-style sword-and-fangs curio plays like someone said, ‘What if we took a vampire flick but did a find-and-replace swapping out all that bare-neck sensuality for some video-game ass-kicking?’ ”

But for every genre-entry failure, there are numerous modern vampire movies that manage to plumb and toy with the creature’s mythology in imaginative ways. The breadth of the directors featured here — from French auteur Claire Denis to Germany’s Werner Herzog to American mavericks Jim Jarmusch and Francis Ford Coppola — speaks to the wide variety of voices that have tackled the genre with such ingenuity in recent decades. — Danny King

20. Vamps (2012)
At times winningly dopey but still easily forgotten, Amy Heckerling’s undead-BFFs comedy Vamps sends up our pop-cultural fascination with bloodsucking but is itself a bit stiff with rigor mortis. “Remember: We said we’d keep up with the times, even if they aren’t as good as the ’80s,” Stacy (Krysten Ritter), her coffin lined with pinups of Michael J. Fox and Matt Dillon, admonishes Goody (Alicia Silverstone). In staying current, the vampiresses constantly — and to diminishing effect — point out the vapidity of Jersey Shore and iEverything. — Melissa Anderson

19. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 (2012)
The five flicks in the Twilight franchise started silly, but kept getting better. The grand finale, Breaking Dawn — Part 2, is a goofy masterpiece that’s two parts Douglas Sirk to one part violent mayhem, climaxing with a vampires-versus-vampires-versus-werewolves battle that’s so over the top, audiences at the premiere screamed themselves senseless. — Amy Nicholson

18. Fright Night (2011)
Senior Charlie Brewster finally has it all going on: He’s running with the popular crowd and dating the most coveted girl in his high school. In fact, he’s so cool he’s even dissing his best friend. But trouble arrives when Jerry moves in next door. He seems like a great guy at first, but there’s something not quite right — but everyone, including Charlie’s mom, doesn’t notice. After observing some very strange activity, Charlie comes to an unmistakable conclusion: Jerry is a vampire preying on the neighborhood. Unable to convince anyone, Charlie has to find a way to get rid of the monster himself.

17. Vampire Academy (2014)
Consider this: Director Mark Waters helmed Mean Girls, and screenwriter Daniel Waters penned Heathers. People dismiss films about teen girls, as though that audience’s agonies and fears and passions are forever lesser than those of a grown man in tights. But the Waters brothers’ work can’t be tossed aside. Like their earlier comedies, Vampire Academy nimbly balances teen paranoia with real threats (here, the deadly Strigoi clan of bloodsuckers, who want to chew up the school). And it knows that friendship — not romance — is a 17-year-old girl’s true obsession. Best friendship can be all-consuming, even dangerous. It can explode. But after the debris settles, it’ll still rank first. — Amy Nicholson

16. Thirst (2009)
Finally, there’s a vampire movie worthy of the title The Hunger — even if it arrives under the more potable name Thirst. Carnal appetite, not a parched palate, is the accelerant that fuels this perverse, prankish, and merrily anti-clerical exercise in bloodletting from Park Chan-wook, the South Korean director whose films function like the moral-retribution mechanisms in the Saw movies — traps with no way out but a permanently scarring exit. ¶ Vampirism would seem an unusually…genteel diversion for Park, best known for the “Vengeance Trilogy,” which reached its apex with the Jacobean cruelties of 2003’s devious Oldboy. Starting with 2002’s byzantine kidnapping-gone-awry saga Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the former film critic and onetime philosophy student has made his subject (and method) the self-destroying machinery of violence. Once somebody throws a switch, the unstoppable gears of his plots mangle the guiltless and the guilty alike. — Jim Ridley

15. Blade II (2002)
Taken in some twelve years after its release, Village Voice film editor Alan Scherstuhl writes that this Wesley Snipes vehicle is a “splatter marvel,” but our 2002 review by Mark Holcomb characterizes it differently: “Returning to pulp territory after The Devil’s Backbone, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro cribs from his earlier work in an attempt to breathe life in Blade II, a sequel to the 1998 Marvel Comics-inspired potboiler. The results rely more on Backbone‘s gothic pulchritude and Mimic‘s patent silliness than the whip-smart revisionism of Cronos, and whereas that 1992 film slyly steered the vampire genre into new terrain, the appallingly violent Blade II only wrestles it to the ground and sits on its head.”

14. The Monster Squad (1987)
From our 1987 review: “Kids. Why did it have to be kids? I can take a lot, but I can’t bear any more E.T./Goonies/Stand By Me summer movies — like The Monster Squad, which pits a band of kids against an alliance of our favorite monsters. The kids are members of a treehouse monster club (except Phoebe, the requisite five-year-old) the monsters are trying to take over the world you can guess who wins. Cute, precocious children make my blood run cold. ¶ The Monster Squad had the potential to be a good Hardy Boys Meet Frankenstein spoof. Not since the ’50s have Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Gill-Man, and the Mummy been seen in the same place. One would hope to see fireworks from such a crew, but all we get are fizzles. Dracula is a wimp, Frankenstein has a crush on Phoebe, Wolfman is a furball, Gill-Man gets blown away by one little bullet, and Mummy dearest is an unraveled dolt.” — Melanie Pitts

13. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Premised on the notion that F.W. Murnau’s silent horror classic Nosferatu was actually a documentary, Shadow of the Vampire manages to turn a highly dubious concept into a subtle and deliciously mordant comedy. ¶ The movie, directed by E. Elias Merhige from Steven Katz’s script, joins Jim Shepard’s 1998 novel, Nosferatu, as the second recent fiction to feature the German filmmaker as a tormented protagonist. But, unlike Shepard, Katz has only a casual interest in the historical Murnau. His protagonist has been reinvented for the movie as an overbearing Herr Doktor and heterosexual of the s persuasion. Of course, this, as well as numerous other liberties, anachronisms, and historical inaccuracies (Sergei Eisenstein invoked as a “master” of the medium three years before he made his first film), is minor compared to the movie’s insistence that Max Schreck, the Reinhardt actor who played the indelibly feral Count Orlock, was actually a centuries-old Carpathian vampire typecast by a filmmaker driven to go beyond “artifice.” — J. Hoberman

12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
From our 1992 review: “Somewhere between heaven and hell lies Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fran Rubel Kuzui’s campy little vampire treat isn’t quite the “bogus corn” the title implies, but it’s no Heathers either. Unlike that other SoCal dark ride, Buffy won’t redefine the cynical teen comedy subgenre, even with Paul Reubens’s hilarious role as a blood-sucker on a “bad hair day” or Donald Sutherland as the deadpan slayer trainer. But someone had to follow Catwoman and Sharon Stone, and Buffy, played by Kristy Swanson, got the job. Cheerleader turned dewy feminist avenger, Buffy’s secret weapon against the undead is her PMS. Of course, she dreamed a different future — as Christian Slater’s sweetheart and a buyer. You know, like, ‘Buyer. Buying. To buy?’ to quote our heroine. But once convinced of her birthright as the latest in a long line of stake wielders, she pursues the Big One — I mean vampire pooh-bah Rutger Hauer — with a woman’s pragmatism.” — Marpeesa Dawn Outlaw

11. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
From our 1979 review: “Werner Herzog’s Nosferatue, the Vampyre presents in Klaus Kinski’s Count Dracula a reasonable replica of Max Schreck’s vampire in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. There is no seductive courtliness in this powdery-white-skinned, sunken-black-eyed creature of the night, only an animalistic compulsion to feast on the blood of his victims. Whereas Frank Langella, George Hamilton, and even Bela Lugosi masqueraded as the last playboys of the central European world, Kinski’s Dracula rises from the mists of the psychic and social unconscious to bring pestilence, morbidity, and evil into a well-ordered bourgeois existence.” — J. Hoberman

10. Let the Right One In (2008)
A fragile, anxious boy, 12-year-old Oskar is regularly bullied by his stronger classmates but never strikes back. The lonely boy’s wish for a friend seems to come true when he meets Eli, also 12, who moves in next door to him with her father. A pale, serious young girl, she only comes out at night and doesn’t seem affected by the freezing temperatures. Coinciding with Eli’s arrival is a series of inexplicable disappearances and murders. One man is found tied to a tree, another frozen in the lake, a woman bitten in the neck. Blood seems to be the common denominator — and for an introverted boy like Oskar, who is fascinated by gruesome stories, it doesn’t take long before he figures out that Eli is a vampire. But by now a subtle romance has blossomed between Oskar and Eli, and she gives him the strength to fight back against his aggressors. Oskar becomes increasingly aware of the tragic, inhuman dimension of Eli’s plight, but cannot bring himself to forsake her. Frozen forever in a 12-year-old’s body, with all the burgeoning feelings and confused emotions of a young adolescent, Eli knows that she can only continue to live if she keeps on moving. But when Oskar faces his darkest hour, Eli returns to defend him the only way she can.

9. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
From our 1992 review: “There’s more goo than boo in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The new Francis Ford Coppola concoction is a blood-soaked plum pudding of a movie — saccharine, horrific, perhaps a little rummy. It’s sodden fun, until the vapors clear and the richness starts to cloy. ¶ Romantic and campy, full of pomp and ritual, this Dracula is deliriously maximal — the sort of film in which one stabs the cross on a stone altar and the whole church starts to hemorrhage gore, or where the shock-cut from a dispatched vampire, in her wedding gown, is a huge platter of rare roast beef. The images throughout are layered with voluptuous superimpositions and bizarre match dissolves. The screen ripples with experimental bits of business — just about any three-minute chunk could be dropped into heavy rotation on MTV.” — J. Hoberman

8. The Hunger (1983)
Something of an anomaly in the filmography of Tony Scott — who reached his creative stride later in his career, with such exemplary thrillers as Enemy of the State, Spy Game, and Deja VuThe Hunger benefits from its wild stylistic energy (the opening montage is a stunner) and its ingenious casting, which pairs David Bowie with the great French actress Catherine Deneuve. — Danny King

7. Byzantium (2012)
Neil Jordan’s Byzantium — its script by Irish-born playwright Moira Buffini — is more in league with Joss Whedon’s cerebral, passionate Buffy the Vampire Slayer series than with the fangless Twilight universe. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play 200-year-old vamps on the lam, though neither looks a day over 28: The criminally curvy Clara (Arterton) rustles up a living for the two of them as a prostitute and sometime stripper. Her younger sister, the prim, sensitive Eleanor (Ronan), is a perennial schoolgirl and accomplished pianist. — Stephanie Zacharek

6. Let Me In (2010)
The setting of Let Me In is Los Alamos, New Mexico, 1983. The feathery, slow-falling snow comes with the material’s Scandinavian pedigree: Swede John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, Let the Right One In, filmed by Tomas Alfredson in 2008, was enough of a boutique hit to attract this American remake by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. — Nick Pinkerton

5. Trouble Every Day (2001)
As in many of Claire Denis’s movies, plot and narrative cohesion are subordinate to mood and texture, sight and sound. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now more clearly see how this initially castigated movie fits in with the tantamount themes that have dominated Denis’s work since Beau Travail, her breakthrough from 1999 (and Trouble Every Day‘s immediate predecessor): madness, desire, and power, motifs sometimes considered on their own, or, more frequently, in combination. — Melissa Anderson

4. Nadja (1994)
From our 1995 review: “The lushest film of the year thus far is Michael Almereyda’s Nadja, a comic vampire tale, or portrait of the young as a lost tribe of bloodsuckers. Shot in shimmering, undulating black and white — part Fisher-Price Pixelvision, part silvery 35mm — Nadja follows the path of Dracula’s moody daughter, who, discontented with the routine, intends somehow to start over, be born again. ¶ Nadja (Elina Lowensohn) is a Romanian in New York, a predator looking for a human arm, or lap, to rest her faithless head on. Her heart isn’t in the nightly rite, this exchange of fluids that leaves the other lifeless. (Yes, this too is an AIDS movie.) When her father, Count Dracula Ceaucescu, dies, Nadja believes herself free to change her life. ‘I’ll find someone I’ll be happy.’ In a bar she finds the melancholy Lucy (Galaxy Craze), and entertains her with stories of the Black Sea (‘It’s blue’), the Carpathians, and her lost twin, Edgar. Lucy: ‘Does he live in the shadow of the Carpathians?’ Nadja: ‘Brooklyn. I’ve never been there.’ But she does mean to go.” — Georgia Brown

3. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
In the world of Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, the director’s most emotionally direct film since Dead Man, and maybe his finest, period, vampires are people who prefer to own their music in some tangible form rather than entrust it to some unseen librarian in the Cloud. — Stephanie Zacharek

2. Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
From our 1994 review: “Then the newly thin, blonde, tall, blue-eyed [Tom] Cruise isn’t the movie’s star but more of a supporting player to [Brad] Pitt’s depressive, rosy-lipped beauty. (Perhaps seeing Cruise effaced and professionally humbled is what changed [Interview With the Vampire author Anne Rice’s] mind about the film.) Both actors, with their blue networks of capillaries substituting for facial hair, grow an even whiter shade of pale once our story moves to Paris and Antonio Banderas and Stephen Rea inject the more robust, grown-up aura of Old World evil.” — Georgia Brown

1. Near Dark (1987)
Kathryn Bigelow has made bigger movies but none better. Near Dark is a poetic horror film that draws its power from the outlaw mythology of Bonnie and Clyde and Gun Crazy (or maybe the Manson Family), and its brooding loneliness from the western landscape — home to the most successfully Americanized of the vampires. — J. Hoberman

Watch the video: The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith - Official Trailer


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