We’ve already reviewed another Pocket Essential guide, the essential on horror films. Like this guide, that one was also written by Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc.
Whereas we had some reserves for their Pocket Essential Guide to Horror Films, we’re more pleased with their 96-page-long epic on vampire films.
Odell and Le Blanc know their horror films: they know many details, but don’t always feel the need to mention every anecdote the reader might find amusing: no, this is a Pocket Essential. In 96 pages you should learn to bluff your way through the Nosferatus of this world. Though we haven’t really tried this out (all it takes is to find an ignoramus, make him read the book and have him spend some time with a horror movie buff and see if they can keep up the facade), we can say that the authors’ taste is fairly consistent. Of course you do notice that two authors compiled this booklet, but their tastes match.
“Vampire movies,” we are told, “are almost as old as film itself. Constantly remade and reinvented for each new generation, the films, like the vampires themselves, adopt many shapes – from the faithful adaptation of Francis Coppola’s Dracula (1992) to the art movie approach of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake (1979] via the high-school horror of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992).”
“This handy book traces the vampire film from its beginnings to the present day, acknowledging on its way all the classics of vampire cinema from the original Nosferatu (1921) right up to Blade (1998) and beyond. From saucy French vampires to hopping Chinese ones, from Hammer horrors to Hollywood blockbusters, whatever your favourite bloodsucker you’ll find it here.”
And you know what, the text doesn’t lie. The Vampire Films guide covers probably every sort of film with a vampire in 12 chapters: the first chapter discusses the vampire film’s themes and sources and prepares you for the chapter-to-chapter look at the vampire genres. The second chapter kicks off where it should kick off: it introduces the reader to the earliest vampire films. The introduction mentions movies like Méliès’s Le Manoir du Diable (1896) before going deeper into the early classics like Nosferatu, Vampyr and Dracula.
The third chapter isn’t called “Hurrah for Hammer” for no reason: Hammer Films are highly influential when it comes down to our look at the vampire movie. No wonder then that no less than 13 pages are dedicated to Hammer. The Hammer chapter is actually split up in another three parts: apart from a third part compiling all the Hammer vampire flicks we take a closer look at the Dracula series that made Christopher Lee so famous and at Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy (The Vampire Lovers, Lust For A Vampire and Twins of Evil).
For the next chapters Odell and Le Blanc crossed the channel: the fourth chapter highlights the best and worst of European cinema while the fifth is dedicated to Jean Rollin. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t a big fan of Rollin’s work, but this essential guide made me interested in some of his films I hadn’t planned on seeing otherwise.
The sixth chapter focuses on another series, the Chinese Mr. Vampire series, and uses their stay to discuss a few other Asian vampire films (along with some South-American movies) in the seventh chapter. I hadn’t heard about this series, but after reading this book, I had a good idea of which Mr. Vampire films I could watch and which I’ll gladly give to someone I can’t stand. The Mr. Vampire parody on Police Academy, Vampire Settle on Police Camp, springs to mind.
From South-American films to vampire comedy is but a small and logical step. The chapter is a reference to one of the better horror comedies: “Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck” is of course the subtitle of The Fearless Vampire Killers.
Both the independent cinema (chapter 9) and Hollywood (chapter 12) have made their fair share of vampire films and once again they’re reviewed here from the very best to the very worst. (Speaking of worst, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money is apparently the most horrible vampire film ever. Not having seen it, somehow I think I might agree.)
The tenth chapter of this guide is dedicated to the weirder films (starring a vampire, that is) of the world: according to the authors, The Lair of the White Worm gives you every proof you need that Ken Russell is an underrated auteur. Three more pages to be filled and one further genre to dissect: “Sci-Fi Suckers” covers the “bloodsucking fiends in other forms” (p. 71) and is allegedly where movies like The Omega Man and Mario Bava‘s Planet of the Vampires belong. To be honest, it was the only chapter I found a bit confusing. Why does Zoltan, Hound of Dracula not belong here then? (Although, it does fit in the weird and deranged chapter.)
The twelve chapters aren’t the only way these movies are categorized, there’s also the Fang Factor which tells you how good and/or vampiric the discussed movie is (of course, a good vampire films stands or falls with its vampire.)
From the pale Fang Factor 1 to the bloodred Fang Factor 5, it tells you whether the authors think this movie is one to watch or miss. Apart from this Fang Factor, each movie gets a synopsis and a short discussion on the pros and cons of the film. This allows you to possibly disagree with the authors, which we think is quite essential to any sort of genre compilation.
From Dusk Till Dawn 2 will have to do with Fang Factor None, but which movies did Odell and Le Blanc like best? Seven movies deserved a Fang Factor Five and personally I can follow the authors’ taste. These magnificent seven (sorry) are Hammer’s Dracula, Rollin‘s La Morte Vivante, Mr. Vampire, The Fearless Vampire Killers, George A. Romero‘s powerful Martin, Cronos and The Hunger. But wait, one movie beats them all and walks away with Fang Factor Six: the ultimate vampire movie is the Belgian masterpiece Daughters of Darkness (aka Le Rouge aux Lèvres).
So how essential is this movie guide? Pretty essential, give us 96 pages and we couldn’t do it better (though we might have shortened the 20-page-long Hollywood chapter, but then again, these are the movies you might spot first in your local video store).
The authors even did a better job compared to their guide on Horror Films: we only spot two mistakes in this guide (and now that we’re comparing both guides, Mario Bava gets more praise in this guide than in the authors’ guide to horror films): still, for people who went through all these vampire movies, you could’ve expected them to look up the exact title of Franju‘s horrific masterpiece. Yeux sans le visage it certainly isn’t.
Still, this book shows your vampire movie bible doesn’t need to be hundreds of pages long: 96 pages is enough and an essential buy at the £2.99 it originally cost when released in the year 2000.
Two years later you had to cough up £3.99 (whereas that might make you less enthusiastic, we can reassure you you’ll still get your money’s worth) and now it’s “currently unavailable with no reprint date announced”.
We suggest you write to Pocket Essentials and demand a reprint. Tell them Delirium Vault sent you.