5 Movies That Prove That Vampires Were Always the Plague

Vampires in the movies have always stood for something. It's the original Rorschach blot for filmmakers and their audiences. Vampires can stand for sophistication and the boredom of privilege, as in The Hunger (1983) and The Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). It can stand for conventional ideas of sin and degradation, as in The Horror of Dracula (1958), or freedom and forbidden love, as in Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).  Sometimes a vampire is nearly a superhero, as in the upcoming Morbius (2020). Elements of each of these might be found in any vampire film. But the most resilient image for the vampire has been that of plague, of sickness that invades the household and the city. That's why in this moment of pandemic-driven barred doors and empty streets, we wanted to present to you five vampire films that took just "shelter in place" orders and gave them teeth.

5 Movies that Prove that Vampires were Always the Plague

  • Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) dir. by Werner Herzog. Available on Prime. Just as in the silent 1921 original, the vampire presented in Nosferatu is so symbolic of plague that he brings it with him on the waves. Portrayed by Klaus Kinski as a tongue-flickering, grumbling humanoid plague rat who sweeps into the port of Wismar, Germany and unloads swarms of gray rats. Soon, as Kinski pursues his own ends, the city descends into sick madness. This is a chilling, fantastic film.

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5 Movies that Prove that Vampires were Always the Plague

  • Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) dir. by Alan Gibson. Available on Prime. Dracula himself stood for many different ideas over the course of Hammer's Dracula series (just as he would vary in meaning across Marvel's Tomb of Dracula series and magazine), but here he is the master of plague. Satanic Rites is a weird sort of spy film, where Peter Cushing as the latest Van Helsing works to stop Dracula, now ensconced in London as a reclusive industrialist, from unleashing a biological weapon on the public.

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5 Movies that Prove that Vampires were Always the Plague

  • The Last Man on Earth (1964) dir. by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow. Available on Prime. The first (and most disturbing) film based on the story I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, The Last Man on Earth shows us a world devastated by a virus that leaves bodies littering the streets. The sole survivor and main character is Vincent Price, who tells us of the final days even as he hunts the vampires who now prowl the barren, dismal city. The film makes wondrous uses of the empty Italian plazas where it was shot.

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5 Movies that Prove that Vampires were Always the Plague

  • Vampire Circus (1972) dir. by Robert Young. Available on Prime. Here, plague acts as the background of vampirism. When a small hamlet punishes a woman for a forbidden affair with a vampire, the vampires vow revenge. He returns when the town is quarantined in plague, leading a literal circus of vampires out to seduce and destroy the townsfolk in revenge. This is a colorful, strange, sexy movie.

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5 Movies that Prove that Vampires were Always the Plague

  • Kiss of the Vampire (1963). dir. by Don Sharp. Available on YouTube. Here, vampirism is directly related to sexual depravity, decadence and disease. Professor Zimmer, the Van Helsing stand-in, explains that his daughter ran off to the big city, where she fell in with "the so-called smart set…. When she returned, she was riddled with disease: and she was a vampire." But Zimmer goes on to explain his theory of what's going on in vampirism: the vampire, once afflicted, can either turn to God and confess her sins, or she will "convince herself" that she has discovered a new way of life, and will try to win others over to her "perversion." In this film, vampirism is a plague that attracts new adherents.

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There are as many meanings for vampires as there are vampire movies, and as much as these films make clear the connection of vampires to plague, there are many more. Please let us know your suggestions in the comments! In the meantime, those of you stuck at home can queue this list up—if you dare.

 

Jason Henderson is the host of the Castle of Horror and Castle Talk Podcasts, the editor of the Castle of Horror Anthology series, and the author of Quest for the Nautilus: Young Captain Nemo from Macmillan Children's Books.

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About Jason Henderson

Jason Henderson, author of the Young Captain Nemo (Macmillan Children's) and Alex Van Helsing (HarperTeen) series, earned his BA from University of Dallas in 1993 and his JD from Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C., in 1996. His popular podcasts “Castle Talk” and “Castle of Horror” feature interviews and discussion panels made up of best-selling writers and artists from all genres. Henderson lives in Colorado with his wife and two daughters.
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