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THE 15 GREATEST VAMPIRE HUNTERS   Leave a comment

By C. Michael Forsyth

Today, we hail vampire hunters. Without these intrepid heroes, the world would be overrun by blood-slurping creatures of the night. Armed with crossbows, stakes, crucifixes and holy water, they fearlessly go toe-to-toe with one of the most formidable of all supernatural beings.

Below are the 15 top vampire slayers of film and TV:

BLADE

Blade is the ultimate vampire-stomping badass. Portrayed by Wesley Snipes in the 1998 film Blade and two sequels, the African American superhero uses martial arts, a titanium sword, a modified MAC-11 gun and a variety of gadgets cooked up by his mentor Whistler, to wage war on the undead. Blade, whose mom was infected by a vampire while pregnant, is a dhampir, possessing the speed and strength of vamps, with none of their vulnerabilities. Driven by hatred of the creatures who stole his mom from him, Blade (real name: Eric Brooks) first appeared in the Marvel comic The Tomb of Dracula in 1973.

BUFFY SUMMERS

To the casual observer, Buffy is an airheaded blond cheerleader type. But in reality, she is the Chosen One in a long line of vampire slayers. In each generation, a girl arises to battle the forces of darkness, endowed with exceptional physical prowess and fighting abilities. Buffy’s gifts are enhanced by her Watcher, the stuffy Englishman Giles who takes a job as the school librarian at Sunnydale High School to train her. Assisted by her teenage pals, who nickname themselves the Scooby Gang, Buffy deftly dispatches vampires, demons and other supernatural menaces. The character was played by Kristy Swanson in the 1992 movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer and by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the TV series (1997-2003).

ABRAHAM VAN HELSING

Professor Abraham Van Helsing is the godfather of vampire hunters, first appearing in Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic Dracula, and later in innumerable films. The aged Dutch doctor is described in the book as  “a philosopher and metaphysician and one of the most advanced scientists of his day,” and in his letters, his signature is followed by a string of credentials, including MD, D.Ph and D.Litt. His wisdom and knowledge of the occult are crucial to the band of heroes, including Jonathan and Mina Harker, who ultimately destroy Dracula. Elderly, thick-accented actor Edward Van Sloan established the character memorably in the 1931 Bela Lugosi movie. But it was British actor Peter Cushing who delivered the most iconic incarnation of Dracula’s chief adversary. His Van Helsing is physically robust and resourceful. His most badass move was putting two candlesticks together to create a makeshift cross that he uses to take down the king of vampires in The Horror of Dracula (1958). Several of the professor’s descendants carry on the ceaseless fight against the undead, including Lorrimer Van Helsing, played by Cushing in Dracula A.D . 1972.

CAPTAIN KRONOS

The swashbuckling hero of the Hammer movie Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1973) is a dashing swordsman and former army officer. Captain Kronos (Horst Janson) travels Europe destroying vampires with the aid of his partner, the hunchbacked Professor Hieronymus Grost  (John Cater), who is the brains of the operation. Their task is tricky because it turns out that, as Grost explains, “There are as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey,” each variety with its own powers and vulnerabilities. The creature who plagues a Romanian village in this film cannot be killed by a wooden stake, and drains victims of their youth rather than blood. Kronos and his companion must figure out which member of the community is the vampire, as well as discover how to liquidate it. They are joined in the hunt by a beautiful Romani (formerly known as Gypsy) woman Carla (Caroline Munro), who had been put in the stocks for dancing on Sunday. I would have loved to see a film series in which the duo exterminate a different breed of vampire in each picture, but alas, this was the character’s only screen appearance.

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JACK CROW

Jack Crow is the surly hero of John Carpenter’s 1998 film Vampires, played by wiry James Woods, whose pockmarked mug and sour screen persona usually land him villain roles. Crow leads a team of vampire hunters whose brutal techniques include using a grappling hook, cable and truck to haul snoozing bloodsuckers from their lairs out into the sunlight.  Although his unit serves under the auspices of the Catholic Church, Crow is foul-mouthed, cynical, and not above beating the stuffings out of an uncooperative priest. In the film, Jack pursues a master vampire who is seeking a relic that will allow him to become invulnerable to sunlight.  One of Jack’s most valuable team members is played by the least-known Baldwin brother Daniel, who, despite his obscurity is great in the flick!

SAM AND DEAN WINCHESTER

Hunky brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, the heroes of the TV show Supernatural, follow in their dad’s footsteps in hunting down and destroying things that go bump in the night, from demons to killer clowns. So, naturally, vampires are among their quarry. Atypically, in the Supernatural universe, wooden stakes don’t harm vampires. Blood-drinkers have to be beheaded, and the beer-swilling bros are happy to oblige. Not only do the pair wipe out multiple vampire nests, they manage to kill the Alpha Vampire, the original bloodsucker who got the evil plague rolling and is the most powerful of them all. They are even able to restore Dean to normal after he’s bitten and sprouts fangs. That said, they do have a soft spot for fangers who restrict their diet to donated blood bags and animals. And a vampire named Benny becomes Dean’s best friend after helping him survive a stint in Purgatory.  

GABRIEL VAN HELSING

Gabriel, hero of the 2004 movie Van Helsing, is best viewed as an entirely different character from Professor Abraham Van Helsing of Dracula fame. (Although he is described as a “re-imagined” version of the original in studio publicity materials). Certainly, his persona is a far cry from the cerebral Dutch doctor. This Van Helsing is a man of action played with steely Clint Eastwood machismo by Hugh Jackson. His backstory is considerably different from Abraham’s. Gabriel remembers nothing before he was found crawling up the steps of a church—and the screenplay hints that he is actually the angel Gabriel in human form! He yearns to earn a pardon for whatever forgotten sins he may have committed and thus regain his memory. To do so, he combats evil on behalf of the secret, Vatican-based Holy Order, which has protected mankind “from time immemorial.” Gabriel employs a variety of steampunk weapons to battle monsters who include Mr. Hyde, werewolves, harpy vampires and most importantly Dracula—who has hatched an evil plot to spawn hundreds of offspring growing in pods similar to those in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

CARL KOLCHAK

Veteran wire service reporter Carl Kolchak has a nose for a good story. Unfortunately, many of his scoops never see the light of day, because they are about supernatural creatures! Each week, on the TV series The Night Stalker (1974-75), Kolchak turns up evidence that a mysterious death is the work of a monster; he doggedly investigates the case and finds a way to destroy the big bad—usually surviving only by the skin of his teeth. Unfortunately, the proof is almost always destroyed as well, making his claims implausible, especially to his grumpy boss Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) who refuses to print the articles. In his first outing, in the 1972 TV movie The Night Stalker, Kolchak discovers that a serial killer hunted by the police is actually a vampire and is forced to take matters into his own hands.

 Although the show ran only one season, it is a cult favorite that inspired several subsequent monster-of-the-week series, including The X Files. One of the reasons for its popularity is undoubtedly the believable depiction of a crafty reporter, played with irascible charm by Darren McGavin. It’s never really explained why Kolchak just happens to keep stumbling across monsters. My pet theory is that he was chosen by some higher power to be a white knight.

VANESSA VAN HELSING

Vanessa, herorine of the SyFy series Van Helsing (2016-2021), is a descendent of the legendary vampire-slayer Abraham Van Helsing. However, Vanessa (Kelly Overton) was adopted and has no knowledge of her impressive pedigree.  The young woman wakes from a mysterious, coma-like state, and quickly learns that during her three years out of commission, vampires have taken over the world. Luckily for humanity, Vanessa has extraordinary fighting skills that make her the perfect vamp-busting machine–and better than that, her bite turns vampires back into normal humans. Also, in what is more of a mixed blessing, when she consumes blood herself, she becomes even stronger and faster.  Unlike her brainy forebear, Vanessa relies on instinct more than strategy. And another drawback of her unusual condition is that when she feels threatened, she flies into an animalistic rage, killing without mercy. The show was inspired by Zenoscope Entertainment’s graphic novel series.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Honest Abe was more than our greatest president—he was also a prolific vampire slayer who used his wood-chopping skills and trusty ax to vanquish scores of the undead.  That’s the fanciful conceit of the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. In this weird alternate version of history, at the tender age of 11, Abraham watches helplessly as a vampire attacks his mother, causing her death. The lanky country boy vows revenge and sets out to rub out every bloodsucker he can lay his hands on. He is aided in this quest by a mysterious mentor who teaches him vampire-slaying essentials—and even provides him with the names and whereabouts of people who are secretly vampires. Lincoln soon learns that vampires, whose stronghold is the South, are using slaves as a food source. He runs for President not only to save the Union but to end slavery, and to drive vampires from America’s shores.

DR. ROBERT NEVILLE AKA NEVILLE MORGAN

The chilling movie The Last Man on Earth (1964) was the first to depict a vampire apocalypse. Dr. Robert Morgan is the sole survivor in a world where everyone else has been infected by a mysterious plague. The disease has turned them undead, vampiric creatures that can’t stand sunlight, fear mirrors and are repelled by garlic. At night, Robert (Vincent Price) remains barricaded in his home. Each day, he embarks on a monotonous and grim routine, gathering his weapons and going on the prowl for dormant blood-drinkers. Those he finds, he dispatches with a stake, then burns their corpses to prevent them from coming back. The movie is based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend, in which the character’s last name is Neville, as in the 1971 version The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston and I am Legend (2007) starring Will Smith.

RAYNA CRUZ

The TV series The Vampire Diaries (2009-2017) featured plenty of vampire hunters. But Rayna Cruz (Leslie-Anne Panaligan) is without question the most powerful and relentless. Rayna has been a vampire slayer since the 19th century, when a group of Native American shaman cast a spell giving her enhanced abilities. She has incredible strength and speed, slowed-down aging, and most nifty of all, multiple lives, enabling her to bounce back from the dead. Rayna is armed with the mystical Phoenix Sword, given to her by her father and enchanted by the Shaman, that gives her the power to track down any vamp whom she’s stabbed. What’s more, the hilt contains the Phoenix stone, into which she can entrap a vampire’s soul and where they endure a personal hell.

THE ULTRAVIOLET TEAM

In the 1998 British mini-series Ultraviolet, a top-secret paramilitary organization known as the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith hunts down and slaughters vampires, with the joint support of both the British government and the Vatican. Global warming is once again the culprit, having spurred vampires to come out of the shadows to seize control of the planet. Led by a priest, the outfit uses brutal tactics to exterminate vampires, while investigating their plots against humankind. The team includes Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield (Jack Davenport), while Idris Elba costars as Vaughn Rice.

PETER VINCENT

Peter Vincent is a fearless vampire killer—or at least that was his role in the cheesy old movies shown late at night on a TV show named Fright Night, hosted by the retired actor. The real Peter, played by Roddy McDowell in the 1985 movie of the same name, is actually a rather timid, prissy fellow. When high school teen Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), a fan of the show, discovers that his next-door neighbor is a vampire, he takes the (totally illogical) step of seeking the assistance of his idol. Roddy gives the best performance of his life as the reluctant hero. In the 2011 remake, David Tennant plays Peter Vincent, this time a Las Vegas magician who incorporates vampire themes into his act and is known for his expertise on the subject. (This change makes it a lot less ridiculous for Charlie to turn to him for help). The name is, obviously, a tip of the hat to horror legends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price.

 It’s a sure bet that I will soon be adding another name to this list. Jamie Foxx is starring as a hardboiled vampire hunter, along with Snoop Dog, in the upcoming Netflix movie Day Shift, set to air in August, 2022.  Director J.J. Perry and producer Chad Stahelski both worked on the John Wick films, and they promise to bring the thrills of that action-packed, blood-splattering franchise to the world of vampires. The “first look” released by Netflix is awesome, packed with loads of eye-popping stunts and practical effects.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, please take a moment to check out my latest project…

THRILLING NEW GRAPHIC NOVEL!

In the two-part graphic novel Night Cage, vampires overrun a women’s prison–and to escape, four surviving inmates must fight their way through an army of the undead. Picture ‘Salem’s Lot meets Orange is the New Black. Volume One is available on Amazon, and a Kickstarter is underway for Volume 2.

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The 12 Greatest Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen!   1 comment

C. Michael Forsyth

There are great horror movies that even aficionados of the genre have missed and are often overlooked on top 100 lists. Here are a dozen rarely viewed films that gave me the willies:

A remote forest is home turf for a demon in “Equinox.”

EQUINOX, 1970

Four young people searching a remote forest for a missing scientist get more than they bargained for when they encounter the demon Asmodeus. Taking refuge in a cave, they come across an ancient book the evil being needs to spread destruction beyond his wooded domain. Heroically, the humans fight to keep The Book out of the demon’s claws, while trapped within his forest by a mysterious force field. Asmodeus sends a series of monstrous minions, including a giant ape-like creature with cloven hooves, to retrieve The Book.

Though shot on a shoestring budget, the movie makes create use of Ray Harryhausen-type stop motion animation. Plot-wise, it is a forerunner to “The Evil Dead,” and the filmmakers could show the producers of “The Blair Witch Project” a thing or two about telling an entertaining story with no dough.

A rustic European town harbors a terrible secret in “Vampyr.”

VAMPYR, 1932

Most horror buffs have seen the silent-era vampire film “Nosferatu,” an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula, but only hardcore enthusiasts have seen this 1932 picture from Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer. Though less well known, it’s every bit as creepy as “Nosferatu.” Inspired by a tale by Carmilla author J. Sheridan Le Fanu, it’s about a student of the occult who stumbles across a village under the curse of a vampire hag.

Although made in the sound era, it too is silent. It benefits from a haunting atmosphere and imaginative effects. Among the most striking, the vampires slinking around the deserted town are seen only as shadows.

A young woman rubs shoulders with history’s most infamous sadist in “Waxwork.”

WAXWORK, 1988

A group of students visit a wax museum featuring 18 villains from horror lore and history. Two are sucked into the waxwork displays, where they run into a werewolf and Dracula. Another two find themselves pitted against zombies and the infamous Marquis de Sade. The concept of universes within the displays struck me as quite original, and I loved how each one is depicted as real as our own. A kinky highlight of the film arises when the teenage girl drawn into de Sade’s world is whipped by the infamous sadist…and kind of likes it! Zach Galligan, who had vanished from the screen after “Gremlins,” does a smashing job as the young hero struggling to rescue her.

Homeowner Jesse (Ayre Gross, left) learns there’s more problems with his new digs than mice in the attic in “House 2.”

HOUSE 2

This horror comedy is a rare case of the sequel surpassing the original. Charlie and Jesse, a pair of yuppie pals, move into an old mansion Jesse has inherited. Rummaging through the basement, Jesse finds a picture of his great-great grandfather in front of a Mayan temple holding a crystal skull. The buddies soon learn that the house has been transformed by the skull his ancestor swiped and that each room is a doorway across space and time. The guys must keep the skull out of the hands of evildoers, while their mettle is tested in a series of harrowing adventures on the other side of these portals. Jonathan Stark, best known as the vampire’s henchman in the original “Fright Night,” is great as the goofier member of the duo. And look for an appearance from a smartalecky young Bill Maher.

A visit to the family crypt reveals clues to an awful curse in “The Undying Monster.”


THE UNDYING MONSTER, 1942

Mystery and horror combine in the curious case of the Hammond family which has been cursed since the Crusades and whose members frequently die under strange circumstances. When the latest Hammond heir is slain by an unidentified creature, intrepid private detective Robert Curtis and his plucky sidekick Christy are summoned to investigate. An early clue is a very peculiar statue in the Hammond family crypt.

What delights me about the film is the successful blend of genres. Curtis brings the logic of a Sherlock Holmes to the case and his relationship with Christy is reminiscent of Nick and Nora of “The Thin Man” fame. The detective takes a scientific approach, which makes the increasingly uncanny events all the more alarming. In one memorable sequence, he uses a microscope to examine a strange hair and it vanishes before his eyes!

Boris Karloff is a father who returns home from a vampire hunt and brings terror with him in “Black Sabbath.”

BLACK SABBATH, 1963

This anthology film boasts some truly terrifying segments. My favorite, “The Wurdalak,” is drawn from a common theme of vampire folklore rarely depicted on film: that when the undead return they first prey on their own relatives.

In 19th century Russia, a young nobleman on a long trip stops at a small rural cottage to ask for shelter. He learns that the family patriarch has disappeared for five days while searching for a vampire, or “wurdalak” as the locals call it. At the stroke of midnight, Dad — Boris Karloff at his creepy best — shows up at the cottage. His disheveled appearance and odd behavior lead his sons to suspect he’s joined the ranks of the undead. The situation makes for a rather tense evening.

“I tell you, I’m not crazy. Now get that hand off my mouth.” Michael Redgrave is a ventriloquist with a sinister dummy in “Dead of Night.”

DEAD OF NIGHT, 1945

Another chilling anthology film, it includes the granddaddy of all evil-ventriloquist-dummy stories and a chilling yarn about a haunted antique mirror. The frame story itself (often laughable in such movies) is truly unnerving. In the frame story, a man arrives at a country house party where he reveals to the assembled guests that he has seen them all in a dream. They begin to tell various tales of the supernatural and the uncanny. The frame story climaxes with a haunting twist ending.

“I don’t much like the look of that.” Peter Cushing, right, finds that a fellow scientist has created a deadly new lifeform in “Island of Terror.”

ISLAND OF TERROR, 1966

The great Peter Cushing stars as a scientist investigating the peculiar case of a farmer found dead on a remote British isle without a single bone in his body. He and his companions learn that a researcher working on the island accidentally created a new lifeform from the silicon atom while searching for a cancer cure.

The tentacled creatures, dubbed “silicates,” kill their victims by injecting a bone-dissolving enzyme into their bodies and are virtually indestructible. Trapped on the isolated island, the heroes battle the monsters with guns, Molotov cocktails, dynamite and other weapons to no avail. In one hair-raising scene, Cushing is grabbed by a silicate. With a stiff upper lip, the Englishman sternly instructs a companion to chop off his hand with an ax before its too late.

Wicca is for wimps. These witches are the real deal in “Horror Hotel.”

HORROR HOTEL, 1960

A college coed visits a small Massachusetts town to research the witchcraft trials, unaware that her landlady is the reincarnation of an infamous witch burned at the stake in the 1600s. The accused witch wasn’t innocent – not by a longshot. She and her evil cohorts practice virgin sacrifice in order to remain immortal. Christopher Lee as the missing girl’s professor and her friends must solve the mystery of her disappearance before an unholy ritual on Candlemass Eve. Look for one of the most startling heroic rescue scenes in horror cinema history.

A madman (Patrick O’Neal) doesn’t let a disablity stand in the way of exacting bloody vengeance in “Chamber of Horrors.”

CHAMBER OF HORRORS, 1966

Cesare Danova, the suave actor with the sexy foreign accent that made him a ubiquitous TV guest star, plays the proprietor of a wax museum and amateur sleuth, aided by a dwarf sidekick. When a deranged man named Jason Cravette murders a woman and marries her corpse, Danova helps police bring him to justice.

Unfortunately, the killer escapes from a manacle by amputating his hand and vows vengeance on everyone involved in his capture and trial. In place of his hand, the madman wears an array of deadly weapons. He associates his foes with body parts – for instance, the cop who arrested him is the “arm of the law.” So after each revenge killing he makes off with that body part. The wax museum owner has a special incentive to stop the culprit, because he solved the initial murder and Cravette has indentified him as “the head of the law.” Gulp.

The movie was filmed as a pilot for a series to be called “House of Wax,” but it was deemed too gory for TV. But I would have tuned into such a show every week!

The devil is afoot in Merry Old England in “Blood on Satan’s Claw.”

BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, 1971

This movie is set in village in 17th century England, where a series of bizarre events suggest to superstitious peasants that the devil is afoot. The trouble begins when a farmer plowing a field uncovers a deformed skull with one leering eye. Later, young townsfolk begin to sprout patches of fur and other odd markings on their bodies. It’s up to the local judge, a rational man who is initially skeptical of the supernatural, to stop the epidemic and solve the mystery. High production values and convincing period dialogue elevate the film. It’s like watching a version of “The Crucible” in which Satan really is on the prowl.

Dinner is served! An army officer resorts to cannibalism in “Ravenous.”

RAVENOUS, 1999

The always compelling Guy Pearce ( “L.A. Confidential”) stars in this film, which offers a unique take on cannibalism.

The story takes place during in 1840s California during the Mexican-American War. Pearce plays a U.S. Army captain who comes across the aftermath of a Donner Party-like disaster. The sole survivor, a Colonel Ives, is now hooked on human flesh. According to a Native American legend recounted in the movie, a man who consumes the flesh of his enemies takes their strength but becomes a Wendigo, a demon cursed by a hunger for man meat. Turns out the Indians were right. Col. Ives has cured himself of tuberculosis and turned himself into an invincible superman through cannibalism. Worse still, he gets others addicted and is bent on turning our hero Capt. Boyd into a cannibal too.

I found the notion of cannibal as a sort of vampire thought-provoking and appreciated the film’s dark humor. With great performances from Pearce and Robert Carlyle as the sinister Colonel Ives.

The author of this article also wrote the acclaimed horror novel Hour of the Beast. In the opening chapter, the unthinkable happens. Then things get out of hand.

Hour of the Beast is available in hardcover and softcover at Amazon.com. But you can save $4 by clicking HERE! The Kindle version is just $7 and the Ebook is a measly $5. Be the first on your block to read this bone-chilling tale — before the motion picture hits the big screen.

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