1979 and the Last of the Gothic Vampires | Connecting to the Grandfathers

Manor Vellum
9 min readFeb 25, 2020

By Brian Keiper

Credit: Jessica Seamans courtesy of Waxwork Records.

Gothic horror: that peculiar brand of horror characterized by great crumbling castles, mythic monsters, and mad doctors, had ruled over Hollywood and European horror films since the beginning of cinema. Films like Nosferatu (1922) and the output from studios like Universal (with their classic monster cycles of the 30s and 40s), Britain’s Hammer Studios, and American International Pictures under the watch of Roger Corman in the 50s and 60s, established and continued the tropes created in literature a century before by names like Shelly, Stoker, Poe and later, in his own unique way, Lovecraft.

However, in 1960, a great blow — or perhaps a knife slash — was struck against this type of horror when one of cinema’s great masters unleashed something wholly new upon the genre. Eight years after Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the horrors of the real world had overtaken what was seen on screen, and films like Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead, and perhaps most directly, Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (all 1968) openly rejected this old style of horror. By 1976, the Universal cycle had been long over, Corman had moved on to more realistic horror, and Hammer was limping toward its demise. However, gothic horror had one last great gasp in 1979 with three iconic vampire films very much rooted in the classic gothic style: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht, John Badham’s Dracula, and Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot.

(L to R): Dracula (1931), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and Die, Monster Die! (1965)
(L to R): Psycho (1960), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Targets (1968)

Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (also released in an English language version as Nosferatu: The Vampyre) purposely adheres to the long-established tropes and rules of the Gothic vampire film. “I think doing a genre film has to respect certain rules and certain…magic that can be in the genre…Once you do something like this you have to root yourself in some of the basic rules and that’s a very interesting and fine type of work which I’ve never done before or after,” Herzog has said. The…

Manor Vellum

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