The 10 most important lessons from '80s vampire movies

The 10 most important lessons from '80s vampire movies

Once seen as dusty, old dental cases in frilly shirts who’d lounge in their coffins and listen to baroque between victims, vampires received a major makeover in the ‘80s.

They rocked out to Bauhaus. They invaded high schools and suburbia. They wore an absolute ton of sunglasses.

The decade brought a true resurgence and reimagining of the cinematic bloodsucker.

For some, these movies were mindless entertainment. But for others—you know, the sort who just might happen to have waterproof roll cases of professionally sharpened stakes strategically stashed about their hometowns—these movies were a goldmine of updated vampire lore.

I’m not sure which category you fall into (might be preaching to the choir here), but if you have yet to stock your freezer with fresh garlic heads, you may want to bookmark this page. It could save your neck one day.

Since I realize time may be of the essence depending on why you came here, let’s hop to it: here are the 10 most important things to be gleaned from 80s vampire movies.

Vampires are bad influences

I mean, they sleep all day, they go around not caring how their breath smells, and they kill people. That’s just no way to live your life, undead or otherwise. The wayward youths of Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987), for example, are the perfect anti-role models and not the kind of fellas you want to fall in with.

They might change your chow mein into worms or get you to race your motorcycle toward a foggy cliff at night or trick you into looking the other way so they can sink their fangs into your neck. You just never know what no-good they’re gonna get up to.

So a good rule of thumb is to just not hang out with vampires, especially ones that sound as naturally evil as Kiefer Sutherland.

Because the next thing you know, you’ll be coming home late and wearing sunglasses everywhere you go, and if there’s anything ‘80s movies have taught us it’s that wearing sunglasses is a fast track to self-destruction for any respectable youth.

So remember, kids, don’t hang out with vampires and don’t wear sunglasses and you’ll probably turn out okay.

Vampires can be good influences

Well, maybe not the vampires that secretly operate a Kansas strip club in Vamp (1986), which definitely did not influence Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) in many ways. But some vampires can be good influences. Take Robert Rusler’s recently undead fraternity hopeful AJ in that very film, for instance.


His fangs have just come in and he’s feeling the urge for the red stuff flowing through his friend Keith’s veins. But does he go Lugosi on Keith? Naw, he grabs a stake and pitches in to help out the living.

This one’s more of an after-the-fact kinda thing, but if you do happen to join the legion of the undead, consider not fanging everyone around you who’s still living. Just as a courtesy. I’m just saying, it’d be real cool of you as a vampire to resist doing that.

You aren’t safe in the daylight

Not as long as vampires have an ample supply of sunscreen available to them.

According to David Carradine in the form of a claymation bat in Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989), daylight is “merely uncomfortable” for vampires if they’re properly lathered. It makes sense this never came up in any vampire lore of olde since modern sunscreen has only been around since the mid-1930s.

We thought we were doing mankind a good turn by inventing commercially available, rub-on UV protection, but really we were just doubling the vampire’s potential hunting hours.

If you thought a bit of stinging in the eyes was a bad enough inconvenience, you can thank Coppertone the next time you get a pair of fangs in the jugular during the day.

Your new neighbor probably is a vampire and you’re the only one who’ll believe it

Getting a new neighbor is always something of a gamble. They might have weird smells coming from their kitchen or they might come with a really obnoxious catchphrase. Or they might sleep in a coffin and openly desire to drink your blood.

Next thing you know, they’re getting chummy with your mom and dancing with your girl in the most ‘80s nightclub ever. Just ask Charlie Brewster of Fright Night (1985). He’s been there. He knows.

Nightclub scene from Fright Night (1985).
Copyright by Columbia Pictures and other relevant production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.

The worst part is that absolutely no one will believe you. You could show the cops Super 8 home movie of your neighbor transforming into a bat and they’ll simply laugh off your overactive imagination and leave you to defend your precious life on your own.

Your mom will just think it’s hormonal. Yes, the photographic evidence is hormonal.

Your only hope is to accost a horror-themed TV personality on their way out of work, rave at them about vampires being real, and promise to pay them fair wages for their fictional vampire-hunting services. They’ll believe you.

Ultimately, your best defense is probably Scott Glenn with a magical quarterstaff

I know, kind of an obvious one.

This is, after all, the answer to most things that could kill you, during the ‘80s or otherwise. But just in case you weren’t aware, if you ever find yourself being stalked by an evil, vampire-like entity in a Romanian castle, you’re gonna want Scott Glenn around. You’ll see why if you ever manage to get your hands on a copy of 1983’s The Keep—a film so good Michael Mann has refused to release it on home video because he doesn’t want people to realize he’s been slumming it ever since with lesser fare like Heat and Collateral

Forget garlic. Forget stakes. Forget sunlight.

If you’ve got a vampire on your tail, just find Scott Glenn with a magical quarterstaff and you’re set.

There’s always time for a dance-off

Whether scoping out a good artery before last call at the local watering hole or racing the sun to get back to the crypt, it seems vampires are constantly up against the clock.

Be that as it may, if the ‘80s taught us anything it’s that there is always time for a dance-off.

Sure, you may desperately need to drink the blood of young Jim Carrey by the end of All Hallow’s Eve, like the Countess in Once Bitten (1985), but who wouldn’t spare a few minutes out of a busy schedule to dance to Maria Vidal in a gymnasium?

What’s even more astounding than the fact Lauren Hutton’s blood-crazed Countess engages in this impromptu competition is the fact that she somehow loses despite wielding powers of hypnosis and possessing centuries’ worth of training in the art of seduction.

Still, the point remains: no matter how apocalyptic the scenario, there is always time for a dance-off.

You don’t want to pick a fight in a bar with a vampire

Not that picking bar fights is a smart thing to do in general (because it isn’t), but you especially don’t want to get up in the business of some bloodsucker who’s enjoying a cool, frothy one.

It really has mostly to do with the whole super strength, impervious to bullets, regenerating wounds thing. It’s like insulting Wolverine after he’s tossed a couple back. That’s just not going to turn out well for anyone.

So if you come across an unsavory fella like Bill Paxton’s Severen in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987) who rolls insults off the tongue as easily and as snarkily as any character Bill Paxton ever played, just let it slide—and maybe quietly begin searching your contacts for where you have saved the digits of Scott Glenn with a magical quarterstaff.

We aren’t safe from vampires anywhere

If I’m correct in my assumptions about the priorities of NASA’s early scientists, one of the most attractive things about working on deep space travel must surely have been the hope of getting away from this horrible planet with all of its vampires, werewolves, and reincarnated Egyptian princes running amok.

But then 1985’s Lifeforce came along and was like, “Hey NASA, you know there are vampires in space too, right? Good luck ever getting away from them.” I’m pretty sure the book Lifeforce was based on was the sole reason for the defunding of NASA in the 1970s.

Space vampires are so much worse than Earth vampires too. They don’t give you immortality. They just suck the life right out of you and turn you into a shriveled-up animatronic.

But at least we have a natural planetary defense against them thanks to the age-old rule that vampires can’t enter your home unless invited. Unless the person you send into space is Col. Tom Carlsen who just opens the door right up for them.

It’s vampires 101, Tom. If you find a vampire in space, you don’t invite it to Earth on behalf of the imminently doomed human race. This is day one stuff they teach you at NASA. C’mon!

The only thing weirder than a vampire is Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage has given some pretty weird performances over the years, from screaming about CGI bees in The Wicker Man to breaking down and going buck wild in Mandy. Subtle is simply not in his repertoire. It therefore truly means something when I say Vampire’s Kiss (1989) is Cage at his weirdest, most eccentric, most volatilely wide-eyed and shouty.

He’s weirder when he’s just sitting in his character’s office brandishing a wildly inconsistent, highly pretentious faux-British accent than when he’s going around doing his vampire thing with plastic Halloween fangs in his mouth.

He also ate three cockroaches for this film. The actor, not the character.

If you’re trapped in a dark alley with Nicolas Cage mid-performance at one end and a vampire at the other, I don’t know what to tell you, you’re going to have a decision to make.

Being a vampire can be a totally normal thing

As with anything in life, being a vampire is kind of what you make of it, isn’t it? At least that’s the idea behind 1987’s My Best Friend Is a Vampire. What for some might be a curse—being fated to walk the Earth till the end of time, watching everyone around you die in endless cycles, having to kill again and again to satisfy your bloodthirst—to others can be a totally normal thing, even a blessing in disguise.

Is that unholy chalice of blood half empty or half full? I don’t know, it’s all in how you look at it really.

When teenage delivery boy, Jeremy Capello, accepts a mysterious woman’s invitation to come over to her creepy mansion for a romantic rendezvous in the middle of the night (totally normal thing in the ‘80s, happened all the time), he promptly becomes nosferatu.

While that might suck for most high schoolers for whom teenhood can be hard enough as it is, Jeremy is a chalice half-full kinda guy. He quickly learns vampirism doesn’t have to be a disability. You just have to wear cool shades, learn how to shave without a mirror, and start pounding pig’s blood protein shakes.

In the end, for Jeremy, being a vampire just kind of is. Sort of an “I’m okay, you’re okay” approach to the whole thing. Vampires don’t suck (figuratively)—they’re just there, same as you and me.

Mike Ettel is a freelance journalist who enjoys watching, reading, and writing science fiction. He’s still waiting for the day dinosaur cloning is made a reality.