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One bite and you're hooked

There are plenty of vampires to go around during a film festival devoted to the hungry nocturnal creatures.

October 22, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

THE one "Dracula" movie noticeably missing from American Cinematheque's "The Blood Is the Life: Vampires on Film" program at the Aero Theatre is -- "Dracula."

The 1931 Tod Browning-directed granddaddy of all vampire epics that made a star of Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi was unavailable because of Halloween. "We booked it too late," says co-programmer Chris D. "This was a good 2 1/2 or three months ago."

Taking the place of "Dracula" is 1944's underrated "The Return of the Vampire," screening Thursday. The low-budget Columbia horror film stars Lugosi as a suave vampire named Armand Tesla.

That film, directed by Lew Landers, finds Tesla's reign of neck-biting ended in 1918 London when his heart is pierced by a metal spike. Flash forward to World War II. After the Germans drop bombs on London and one lands in the cemetery, two soldiers are sent to rebury bodies. They find Tesla in his coffin and, mistaking the spike for shrapnel, remove it from his chest. Tesla is soon on the hunt for fresh blood.

Chris D believes audiences' enduring love affair with the vampire myth is because of an "underlying, subliminal sexual element to them. There is something seductive to that. You don't really get that with reanimated corpses, zombies or werewolves."

There is also the identification factor. "There are a lot of vampires in everyday life that don't suck blood but suck the energy out of people," says Chris D. "I think that vampires are the closest of all figures in the supernatural or fantastic that have some sort of base in reality."

Though Universal dominated the horror genre for several decades, by the late 1950s, England's scrappy Hammer Films had started producing a series of atmospheric thrillers beginning with 1958's "Horror of Dracula," which screens Wednesday. Christopher Lee gives an erotic performance as a vampire; Peter Cushing also stars as Van Helsing. Terence Fisher directed.

The second feature that evening is Hammer's sophomore vampire release, 1960's "The Brides of Dracula," also directed by Fisher. David Peel stars as a vampire who feasts on the females in a local village, and Cushing returns as the vampire hunter.

Screening Thursday with "The Return of the Vampire" is Roman Polanski's 1967 spoof "The Fearless Vampire Killers," which stars Jack McGowran as a dithering professor searching for vampires in Transylvania with his assistant (Polanski). Sharon Tate plays the daughter of a tavern keeper who is kidnapped by a vampire (Ferdy Mayne).

On tap for Friday is Joel Schumacher's 1987 "The Lost Boys," which revolves around young punk vampires feeding on a small coastal town. Jason Patric, Corey Haim and Kiefer Sutherland, as the platinum blond leader of the vamps, star.

Rounding out the bill is 1973's bizarre Hammer thriller "Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter." Directed by Brian Clemens of "The Avengers" TV series fame, the chiller stars Horst Janson in the title role -- a swordsman late of the Imperial Guard who uses his weapon to rid the countryside of vampires.

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Moviethon keeps you up all night

The Aero is also ringing in the Halloween season Saturday night with its "Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon." Kicking off the six-film festival is George Romero's zombie movie, 1968's "Night of the Living Dead." Other films include Stuart Gordon's outrageously gruesome and funny 1985 thriller "Re-Animator" and 1964's ghost story "Castle of Blood," starring horror fave Barbara Steele as the specter.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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'The Blood Is the Life: Vampires on Film' and 'Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon'

Where: American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

When: Wednesday through Saturday

Price: $7 to $10

Contact: 323-466-FILM or go to www.american

cinematheque.com

Schedule

Wednesday: "Horror of Dracula," "The Brides of Dracula," 7:30 p.m.

Thursday: "The Fearless Vampire Killers," "The Return of the Vampire," 7:30 p.m.

Friday: "The Lost Boys," "Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter," 7:30 p.m.

Saturday: "Night of the Living Dead," "Re-Animator," "House by the Cemetery," "Castle of Blood," "Pumpkinhead" and "Burial Ground," 7:30 p.m. to

6 a.m.

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