As a lifelong horror movie fan, I've grown to dread most vampire films. How can such a venerable and classic film monster be so off-putting to me? Most vampire films just seem to suck, and not just in the cool, neck-bitey way. I guess that I see a particularly common lack of originality in most vampire movies, as most of the modern ones seem to just rip off Anne Rice or go the pseudo-super hero route like the Blade movies. Very rarely are vampires even portrayed as scary anymore, they're more often black vinyl clad immortals with complicated sex lives and super powers.
A lot of people like those types of vampire movies, so to each their own. I've tended to enjoy ones that break from the mold in one way or another, and bring something new and interesting to the mythology. Sure, the old style, cape and coffin vampires are fun, but it's difficult to really take them seriously anymore. It's just such an old fashioned image, and has been done to death. Yes, I like Hammer horror films, and the old Universal monster movies, but they don't generally scare me, they've become somewhat quaint over the many decades since their releases.
While this is not a comprehensive list, here are a few vampire films I really like for one reason or another.
8. "The Hunger" - 1983
OK, The Hunger is not a "great" film, but it's definitely heavy on atmosphere and was a break from the typical, caped Dracula mold. The film has a great beginning that used footage of Bauhaus playing their iconic song "Bela Lugosi's Dead," and it's no wonder that so many goths I've known love this movie. Despite having more than a few flaws, "The Hunger" also has David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, and Catherine Deneuve, not to mention an odd take on the idea of immortality and everlasting youth, making it a memorable entry into the vampire genre.
7. "Martin" - 1976
This is one of George Romero's '70s era films that's not as well known as his zombie masterpieces, but it's a very good unconventional vampire movie. John Amplas plays Martin, a young man who may or may not be a real vampire. Whatever he is, Martin has problems, because he has visions from the distant past that indicate he's an old world vampire. Then again, these may be fabrications of his own mind - it's never entirely clear. After a train ride in which Martin drugs and kills a woman by slashing her wrist with a razor and then drinking the blood, he is taken in by an old relative who believes Martin is a real nosferatu. The film never lets on whether Martin is a supernatural being or a mentally deranged killer, but that is part of why the movie is so interesting. I'd rank Martin as one of Romero's best films, it's certainly worth a look.
6. "Salem's Lot" - 1979 This could've gone really badly. For some reason adaptations of Stephen King's stories are often awful, and a 1979 TV mini series sounds like a set up for failure. But it was also directed by Tobe Hooper, the man responsible for "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" just a few years before, and while it's far from a perfect adaptation, "Salem's Lot" gets a few things right.
First and foremost, it's genuinely spooky. The vampires in this one are spooky as hell, and a few scenes are way more creepy than was the norm for television way back then, and still pack a visceral punch today. An undead boy floating up to a former friend's bedroom window, the violent resurrection of a female vampire at a funeral home, and the appearance of the head vampire Mr. Barlow all stand out as scary stuff. The made-for-TV adaptation suffers from a few stylistic issues common in made for television mini-series of the time, but "Salem's Lot" is still worth checking out.
5. "Interview With the Vampire" - 1994
Wait, didn't I say that I wasn't a fan of Anne Rice's vampire stories? Yes, yes I did. Her writing style is not to my liking, more than anything else, as it reminds me a little too much of romance novels. But "Interview With the Vampire" DID revamp (forgive me) the vampire mythos way back when it was published in 1976, and Rice has legions of fans.
That doesn't mean a movie adaptation would necessarily be good, and this film could've gone very badly wrong if it hadn't been handled well. Having a great cast including Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonia Banderas, and Tom Cruise, who handles the character of Lestat much better than anyone expected he could. To a viewer such as myself, Interview With a Vampire is an exception to many rules. I find it to be a well made and entertaining film despite not liking the source material that much, and it's a lot better than Coppola's overwrought version of "Dracula" which came out two years previously.
4. "Shadow of the Vampire" - 2000
This entry is an interesting and stylized one, the fictional story of how the real life director of the classic silent vampire masterpiece, "Nosferatu," recruited a real vampire to make his film as realistic as possible. Keeping the deal a secret from the rest of the crew while the horrifyingly real blood drinker wreaks havoc is more than director Frederich Murnau (played by John Malkovich) can handle. The vampire is truly creepy, and actor Willem Dafoe does an amazing job playing the character.
3. "Habit" - 1997
Written and directed by Larry Fessenden, who also stars in the film, "Habit" is an odd treat, and a favorite vampire movie of mine. It accurately captures many of the details of life as an outsider in the '90s, following Sam, a bohemian slacker who seems to barely get by in the underbelly of New York's underground. Sam's not getting anywhere, but when he meets a mysterious woman at a party, and embarks on a sexually charged fling with her, his life gets really complicated fast. He begins to mentally unravel and becomes convinced she is a vampire. The film is low budget and has an art film sensibility, and is also fairly graphic with its depictions of sex. Still, it's a tragedy, and the material is handled well.
2. "Let the Right One In" - 2008 This Swedish film, based on a book of the same name, is a great vampire film with lots of unconventional touches. Set in the early '80s, Oskar is a shy, bullied kid who collects knives and photos of bloody crimes. He's a misfit who bonds very quickly when he meets a new girl named Eli, who is actually a centuries old vampire with a pedophile henchman. Oskar and Eli form a strange and oddly charming friendship, and that is at the core of the story. This is one of the better vampire films I've ever seen, and worth tracking down.
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Against the odds, the American remake, "Let Me In," is also very good. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it, but it won me over.
1. "Only Lovers Left Alive" - 2013 I admit I just saw this film recently, but it's now near the top of my list of great modern vampire films. I've always enjoyed the films Jim Jarmusch has made, but this might be one of his best. The vampires in "Only Lovers Left Alive" aren't evil monsters. Even the worst of them comes across as a reckless party girl who can't control her impulses more than a creature of darkness. They instead are so long-lived that they have either grown weary of the disappointing nature of humanity around them, or have learned to appreciate the beauty of our world, and to enjoy it fully. The two main characters, Adam and Eve, make one of the most compellingly interesting vampire couples I've ever seen on film.
But it won't be for everyone. It's not an action film and some people might find it slow in parts. But this film is so charming that it will win many others over. It also has a great soundtrack. Highly recommended viewing.