Posted on June 27, 2010 by Jason Thorson
There have been several hundred vampire movies made over the last 90 years. The vast majority of these are uninspired clones of the archetypal blood sucker portrayed by Bela Lugosi in 1931. However, there’s a small minority of vampire flicks that are ambitious in their recipes of blood-fiend lore. Some of these movies are great, others are merely good, but all of them are unique, entertaining, and deserving recognition based on their own merits.
Here are some recommendations:
Nosferatu (1922) – F. W. Murnau’s silent German classic is the first vampire movie. What makes this film great is the fact that actor Max Schreck’s creature is a grotesque ghoul, sporting a truly frightening visage. There’s nothing debonair about this pioneer of the undead. It may be arguably the most important horror film ever made, the genesis of the form if you will.
Dracula (1931) – This is the movie that introduced the vampire, as it’s currently conceived, into the pop cultural lexicon. In playing Count Dracula, the great Bela Lugosi ironically achieved immortality as he will forever be the face of a concept – a symbol that manifests throughout all of pop culture, from costumes and decorations to Sesame Street and breakfast cereal. Despite all that, in 1931 this movie was trailblazing the genre, forever entrenching the horror film into the world’s cinematic landscape.
Fright Night (1985) – This is a vampire flick made especially for horror movie geeks. Charley is the typical teen horror fan boy. Nothing too exciting ever happens in Charley’s “real life” until he begins to suspect that his next door neighbor may be a vampire. His girlfriend, Amy, and his best buddy, Evil Ed, both think he’s nuts, as do the town’s authority figures. The only adult who will at least pretend to consider Charley’s theory is Peter Vincent, a former horror movie star who’s hit rock bottom as the host of a late night cable-access horror show. Charley is particularly fond of one of Peter’s roles as a fierce vampire hunter and Peter plays along to maintain Charlie’s fandom. This inevitably leads to Peter becoming a hilariously freaked out ally in saving Charley’s neighborhood from real undead evil. This movie works way better than any intelligent person should assume it would – a little scary, a little funny, and a lot of fun.
Near Dark (1987) – Written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, this vamp flick has maintained its effectiveness throughout the years, a testament to the stacked cast and the unique tone bestowed to it by Bigelow. Nineteen years before his turn as Heroes’ Nathan Petrelli, Adrian Pasdar plays Caleb Colton, a young cowboy who hooks up with a pretty-young-thing named Mae. Mae nips Caleb on the neck, and wouldn’t you know it? Turns out, Mae’s a vampire, so now Caleb has to relearn the definition of “sunburnt”. It’s not long before he’s persuaded to join her group, but he’s not too keen on the whole killing-and-drinking-blood-thing. When Caleb’s human family becomes potential food, the stakes are raised (no pun intended) and a showdown ensues. The cast comprising Mae’s vampire cohorts includes Lance Henricksen as their leader, and Bill Paxton as the vampire version of Chet in Weird Science – one could reasonably enjoy the movie for this alone.
The Lost Boys (1987) – Directed by Joel Schumacher, this movie has just enough humor and just enough horror to balance the overstuffed cornucopia of 1980’s teen movie conventions. For example, I could stop after typing the words: “Corey Haim and Corey Feldman” and you’d be fine. But there’s more – Jason Patric, Jami Gertz, Alex Winter, best known as Bill S. Preston, Esq. of the excellent-adventuring duo, Bill and Ted. Best of all, the film features Kiefer Sutherland in what was at the time his 317th consecutive role (maybe an exaggeration) as the cigarette smoking, leather coat-wearing “tough” from the wrong side of the tracks; only here he’s also a vampire. Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander play Edgar and Alan Frog, a pair of comic book-obsessed vampire-hunting Rambo’s who take Corey Haim’s Sam character under their collective wing to teach him the deadly arts just in the nick of time. Great soundtrack, haunting tone, good times.
From Dusk till Dawn (1996) – Directed by Robert Rodriguez, written by Quentin Tarantino, and coming in the immediate wake of Tarantino’s brilliant Pulp Fiction, this movie can only be described as “Badass”. The Gecko Brothers, two sociopaths on the lam from the law, unknowingly take their family of hostages to the Titty Twister, a strip club for vampires deep in the Mexican desert. It has all the ingredients of the sleazy grind house extravaganza’s from the early 1970’s – sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll and whole lot of splattered plasma. The cast is a who’s who of odd and talented character actors: Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, George Clooney, Cheech Marin, Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, Fred Williamson, John Saxon, and my favorite – the master of splatter, Tom Savini as Sex Machine, the man with a dual-cylinder revolver for a cock. Need I say more?
The Night Flier (1998) – This blood speckled gem is a little known Stephen King adaptation produced by HBO Films. A Cessna-flying vampire flies from one rural airport to the next, feeding along the way. While two tabloid reporters are hot on the trail of what they suspect is a serial killer, one of them begins to see the whole horrifying picture. This movie is scary, gory, and fun as it manages a fresh take on the vampire mythos. Just try to remember the last time HBO produced anything that wasn’t of the highest caliber. Now, after unsuccessfully racking your brain for a few hours, you should be good and ready to get a hold of a copy and give it a look.
30 Days of Night (2007) – In Barrow, Alaska night can last for a month. Now add vampires to this scenario and hold tight, because David Slade’s adaptation of Steve Niles’ bleak and brutal graphic novel is really everything I want in a vampire movie. I’m not a fan of the erotic, pretty vampires that inhabit Anne Rice’s brain. I want animalistic, primal, and predatory monsters all armed with a voracious and single-minded quest for human blood and that’s what this movies brings to table in sloppy wet heaps. This well-written, well-acted, and well-executed movie is for those of you who like your horror movies scary rather than funny and your vampires savage rather than sexy. Can’t get enough of my unadulterated praise? You can check out my review here.
Let the Right One In (2008) – This Swedish film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, also written by John Ajvide Lindqvist. In my analysis it’s one of the top-two genre offerings of 2008 (Along with the French masterpiece, Martyrs). Moreover, this movie is one of best films of that year in general. Twelve-year-old Oskar is a bullied and lonesome boy, living with his parents in an apartment facility in Blackeberg, Sweden. When Eli, a girl of ostensibly the same age moves into the complex, she and Oskar kindle a profound and multifaceted relationship with each other that requires truths be revealed, one of which is that Eli is a vampire. Sometimes this process is beautiful, and sometimes it’s horrifying, but it’s always fascinating. Every element of the movie is outstanding, but specifically the small casts’ nuanced performances are exemplary. The acting prowess of this film’s young principal players is something to behold. Right now, the very best horror movies are coming from places where the opportunity to make such films is relatively new, so these movies aren’t disposable crap aimed at the lowest common denominator like their American counterparts are, but rather these movies are being made by serious filmmakers for passionate film aficionados.