Vampires! Vampires everywhere! Pop culture has, it seems, embraced the Vampire above all other types of movie monsters and it’s easy to understand why. There is something inherently romantic and sexy about the idea of this immortal, eternally youthful creature that exists in the shadows and can grant eternity by the exchange of bodily fluids, (blood you perverts).
When we think of Vampires in a historical sense, the obvious springs to mind like Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory but the Vampire myth in western culture has its roots in something other than the works of Bram Stoker.
The term Vampire was popularized in western Europe in the 18th century with reports of mass hysteria in areas such as the Balkans and eastern Europe that resulted in corpses being staked to prevent them from rising from the grave and feeding off of the blood of the living.
Sure, Bram Stoker’s book brought Vampirism to the attention of the masses, but it certainly didn’t invent it. In fact, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu beat Stoker to the punch with his 1872 novel, Carmilla. A gothic, horror tale told from the perspective of a woman who is preyed upon by a female Vampire named Carmilla preceded Stokers more popular novel by 26 years.
Skip forward to the 21st century and you can’t avoid these pesky, overgrown Leeches. Since Vampires hit it big on the telly screen with Joss Whedon’s excellent Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997) we have more Vampire TV shows than we can shake a stake at. The Vampire Diaries (2009), The Originals (2013) and Legacies (2018) are just a few examples.
It’s the movie Vampire I’m interested in here and compiling a top 10 list relating to Vampires is a tricky thing considering there are just so many of them. It’s a top 10 that I have had to give some serious thought to before I was finally happy with my choices. As usual, opinions are like assholes and a list of favourites are subjective. I don’t expect that everyone will agree with my choices. In fact, I encourage debate.
So here we go. Here is my top 10 countdown of my favourite Vampire movies.
10: Dracula (1931)
Directed By: Tod Browning, Written By: John L Balderston, Louis Bromfield, Tod Browning, Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David manners & Dwight Frye.
“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” That 1000 yard stare. That thick Hungarian accent. Lugosi is Dracula. If some actors are born to play a part, then Lugosi was put on this earth to inhabit Bram Stoker’s title character. Over three decades Lugosi worked with Universal pictures on many of their horror films including The Black Cat (1934) and The Body Snatcher (1945) but he will always be most associated with Count Dracula.
Picture any kid on Halloween going trick or treating as Drac and it’s the black cloak with the big collar, the swept back hair and the fangs. Tod Browning’s film is as responsible for this look as Coca-Cola are for how we envision Santa Claus.
Dracula is fast approaching its 90th anniversary, and it’s still a beautifully shot film. Its use of lighting against its black and white camera work causes shadows to dance across the screen, giving the picture a wonderful haunting quality that holds its own perfectly on the Blu-Ray version that I own. Few older pictures transfer particularly well to our high definition viewing systems and with good reason, but Dracula really seems to benefit from its HD restoration.
If you wanted to be critical, you could point out the hilarity of some of the special effects. The dangling Bats on strings for example never fail to raise a laugh but I reiterate, it’s a 90-year-old movie and the hokey special effects only add to the charm. The performances are flawless too. I’ve already touched on Lugosi as the title character, but special mention must go to Dwight Frye as Renfield. His descent into madness after his encounter with the Count is brilliantly played out. He transitions from deed handler to bug eating lunatic with a gleeful, scene chewing ease.
If you have never caught Dracula before it’s worth hunting out as the birthplace of how we perceive the Count in today's popular culture.
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09. Martin (1977)
Directed By: George A Romero, Written By: George A Romero, Starring: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, & Christine Forrest.
While Martin is a story about Vampirism, it’s not technically a Vampire movie. Martin is more a tale of a young man who thinks he is a Vampire. His craving for blood is a more psychological one than a physical need to survive.
Martin truly believes he is an 84-year-old Vampire and therefore drinks human blood to reinforce his belief. He eventually goes to stay with his cousin Christine, who sets out to cure Martin of his delusion and therefore save his soul.
We get an insight into just how far Martin will go to act out his Vampire fantasy early in the film as he stalks a woman on a train, only to drug her and slash her wrist with a razor so he can feast on the claret that oozes from her wound. From the get-go we get to see just how depraved and mentally ill Martin is. It’s not entirely Martin’s fault however as his family, especially his Uncle plant the seeds of his delusion by treating him as the creature he believes himself to be. His manipulative Uncle even goes as far as to try and repel him with Garlic and doesn’t want him anywhere near Christine.
Martin tries to do the right thing but before long his thirst gets the better of him and he is up to his old tricks again, prowling the streets of Pittsburgh in search for his next victim.
Martin speaks to me more as a study of mental illness rather than a Vampire story, but it is an interesting take on the whole mythology. George A Romero is known more for his contribution to the zombie genre, and it’s easy to forget that he made some exceptional movies outside of his Dead films.
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08. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Directed By: Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi, Written By: Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi, Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer & Jonny Brugh.
New Zealand has offered some truly bizarre yet none the less hilarious and entertaining horror movies. Peter Jackson began his career with comedy-splatter movies Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992) and if anyone has seen Black Sheep (2006) and the criminally underrated Housebound (2014) they will know what I mean.
What we do in the shadows is a comedy from the team that brough us Flight of the concords (2007) and introduces us to the day-to-day interactions of a group of housemates. These are not just any housemates though. They are a nest of ancient Vampires trying to find their place in a modern society that seems completely at odds with their centuries-old traditions. It’s from this that most of the comedy derives. One especially funny scene sees a newly turned Vampire learn the ramifications of what happens to his newly undead body should he try to eat chips.
The ingenious writing ensures that every line of dialogue is priceless. “Werewolves not Swearwolves,” springs to mind. As does a scene where one of the Vampires tries to explain why he only eats virgins, “If you were going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.”
The movie spawned a television series of the same name and it’s equally funny. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth checking out. What we do in the shadows launched its director, Taika Waititi into the mainstream with his work on Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and that movie has his comedic stamp all over it. If you’re looking for a movie that will have you laughing endlessly while paying a loving tribute to a hundred years of Vampire cinema then you should definitely check this one out.
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07. Thirst (2009)
Directed By: Chan-Wook Park, Written By: Chan-Wook Park & Seo-Kyeong Jeong, Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim & Hee-jin Choi.
Chan-Wook Park may be better known for his Vengeance trilogy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Lady Vengeance (2005) but we shouldn’t overlook his 2009 Vampire movie, Thirst. Why shouldn’t we? Well for one thing, it’s an interesting take on the Vampire myth and for another, it’s a bloody good movie.
Kang-ho Song plays a priest who volunteers to take part in a medical experiment that will hopefully lead to a cure for a deadly virus. Something goes horribly wrong however and pushes the priest to the brink of death. He eventually survives thanks to an accidental transfusion of Vampire blood.
Blood lust soon kicks in and the priest, not wanting to harm innocents works on finding an alternative way to quench his thirst. Eventually he meets a young woman by the name of Tae-ju and on discovering that she was horribly abused by her husband, the priest sets about plotting to get revenge on her abusive ex and acquire the blood he so craves. The priest makes the decision to turn Tae-ju into a Vampire but it isn’t long before he regrets this decision. It seems that Tae-ju’s lust for blood far outweighs his own.
Thirst is a tale of lust, blood and guilt and it’s just one of many examples of why Chan-Wook Park is one of the most gifted, inventive and interesting filmmakers to come out of Asia since Takashi Miike.
Thirst is a beautiful film to look at. Every frame, every camera movement shows real care and attention to detail. Its use of colour or lack there-of adds a real atmosphere to the picture. The ending is genuinely heartbreaking as the priest has to make a hard choice to fix what he has done.
It’s been a while since I last sat and watched Thirst, but writing this has made me feel that a revisit is required.
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06. Vampyres (1974)
Directed By: Jose Ramon Larraz, Written By: Diana Daubeney, Starring: Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska & Murray Brown.
I first saw Vampyres back in the mid-90s when I attended what used to be the Eurofest horror festivals in South Kensington. Each year over the course of a weekend the festival would screen banned or obscure horror movies and the stars and makers of the featured films would attend to introduce their work. In attendance for this screening was Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska and director Jose Laraz.
I immediately fell in love with the movie upon first viewing and while I enjoyed all the naked flesh on show, my reasons for loving this movie so much ran much deeper. Vampyres is all about atmosphere and it comes heavy and oppressive throughout the movie. Think of a hammer horror film but with the sinister turned up to eleven. That’s how this movie spoke to me.
The plot is pretty straightforward. While indulging in a little lady love, Morris and Dziubinska are disturbed by an unseen assailant who shoots them dead with a shotgun. Jump forward in time a little and the ladies are now bloodsucking creatures of the night (although they can and do operate during the day). They seduce passing motorists and after luring them back to their creepy, windy mansion they indulge in sex before draining the blood from their hapless victims. It’s not a complicated plot but like I said, it’s really the gloomy atmosphere of the piece that gets to me the most.
Vampyres is pretty rare and I doubt many of you reading this list have seen it but you should do. If you’re a fan of the old Hammer movies but with a grittier European twist, you won’t be disappointed.
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05. Fright Night (1985)
Directed By: Tom Holland, Written By: Tom Holland, Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse and Roddy McDowall.
Fright Night is very much an 80s movie. Think of a scarier, bloodier version of The Burbs (1989) and you’re halfway there. The movie is the brainchild of horror legend Tom Holland (Childs Play–1988 and Thinner–1996) and is the story of a teenage boy, Charley, who suspects that his next-door neighbour Jerry, may be a member of the undead. Sure, Jerry is very charming and Charley’s mother seems very taken with him. Also, factor in that Charley’s mind is warped by the amount of horror movies he indulges in and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Charley is very wrong. As it turns out, he isn’t so Charley enlists the help of TV Vampire hunter, Peter Vincent. The only problem is that Vincent is a fraud and a bit of a coward.
Fright Night is a comedy horror, but the comedy doesn’t overshadow the horror element. When it needs to turn up the scary, it doesn’t hold back, making Jerry a genuinely menacing foe for Charley to face. The real star of the film for me is McDowall as Peter Vincent. A man who I completely out of his depth thanks to the bullshit he has been peddling.
A sequel and a remake were released but I’m not really a fan of either. I would rather just re-watch the original.
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04. The Lost Boys. (1987)
Directed By: Joel Schumacher, Written By: Jan Fischer, James Jeremias & Jeffrey Boam. Starring: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman & Kiefer Sutherland.
I bet you thought it would feature higher on the list. Sorry to disappoint as I know that there is a ridiculous amount of love for this film and believe me, I get it. The Lost Boys is quintessential 80s cool. A movie so cool that it even makes mullet haircuts cool. Who would have thunk it.
Sam and Michael Emerson move with their mother to live at their Grandfathers in the coastal town of Santa Carla. The appeal swiftly wears off once they learn that their new home is the murder capital of the world. Seriously, there are so many missing persons posters going up that it’s a wonder they don’t run out of residents. While Michael gets busy making new friends in the form of David (Sutherland) and his gang of biker misfits, Sam suspects that the gang, and by association, Michael, might be nothing more than a pack of vicious undead killers. Sam and his new buddies, The Frog Brothers set out to rid Santa Carla of the bloodsuckers and save Michael in the process.
The Lost Boys, while not an out-and-out horror movie, is a brilliant addition to the Vampire genre. Everything about it screams cool. It’s endlessly quotable. It boasts a killer soundtrack, and it introduced the world to the two Corey’s.
I attended a horror convention in Manchester this past October and they had a huge Lost Boys reunion, proving that love for this movie hasn’t died out over the years. The Lost Boys is timeless and you would have to have a cold storage shed where your heart should be, not to love it.
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03. Let The Right One In (2008)
Directed By: Tomas Alfredson, Written By: John Ajvide Lindqvist, Starring: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson & Per Ragnar.
Let The Right One In is a modern masterpiece. Coming out of Sweden and based on Lindqvist’s novel, the movie is a clever and original entry into the Vampire genre.
Little Oskar is a lonely, misguided kid who lives in a grubby apartment block in Stockholm. Bullied at school and neglected by his mother, Oskar befriends a strange young girl named Eli. Oskar has no reason to suspect Eli is anything other than she appears, but things are not that simple. Eli is a very old Vampire who became trapped in a child's body because of her immortality. Eli’s father is also a serial killer who spends his night trapping and bleeding his victims to feed his daughter.
Let the Right One In is a beautiful and haunting tale of alienation and friendship. Set in the Swedish suburbs of 1982 against a backdrop of oppressive snowscapes, it’s easy to feel for Oskar. He has no role model to speak of, and when he eventually meets Eli and grows to depend on her so much, it’s perfectly understandable. It’s not a one sided dependency, as Eli eventually needs Oskar as much as he needs her. There is a real depth to their friendship, and it’s the backbone of the entire movie. There are some brutal scenes of violence on display so as to not turn away fans of gore. The acid defacement is a particularly nasty scene.
I have encountered plenty of people who argue that they don’t go to the movies to read but it really is their loss. Let The Right One In is a magnificent movie, and that’s why it features so high on this list.
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02. Near Dark (1987)
Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow, Written By: Kathryn Bigelow & Eric Red, Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton & Jenette Goldstein.
Near Dark, or as I like to call it, the Aliens reunion movie, is a film I find myself turning to again and again and every time I watch it, it feels like the first time (which strangely, is exactly the same way I feel about Aliens).
More of a western than a horror movie, albeit a very gory one, Near Dark is the story of boy meets girl and girl turns out to be a creature of the night with a very possessive Vampire family in her corner. Caleb learns very quickly that he doesn’t fit in with Mae’s clan, especially when they indulge in sprees of violence and bloodletting and it isn’t long before he wants out and to be returned to how he was before the fateful encounter with Mae. It’s Mae’s family that shines brightest. Played by Henriksen, Paxton and Goldstein respectively, but this is Paxton’s film. He portrays Seveeen with an unnerving, unpredictable menace and is so volatile that you never know when he might go off. It’s a brilliant, energetic performance and Paxton has never been better.
Better known for her films such as Point Break (1991) and The Hurt Locker (2008) Bigelow is a brilliant and underrated director and she films Near Dark with a hazy, dreamlike focus. Add to this a chillingly atmospheric soundtrack by Tangerine Dream, the movie is hypnotic and you never really know if you watched it or dreamt it.
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01. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppela, Written By: James V Hart, Starring, Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins & Keanu Reeves.
Now I know I will get some stick off Mark for this decision but it isn’t one I have come to lightly and I defend my choice. I love this movie more than I know how to express. I remember going to see it on its released and just being mesmerised. It’s so wonderfully made and so visually interesting that I notice something new with each viewing and believe me, I rewatch this film a lot.
You should all know the story by now. Having returned home from battle, Prince Vlad finds his love dead, due to some misinformation about his death on the battlefield. In the ultimate act of heresy, Vlad turns his back on the God he once worshipped and as a consequence is doomed to eternal life as a Vampyre, Nosferatu.
Jump forward a few centuries and young legal student, Jonathan Harker, Keanu Reeves (armed with the funniest attempt at an English accent since Dick Van Dyke) is sent off to Transylvania to discuss legal land contracts with the strange Count Dracula. On mistaking Jonathans fiancée, Mina to be the reincarnation of his lost love, the count imprisons Harker and heads to London to seduce Mina.
Keanu Reeves aside, most of the performances are magnificent. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Dracula is superb. He injects moments of vulnerability and heartbreak into the character to ensure that the Count isn’t just a one dimension villain, but more of a sympathetic creature. Winona Ryder delivers what I consider to be a career best performance. It’s easy to understand why she chooses Drac over her fiancé. I mean you heard that English accent, right? Anthony Hopkins is Anthony Hopkins, and if you are a fan of Anthony Hopkins, there’s nothing wrong with that.
I mentioned the hypnotic and at times, surreal imagery on screen but it’s the special effects that deserve a mention over all. Coppela didn’t want to use computer enhancements on this film so everything you see on screen was achieved practically. That bit where Dracula is cornered and turns in to a pile of Rat’s. That was a practical effect and how they pulled it off puzzles me to this day.
I love Tom Waits as Renfield. I love that image of a blood-soaked Lucy being driven back into the grave by a crucifix. I love the scene where Dracula’s brides arise from within the bed to molest and feed off of Johnathan. I especially love how the laws of physics don’t apply whenever Dracula is present. His shadow moving independently of his body is a wonderful touch. I think I have just talked myself into going off and watching this movie again.
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Well, this is my list of my top 10 Vampire movies. Agree with me or don’t, but feel free to comment below. I would like to apologise to anyone who is offended that I didn’t include Twilight but I’m not going to. Sparkly, emo vampires are an entirely different abomination. Until next time, take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think.