With the release of the fantastic Iranian vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night finally coming to the UK on May 22nd, it’s high time we took a look at ten of the best vampire films for you to sink your teeth into before then. That pun was bloody awful, we must be batty…
10. 30 Days of Night
Whilst not the best film, 30 Days of Night deserves a mention for the sheer originality of its concept. Every winter, Barrow, a remote town in Alaska, experiences an entire month without sunshine, providing the perfect feeding ground for vampires. The locals must fight for survival for the month of darkness if they want to see the sun again.
Whilst featuring some good central performances from Josh Hartnett and Danny Huston, the film suffers a little from a lack of characterisation in both the living and undead camps, and from a few lapses in logic (why is there seemingly a full moon for a whole month? Why is there no mention of why people live in such a remote place?), but other than these minor blips, the film is a solid follow-up to the stellar Hard Candy from director David Slade.
A 1990s independent vampire flick written and directed by Larry Fessenden, Habit is a great little film that uses vampirism as an allegory for AIDS. Made on a tiny budget but making the most of what he had, Fessenden weaves a dark and gripping story: Sam, played by Fessenden, is a New York bohemian alcoholic who, after a short but charged relationship with a mysterious androgynous woman, soon comes down with an unknown illness, one that leads him to believe she is a vampire. A fresh approach to an old genre, it’s one of the more unique films on the list.
8. From Dusk Till Dawn
With a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, who also stars in the film alongside Harvey Keitel and George Clooney, From Dusk Till Dawn features one of the of the great narrative switcheroos. Starting out as a straightforward tale of kidnap and crime, the kidnappers and captives suddenly find themselves working together, fighting for survival in “The Titty Twister”, a Mexican bar full of hideous, bloodthirsty vampires. One of these vampires is special effects guru Tom Savini, armed with a pretty unique weapon, the Crotch Gun.
7. What We Do in the Shadows
A New Zealand vampire comedy, Taika Waititi’s underappreciated mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows follows a group of four increasingly ancient vampires sharing a house on the outskirts of Wellington, exploring the ups and downs of being several hundred years old. A refreshingly clever take on the assorted tropes of vampire lore throughout the ages, the film also has a crack at werewolves too, with scenes that see Flight of the Conchords stars Jemaine Clement and Rhys Darby reunited.
6. Dracula (1931)
One of the greats, the 1931 version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi cemented an iconic image of the Count into the public consciousness, one that is instantly recognisable nearly 85 years later. Despite being an enduring classic, history tinges the film with a slight edge of sadness; director Tod Browning saw his career quickly dry up after directing the hugely controversial but utterly brilliant Freaks the following year, and Lugosi struggled with a downward spiral of dissatisfaction at becoming increasingly typecast.
He became addicted to pain medication and after such highs as Dracula his career ended with Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, regarded as one of the worst films ever made. Despite the tragedies that followed, Lugosi will always be remembered in this iconic role. And in the 1979 Bauhaus goth classic, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead‘, of course.
5. Night Watch
Featuring some of the most elaborate and artistic subtitles around, Night Watch is the first (and much better) half of a two-part series. A supremely cool take on the vampire mythology, it focuses on ancient warring factions of vampires continuing the fight in modern day Moscow. Director Timur Bekmambetov delivers the explosive action and complex fight sequences that he showcased again more recently with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – seems he can’t escape the allure of vampires.
4. Dracula: Prince of Darkness
The nine installments of Hammer horror films starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing are revered as classics of the genre. Whilst the quality declined somewhat as the franchise wore on, the original Dracula and the third film Dracula: Prince of Darkness are both great, with Lee and Cushing playing off one another superbly. In defence of the others, the explanations Hammer concocted to resurrect the Count each time are usually pretty ingenious.
Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2009, Thirst is Oldboy director Park Chan-wook’s take on vampire mythology. Sang-hyun is a Catholic priest who volunteers to participate in an experiment to cure a deadly virus, which goes wrong, and ends up turning him into a vampire. At the same time, he falls madly in love with the wife of an old friend who returns to their home town, giving another layer to the title of the film. A horror, thriller and passionate love story all rolled into one, Thirst is a brilliantly brooding international entry to the list.
The one to start it all off, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens is a dark and brooding Expressionist nightmare, starring the enigmatic Max Schreck as a deeply unsettling Count Orlok – Orlok, not Dracula, as the filmmakers did not have the rights to Bram Stoker’s novel, so changed the bare minimum.
They ended up getting sued anyway, lost the case and all prints were ordered to be destroyed. Fortunately, a single print survived the cull, and we are able to appreciate it today. Werner Herzog also made a solid remake in 1979 starring the equally strange actor Klaus Kinski as the Count which, whilst telling the same story, is given a life all of its own by the inimitable Bavarian director.
Further testament to the hypnotic staying power of Nosferatu is 2000’s Shadow of the Vampire, starring Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich. A fictionalised account of the making of Murnau’s original, it suggests that the mysterious and oddball Max Schreck was himself an actual vampire, something the crew begins to suspect. With a mesmerising lead performance from Dafoe, it’s well worth a watch.
1. Let the Right One In
Arguably one of the best films of the century so far, this adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name is a masterpiece. A love story where one of the parties happens to be a vampire, it’s touching and tragic, but also gruesome and gory when required. Released in the same year as the first Twilight film, it stands as a polar opposite, proving there is more than enough life left in stories of the undead, a genre that has endured for centuries. Unlike the vast majority of vampire films, the touching love story will move you as well as scare you, and stay with you for a long, long time.
Honourable Mention – Twilight with Robert Pattinson’s commentary
Nobody hates the Twilight films more than borderline depressive and one-time honorary Death Grips guitarist Robert Pattinson, and this is abundantly clear in the way he rips the first of the series to shreds on the DVD commentary. He absolutely trashes the film, all whilst sat alongside a progressively awkward director, Catherine Hardwicke, and his then girlfriend and co-star, Kristen Stewart. Pattinson’s acid-spitting comments on the film are hilarious, totally on-point and earn him some redeeming brownie points in showing he’s been on our side all along.
So there you go. There are plenty more top-notch vampire films out there, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola; Katherine Bigelow’s Near Dark; Tony Scott’s The Hunger; The Lost Boys; Interview with the Vampire; the Blade films – in particular the Guillermo del Toro-helmed Blade II – and last but not least, the 1972 blaxploitation classic Blacula. All of those and more are deserving of a place on this list, but choosing which ones made the cut was a real pain in the neck. We’ll stop with the puns now, before we put our credibility at stake.