The vampire genre has seen its beginnings creak out of the coffin with a Gothic, shadowy aesthetic, to one draped in homoerotic undertones to the now oversexed neck suckers we see on TV and in cinema. But it’s truly the movies that has given and shaped our view of this ghoulish creature built upon the legend of Vlad the Impaler, who would crunch the heads of his victims on wooden pikes for all to see back in the 1400’s.
There’s been so many vampire films that it would almost be impossible to see them all, and then there are some that are not worth seeing (ahem—The Twilight series).
But this is not about those films.
This is about the best of the best. The vampire films that deviated, innovated and horrified viewers into almost believing that perhaps there are those out there that feast on the blood of humans for survival (and certainly the impact of these films have led to a subculture whose tenants live a Gothic lifestyle, very much fashioned on what they have seen on the big screen). So without gushing anymore, here are the 10 best vampire films of all time.
Combining Goth and 80’s chic, this film encapsulated Madonna’s style during that time period, and made you feel like you were cartwheeling inside her head during the height of her powers—and somehow that’s not a bad thing. Featuring the best teaming of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, and a brilliant performance by Kiefer Sutherland, The Lost Boys is the quintessential vampire-Goth film dipped in a vat of the eighties. Just a very fun film and worthy of being on this list.
In an era of found footage horror, this film feels like one of those—it’s vividly and ostensibly ghoulish and terrifying, with scenes that give you a sense that you’re watching someone’s home video footage…and that footage features a gangly monstrosity begging for your blood. Easily not only one of the best vampire films of all time, but also one of the most horrific and disturbing films ever made (especially for the time period).
Shadow of the Vampire is something of an anomaly in this countdown as it proclaims to portray the actual on-set drama of the previously mentioned film Nosferatu in a sort of docu-drama fashion. In Nosferatu, it is true that several members of the crew died/disappeared and this film supposes that the actor, Max Schreck is the one behind it. It’s pure fantasy, but John Malkovich and William Dafoe employ their world-class acting talents to the film as the director and star whose tumultuous relationship almost derails the film. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek at times, but wholly entertaining throughout.
Easily the best film in the Blade Trilogy (especially since the third was so rotten), Guillermo del Toro added his trademark ingenious creature effects to this film as well as his flare for dramatic storytelling in the world of fantasy. The Blade character deserved a very good cinematic installment, and this film brings all the entertainment value that you’d expect from a story concerning a half-man, half-vampire that uses his abilities and batman -like gadgetry to dispose of the bloodsuckers.
Fright Night played upon years of the tropes in Vampire cinema by adding a much needed and refreshingly light take on the sub-genre with just the exact doses of drama and comedy. The story–in which a teenager suspects that his new neighbor is a vampire and employs the services of a late-night horror TV host to help his dispose of the demon—is just the right amount of kitsch with elements of Abbott and Costello, John Carpenter and Rear Window all mixed into entertaining stew. The film found a well-enough following to spawn a remake starring Colin Farrell as the prince of darkness.
Len Wiseman’s genre-blending vampire and werewolves’ tale added something to the vampire genre that didn’t seem necessary or needed, but damn it add a lot of fun: guns. Never before did vampires utilize weaponry to such an extent—Blade also come to mind—but Wiseman was able to utilize fantastic set pieces and it didn’t hurt the film that Kate Beckinsale is perhaps the sexiest looking vampire of all time. A Romeo and Juliet story with suburb action and a satisfying finale, Underworld is a film that can be enjoyed with multiple viewings.
Maybe it’s George Clooney’s penultimate tough guy performance, or the great dialogue, or Robert Rodriguez’s spot-on directing, or the parallel story-lines concerning a kidnapping and a vampire infested remote location in Mexico, but, whatever it is, this may be the most entertaining film on this list. Sure it’s kitschy, over the top and downright silly at times, but that’s all part of the charm of this film that features three appearances by Cheech Marin—as a different character each time—and a performance by screenwriter Quentin Tarantino that is probably his most grotesque.
No one knows how to do horror/fantasy better than Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), but it’s this Mexican film—which has already made it’s way on to the Criterion Collection—that may be his finest work…period. The story features a man who finds a devious gadget inside a sculpture in his antique shop that sucks upon his own blood, essentially turning him into a vampire, and winding back the clock on his mortality. Del Toro knows his way around the genre, which is almost whimsical and horrific at the same time and he gives us a terrific treat in the film’s finale that features a great performance by his future muse, Ron Perlman.
Some may say that Kathryn Bigelow is in her prime right now, writing and directing—back-to-back—two Oscar nominated films; The Hurt Locker (which won Best Picture) and Zero Dark Thirty (which has a good chance to win it for her again). But the former Mrs. James Cameron really made her best film way back in 1987 with the drastically under-appreciated Near Dark, which combined the deserted southwest with blood-in-the-dust, thrilling storytelling that made the cowboy-vampire a subgenre (one that’s yet to see a film as good as this). Also, Bill Paxton is probably in his craziest role to date as a vampire who’s off the hinges and loving it.
It’s such a simple story. A Romeo and Juliet-esque love story that substitutes warring families with differentiating lifestyles, pulling apart a pair of kids until their bond thins out like a string of blood stretched between a pair of lips. But, it really is cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s (The Fighter) show as he uses glass, color and light brilliantly to execute one of the most daring, exciting and beautiful vampire stories of all time. I picked this adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel over Let Me In simply because of the visual beauty and attention to detail that Hoytema displays here; a really marvelous film that everyone should see. And, there’s a particularly brief scene here that lets you into Eli’s background that the American version wouldn’t dare to touch.