Vampires are timeless – pun intended. Obviously immortal, they also have an enduring fascination for writers and filmmakers, ever since Bram Stoker broke new literary ground with ‘Dracula’. As we creep close to 100 years of vampire films we take a look at some of the highlights of the genre – specifically films that broke new ground. Interesting note – stunning visuals seem to be a recurring theme.
10. Near Dark (1987)
Long before her Oscar-winning wartime study of masculinity, Kathryn Bigelow studied vampires in this genre-mashing horror/western/teen-romance. Breaking ground by making vampires part of the everyday modern world this film was part of the vampire revival of the ‘80s, and deserves its place above the more favoured Lost Boys and Fright Night.
9. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
A flawed, bizarre film, that sets off in one direction (depraved but entertaining criminals on the run) before taking an abrupt left-hand turn half way through (vampires!). The Tarantino penned script does what it does best in the first half, and Rodriguez’s action-direction skills carry the second. A fun blend of vampire and b-movie was a kick up the backside for all involved.
8. Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Lush and a little bit rotten, Neil Jordan’s first vampire film is a lavish tale of romanticism, decadence and corrupting power. The dreamy partnership of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, plus the popular source material (a novel by Ann Rice) helped this become a box office hit on release. Surpassed, in many peopele’s eyes, by his return to the genre 10 years later with Byzantium, nevertheless Neil Jordan’s original vampire hit will remain his most impactful.
7. Thirst (2009)
Park Chan-Wook’s Korean-set take on the vampire was never going to be just another schlocky genre retread. Instead it becomes one of his most twisted and dark morality tales (and that’s saying something). The central character is a priest who gets turned, so of course the film plays on the two lusts, for flesh and blood. Grappling with faith, ethics, trust and love this is a vampire film for adults.
6. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Amripour has just given the vampire film another shot of adrenalin, mixed with a heavy dose of cool. Stunningly shot in black and white this film doesn’t bother much with the normal conventions of the genre: set in the a-geographical Bad City the big bad vampire is a young Iranian woman whose floor-length chador echoes the vampire’s traditional cloak. An exhilarating debut it mingles pop-sensibilities and teen romance with the darkness of a film that knows what the heart of the genre is about.
Playing in a double bill with ‘Nosferatu the Vampyre’ on July 10th & 11th. Get tickets.
5. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
When the king of cool – Jim Jarmusch – recruits Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton for a vampire film, you know you’re in for a treat. The film picks up on the immortal aspect of vampirism, Jarmuch’s characters are louche and cynical, despairing of a world running out of creativity without the jumpstarting sparks they occasionally provide. A treat for the eye (and for those with a dark, dry sense of humour), this is an offbeat, and melancholic twist on the genre.
4. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Herzog and his muse/nemesis Kinski take on Nosferatu and stay true to the darker, more unpleasant aspects of the tale. Lingering imagery of decay and death are rife, and the soundtrack alternates between the melancholy of Popol Vuh and the more stirring strains of Wagner. Echoing the plot and many of Murnau’s shots from the original, this is a loving homage of a film that updates the silent original without rendering it irrelevant, or itself unnecessary.
Playing in a double bill with ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ on July 10th & 11th. Get tickets.
3. Let the Right One In (2008)
Oskar and Eli aren’t your conventional leads in a vampire film, being that they’re both about 11 years old. But Let the Right One In isn’t too concerned with convention. Set in a Stockholm suburb the children’s intense relationship is the heart of this stripped back vampire flick that doesn’t feel the need to rely on the gore and romanticism traditional in the genre. Simply told, austerely beautiful and utterly compelling, this film hit the reset button for vampire films around the world.
2. Dracula (1931)
Here’s where many of the modern versions of Dracula sprang from. Bela Lugosi’s vampire is an aristocrat, impeccably dressed and mannered – a far cry from Schreck’s more animal performance. Tod Browning’s direction nods at Murnau’s expressionist settings, but also brings in some drawing room drama that owes a lot to the stage. Lugosi’s performance is unimpeachable, and influenced every Dracula who followed, most obviously Christopher Lee, who played him seven times in the Hammer films.
1. Nosferatu (1922)
No surprises here, not only was this one of the earliest vampire films made, it was perhaps the beginning of the horror genre. Max Schreck’s vampire lacks any of the romance or allure that later players brought to the party, instead, Murnau directs him as a disturbing, expressionist icon of the genre.