This was a kind of surprising process, surprising because I didn’t realize how few really good vampire movies there have been. There have been plenty of vampire highs on TV (Buffy, Angel, one of the funniest X-File episodes ever, etc.), a lot of great books (from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice and even to modern, fun and fast Jim Butcher and his Dresden files), and some on film, but far fewer than I would have thought. Most of the vampire movies that have been made fit into schlock or soft-core porn or both like Bloodrayne (nothing wrong with that per se, just not great to fill a “best of” list). Certainly this weekend’s Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter won’t be schlock or porn, but what will it be? I love the premise and have hopes, maybe not high hopes but hopes, for this movie and since making it on a best of vampire movie list isn’t nearly as hard as you would think maybe it will be on here next year.
15. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) Level VI
For those of you who don’t know, Abbott and Costello were hilarious. Go listen to the famous “who’s on first” bit, it more than holds up (a class at my son’s school did the bit at an assembly and every kid in that school was cracking up and quoting incessantly over the next few weeks). Maybe they weren’t quite Marx Brothers good, but really good nonetheless, and this was their funniest movie. Frankenstein is in the title but it is the brilliant Bela Lugosi’s Dracula that steals the movie, plot and all. I loved this movie when I was a kid and I still find it really funny.
14. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) Level VII
Missing some needed mirth or more chills Coppola’s Dracula threw out all we had seen with Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee and Scooby Doo and went to the source material that few were truly familiar with. I hadn’t read the book before seeing the movie and after I saw this flick I went back and fought my way through the novel (parts are terrific but parts are a real fight) and was impressed how true Coppola had stayed to it. Is that necessarily a good thing? No, not in and of itself, and yes, Keanu Reeves performance is at times hard to watch, though it is counter balanced by the brilliant Gary Oldman, but this movie does have something wonderful going for it, Coppola’s artistic vision. All of Coppola’s movies are simply stunning to look at, they are just so rich with color and feel more like renaissance paintings than movies, and none of his films feel more that way than this one. Check out Vlad cursing God and becoming a vampire:
13. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) Level VI
No one will argue that this Robert Rodriguez’s foray into the world of the undead is a great or brilliant movie, its not, but what it is is a lot of fun. The cast gives into the world and has a fun time playing against and to different types; George Clooney trying not to be Doug Ross, Harvey Keitel being a preacher, Quentin Tarantino being creepy, Juliette Lewis playing a teenager about 4 years past when she could effectively pull it off. The special effects are comically and intentionally absurd (you can see Robert Rodriguez and his FX team sitting in a room and brainstorming the goofiest ways for vampire to die and explode) … Ok, I’ve pretended long enough, Salma Hayek, Salma Hayak, Salma Hayak (all the men know I don’t need to say anything else).
No sexy vampire mythology here, these are monsters, human looking monsters but definitely monsters. The premise is terrific, Alaska town coming into the one month each winter when the sun no longer comes up is invaded by the undead. The setting is terrific, the performances solid, the scares are a little predictable and I didn’t totally buy the solution but all in all worth your time.
11. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000) Level VII
I am not what you would call a huge Anime guy. Truthfully until Netflix filled up their screens with it I hadn’t watched much at all (Ghost in the Machine and Akira but not much else). But I had heard how good the original Vampire Hunter D was and how good this one was supposed to be so I checked it out and was definitely pleasantly surprised. Really cool looking and well paced, the story isn’t anything shockingly new (what vampire story is at this point?) but it holds together throughout and the action is terrific. One side note, I have never seen an Anime I thought they could really make into a good movie and this is no different. Anime allows for the building of a surreal universe in ways that live action really can’t. So let’s just keep this as it is, I don’t need to see Tom Cruise hunting vampires.
10. Nosferatu (1922) Level VII
The German classic (Germany was such a force in early cinema, the fact that this and Metropolis survive and feel as current as they do is a truly remarkable accomplishment) Nosferatu can still keep you up at night and the fact that it is silent almost makes it work better, making the unheard vampire lord seem more ominous. Frankly, on probably 50% or more of the best vampire movie lists I looked through this was listed #1 and you can certainly make an argument for it, what with the staying power and influence to cinema. As a film, partially because of the limitations inherent to when it was made, it drags in parts, but it’s simplistic beauty and horror overcome much of the pacing issues and even if it was made yesterday it would still be worthy to be on this list.
9. Underworld (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012) Level VI (as a whole)
Why separate these movies? Like Resident Evil and another franchise on this list they are all really one long movie (or the same movie over and over if you are not a fan) so I am going to treat them as such. Yes, Kate Beckinsale in form fitting leather is what these movies have always been sold on (or Rhona Mitra in much the same outfit for Rise of the Lycans, the prequel that didn’t have Kate) but they are truly pretty good to really fun movies (if you want to watch just one go with the first one, it sets up the world well and is a fun 90 min). They build a nice universe and a way for that universe to interact with our world without wondering why it wouldn’t consume our world (always tricky with vampire and superhero movies) and hey, you get to watch Kate Beckinsale run around in skin tight leather, all in all not a bad way to kill some time.
8. Blade (1998, 2002, 2004) Level VI (also, as a whole)
Let me say this at the start, I like Blade Trinity. I know, a lot of Blade fans hated it and thought it killed the franchise and all of that nut I thought Jessica Biel was believable and Ryan Reynolds was really funny (it’s the funny Blade movie, which was the problem I suppose, but I like a funny Blade movie, I mean, they are all funny just not always intentionally). With that out of the way Wesley Snipes jaywalker vampire/human hybrid who spends his life killing vampires with a samurai sword (and a whole bunch of shockingly shiny metal weapons) is a terrific and fun character to watch as he moves through his universe with brief, cryptic dialogue and a surly attitude. On this series I would actually watch the second one if you are uninitiated, as a whole movie it probably holds up the best out of the three.
7. Let The Right One In (2008) Level VII
It feels right somehow that Sweden would make a really good vampire movie, doesn’t it? Of course, being from Sweden, this isn’t a typical vampire movie at all. This is a movie about coming of age, about adolescence, about first love, about forgiveness and in the end about can you blame a vampire for being what they are? Here, maybe a plot synopsis will make it more clear. Oskar is a twelve year old kid who is a little strange and for that he is constantly bullied. Oskar meets Eli, who is also strange (she can only enter your room if you invite her, she hates sunlight, stuff like that) and they become friends. Through his friendship with Eli Oskar gets the courage to change his life for the better until he realizes that Eli has one other weird quirk, she needs to drink human blood to survive. What is poor Oskar to do? Moody, quirky, dark and weird (mostly in a good way) this movie feels foreign which actually makes it work even better, I mean, what’s more foreign than vampires?
6. Fright Night (1985, 2011) Level VIII and Level VI respectively
The remake wasn’t bad, in fact it may truthfully be better than the original, but for those of us who loved Fright Night in 1985 it couldn’t really compete. That’s not uncommon for remakes because they don’t have the advantages of a fresh story and, definitely in the case of Fright Night in 1985, little to no expectations. Fright Night is not a comedy, but is definitely a horror movie filled with funny moments. What is great though is that the moments never feel like cheating, the funny fits and never takes you out of the scary. Not many horror movies can say that.
5. The Hunger (1983) Level VII
Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon I mean, if this isn’t the poster child for the sexy vampire movie I don’t know what is (and there really isn’t that much sex in it). Deneuve plays an ancient Egyptian vampire who feeds off of her lovers, both men and women, to stay alive. In return these lovers too stay young, until she tires of them and casts them aside (where they literally wither and die). David Bowie’s John is in that precarious position as the vampire lover and he decides to enlist the help of a famous doctor to see what she can do to save him. She predictably thinks he’s nuts and equally as predictably gets sucked into the seduction web of Catherine Deneuve (who wouldn’t?). Like plenty of movies that are more about mood than action this film is not perfect in its pacing, but man, the good parts (all the scenes with Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in particular) are just amazing.
4. Shadow of the Vampire (2000) Level VIII
Apparently, back in 1922 when Nosferatu was originally made the filming was marred by a series of bizarre and inexplicable occurrences (even deaths). Shadow of the Vampire is about the making of Nosferatu and in particular the actions of its lead actor, Max Schrek, who appears to be able to play the vampire impossibly well. Willem Defoe as Schrek is nothing short of brilliant and Malkovich playing the director having to deal with all of the madness is equally as good. Just a really good, fun, scary, interesting movie.
3. Night Watch (2004) Level VIII
If anyone knows dark and slightly depression better than the Swedes its the Russians. The supernatural universe created here is nothing like the fancy and wealthy worlds usually populated by beings of power, this is our world (or, rather modern day Russia) where people live in crowded cities and fight for understanding and glance and happiness just the same as we all do. Take all of that realism and grit and add the truly surreal and at times mind blowing to it and you have something close to the world of Night Watch, where the light and the dark share a ancient and precarious balance as the day watch patrols the day and the night watch patrols the night. Sounds confusing? Can’t quite see what I’m talking about? That’s Night Watch.
2. Near Dark (1987) Level VIII
Katherine Bigelow makes cool movies. Sometimes they are great cool movies (The Hurt Locker). Sometimes they are bad cool movies (Strange Days). And sometimes they are cult classic cool movies (Point Break). A lot can vary, but the one thing that never seems to change is that they are cool. Katherin Bigelow wrote and directed Near Dark and if cool is what you are looking for here you have it. In is a pretty straight forward plot, young boy falls for mysterious girl only to find she is part of a family of traveling vampires who are thieving their way along highways in stolen cars. Lance Hendrickson plays the dynamic father figure for the vampires (kind of like Patrick Swayze in Point Break) who initiates unwitting farm boy into their family. Blood, mayhem and more than a little bit of crazy ensue.
1. The Lost Boys (1987) Level VIII
|Maybe they don’t look as cool now,
but in 1987 this was cool.
When I told my wife I was making this list I told her “my #1 would be your #1”. She asked what it was and the second I said it she just went “oh yeah.” That’s the thing about The Lost Boys, everyone I knew loved it. Women loved it (remember how hot Jason Patrick was?). Men loved it (remember how hot Jami Gertz was?). Teenagers loved it (remember how cool the “Corey’s” were?). It played to everyone who might possibly watch a movie about vampires. The kids and their band of vampire hunter led a Goonies element. The brooding, dangerous teens who are indeed the vampires are sufficiently cool that becoming one of the undead is tempting. Everything works. Great movie, if you haven’t seen it in a while rent it, you won’t be disappointed.
So, there it is. Some really good vampire movies, even some awesome vampire movies, but nothing perfect or transcendent. Before I finish I suppose I must address the elephant in the room… no, the Twilight movies were not even close to making this list. In fact, if I were making worst vampire movies they would be near the top of that one, ahead of even Queen of the Damned which was really dreadful (and tragic because it was the last we got to see of the talented and alluring Aaliyah). Look, I am sorry, I really hate Twilight. Not like I think less of those who like it but I just can’t stand it. No offense.
But hey, what do I know, I’m fat and with regards to Twilight I am old (and I’m a man).
Other FFG lists you may enjoy: