With Underworld: Rise of the Lycans opening earlier this year, Let the Right One In winning awards right and left (but getting snubbed by the Oscars), and every casting rumor about the Twilight sequel, The Twilight Saga's New Moon, turning the internet into a message board-posting rampage, blood-sucking creatures of the night are the "in creature" for 2009. A few years ago it was all about zombies and maybe Benicio Del Toro can bring it back to werewolves with The Wolf Man, but we are undeniably in the year of the bat.
With that in mind and with Twilight hitting DVD this Saturday, March 21st - stores will be open for midnight release parties across the country on Friday night, for those who love teen vamps and miss late night Potter parties - it got us thinking about our favorite vampire movies and doing something that everyone loves to do - list-making. Looking over the entire history of dozens of bloodsucking flicks seemed impossible and it's really hard to compare Nosferatu to Fright Night, so we decided to narrow the scope to only the ones made in the last quarter-century. Believe it or not, that still left dozens of choices.
Before you fanboys and fangirls start going crazy, we'll get this out right now – Twilight is not on the list. We're interested in where this franchise is going (especially with a new director) but, to be honest, there were better vampire movies than this tween phenomenon. Even Stephenie Meyer and Catherine Hardwicke would probably admit that. You can also keep 30 Days of Night and, if you even think it counts, I Am Legend. Neither film is that good. Sorry Josh Hartnett fans. And Legend fans? The sky is a different color in your world than mine. I’m talking to you, Ben Lyons.
Honestly, narrowing it down to ten was tough. We tried to span the entire era and represent the breadth of the genre with our choices. From the atmospheric chills of films like Guy Maddin's take on Dracula or Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In to action-driven films like The Lost Boys and From Dusk Till Dawn. As for near-misses, Guillermo Del Toro's Blade II, easily the best of the three Wesley Snipes movies, Day Watch, and even the original Underworld have their kinetic thrills and legions of fans but they didn't quite make the list. More arthouse crowds might champion The Addiction or Nadja and they're not completely wrong, but they're just barely not top ten material. And there's certainly a subgenre of vampire-comedy that clicks with highlights like Nicolas Cage's Vampire's Kiss and, yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and those films were considered but didn't make the top ten.
With movies that much fun on the outside, there's got to be some bloody good times in the top ten. Grab some garlic, sharpen your stake, and try not to invite in strangers.
10. Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (Guy Maddin, 2002)
If you don't know who Guy Maddin is, get thee to Facets, Specialty Video, or someplace else that specializes in cinema outside the norm. How far outside? Maddin's Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary is a silent film, an homage to the entire history of the vampire genre that was originally filmed as a TV movie for CBC television but was released theatrically stateside. Virgin's Diary is a silent interpretation of the performance given by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet based on Bram Stoker's Dracula and it's absolutely mesmerizing. Maddin has often been inspired by early films, including ones before the development of sound in film, and Dracula uses several old devices, including title cards, screen color choices, and even Vaseline on the lens. But Maddin also clearly uses some modern effects. It's the perfect blend of new and old and one of the best from one of the most innovative directors of the '00s.
9. Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, 2000)
Thanks to the whole "modern era" thing, we can't include the original Nosferatu but we can't exclude a movie about the making of that seminal classic. Featuring the best performance of Willem Dafoe's career, Shadow of the Vampire presents a fictionalized account of the making of the horror classic that asks the odd question - what if Max Schreck, the man who played vampire Count Orlok, was a creature of the night himself? Director E. Elias Merhige and his great cast perfectly balance comedy, drama, and general creepiness with their very original take on not only the legend of the vampire but also his impact on the early days of cinema. It's kind of like Tim Burton's Ed Wood meets Nosferatu. And, yes, it's as great as that sounds.
8. From Dusk Till Dawn (Robert Rodriguez, 1996)
There are essentially two different kinds of movie vampires. On one hand, you have the isolated monster in his castle, longing for his true love and lamenting his centuries in solitude. The other is the bad-ass, bloodsucking, S.O.B., a creature who'll rip out your throat for fun as much as for sustenance. From Dusk Till Dawn is the latter. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez delivered a thrill ride for vamp fans, proving that there was still life in the idea of bloodsuckers as action movie villains and blasting the self-seriousness that the subgenre had taken on recently with films like Interview with the Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Clearly inspired by several other movies on this list, Dusk Till Dawn was a blast for horror movie fans and has held up surprisingly well over the years.
7. The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987)
A film that hasn't held up quite as well but definitely needs to make the list - if only for what it did for the genre - is Joel Schumacher's kind-of-dated The Lost Boys. With roles that defined the careers of Jason Patric, Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, and Kiefer Sutherland for years to come, Lost Boys brilliantly merged two of the most popular genre trends of the mid-'80s - the horror comedy and the coming-of-age story. Honestly, vampires were arguably never more popular in the history of film than they were in the mid-'80s with Fright Night, Near Dark, and The Lost Boys. All three need to be mentioned in a top ten list of the best vampire movies of the modern era. Here's the first.
6. Interview with the Vampire (Neil Jordan, 1994)
Vampires came back to the forefront in the early to mid-'90s with two hugely high-profile art pics in 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula and 1994's Interview with the Vampire. These films were the opposite of the horror/comedy trend of the '80s in that they were played with deadly seriousness and were more of a throwback to the days of Nosferatu. Interview is not a perfect film but there's so much to like about the storytelling, direction, and, yes, performances. Even Tom Cruise.
5. Cronos (Guillermo Del Toro, 1993)
If you're late to the Del Toro party, having learned about the great Mexican director from films like Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, do yourself a favor and go back and revisit arguably his two best movies - The Devil's Backbone and Cronos. The latter is his debut and co-stars the big red guy himself, Ron Perlman. The film is about an antique dealer who finds an ancient device that essentially turns him into a vampire. Moody, atmospheric, and very dark, Cronos clearly heralded the arrival of a talented new filmmaker when it premiered at Toronto in 1993. A decade-and-a-half later, Guillermo Del Toro has a loyal following and is prepping to do The Hobbit. Check out where it began with one of the best vampire movies ever made.
4. Fright Night (Tom Holland, 1985)
If you had asked me to write this list when I was thirteen, Fright Night would have been at the top. Heck, if you had asked me to list the best movies ever made, Fright Night might have been at the top. I loved this '80s action/adventure/comedy flick, a perfect example of the kind of tongue-in-cheek horror they made more often in the era of Ghostbusters and Gremlins. Come to think of it, why DON'T they make as many mainstream horror comedies anymore? It's weird. Watching it now, what I love about Fright Night is its recognition of the fans. It's a film about a horror movie fan made by horror fans for horror movie fans. The adoration of the genre comes through in every frame. Director Tom Holland was chosen for Showtime's Masters of Horror primarily for Fright Night (secondarily for Child's Play and not at all for The Temp).
3. Bram Stoker's Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)
Yes, Keanu Reeves is goofy and no one likes to think anything positive about Winona Ryder any more, but before you knee-jerk response to this choice, check it out again. Coppola's Dracula is a grandiose spectacle of a film, which is exactly what this story demands. Over-the-top set pieces with ridiculous dialogue not only work for this kind of material, there's no other way to pull it off successfully. Gary Oldman gives one of the best performances of his career, and we'll take Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing over that Oscar host any day of the week. But the real key to the mesmerizing charm of Bram Stoker's Dracula is there in the design. The bloody, insane, gorgeous design.
2. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
I hate it when critics and viewers try to claim all of a certain kind of horror movie is the same. There is a wide variety within the subgenres of "zombie movie," "ghost story," "slasher flick," etc. and snobby people often lump things together. As if this list hasn't proven the unpredictability within the "vampire movie" already, take the case of Let the Right One In. Tomas Alfredson's riveting adolescent drama couldn't be much more dissimilar from the over-the-top style of #3 or the action extravaganza of #1. Where most movies about bloodsuckers are action or horror flicks, I would almost call Let the Right One In a vampire drama. It's a beautiful dissection of adolescence and longing for a true relationship, even if it's with a vampire.
1. Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
It's been twenty years since Kathryn Bigelow rocked our worlds with Near Dark and yet it is still one of the very first movies I think of when I hear the word "vampire", modern era or otherwise. Near Dark is a masterful combination of varying themes and ideas from vampire mythology as a whole, playing off both the allure and danger of being a creature of the night. Who hasn't thought about being sucked into a more exciting world than their own? Face it. Being a vampire would be pretty cool. Hanging with Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen all night at biker bars? Sign me up. Near Dark is a Western/horror/biker movie hybrid that feels like nothing else in the subgenre of vampire flick. It stands alone. It is weird, unusual, riveting, action-packed, romantic, old-fashioned, gory, clever, and exceptional. Near Dark rules.