Vampires have admittedly had a bad run as of late, with the original mythology of these creatures of the night having sunken into downright pathetic territory. The monstrous visions of Bram Stoker and Eastern European folklore have degenerated into mind-numbing hunks who twinkle when sunlight hits and have little to worry about beyond convincing a panting high school student to finally show some emotion.
The good news is that the cinematic vampire wasn’t always represented in such meatless and bloodless fashion. Dating back to the birth of the medium, the blood-sucking garlic-haters have been epitomized in a swarm of quenching ways by a flock of tremendous performers and filmmakers.
With this list of the very best vampire movies, we’ll stake the heart of spiritless has-beens once and for all and forge deep into the dark, cold night. Crosses ready?
No. 10: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996): Robert Rodriguez directs and Quentin Tarantino writes and stars in this delirious B-movie. Featuring strippers, including Salma Hayek as Santánico Pandemonium, and a horde of truckers and bikers, this is a vampire movie with a difference. Its sense of fun and weirdness is intoxicating.
No. 9: DRACULA (1931): It’s very difficult to think of a better Count Dracula than Bela Lugosi. For that reason, Tod Browning’s Dracula is among the most iconic of cinema’s monster movies. The picture isn’t without its flaws, but the sheer stature of this adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel is impossible to ignore.
No. 8: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992): This too is a picture not without its flaws (my personal opinion has volleyed inexorably back and forth over the years), but it’s hard to ignore the gravitas of Francis Ford Coppola’s vision of Dracula. Gary Oldman makes for one hell of a Count, while Winona Ryder’s Mina is hard to resist. Teeming with sensuality, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a can’t-miss vampire flick.
No. 7: NEAR DARK (1987): Kathryn Bigelow is one of the biggest names in Hollywood right now thanks to movies like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, but she was in the vampire game long before she ever thrilled us with the hunt for bin Laden. Near Dark is a vampire flick with a Western twist. Released around the same time as the vampire craze of the 1980s (think Lost Boys and Fright Night), this was the best of the bunch.
No. 6: THIRST (2009): Directed by Park Chan-wook, the filmmaker behind Oldboy, Thirst is a South Korean vampire movie that takes the mythology seriously. At the same time, the picture isn’t afraid of being a little on the wild side and seems to recognize the lifestyle of the vampire as being a slow and steady slide away from morality. Thirst questions the nature of goodness and does so ferociously.
No. 5: HORROR OF DRACULA (1958): Peter Cushing. Christopher Lee. Michael Gough. This Hammer horror vision of vampirism inserts tremendous performers into a Gothic wonderland of cleavage, blood and supernatural sexuality. Horror of Dracula makes great use of religious iconography by illustrating the triumph of good over evil through the intersection of the cross.
No. 4: Vampyr (1932): Based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first sound film was met with derision when it first came out. Now it seen as a genre classic, largely appreciated for its location shooting and artistic sensibilities. It isn’t the most cohesive of narratives, but its disorienting effects sink their fangs in and never relinquish the grip.
No. 3: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)/LET ME IN (2010): Tomas Alfredson’s vampire vision is one of the best encapsulations of the requisite sadness and bleakness associated with the mythology to ever hit screens. Matt Reeves’ American remake is equal to it and both pictures actually work in concert to present a complete tale. There is no glamour to these vampires and the lifestyle is a desolate and infinite complication.
No. 2: NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979): Werner Herzog’s remake of the picture he considers the best vampire movie of all-time (wait for it …) is a tremendous display of the director’s passion and power. In this instance, Herzog zeroes in on a sense of pity for the Count (Klaus Kinski) and traffics in a lust for life and love. Like the very best vampire films, Nosferatu the Vampyre establishes bloodlust as a burden rather than a prize.
No. 1: NOSFERATU, A SYMPHONY OF HORROR (1922): F.W. Murnau’s film is not only a signature moment within its subgenre, it is one of the best horror movies of all time. An icon of German expressionism, this picture influenced Herzog and countless other filmmakers and stands as a beautiful testament to the force of silent cinema. Featuring Max Schreck as Count Orlok, this accessible piece of art remains the greatest vampire film ever made.