Horror fans never hesitate to air grievances when the mainstream disrespectfully co-opts their most cherished subgenres. And considering how often the entertainment industry compromises quality for safe-bet trends, those grievances are justified. For example, the liberties taken by properties such as Twilight and Being Human call into question whether the minds behind them value vampire lore much past their commercial viability. And when the business of art trumps its integrity, the likelihood of cheap and/or shamelessly derivative knockoffs rises.
Of course, all is not lost for mavens of the fanged undead. Streaming services provide access to scores of deep cuts from their vampire libraries to counteract the angst-ridden bloodsuckers, who eat pizza and walk around in daylight with narrative impunity. But as Amazon or Netflix users can attest, a plethora of options can be as paralyzing as the prospect of—gasp—reading a book because there is nothing good on TV. So to shorten your selection time, Marz Daily Media is reactivating its listicular fortitude to offer up 15 favorites for the vampire-inclined.
Once Bitten (1985)
If Anne Bancroft was the first cougar, Lauren Hutton was the bloodthirsty upgrade.
Horror-comedy Once Bitten introduced moviegoers to comedian Jim Carrey while delivering fangs, failed hookups, and a fabulous Cleavon Little as Hutton’s personal jerome.
The scare factor is nil in this feature, but you won’t see any vampire rules being sacrificed for fun new ones. For instance, the blood of a male virgin being a vampire fountain of youth certainly deviates from typical vampire stories. But Walter “There Are Rules” Sobchak would probably forgive that deviation because it doesn’t break any preexisting laws…and it makes for a damn good time.
Fright Night (1985), Fright Night (2011)
No character comes closer to a modern-day Dracula than Jerry Dandridge. Whether portrayed by Chris Sarandon or Colin Farrell, Dandridge’s flair for seduction paired with simmering torment makes it possible for both movies to hold up 26 years apart. And that the updates are all logical responses to how celebrity has changed over generations only reflects well on the loyalty to the property as a whole.
Fright Night 2 (1988) deserves an honorable mention as well, if for no other reason than it has Jon “Lazlo Hollyfeld/Uncle Rico” Gries and Brian Thompson from Cobra.
UPDATE: A Fright Night 2 remake went straight to video in 2013. For the moment, let’s pretend it didn’t.
Unlike Once Bitten the year before, Richard Wenk’s horror-comedy Vamp reveled in monstrosity, demonstrating just how much range exists within the hybrid subgenre. Vamp is your typical story of 2 white dudes who go into the big city to find a woman and learn that the streets are a bit too real.
Wenk struck 80s gold among progressives by casting Grace Jones as the formidable and revered Katrina, whose initial fabric-free costume was conceived by late artist and activist Keith Haring, who is still credited for New York City’s most iconic mural (bow down, Banksy).
Crack is still wack, but this movie is far from it.
The Lost Boys (1987)
The list of treasures provided by The Lost Boys may be as long as the body count in Santa Carla. The cast of then up-and-comers and seasoned veterans made this Joel Schumacher film (I know, right?) the most legitimate crossover vampire film of its generation. The Lost Boys boasts the first team-up of the Coreys, Jason Patric making a case for perennial heartthrob status, the inspiration of Sexy Sax Man, a Doors cover that’s better than the original, the nostalgia of brick and mortar video stores, Kelly Jo Minter sightings, and a band of vampires that boyfriends have to admit are cool as their girlfriends swoon beside them.
The Lost Boys ranks highly on most lists, so it is likely that you have seen it already. But watching it again on Netflix confirms that not only is it still great, but it’s also even better in HD.
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Dismiss Anne Rice as a writer if you must, but this adaptation of her 1976 novel went full-on Hollywood by casting sure-thing Tom Cruise, still-ascending Brad Pitt, and Christian Slater as his career approached red dwarf stage. Rounding out the cast are Stephen Rea, Antonio Banderas, and Kirsten Dunst, and the ensemble makes Interview with the Vampire more important than any of the individual strong performances therein.
And although the feasts in Neil Jordan’s film are remarkable in all their gothic splendor, the ideological conflict of predestination (Lestat) versus free will (Louis) allows Interview with the Vampire to transcend its genre and be recognized as a legitimate drama that should not be denied.
Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
If you’re in that camp of people that thinks that Eddie Murphy stopped being funny, seriously kick rocks. By 1995, it seemed as if a lot of America had given up on Murphy after The Distinguished Gentleman and Beverly Hills Cop III. Murphy would evolve into a family-friendly major box office draw with The Nutty Professor, but not before the release of the underrated horror-comedy Vampire in Brooklyn.
Murphy plays Maximillian, a vampire from the West Indies, who has tracked his would-be bride (Angela Bassett) to Brooklyn. And with the assistance of loser Julius (Kadeem Hardison), Maximillian resorts to shapeshifting, seduction, and murder, to get claim his prize.
The film features humor that is uniquely Eddie Murphy’s while staying true to the gravitas each character’s truth. And while director Wes Craven has successfully blended comedy with horror before (Freddy Kreuger is the most hilarious murderer not named Dr. Giggles), Craven’s Vampire In Brooklyn strikes a balance in ways that his most popular Elm Street series never did.
John Carpenter’s initials seem too fitting with Vampires, where he performs the miracle of turning an unrepentant bigot (James Woods) into a no-nonsense, vampire-hunting quipster worth cheering for. Don’t believe me? Just watch.
But the coolest aspect of Vampires is that it is built around protecting a relic that would allow vampires to survive in sunlight. The stakes don’t get much higher than that in vampire lore, and the carnage that ensues in the war for this relic suggests as much.
Cast gems include Thomas Ian Griffith (the bad sensei from The Karate Kid, Part III), pre-Sons of Anarchy Mark Boone Junior and post-Mortal Kombat Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. But the most fitting role goes to Daniel Baldwin, whose portrayal of a flawed second banana parallels the position among his brothers that audiences have joked about for decades.
PS: A sequel to Vampires starring Jon Bon Jovi and Darius McCrary happened. Word of advice: don’t.
In a word, Blade is seminal. Most people don’t remember that Blade was the maiden voyage for the Marvel movie machine that we know now as that which turns comic books to box office gold. But lo, it is this lower-tier character that demonstrated that comic book properties could be a moneymaker on the big screen. And considering the odds against its success, at least in the eyes of those who think that black action heroes cannot draw money, Blade very well may have made Marvel Comics feel invincible, as it grossed more than triple its $40M budget. Looking back, and seeing the film landscape now, it’s a wonder what stroke of luck got Blade greenlit at all.
Luckily, 1998 presented audiences the action hero that Wesley Snipes had been for years, a grownup Stephen Dorff in a role he could sink he teeth into (pun intended), and a gamble that has turned Marvel Comics into a 21st century boomtown for screen revenue. It would be easy to say that without Blade, there would be no Ghost Rider or Guardians of the Galaxy or Daredevil; but it would be just as accurate to say that there would be no Avengers without the success of a fanged black martial artist.
Exceptional in many ways, Underworld is one of the few action-horror movies not only to become a franchise, but also to star a woman. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Alice of Resident Evil (Milla Jovovich) are reigning queens of this rare subcategory, and both prove more than capable in balancing emotional vulnerability with undeniable badassery.
Underworld distinguishes itself further in depicting the war between vampires and werewolves, which wages unbeknownst to virtually all humans. Director Len Wiseman’s focus on the political intricacies of the supernatural races allows audiences to forget humans’ position on this food chain and instead care about the fate of those vampires who subscribe to a relatable code of honor.
And feminist bias admitted, moviegoers could do worse than a hot lady action hero who kicks ass and whose ass you’d eagerly…well, yeah.
30 Days of Night (2007)
There isn’t a colder place to experience hell than Barrow, Alaska. The titular condition of the film’s environment allows a band of vampires to lay waste to the small community, with only Josh Hartnett and Melissa George standing between the vampires and Barrow’s extinction.
Mark Boone Junior shows up in this one, adding another vampire flick to his credit, but the most riveting performance of the movie goes to Ben Foster, a brooding powerhouse who lent his services to 30 Days of Night of a vampire scout, hoping to be turned for his assistance.
30 Days of Night remains dark even once the sun returns, making it a special offering to vampire canon.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Not to be mistaken for the American remake Let Me In, Let the Right One In is a story about a bullied Swedish boy, Oskar, who finds friendship in a mysterious little girl, Eli. The isolation that the cold and austere environment creates mirrors Oskar’s troubled existence for which there seems to be no escape.
Since the impact of bullying has become more resonant in the 21st century, Oskar’s reality feels far more dire than it would have in, say, the 80s or 90s. And in accordance with the current attitude toward bullying, the audience welcomes Eli’s survival experience as Oskar’s inspiration and refuge.
Let Me In may be a fine film in its own right (I haven’t seen it), but blind resentment comes from the flawlessness that American audiences might miss out on in if they pass on the original lest they be subjected to subtitles, Gud förbjude.
With Daybreakers, directors Michael and Peter Spierig send the vampire as metaphor into hyperdrive. In a world where vampires have overtaken society and resort to using corporate means to manage humanity as an energy source, the audience is invited to see a more vivid–and bloody–depiction of how the rich mercilessly exploit the poor in spite of its reliance on them.
Willem Defoe, returning to vamp lore as Elvis, plays the pivot of this story as a former vampire who knows the cure that could save humanity. But Edward (Ethan Hawke), a vampire hematologist carries the conscience of the film as his role within a pharmaceutical company forces him to confront his own sense of right and wrong.
Daybreakers boldly ventured into innovative territory by using corporate greed as the backdrop for supernatural warfare, well before Sam and Dean Winchester encountered the Leviathans. If you have not seen it, check it out. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
And now for a vampire story that only indie film godfather Jim Jarmusch could tell; and we should all be grateful that he did.
Set primarily in the desolate remains of Detroit, Only Lovers Left Alive tells the story of melancholy romantics Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), whose centuries long marriage endures a long-distance arrangement. With Eve ensconced in Tangiers, Adam passes the time listening to music and collecting prized guitars, until their longing for one another forces them to reunite.
The romantic bond between Hiddleston and Swinton reflects a companionate connection audiences can imagine for the centuries old undead. Adam and Eve project delicate isolation with no interest in dominion over humanity, which provides a more emo perspective of vampires as lost souls no different from humans…except for the drinking blood to survive part.
More love story than vampire romp, Only Lovers Left Alive carves out a corner in vampire storytelling that the world did not realize it needed. And in so doing, the movie uses the undead to communicate that sharing your world with someone else is truly the only way to live forever.
Dracula Untold (2014)
For fans of King Arthur (2004), which re-imagined the eponymous legend in a real-world historical context, Dracula Untold follows that approach as well. In the film, we learn the tale of an abducted boy soldier turned Transylvanian prince, Vlad the Impaler, whose struggle for peace and sovereignty against the ever oppressive Ottoman Empire forces him to embrace a darkness never before survived by those who’ve encountered it.
Using the power of the undead to save his people, Vlad signs on for a fate that makes Dracula a more tragic character than the literary reputation that precedes him. And in an era where good guys and bad guys are allowed more dimensionality, this shift in the Dracula narrative is more than welcome.
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