It’s October, and for Vulture that means one thing: ’Tis the season to thirst after immortal, bloodsucking hotties. We don’t really need a spooky holiday to grant us permission to revel in the centuries-old fantasy of vampires (we would call up Laszlo Cravensworth and rewatch Breaking Dawn — Part 2 any day of the year), but there’s something about a faint chill in the air that makes us want to curl up under a blanket and watch fanged baddies go for the throat. Over the next five days, we’ll be celebrating all things vampiric — there will be a ranking, an oral history, and many appreciations of vampires old and new. To kick it all off, here are 18 suggestions from Vulture staffers for what to watch this week.
Mr. Vampire (1985)
It’s tempting for me to begin this recommendation by saying that the jiangshi, the antagonizing force in the 1985 Hong Kong film Mr. Vampire, are a lot more like zombies than anything resembling the conventional Western concept of vampires. The truth is that the jiangshi of Chinese mythology largely abide by their own idiosyncrasies, dressed as they are in Qing dynasty garb and sporting long blue fingernails. They are indiscriminate in their need to suck out the life force, or Qi, of the living. They can be paralyzed indefinitely, if you slap a talisman on their foreheads. They move around by hopping, which sounds funny at first but is actually pretty creepy.
Directed by Ricky Lau and produced by the legendary Sammo Hung, Mr. Vampire follows a Taoist priest and his two inept assistants, who are contracted to rebury a wealthy businessman, only for them to discover that the corpse is a jiangshi. Chaos ensues, and it’s up to the priest and his bumbling underlings to vanquish the rampant evil. The film is a mishmash of genres, a slapstick martial-arts comedy grafted onto the framework of a horror movie, and the result is a balletic physicality that is irresistibly fun. There’s also some comedy-of-manners work being done with the Republican-era China setting (and some queasy retrograde qualities — in particular, a subplot involving a sexualized female ghost — that feel a bit out of step in rewatch.)
Mr. Vampire, now considered a classic of Hong Kong cinema, was incredibly successful upon its release. The movie spawned a franchise, gained a strong international following (particularly across Asia), and kicked off a boom in comedy-horror jiangshi films through the end of the twentieth century. And lucky for us, a remastered version of the movie was reissued on Blu-ray last year. —Nicholas Quah
Let the Right One In (Låt den Rätte Komma In, 2008)
Nobody does it (movies about weird shit that leave you feeling profoundly melancholy and freaked out) quite like the Swedes. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is one of the only vampire films I’ve ever seen that actually spooked me, as well as provoked a warm sort of empathy for its central bloodsucker. The film follows a young, bullied boy named Oskar who spends most of his days alone in an extremely austere Swedish apartment complex, wandering around in the snow, as one does — until Eli moves in and takes him under her wing. The only problem is that Eli and her older male familiar are murdering people in order to drink from their veins. Despite, or perhaps because of, this hiccup, Oskar and Eli form a strange, romantic bond, which the film treats with deadly seriousness and an arthouse touch. Let the Right One In is by turns darkly violent and sweet, a thoughtful coming-of-age horror story that set the tone for the highbrow horror movement to come. —Rachel Handler
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is the sort of horror story where it’s unclear whether everything that’s happening is real or unfolding inside a main character’s head. What sets the movie apart is that it leaves you feeling like both are true: that Jessica (Zohra Lampert) is dealing with a vampiress while also going through a breakdown. Fresh off a stay in a psychiatric hospital and wobbly as a new colt, Jessica is heartbreakingly determined to start anew with her husband, Duncan (Barton Heyman). With their pal, Woody (Kevin O’Connor), in tow, the couple have moved out of New York and into a rural farmhouse — though the locals, all curiously covered in bandages, aren’t exactly welcoming to the bohemian trio.
Made as the hectic idealism of the previous decade was starting to fade, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a vampire movie that is fueled, in fascinating ways, by disillusionment. Its characters are presumed by another former city resident to be fleeing urban blight; when they hippieishly invite a beautiful drifter, Emily (Mariclare Costello), to stay with them a while, she starts to usurp Jessica’s place in the household. Emily also happens to bear a striking resemblance to a woman in an old photo Jessica finds in the attic, a woman who drowned right before her wedding day in 1880, but who, legend has it, survives as a member of the undead. Maybe she has all the men in the area in her supernatural thrall, or maybe she’s just a trigger for all of Jessica’s insecurities and her sense of disempowerment. For all the blood that may be drained over the course of this dreamlike movie, it’s the seeping out of optimism that really gets to you. —Alison Willmore
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is available to rent on Prime Video.
Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)
Say what you will about DCOMs, they always deliver exactly what they promise on the tin. In Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire, a single mom (Caroline Rhea) goes on a date with a vampire (Charles Shaughnessey!!!). This movie has everything you’d expect from a Halloween children’s movie released in 2000: a horror-buff teen bickering with his mean older sister; the hot dad from Lizzie McGuire as a hot vampire hunter; Caroline Rhea singing rockabilly; a totally unnecessary carnival scene; bad bat-transformation CGI. Sure, for a vampire movie, Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire is entirely bloodless, but what it lacks in gory special effects, it makes up for in millennial nostalgia. Did I mention Mr. Sheffield plays a vampire??? —Emily Heller
Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire is available to stream on Disney+.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
I didn’t see Jim Jaramush’s droll drama when it was released in 2013. Instead, I watched it for the first time during the pandemic. Watching Only Lovers Left Alive during a long period of isolation helped ease my lockdown malaise because the film mirrored it. It stars Tom Hiddleston as Adam, an apathetic, near suicidal musician and vampire who after a long life spends his days recording in a boarded up Detroit home. His rare interactions with others are mostly with his human companion and errand boy (played by the late Anton Yelchin). The music, by SQÜRL and composer Jozef Van Wissem, is shaggy and sensual, rumbling throughout the entire film. (The score straight-up rules.) Across the world in Tangier, Morocco, is Adam’s lover, Eve (Tilda Swinton), who, unlike him, still finds pleasure in the mundane. Her apartment is wrapped wall-to-wall with books that she’s probably read and reread. She comes to his side and the movie swerves into their musings on zombies (us, humans) and the raw value of passionate connection. While some vampire films are fascinated with the transformation and excitement of immortality, Only Lovers Left Alive meditates over what makes life tick when you have such an excess of it. —Savannah Salazar
Let the Right One In is available to stream on SlingTV and Prime Video and to rent on iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play.
Interview With the Vampire (1994)
Apparently, modern-day vampires should be able to see their reflection in mirrors because mirrors are made with aluminum, not silver, like they once were. This is great for What We Do in the Shadows’ Nadja, but it is terrible for movie history’s two sexiest vampires: Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles’ Lestat de Lioncourt and Louis de Pointe du Lac. The fancy bloodsuckers at the center of Anne Rice’s novel turned beloved film would have loved to see themselves in the mirror, especially cunning narcissist Lestat. Played by Tom Cruise opposite Brad Pitt, movie Lestat brought new life, new sex appeal, and new silky wigs to vampire lore. There’s something about Cruise sucking on Pitt’s neck as the two levitate into the dark sky that’s really stuck with me. Maybe it was Cruise’s terrifying contacts, or Pitt’s hopeless gaze, or maybe it was their hair — Cruise’s a blond wig, and Pitt’s an au naturel golden mop — flapping in the breeze. It’s a thriller, it’s a love story, it’s the birth of the man-bun. What more could you want in a ’90s vampire film? —Morgan Baila
Interview With the Vampire is available to rent on Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play.
Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
We cannot dive deep into vampire film without exploring the lesbian-vampire subgenre. Simultaneously objectifying and empowering, lesbian vampires are at the heart of vampire fiction. After all, Carmilla predates Dracula by 26 years. If psychoanalytical horror scholars are right, and vampires represent the decadence and horny menace of foreigners, nothing could be more decadently horny than hot girls stealing your girlfriend. Vampyros Lesbos is a hallucinogenic pinnacle of the subgenre. Setting the film in Istanbul back when it was a rapidly Westernizing, Austin Powers–level swingin’ party, writer-director-actor-scorer Jess Franco let his id roam wild. Stripteases, scorpion close-ups, a roof that looks like boobs, and so many red tassels — this movie has it all. Soledad Miranda stars as Countess Nadine Carody, who needs the help of American paralegal Linda (Swedish beauty Ewa Strömberg) to sort out her inheritance from Count Dracula. Yes, this movie is that dumb. The Countess falls for Linda, who is as intrigued by Nadine as she is terrified by her alternative lifestyle. One character has what can only be called a “clown dildo.” Franco’s slapdash filmmaking style is notorious; the man made between 173 and 200 movies, most of which were pornos starring his wife. We stan a horny king! Vampyros Lesbos is replete with terror, eroticism, and aesthetic wonder. Plus so much ’70s bush. Who could be mad at that? —Bethy Squires
Vampyros Lesbos is available to stream on Prime Video.
Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Let’s have a bit of a laugh. Most vampire movies are transfixing in their horror, but the only horrors in Hotel Transylvania are the realities of parenting. In this animated vampire movie, Adam Sandler’s single-father Dracula must learn to let his young daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), grow up at the ripe old age of 118. After the death of Mavis’s mother, Dracula builds a lavish hotel to help monsters avoid their fear (and disgust) of humans, all while shielding Mavis from the outside world, to which I say — being a vampire teen sucks too. When a lost traveler, and big Dave Matthews Band fan (Andy Samberg), stumbles into the hotel on Mavis’s birthday, the two discover that they have a “zing,” a.k.a. the spark of true love, which sends Dracula into DEFCON alert mode. (Both Mavis and Edward Cullen took more than a century to find their “zing,” so never give up!) While Hotel Transylvania was created by writer Todd Durham, it has the many hallmarks of a Sandler movie: It’s incredibly goofy, and the cheesy Dracula gags are aplenty. (“I do not say blah, blah, blah” plays on a loop in my head every time I even think of the movie.) But the gooey parental anxieties remain this movie’s steady undead heartbeat. It’s an enjoyable watch for families, or for any of us in need of a spooky balm this Halloween. —Savannah Salazar
I could write an entire essay on the theory that Kate Beckinsale is an IRL vampire moonlighting as a human who plays vampires in random movies. Here, Pete Davidson’s ex stars as the heroine Selene in the 2003 gothic thriller Underworld, a movie that importantly includes Scott Speedman as Michael Corvin, a hybrid vampire-Lycan (the latter means werewolf, gurl). The first of the five Underworld films introduces Kate Beckinsale’s character as a death dealer — an assassin, essentially — created (bitten) to fight off and destroy the Lycans in a war that has raged for thousands of years. Amid her day-to-day fight scenes, she meets medical brain Michael and they kiss, honestly out-of-nowhere, becoming a sexy couple that says Trinity from The Matrix but also rugged like Taylor Lautner in Twilight. The franchise, like many, gets progressively worse with each installment, yet the original always feels worth rewatching to me. —Wolfgang Ruth
Irma Vep (1996)
Irma Vep is Olivier Assayas’s real 1996 movie about the production of a fake French remake of Louis Feuillade’s 1915–16 serial Les Vampires. (The subjects of those films are fake vampires; they’re actually a bunch of gangsters and thieves.) Still, there are plenty of vampire tropes afoot. Maggie Cheung, playing herself, is an outsider recruited into an ancient order, namely French cinéma. During her initiation, she is faced with a series of trials that test her suitability to the life: Can she understand the notes of her director (Jean-Pierre Léaud), which are so enigmatic even he fears he can’t understand them? Can she make her way home from a test screening after the rest of the crew accidentally ditch her at the production facility? Can she make her call time after sneaking around all night trying to get into her jewel-thief character? (No.) What’s more, Maggie must navigate the internecine conflicts of the order’s prior members — the production assistant (Dominique Faysse) and the costume designer (Nathalie Richard) hate each other’s guts and battle one another for Maggie’s favor. All of this happens against the backdrop of an anguished battle against time itself, in this case the chop-chop schedule of the production manager (Alex Descas). Naturally, there are cool outfits — a great deal of the film concerns the fitting, wearing, and tearing of black latex bodysuits — and intrigue abounds. As Maggie struggles to figure out her place in the order, the audience is confronted with a parable about how difficult it is to make a film, an experience that sucks the life out everyone involved. — Melvin Backman
Irma Vep is available to stream on HBO Max and the Criterion Collection.
Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)
Young Miguel just wants to stop his Bronx neighborhood from disappearing by organizing a block party to save their local bodega. Unfortunately, the gentrifiers he’s up against turn out to be actual vampires. It’s what I would call a perfect vampire story, because what is a vampire if not a real-estate developer? I mean, the original Dracula is actually about helping an aristocrat from Transylvania buy a house in London, one of the world’s least affordable cities! Vampires vs. the Bronx takes the metaphor of vampires as a parasitic upper class and leans into it, creating a vampire movie that feels made for fans of vampire movies, filled with deep-cut references to vampire lore and homages to movies like Blade. It’s a particularly good pick if you, like me, enjoy scary movies for the atmosphere but can quickly have your life ruined by things that are too scary or gory. There are certainly some scares and blood in this, but it’s mostly a story about a community coming together. Co-written and directed by SNL alum Oz Rodriguez, it features performances from the Kid Mero, Chris Redd, and Method Man (who plays a priest), so ultimately it’s just a frightfully fun flick. —Anne Victoria Clark
Vampires vs. the Bronx is available to stream on Netflix.
Let Me In (2010)
The 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In is a haunting and transfixing vampire story that is so atmospherically chilly the only correct way to watch is from underneath a heavy blanket. Putting out a remake, and only two years after the original’s release, seemed ludicrous at the time. And yet Let Me In, which opened in U.S. theaters in October 2010, manages to be a beautiful, melancholy, and occasionally terrifying vampire coming-of-age tale that can stand on its own. The basic plot — bullied 12-year-old boy (Kodi Smit McPhee) develops a crush on lonely girl next door (Chloë Grace Moretz), who happens to subsist on human blood — stays the same. Some scenes also are basically replicated, including the famous swimming-pool sequence near the end. (Let the Right One admittedly did that one better.) But writer-director Matt Reeves, the same guy behind the forthcoming The Batman, translates the entire film into the language of American cinema around the time it is set: the early 1980s. The so-called father (Richard Jenkins) of Abby (Moretz) pursues his victims with a sneaky, sinister methodology reminiscent of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s original Halloween. His backstory also takes on completely different colors in this film that make it that much more heartbreaking. McPhee and Moretz deliver delicate, achingly vulnerable performances; their connection is more emotional than the one in the previous movie. The vibe of the ’80s in America — the sounds of “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” wafting through an arcade, the omnipresence of Now and Laters, the imposed morality of the Ronald Reagan era — all feels as visceral as preteen fangs sinking into an exposed neck. This is the rare remake that is both familiar and an entirely different experience, one that captures the exquisite shock of first love. —Jen Chaney
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
Author Hideyuki Kikuchi’s iconic dhampir — a half-human, half-vampire named D — may have debuted on screen in 1985’s Vampire Hunter D, but it’s the 2000 film Bloodlust that has my blood-filled heart. Funneled through the nightmares of anime master Yoshiaki Kawajiri (director of Wicked City and Ninja Scroll) and character designer Yutaka Minowa, who updated original character designer Yoshitaka Amano’s work, Bloodlust is both a postapocalyptic Western and a gothic romance, following D as he chases the bounty on a dangerous vampire lord who has kidnapped a young heiress. D mostly keeps quietly inscrutable to a fault, but like the Man With No Name before him, his compassion and goodness leak out through terse exchanges with those who alternately fear, mock, or champion him for his demon-slaying talent. Even in daytime scenes, the animation screams for the dark, its colors distinct but desaturated and its mood dour and hematic. Though set in the far future and rendered in gorgeous 2-D by Madhouse Studios, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust feels ancient, like an old, sanguinary myth made new. —Eric Vilas-Boas
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is available to stream on Manga TV.
My Best Friend Is a Vampire (1987)
Between a brief stint as the lead in Neil Simon’s loosely autobiographical Broadway show Brighton Beach Memoirs and an unforgettable turn as Neil Perry in the Academy Award winning boys’-school drama Dead Poets Society, Robert Sean Leonard starred in a horror flick, the only one he ever made. My Best Friend Is a Vampire is a film about good-natured high-school normie Jeremy Capello, a hormonal teen who can’t concentrate in class for ogling a girl who doesn’t seem to notice him. Anytime Jeremy gets within arm’s length of a girl he likes, calamity strikes. The staring creeps out his crush. He attempts a tryst with a mysterious neighborhood woman, who bites him during the encounter. He immediately takes ill, spooking his parents as he behaves strangely around the house. When a middle-aged British dandy named Modoc (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s René Auberjonois, the second Tony Award winner in this cast) starts to hang around, Jeremy’s parents become convinced he’s gay. Really, he’s a vampire, and Modoc’s come to teach him the ways of the day-walking undead, though they behave like a baby gay and his mentor. A bit Lost Boys, a bit Teen Wolf, with a dusting of, say, Edge of Seventeen — like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge if the main character, whose new and unwanted supernatural powers present an unsubtle metaphor for queerness, had enjoyed the experience — My Best Friend Is a Vampire is cheesy, queer-coded fun. —Craig Jenkins
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is essentially a remake of the original silent film Nosferatu, but that description hardly does it justice. It follows the basic plot of the original: a man is sent on a business trip to a mysterious castle only to realize too late that he’s led a horrible curse straight to his home. If you think you’re too jaded to be scared of Dracula, this film will free you of that notion: Herzog finds ways to reveal the vampire at the bedside of his victims, or standing right behind them, that are inventively creepy. It’s also just a gorgeous film with enchanting dialogue. “I feel it like a force, an inner, nameless, deadly fear,” Isabelle Adjani’s Lucy Harker tells her husband, Jonathan, just before he leaves to go meet Count Dracula, which she suspects is a bad idea (she’s correct.) Adjani’s presence in the film might actually be the most striking for me — she more than once performs while next to (or on top of) piles of live rats, and her voice is comforting, like a warm blanket, even when she’s surrounded by coffins and the aforementioned rats. It’s also hauntingly sexual, with Klaus Kinski’s Dracula in a state of constant, painful yearning, and his feeding is made to sound like wet, wet suckling. One fun fact: The late, great Bruno Ganz plays Jonathan Harker, whom you may know as the man who played Hitler in Der Untergang and became a meme for it. —Anne Victoria Clark
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Whenever I watch Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, I can’t help but think, Is there anything more lonely than being a vampire? The eternal bloodlust and sensitivity to the sun relegates The Girl With No Name (Sheila Vand) to a shadowy existence of haunting cruel men and skateboarding the empty streets of Bad City. That is, until she meet-cutes fellow outcast Arash (Arash Marandi), a romantic who spends his days working dead-end jobs and caring for his addict father, and comes to terms with the things she has done. Amirpour proudly wears her influences on her sleeve (Jim Jarmusch meets Sergio Leone) and wields a dope soundtrack (“Dancing Girls” by Farah and “Death” by White Lies are hypnotizing needle-drops) to make a beautifully moody world where you can meet your doom in the shadows just as easily as you can fall in love. Because it’s so many other things at once — “A black-and-white Iranian feminist vampire Western romance shot entirely in Farsi somewhere in Southern California,” as our critic Bilge Ebiri wrote at the time — A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night too often fails to be recognized as essential vampire viewing, but it has everything I want in a vampire story: loneliness, temptation, violence, and, impossibly, romance. —Nic Juarez
Near Dark (1987)
Cute vampire boys are Baby’s First Female Gaze object. Dangerous but not real, worldly but young, too mannered but also too passionate. There’s sparkly, emo Edward; sardonic bad boy Spike in all his peroxide glory; ponytailed gay dads Lestat and Louis. You’ve got your Vampire Diaries, your Lost Boys, your Tom Hiddleston on break between Loki gigs. But there is one vampire who too often gets left out of the hottest-vampire conversation that I assume everyone is having without me: Bill Paxton as Severen in Near Dark. In Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 solo directorial debut, a brutal and ballsy vampire Western, Severen is not the film’s pretty-boy vampire; that title would go to the protagonist, Caleb, (played by gaslighter Adrian Pasdar), with his long lashes and newly turned innocence. In contrast, Severen is a pure-evil murder machine. Paxton plays this vamp as a floppy-haired hick punk who’s having way too much fun being an undead psychopath on the open range, spending his eternal life wreaking bloody havoc. His trick is a switchblade on the toe of his boot, perfect for a swaggering cowboy slasher, and he flashes it at his victims along with a big bloodstained, gap-toothed grin. Severen is way more gruesome and menacing than most onscreen vampires, with a wild-eyed bloodlust that’s chilling because it looks more human than creaturely (his eyes don’t go yellow or anything). He’s also a complete scumbum, looking like he hasn’t changed his shirt in decades. But oh my God, there’s never been a badder bad boy or an actor having more fun with something, and Paxton never looked better in anything. It’s enough to make you want to throw caution to the wind and hitch a ride in that skeezy van. —Rebecca Alter
Near Dark is available to stream on Prime Video.
Dracula in Istanbul (1953)
I wish I could tell you that Mehmet Muhtar’s 1953 Turkish film, Dracula in Istanbul, was some sort of lost-cult masterpiece. It’s not. It bears all the hallmarks of a rushed Turkish production from the 1950s, when the country’s domestic output ramped up to take advantage of a 50 percent tax cut introduced in 1948 for theaters showing domestic movies. (A generation of great Turkish filmmakers did in fact emerge during this period, but Muhtar wasn’t one of them.) Yet the film is still, in its own way, essential. You can see the industrious, even ingenious ways the production got around its limited resources. And Atif Kaptan’s Dracula is certainly one of the creepiest, most sinister iterations of the count I’ve ever seen. The picture can lay claim to its share of Dracula firsts. It’s the first time he appeared with fangs in a sound film. The first time he crawled up the side of a building onscreen.
It’s also interesting to see what happens to Dracula when placed in a Muslim context. The Transylvanians in the film cross themselves furiously and repetitively when talking about him — so much so that it feels like an empty, useless gesture. Similarly, there’s no mention of crosses when discussing ways to defeat Dracula, since the idea of a Christian cross having any kind of divine power over evil would be anathema to Muslims. Perhaps most importantly (and meaningfully), Dracula in Istanbul fills in the story of Vlad the Impaler, who is a passing, vague reference in Bram Stoker’s original. This is also true of the book Dracula in Istanbul is partly based on, Ali Riza Seyfioğlu’s 1928 novel, Kazikli Voyvoda (whose title translates as “The Impaling Voyvode,” the Ottomans’ nickname for Vlad Tepes.) For the Turks, the Vlad connection was a big deal — we, after all, were the ones he impaled. As a result, there’s nothing even vaguely romantic about this Dracula: He’s the continuation of a great historical evil but also a kind of pathetic pervert, a lonely, dirty old man who makes the film’s night-club-dancer heroine give him a private show before he’s casually dispatched by her husband. That Kaptan can make such a lowly figure so threatening is a testament to his performance and his presence. —Bilge Ebiri
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