Vampires have permeated the entertainment industry since the first movie based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula appeared in 1931. Our fanged friends are a cottage industry unto themselves, embodying several subgenres ranging from shock horror to romance to satirical comedies. Out of thousands of vampire films, it’s tough to come up with the best five. To make our job a bit easier, we’re sticking to the vampire thriller subgenre. To qualify as a vampire thriller, a film has to be pulse-quickening, with the protagonist in more or less constant danger, with comedy and sex in small doses. That pretty much leaves out campy classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Vampiros Lesbos, Fright Night and The Lost Boys.
It’s heartening to see so much innovation in the supernatural thriller genre after nearly a century of vampire filmmaking. Two of our top five films were made within the last decade.
5 – From Dusk Til Dawn (1996) – This underrated gem has a plot like a B-grade grind house movie, but the all-star cast and brilliant direction makes for great replay value. Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriquez, It’s nearly all action as George Clooney, Tarantino, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis find themselves trapped in a rural Mexican roadhouse full of bloodthirsty vampires. Salma Hayek and Cheech Marin are brilliant as bloodsuckers, and the rock n roll of ZZ Top provides excellent atmosphere.
4 – Thirst (2009) – This Korean vampire flick might quality as one of the weirdest films of the past decade, but it takes the genre in a completely new direction that is both promising and enthralling. The story begins as an unfulfilled Catholic priest donates his body to an African group trying to find a cure for a horrible disease. In the last moments of dying, he’s infused with a blood transfusion that miraculously brings him back from the dead and transforms him into a living saint in his home country. Over the coming days and weeks, he finds himself re-afflicted with a kind of leprosy that is only cured by drinking blood. As if that weren’t enough, he falls for a troubled young woman that has her own set of dark secrets.
3 – Blade (1998) – This urban fable – originally a comic in the early 1970s – spawned a series of successful sequels and turned Wesley Snipes into one of the world’s biggest action stars. Blake introduced a world where vampires are subdivided into multiple warring factions with varying degrees of morality. Snipes’ Blade is a “daywalker” – a half-vampire who strives to be the ultimate vampire killer. Kris Kristofferson and Traci Lords brought additional star power to the film.
2 – Dracula (1931) – The atmosphere captured by director Tod Browning in the original film is spellbinding, and Bela Lugosi’s original performance permeates all vampires that came after him. In particular, there’s a seductiveness that set the tone for sexual tension in vampire films. Lugosi’s accent on film was his own, cultivated from a boyhood in modern-day Romania, not far from the Bram Stoker’s original setting in the Romanian region of Transylvania.
1 – Let the Right One In (2008) – This Swedish thriller was based on a 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It differentiates itself from the canon by focusing on the relationship of a vampire child, Eli, who is centuries old, and befriends a human 12-year-old boy in Stockholm. A primary focus of the story is bullying, and it goes without saying if you’re going to be bullied, having a vampire for a friend comes in quite handy. The story was also adapted, to slightly lesser success, in a 2010 production entitled Let Me In.
- Nosfaratu (1922)
- Horror of Dracula (1958)
- Martin (1977)
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
- The Hunger (1983)