You would think perhaps I’d prefer to watch zombie flicks and post-apocalyptic movies during this COVID-19 world pandemic, but no – I need a different sort of escapism to deal with the isolation of the shelter-at-home mandate. What follows is my list of 13 vampire films I highly recommend (even during normal times).
LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) – Directed by John D. Hancock (shares writing credit with Lee Kalcheim); starring Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Mariclare Costello
Jessica (Zohra Lampert) has recently been released from a mental institution after suffering a nervous breakdown, and her husband decides she needs a change of scenery away from the hectic city. They move to a supposedly haunted country farmhouse near a remote little town, and right away Jess notices odd things about the locals, and begins to experience unusual encounters. Is it all in her mind?
At first, this movie appears to mix genres and has a surreal feel. I enjoyed the eerie moments. Viewers have to decide for themselves if Jessica lost her grip on her sanity once again, or if the monsters were real.
DRACULA (1979) – Directed by John Badham; starring Frank Langella, Sir Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence, Kate Nelligan
This version differs greatly from Bram Stoker’s novel. It’s 1913, and an ailing Mina Van Helsing witnesses a shipwreck off the English coast. She finds a lone survivor washed up on the shore and he is none other than Count Dracula of Transylvania, come to take possession of Carfax Manor. Soon, Mina succumbs to her illness, but with other strange symptoms. Her best friend Lucy (Kate Nelligan) is distraught and notifies Mina’s father, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Olivier), who rushes to England. In the meantime, Lucy begins to fall under the spell of the enigmatic Count.
I would say Frank Langella is one of my favorite actors to play Dracula on the big screen. He first appears on the scene like a rock star, with charm and swagger – sensual and sinister at the same time. The ending of the film is different in this version as well. It made me hope that the Count could have survived after all.
THE HUNGER (1983) – Directed by Tony Scott; starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon
This erotic horror film involves a love triangle and immortality – with a catch. John (Bowie) is the long-time lover of the beautiful vampire Miriam (Deneuve), his sire. He believes he’ll also live forever, but Miriam has kept the truth hidden. Her “offspring” will never share all of her gifts – and what awaits them is a fate worse than death. John begins to deteriorate and becomes desperate when Miriam seeks out a new companion. She finds Sarah (Sarandon), who becomes quite unhappy when she discovers the plans that Miriam has for her.
This unconventional vampire movie was panned by critics and stalled at the box office. I like it anyway, perhaps because I always believed that David Bowie could do no wrong. I also enjoyed the soundtrack quite a bit.
FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) – Directed by Tom Holland; starring William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Bearse
Don’t judge me, but I still love this movie – and for a moment I was offended when I heard they were filming a remake (I changed my mind about that – see below).
In the beginning, Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) is a horror-loving teen whose greatest concern is getting his skittish girlfriend (Bearse) to go all the way. But then he discovers that Jerry Dandridge – the handsome new neighbor who’s charmed his mother – is actually a murderous vampire (Sarandon – wasn’t he married to Susan at some point?). When his mother and his friends refuse to believe him, he tries to enlist the aid of TV’s Fright Night host and former “vampire hunter” Peter Vincent (McDowall). Of course, Vincent is also disinclined to believe Charley’s claims, and the teen realizes it’s all up to him to stop Dandridge.
The humor, the plot and the excellent cast are what make this movie fun for me. (The Evil Ed character is a fave, played with glee by Stephen Geoffreys.)
NEAR DARK (1987) – Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton
When he falls in love with a pretty girl he meets at a bar, happy-go-lucky cowboy Caleb Colton (Pasdar) complicates his life in an unexpected way. Mae turns out to be a vampire looking for a forever companion, and she wastes no time putting the bite on Caleb. He realizes that to keep his family safe from his blood cravings, he has no choice but to join his girlfriend’s wandering band of vampires – who wreak havoc wherever they go.
I never get tired of watching this flick either. It’s worth seeing just for Bill Paxton’s performance as the evil, batshit crazy Severen.
THE LOST BOYS (1987) – Directed by Joel Schumacher; starring Jason Patric, Keifer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Jami Gertz, Dianne Wiest
After their parents are divorced, teens Michael (Patric) and Sam (Haim) move with their mother to Santa Carla, California. Michael soon falls for a beautiful, mysterious local girl named Star (Gertz), who has a dark secret, and Sam befriends the Frogs, a pair of comic-book nerds who claim their town is infested with vampires. Things get crazy when Michael goes head to head with a gang of vampires led by David (Sutherland), who has Star in bloodthirsty transition and under his thrall. Michael has to rely on Sam and the Frog Brothers to rescue both him and his girlfriend.
This flick is on my list of Top Five favorite vampire movies. It’s another one I never get tired of seeing. (And yeah, I’ll admit – I still listen to the soundtrack these days.)
BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) – Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; starring Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves
Coppola’s blood-soaked vision of a gothic romance, this version is sensuous, surreal at times, and blessed with the uniquely dichotomous performance of Gary Oldman as Vlad the Impaler. (Depending on the scene, Oldman is either sexy or repulsive.)
The setting and time period is in line with Stoker’s novel. Vlad is a 15th century Transylvanian prince who, having lost his lovely young wife to suicide, has been cursed to live forever off the blood of humans due to his loss of faith. Jonathan Harker (Reeves) is a lawyer from London who is sent to Dracula’s remote castle to handle a real estate transaction. When the Count happens to see a photo of Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray (Ryder) – who is the spitting image of his late wife – he imprisons Harker and sets off to England to find Mina, who he believes is the reincarnation of his lost love.
In London, we are introduced to vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Hopkins), who is quite delightful. (Thank goodness he was around to lighten the mood with the film’s only intentionally humorous scenes.) And of course, Mina’s best friend, Lucy (Sadie Frost), is on hand to give an over the top performance that I rather enjoyed.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. I think I would have preferred a more traditional one, to be honest, but I knew going in that this movie would be anything but conventional.
INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (1994) – Directed by Neil Jordan; starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater
Based upon the novel by Anne Rice, who also wrote the screenplay, this gothic horror tale centers on two eighteenth century vampires, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Pitt) and his sire, Lestat de Lioncourt (Cruise). It begins in present day San Francisco with a melancholy Louis pouring his heart out to a reporter (Slater), recounting the story of his life, death and rebirth – and all the guilt and betrayals that followed.
Anne Rice fans (including me) had high expectations about this film. When it was announced that Tom Cruise had accepted the role of the blond “Brat Prince” Lestat, Anne and the majority of her readers (including me) were greatly disappointed and loudly voiced their displeasure. But when the movie was released, even the author admitted she had been wrong. Cruise did the part justice.
And wow – child actress Kirsten Dunst nailed the character of Claudia and stole nearly every scene she was in.
It’s not perfect, but I believe the film does the book justice as well – being sensual, mesmerizing, darkly humorous and frightening.
BLADE (1998) – Directed by Stephen Norrington; starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristopherson
I suppose you could call this a superhero horror film. It’s based on the Marvel Comics of the same name, which I have never read. The plot captured my interest right away. Blade, played by Snipes, is half-human and half-vampire, having a vampire’s strengths without any of their weaknesses. His mother was attacked by a vampire while she was pregnant with him, and Blade is out to avenge her death and rid the world of evil vamps – aided by his mentor Abraham Whistler (Kristopherson). In the meantime, one of the evil vamps, Deacon Frost, has a plan to bring about the Blood Tide – a ritual that will turn every human into a vampire.
This is one of those flicks I can’t resist watching whenever I find it on a cable channel.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) – Directed by Tomas Alfredson; starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Also on my Top Five favorites list, this Swedish horror film (with English subtitles) is unique and far superior to the American remake. Details about this character-driven story lingered on my mind for days.
Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, the movie held my interest from the start. Twelve-year-old Oskar feels neglected by his mother and is bullied at school. When a girl his age moves into his apartment building, who also seems to be a misfit, they quickly strike up a friendship. But her appearance in his town coincides with a series of grisly murders in the area, and Oskar comes to realize that Eli is no ordinary girl. She confesses, “I’ve been twelve for a very long time.”
FRIGHT NIGHT (Remake, 2011) – Directed by Craig Gillespie; starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots
I wasn’t impressed with the idea of a remake, and the only reason I went to see the movie was to see David Tennant on the big screen (he had recently given up his role as the tenth Doctor Who, and I already missed him). I didn’t think Colin Farrell was a good casting choice, either, but I changed my mind about that. Farrell proved to be charismatic, oozing a menacing sort of sex appeal. (And I loved the cameo by Chris Sarandon – the original Jerry Dandridge.)
Anton Yelchin is excellent and adorable as Charley Brewster (but not as adorable as he is playing Chekov in the new Star Trek franchise). I still can’t believe a freak accident took him away from us at such a young age.
And Tennant didn’t disappoint me in his role as Peter Vincent. A little over the top at times, but the movie didn’t suffer for it. Besides, the remake is set in Sin City. Everything is over the top in Las Vegas.
I thought the screenwriter, Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, did an awesome job of blending the old version with the new.
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013) – Directed by Jim Jarmusch; starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin
As it begins, Adam and Eve (Hiddleston and Swinton) – two vampires who’ve been married for centuries – are now living on opposite sides of the planet. Adam, who lives in a Victorian home in Detroit, is a famous musician who fears exposure and is becoming more and more reclusive. Eve is hanging out in Tangier. They both fear contaminated human blood in the twenty-first century, and so must rely on other ways to obtain their food.
Adam becomes so despondent that he contemplates suicide, and has his devoted fan, Ian (Yelchin), procure a wooden bullet for him. When Eve realizes how depressed he’s become, she comes to Detroit to comfort him, and they resume their relationship. But the unexpected arrival of Eve’s younger, out-of-control sister Ava (Wasikowska) causes their lives to become far more dangerously complicated.
A little artsy and off-beat, I enjoyed it because it was much different than I expected – and I’m a huge Hiddleston fan (Team Loki!).
30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007) – Directed by David Slade; starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster
Based on the horror comic book miniseries by Steve Niles, this vampire flick has a clever premise and is quite suspenseful. I can’t say if it stays faithful to Niles’ series, not having read those three issues, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
As Barrow, Alaska enters into a 30-day long polar night, the town is besieged by a nomadic gang of vampires. The local sheriff (Hartnett), who has been distracted by the break up with his wife (George), must figure out how to stop them.
There is nothing romantic or noble about these blood-thirsty monsters. Humans are merely prey to them and they take great joy in playing with their food. If you’re the squeamish sort, this movie isn’t for you.