For almost a century, the vampire has reigned as one of the cinema’s supreme bogeymen. These immortal, blood-sucking creatures of the night have fascinated and horrified generations of movie-goers. They have appeared in many shapes and sizes: eery monstrosities, seductive temptresses, flamboyant libertines, and unstoppable agents of evil. I have collected here a list of ten essential films that document the evolution of the vampire over the decades. Presented in chronological order, these films represent the very best of vampire cinema.
10. Nosferatu (1922)
Considered to be one of the great triumphs of German Expressionism, F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is a loose adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Real estate agent Thomas Hutter is called to Transylvania to help a new client who wishes to purchase property in Germany. However, what Hutter doesn’t realize is that his client is Count Orlok, an ancient vampire! With impeccable use of lighting, twisted sets, and a truly nightmarish performance by Max Schreck as Orlok, Nosferatu is a silent classic that still frightens viewers to this day.
9. Dracula (1931)
Tod Browning’s adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula with Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi as the titular Count was so influential that to this day it is still widely regarded by many not only as a classic, but as the definitive vampire film. A departure from the more folklorish depiction of vampires from Nosferatu, Lugosi’s Dracula was a suave, seductive aristocrat. Much like the original novel, Dracula helped redefine the image of the vampire for a new generation.
8. Vampyr (1932)
Legendary European director Carl Theodor Dreyer delivered Vampyr, the story of a traveler who stumbles upon evidence of vampires in a tiny French village, five years after the advent of talkies in Hollywood. And yet, the film is largely silent, focusing mainly on creating one of the most unsettling and disorienting atmospheres in 30s cinema. Widely dismissed when originally released, Vampyr has recently (and rightfully) been heralded as an early horror masterpiece.
7. Horror of Dracula (1958)
By the mid-50s, the horror film industry had fallen into a quagmire of cheap B-movies and terrible monster costumes. Thankfully, British production company Hammer Films came to the rescue with an expansive line of remakes of famous horror properties drenched in gore and gothic atmospheres. One of the most successful was Horror of Dracula, starring Christopher Lee as the Count. Going on to inspire a whopping eight sequels, Horror of Dracula is a triumph that no self-respecting horror fan should miss.
6. Blacula (1972)
Yes, you read that correctly…William Crain’s infamous Blacula is the sixth entry on this list. The film, an update of the classic Dracula storyline that replaces a Transylvanian aristocrat with an 18th century African prince, has gained an astonishing level of infamy. But the film is a touchstone of blaxploitation cinema that inspired many African-American film-makers to make their own “black-themed” horror films.
5. Near Dark (1987)
Years before winning Best Picture and Best Director for The Hurt Locker (2008), Kathryn Bigelow helmed Near Dark, a film about a young man named Caleb who discovers a group of nomadic vampires terrorizing the American Midwest. The film helped kickstart the revival of vampire films in the late 1980s. Part Western, part horror film, and part teenage romance, Near Dark mashed together a number of different genres into one of the most surprising successes in the history of vampire cinema.
4. Cronos (1993)
One of the most unorthodox films on this list, Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos is a spell-binding mediation on the lengths humans will go for immortality. An old antique dealer named Jesús Gris discovers a bizarre, scarab-like device that when activated injects its user with a solution that restores their youth and vitality. However, it also slowly transforms him into a vampire-like creature with a terrible thirst for blood. Featuring incredible special effects and amazing performances, Cronos is a film as unique and mysterious as its life-restoring scarab.
3. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
Few writers have had such a lasting impact in the vampire mythos as Anne Rice. Her debut novel Interview with the Vampire was adapted into a film in 1994 to much critical acclaim and financial success. The premise of the film is quite simple: a centuries-old vampire named Louis de Pointe du Lac is interviewed by reporter Daniel Molloy and recounts his life and experiences as a vampire. Essential viewing for the vampire enthusiast.
2. Blade (1998)
The half-human, half-vampire, leather-clad warrior of the night known as Blade exploded across screens in 1998 and took the movie-going public by storm. Based on a character from Marvel Comics, Blade was a ground-breaking vampire/superhero genre hybrid. Played by Wesley Snipes in his most famous and iconic role, Blade waged a brutal war against a vicious underground society of vampires. Just be thankful that he’s on our side…
1. Let the Right One In (2008)
Though many might be more familiar with the American remake Let Me In (2010), the original Swedish film Let the Right One In has been lauded as one of the best vampire movies in a decade. The film explores the relationship between a young boy and a vampire girl set against the snowy backdrop of Stockholm. At times hypnotically beautiful and at other times nightmarishly violent, Let the Right One In is simply unforgettable.
Article written by Nathanael Hood