Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 8 years (which you may have been, and we support your decision), you’ve heard about the film and book phenomenon, Twilight. Now, a lot of people have a lot of feelings about this franchise. And that’s great for them. Yet regardless how you may feel about the Cullens and their vampire drama, it’s hard to argue that Twilight accurately represents vampirism, or are worthwhile movies, as evidenced by their exclusively rotten ratings over at rotten tomatoes. In fact, much of the characterizations of vampires in Twilight simply go against what makes a vampire, well, a vampire. So, in light of the release of the final installment in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn: Part II hitting theaters today, we’ve decided to throw together a list of some underseen vampire movies from all over the world that are more fun, more badass, and far more worthy of the genre.
1) THIRST (2009, Park Chan-wook)
If you have been a film nerd for any of the last decade, chances are you’ve become acquainted with South Korean director Park Chan-wook, and that you are a fan. Thirst, unlike many modern vampire films, does not idolise vampirism. It’s gritty, dark, and follows the downfall of Sang-hyun, a catholic priest, who nearly dies after volunteering himself for the vaccine of a deadly virus. While the experiment is a failure, Sang-hyun is infected, and is only saved from an emergency blood transfusion. After finding himself cured of the virus, everything seems fine and Sang-hyun even becomes a revered spiritual figure for his miraculous recovery. Yet before long Sang-hyun finds himself horrified by his insistent urges for blood, and eventually succumbs to the darkness.
Aside from a compelling story and powerful acting, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film is how the characters react differently to the vampirism. The film is undeniably borderline erotica at times, and the vampirism spreads like an STD, through blood and fluids. And although he attempts to remain the pious man he was in life, Sang-hyun soon infects a woman he has become romantically entangled with. The violence, sex, and power struggle that ensues is horrifically poetic.
2) CRONOS (1993, Mexico)
The same statement I made about Park Chan-wook in the previous entry to this list applies to Guillermo Del Toro. And although he’s achieved mainstream success with many of his projects (Hellboy, for example), he’s idolized by film nerds for his more unique genre-fare, like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, and for his status as a famous film nerd himself. But not everyone has seen his first film, Cronos. Cronos is low budget and rather imperfect, but you can sense Del Toro finding his voice as a young filmmaker.
The film follows Jesús Gris, an old antique dealer who discovers an ancient mechanism in the base of a statue he has recently acquired. From his curiosity for the object, he accidentally activates it, and the spider-like device attaches itself to his body and begins to inject him with a mysterious substance. Soon Jesús realizes he is growing younger, his body is returning to how it was in his youth, but he also begins to discover a craving for human blood. What ensues is a struggle for life, humanity, and the price one is willing to pay for immortality. Much of the film is told through his granddaughter’s eyes, the same child’s mind camera lens that makes Del Toro’s later work so compelling and unique.
3) MARTIN (1976, Dir. George Romero)
George Romero is best known as the godfather of the zombie genre, but one of his earliest films is also one of the most badass vampire movies ever made. It becomes a character study of a young man, using the vampirism as just another trait of a troubled youth.
The movie opens with the title character Martin on a train performing his method for choosing and abducting his victims. He targets attractive women, sedates them, and cuts their wrists to drink their blood. The attacks are visibly sexual, and it is hard to not view them as a kind of rape. Martin is traveling to move in with his granduncle, Tateh Cuda. Seemingly aware of what grandnephew is, Cuda tries to keep him contained using old-world magic, and warns Martin that he’ll be killed if anyone in the town is killed. Martin, immune to these tricks, laughs off his uncle’s superstitions and begins his life in the town of Braddock. Here, Martin confronts his thirst, and even attains infamy after calling in nightly and making confessions to a local radio show. Martin was shot on a low budget, mostly with friends and family of the filmmakers as cast, and on real locations. It’s old school do-it-yourself Romero style.
4) ROCKULA (1990, Dir. Luca Bercovici)
If you are looking for more stupid vampires in high school and you’re an insane person, I must point you in the direction of the beloved cable “classic”, Rockula. This movie is ludicrous and hilariously bad. Ralph is an ancient vampire, stuck in high school. Hoping to win over a girl he’s developed a crush on and finally lose his virginity, he starts a band which he fronts called Rockula, and performs a series of vampire-themed songs. But when it begins to look like everything he is experiencing is part of a horrific prophecy, he must take on his nemesis Stanley to stop it. Also, ham plays an important role in this film.
Thomas (SCIENCE!) Dolby and Toni (MICKEY!) Basil are both featured in this film, turning Rockula into a bizarre trifecta of horror, comedy, and New Wave music. Dolby is the crazy villain, Stanley, which is fantastic. A late film in the Cannon library (the classic low budget production company was disbanded in 1993), but if you like their style of horror-com, you’ll dig this one. And if that doesn’t convince you, perhaps the tagline will: “He’s a vampire that hasn’t scored in 400 years- tonight’s the night!”
5) THIRST (1979, Dir. Rod Hardy)
Kate Davis, an otherwise uninteresting and normal individual, is one day kidnapped by a secret organization that call themselves The Brotherhood. They hold her hostage in in a jail cell in their hidden castle-like compound, forcing her to sleep in a coffin and behave as they do, attempting to brainwash her into the vampiric lifestyle The Brotherhood engages in. She soon discovers that this vampire cult has been kidnapping humans to farm them for their blood. Kate then must decide if she is to become part of “The Brotherhood” and feast upon the blood of the living with them. Although this film is far from perfect, it’s a good looking, trippy, and distinctly Australian 70s flick.
6) BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992, Dir. Fran Rubel Kuzui)
Before its namesake TV series, Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) immortalized the trope of a buff blond femme fatale banishing bloodsuckers of the night. Starring Donald Sutherland, David Arquette, a young Luke Perry, and an even younger Hilary Swank, this film is everything you’re looking for in a teen action drama about vampire love. As the story goes, Buffy is a high school cheerleader who must purge her town and her generation from the latest vampire infestation. Trained by Donald Sutherland in a series of montages that blend pep rally-gymnastics with assassin tricks, Buffy prepares to fight the most evil vampire of them all, Rutger Hauer. Along the way, she solidifies her relationship with Luke Perry, the bad boy of the school, but not without running into some typical high-school vampirism first.
If you like 90s teen drama, Joss Whedon-comedy, and a five minute long scene of Paul Reubens dying, then this movie is for you. – Sabrina S.
7) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008, Dir. Tomas Alfredson)
Let The Right One In is about Oskar, a troubled 12 year old boy who is being frequently and violently bullied. This bullying has made way for a lot of darkness and anger in Oskar. When he meets an odd barefoot girl living in his apartment complex, he is strangely drawn to her, and even more so when it begins to come to light that this young girl is actually an ancient, blood-sucking monster.
Let The Right One In is another great example of a horror film that managed to reach an audience outside of the horror genre, a thing I personally think of as both positive and negative. It’s fantastic when a horror movie receives the level of praise that this film did, but so very frustrating to hear so many people announcing: “Horror is bad, except this movie.” It becomes an opportunity for close-minded critics to dismiss the genre further, instead of seeing it as an example of how the genre can be so wonderful.
I love this film, but even more so, I love the novel it is based on by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. He has one of the strongest new voices in horror literature. The story is not only emotionally heavy and fascinating, it’s about ten times more eff’ed up and disturbing than the movie, tying in aspects of the zombie genre and a high level of social dread.
8) SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000, Dir. E. Elias Merhige)
Director E. Elias Merhige had made a lot of weird stuff, including the cult classic Begotten, before venturing the world of mainstream filmmaking with Shadow of the Vampire. Although a couple things have been altered, this movie is a fictionalization of the making of Nosferatu, which on its own is a terrifyingly weird film of the silent era, and likely one of the best and eeriest vampire films ever made. Shadow of the Vampire grows off of this horror, layering the dread into a guise of reality.
The film plays off the suggestion that the events behind the creation of Nosferatu were real, and that the actor was a real vampire. John Malkovich plays the famed German director F.W. Murnau, while Willem Dafoe cranks the creepiness level up as high as it goes as actor Max Schreck. This film manages to capture the sense of dread that the earliest horror films induced so masterfully, which has all but disappeared in modern horror, replaced by shock and visceral terror.