In case you hadn’t noticed, Vampires are all the rage these days, from the angsty pseudo-teens of Twilight to the angsty pseudo-teens of The Vampire Diaries. I can’t really decide if that’s a step up or down from the angsty frills of the Anne Rice school of vampires or not.
But you know, somewhere between the classic Transylvanian Count and this modern wave of painful to watch pretty boys and girls, there were some extremely interesting and innovative Vampire films being made. The usual caveat needs to be made here: this list is seriously incomplete lacking titles like George Romero’s Martin (1976), the complete 1979 TV mini-series version of ‘Salem’s Lot, Fright Night (1985), The Lost Boys (1987), or even the classic The Last Man on Earth (1964).
Honorable mentions are in order for Blade (1998), Blade II (2002), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and 30 Days of Night (2007), though. This is a comics site, after all.
These are, however, my favorite picks for your Top Five Non-Sparkly Vampire Films (P.S. There are no Draculas on this list either):
#5: Cronos (1993)
Horror Master Guillermo del Toro’s first feature length film focused on the relationship between an elderly antique dealer named Jesus Gris (played by Federico Luppi) and his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) as Jesus discovers an ancient device that transforms him into what is, for all intents and purposes, a vampire.
This film has all of the hallmarks of a del Toro production, creepy production design, a fairy-tale quality to the narrative, and Ron Perlman. For a first film, Cronos succeeds on nearly every level at not only scaring us, but also emphasizing the despair and degradation of Jesus’ slow and disgusting transformation.
Most Disturbing Scene: Where Jesus licks blood off of a men’s room floor. Ugh.
#4: Near Dark (1987)
Before marrying James Cameron in 1989, Kathryn Bigelow recruited a few of the more memorable castmembers of Aliens (1986) for her second feature film project, Near Dark. This very nicely-paced vampire film is set in the American West as a roving group of vampires reluctantly recruit a young Adrian Pasdar into their ranks.
Lance Henrickson as Jesse Hooker plays the leader of the small clan of blood-suckers, backed up by Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein as Severen and Diamondback. Rounding out the crew is Jenny Wright as Mae (who is responsible for infecting Pasdar) and the perennial pre-teen, Homer, played with a powerful sense of tragedy by Joshua John Miller.
The ending is a little lackluster, with a surprise cure being discovered for vampirism, but it does all lead to a classic Western show-down that brings it all home.
Most Memorable Scene: The vampire crew invades a honky tonk bar and proceeds to murder everyone they can get their hands on. Yikes!
#3: The Hunger (1983)
Even if this film, director Tony Scott’s feature length debut, didn’t have Bowie in the cast and center on the lesbian relationship between ageless vampire Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) and a sleep and aging researcher named Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), it would still make my list just because of the opening scene featuring a live performance by Bauhaus doing “Bela Legosi’s Dead”.
Deneuve and Sarandon are extraordinarily easy on the eyes, though.
Deneuve’s vampire mistress and her consort, John (David Bowie) are living the vampire high-life. Going to freaky clubs, bringing home swinging couples, and eating them. But Bowie discovers a secret about Deneuve’s gift of eternal life, for him anyway. It’s not so eternal.
Well, sort of.
While Miriam will live forever, her companions are not so lucky. They last a good long while, but then they begin to age and die – or not die – that’s the thing. Hopefully Dr. Roberts’ research can find a cure. You know, when she’s not busy making sweet and sensual love to her new immortal partner.
Best Music Scene: I’m telling you, you can’t go wrong with strobe lights, Bauhaus, and bloodletting.
#2: The Addiction (1995)
I’ll just say it up front. This film is not going to be for everybody. But if you’re in a graduate program in any kind of Fine Arts or Humanities program, then you may enjoy this more than you should.
Director Abel Ferrara had already made his name with TV’s Crime Story and unflinching feature films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant when he decided to experiment with a low-budget, black and white film about the ethics and morality of the vampire.
Lili Taylor is a philosophy grad student who is attacked one night by Annabella Sciorra and wakes up to find herself fearing the light and craving blood. There’s a lot of existential discussion about violence and the meaning of life, and it’s all pretty awesome.
Particularly after she completes her dissertation and throws a party for the department. Yes, she invites all of her new vampire friends along for a bloody blow-out that really takes the whole film to a new level.
This film is not readily available anywhere, so you’ll have to go looking for it. I highly recommend doing just that.
Most Memorable Guest-Appearance: Christopher Walken shows up for a few brief scenes as a would-be victim of Taylor’s who is actually an older and far more powerful vampire than she is. He tries to teach her some lessons about life in the shadows, but she’s just not ready to hear what he has to say.
#1: Let the Right One In (2008)
In the midst of all the horrible sparkly angsty teen vampire madness that has descended on the world in the last few years, slipped this instant classic from Sweden. Directed by Tomas Alfredson and with a screenplay written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel, we were gifted with a portrait of isolation and anxiety against a backdrop of Cold War nuclear tensions in the 1980s.
And that’s before Lina Leandersson’s vampire Eli ever appears on-screen.
There’s a lot of good stuff going on here, some extremely subtle, some not-so-subtle, but it all circles around Eli and her “partner” Hakan (Per Ragnar). He hunts for her, allowing her to stay safe, but he’s getting old and sloppy. So sloppy, in fact, that he’s having trouble providing for her.
So needless to say, Hakan is not happy to discover Eli making friends with the bullied and slightly disturbed neighbor boy, Oskar (Kare Hedebrant).
What really makes this film work is the performances by Hedebrant and Leandersson. There’s a sensitivity and an honesty there that is heart-breaking at times. Especially when Eli is trying to prove her devotion to Oskar.
Most Satisfying Mass Murder: When Eli saves Oskar from being drowned, we only hear muffled noises and get hints at what’s going on from Oskar’s underwater perspective. The aftermath, though, is horrifying.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot. His first novel,The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook, or can be sampled and/or purchased at Smashwords. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.