I’ve always been a bit of an indoor kid. Don’t get me wrong, I love the outdoors, it’s just that the outdoors doesn’t exactly love me back. I am about two shades of pale away from cadaver, allergic to pretty much all varieties of pollen, and absolutely irresistible to mosquitos. This means that I spend a good percentage of the summer months in the safety and comfort of my air conditioning, although I will from time to time park a chair in the shade with a book.
This propensity to burst into flames when exposed to sunlight, coupled with a lifetime of insomnia, led to a very early fascination with vampires. Before there were angst-ridden glitter vampires for tweens there was Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series, which of course was followed in my reading history by copious amounts of Anne Rice. Considering my great love for science fiction (in addition to the supernatural), it should then come as no surprise that my favorite movie genre is horror.
So, to really kick your summer off the way only an indoor kid can, I’ve put together a list of recommendations for vampiric viewing. For the purpose of this exercise I’m going to skip over the obvious classics, and focus instead on films you might not have seen but definitely should.
Let the Right One In
This is not only my favorite vampire movie, it’s also one of my favorite movies, period. It’s based on a book that was wildly popular in Sweden, which is also on my (exceptionally long) to-read list. The plot centers around Oskar, who is a painfully awkward, oddball kid. Oskar is picked on incessantly by a group of menacing bullies who shatter all my perceptions of small-town Scandinavia. A girl named Eli moves into his apartment building, and her parallel strangeness draws Oskar in.
Let the Right One In is full of so much atmosphere. The harshness of Swedish winter, and the darkness that comes along with it, sets a somber tone that is almost palpable in its weight. This is not your traditional leather-clad vampire story, full of crescendo and dripping with sexual tension. It is raw, gritty, yet also remarkably tender at times. They filmed an English-language remake of the movie a few years after this was released, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch it. You just don’t mess with perfection.
Kiss of the Damned
Speaking of leather-clad vampire stories, this one screams excess from start to finish. I will probably catch a bit of flak for including Kiss of the Damned, but there are a few reasons it makes the cut. Yes, there is a fair amount of gratuitous nudity and oodles of bloody seduction. However, in my opinion, it serves the purpose of outlining the different philosophies of the main characters. Djuna is a hopeless romantic who spends her nights watching old movies and translating poetry, with the occasional break for hunting down deer to feed her bloodlust. Her sister Mimi is brazen and unapologetic, preferring to spend her nights hunting human prey despite the social conventions in the vampire community that forbid her to do so.
The movie has a very pulp feel to it, sort of macabre and with a hint of film noir. The homes are extravagant, the personalities brooding, and every character is dressed to the nines at almost every moment. The director somehow manages to meld together old world elegance with grindhouse without being completely pornographic. There is still a lot of sexy sex, but that’s kind of par for the course when you’re dealing with vampires.
Get ready for more subtitles! Thirst is an intricate film from Korean writer/director Park Chan-wook, who is best known for his ability to build magnificent tension (e.g. Oldboy and Stoker). This movie is about more than just vampires, touching on themes of sacrifice, duty, love and sin. In a refreshing twist on the classic vampire tale, the main bloodthirsty character is a priest. He volunteers to undergo experimental treatment in an attempt to help cure a deadly epidemic, but ends up getting a transfusion of eternal life/damnation instead.
His seemingly miraculous recovery leads to a flock of followers and a whole heap of conflict, particularly his internal struggle to reconcile his newfound lust for everything with his ingrained reflex to denounce lustful ways. The film is visually stunning, as are all of his films, in such a way that you could choose any still shot and frame it like a piece of art. While the plot centers around a vampire, this is really more philosophical than supernatural. Well worth your time to watch.
This comedic gem is an indie web series about a hitman named Don who becomes a vampire to help aid in his line of work. In a moment of weakness he bites his wife, who in turn bites her mother so she’ll have someone to complain about Don to for all eternity. In addition to a killer premise, they’ve got some real star power on board, including Kirsten Vangsness (Criminal Minds), Retta (Parks and Recreation) and the late, great Marcia Wallace (known for many awesome things, but particularly The Simpsons). The full series (embedded below) clocks in at around 80 minutes total, so it’s pretty much equivalent to watching a movie.
If you’re after a classic after all, the obvious choices would include Interview with the Vampire (in which Kirsten Dunst’s career peaks with her first major role), Coppola’s stylized Dracula (Gary Oldman’s everything makes up for Keanu’s terrible British accent), and the film within a film that is Shadow of the Vampire. If you’re after a movie that’s so bad (so very bad) it’s good, I would recommend Once Bitten and if you’d rather some campy (but still sexy) vampire seduction there’s nothing better than the combination of David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger.
In fact, when it comes to vampire movie trailers, The Hunger is definitely the strangest, and quite possibly involves the most use of voiceover ever voiced in a preview. I’ll leave you with the trailer that calls its own film “haunting, mysterious, sensual, strange, perverse, riveting.”