Vampire movies suck. Or rather, a large percentage of vampire movies suck, yet they continue to draw massive audiences. Cult fanatics will watch the same terrible movie over and over, and in many cases, the more terrible the film, the more they will watch it. The only other form of entertainment that garners the same kind of lazy success is porn. So it’s no wonder that the two genres have combined forces over the years, creating a sense of repulsed attraction in audiences around the world. But the bond between sex and terror is fragile, and dependent on dangerous, highly sexual antagonists. After all, no one wants to look at fornicating zombies for 90 minutes.
Enter the vampires. Vampire movies don’t have to be good to be enjoyed because they have boobs and blood on their side, and consequently, most of them are truly awful. But once in awhile, whether by accident or providence, a good vampire movie will be made that explores the relationship between sex and death in an interesting way. In honor of Halloween (the sexiest and grossest holiday of all), we want to concentrate on those Vampire movies that got lost in shuffle, and actually deserve immortality in the minds of fans.
Created by Cronenberg in 1977, Rabid is the story of a woman who becomes a vampire after a life saving, but controversial operation. The woman, it should be noted, is played by legendary porn actress, Marilyn Chambers. Yet this film combines sexuality with horror flawlessly. Marilyn’s character, Rose, spreads vampirism across the city like a nasty STD after drinking the blood of several people. But rather than biting the necks of her victims, she stabs them through a hole in her armpit… it’s complicated. But it’s also Cronenberg, so it’s a shame this movie didn’t see more renown.
Don’t let Bill Paxton’s presence as a main character dissuade you from seeing this film. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow in 1987, Near Dark is one of the few gunslinger vampire movies ever made. Modeled as a Western, the story follows Caleb Colton and his family as they travel through a small town in Oklahoma. Caleb falls for a drifter who turns out to be a vampire. After he’s bitten, the story takes on a very “Lost Boys” feel except the vampires attack cowboy bars instead of beach parties. The film’s main focus is on the lust-filled thrill of being immortal, and begs the question of whether someone can go back to being human after seeing the enormous power and allure of vampirism.
Ganja and Hess
Created in 1972 during the height of blaxploitation, this vampire film features a predominantly African American cast, but the similarities to movies like “Blacula” end there. Ganja and Hess tells the story of an archeologist, Hess Green, who is stabbed by his manic depressive assistant with an infected artifact then shoots himself in the head. Hess wakes up and discovers his stab wounds are healed and he is taken by the overwhelming desire to lick up the blood of the now dead assistant. Hess spends the rest of the movie coping with his addiction by stealing plasma from blood-banks and killing a hooker or two. The film’s harshest critics have called it “artsy” but only because the cinematography is beautiful and the story line significantly darker than any blaxploitation movie out at the time.
While George Romero received international success for his brain eaters in the Living Dead movies, somehow his take on bloodsuckers was swept under the rug. Yet Martin is easily one of the most complex, terrifying takes on vampirism in modern film. The movie relies on the mythos surrounding the vampire, as a listless, quasi-autistic teenager, Martin, suspects he is actually a centuries-old vampire. His style of murder is more reminiscent of a serial killer than the undead; he has no aversion to sunlight, he can see himself in mirrors, and is very much human. The additional twist to the film is the vampire hunter who chases Martin. Rather than another Van Helsing, the hunter is actually a religious zealot whose own blind piousness seems to perpetuate Martin’s thirst for blood. The movie requires some patience due to its slow pace, but as Vampire movies go, Martin is one of the most innovative.
The Monster Squad
Though it’s not exclusively a vampire movie, The Monster Squad’s central antagonist is Dracula and the heroes are forced to stab a few blood sucking minions in the heart… so there you go. The plot revolves around a group of kids who fashion themselves monster hunters, and when they discover the existence of a powerful amulet that Dracula is searching for, the squad is forced to contend with actual monsters. Even though the clear demographic for this film is young teens, the humor and the awkwardness of the main characters is relatable to even the most jaded adult viewers. If you’re looking for an entertaining horror that won’t leave you feeling sick, The Monster Squad is ideal.
Staying in the vein of dark comedy, Vampire’s Kiss is arguably one of Nicolas Cage’s best performances, and yet most people have never seen this movie. Similar to the theme of Martin, the audience is left in the dark over whether the main character, Peter Loew, is actually a vampire or just psychotic. Loew genuinely believes he is becoming a vampire and is disappointed when his teeth don’t develop. His wholehearted desire to become one of the undead leads him to buy a set of plastic vampire teeth which he uses to kill at least one victim. He also sleeps under an overturned sofa for lack of an actual coffin. Ultimately his transformation is more pathetic than epic, but the film maintains the haunting and tragic feel that makes a vampire film great. We should also point out that Nicolas Cage actually eats the cockroach in this clip.
Vampire Hunter D
Leave it to the Japanese to combine gothic horror with post-apocalyptic future in an animated movie. Vampire Hunter D is one of the most celebrated films within anime and manga crowds, but is relatively unknown to the wider masses. In the year 12,090, earth’s landscape has been transformed by nuclear wars, and so have its inhabitants. The world is full of vampires and monsters of all kinds that essentially keep humans around as cattle. D, a half blood emerges as a hero willing to kill the vampires and free the major cities for humanity. The story lines are original and entertaining, and the struggling duality of the main character puts Blade to shame.
Shadow of the Vampire
Despite the great cast and amazing script, this film was inexplicably buried. Shadow of the Vampire is a fictional account of the filming of Nosferatu, except the director F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich) has contracted an actual vampire to play the role for the sake of realism. The vampire starts picking off the cast and crew while everyone remains adamant that, “he is just a really good actor.” The film satirizes the idea of method acting, and the lengths people are willing to go to in order to create a realistic movie. But there’s also a good deal of horror and surprise for the audience who demands both from a vampire film.
Upon its release in 1983, Roger Ebert called The Hunger, “an agonizingly bad vampire movie.” But it has since garnered a following among scarf-wearing dilatants who watch movies for atmosphere rather than plot. Incidentally, this group of people is also the main fan base for David Bowie, who stars in the film. Still, the movie is surprisingly good. It deals almost exclusively with the seductive nature of vampires and suggests that no one becomes a member of the undead who doesn’t want it. The movie is ripe with sexual tension between Bowie and two women (which in itself requires a suspension of disbelief). Ultimately, the film does deliver but replaces terror with general uneasiness.
Let the Right One In
Because this film is only out in theaters now, it’s impossible to predict that it will be entirely overlooked by audiences, but we’re going to do it anyway. Working against it is the film’s origin. Because the movie was made in Sweden, it contains subtitles, which in principle ensures that most Americans will never see it. But the plot is one of the most original vampire stories to date. It follows the life of the bullied and friendless 12-year-old Oskar as he establishes a relationship with a young girl who starts killing everyone he knows. Upon discovering that she is a vampire, Oskar doesn’t try to kill her or even condemn her. Their relationship grows stronger in spite of, or because of, her terrible secret. The movie is both a coming of age story, a sexual awakening, and a horror all spun up into a beautiful, delicious Swiss Roll that is definitely worth seeing.