Sink your teeth into Nicolas Cage turning (even more) twisted and David Lynch’s fang gang cameo – making these films must sees
Cult vampire mockmentary What We Do In The Shadows is loads of bloody fun. Basically Spinal Tap (1984) meets Dracula (1931), the film stars Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and centres around a house-share between a bunch of dumb bloodsuckers, getting a lot of laughs from the petty squabbles than happen with you’re undead and paying rent.
Of course, vampire movies aren’t always this funny. Despite the fact they all contain the same basic elements – bloodsucking, bats, badly-lit castles – the genre can be lots of different things, from the comic-book cheesiness of Blade (1998) to the over-the-top baroque drama of Interview with the Vampire (1994), to the ridiculous romance of the Twilight saga. As for us? We like the weird ones.
A swarm of evil children gliding with the grace of ballet dancers, a cackling hunchback hitting an upside-down crucifix with a spoon, the shadow of a hanged nun darkening a church wall, and a camera that doesn't stop moving in a ceaseless search to record the next unforgettable image. These are just minor elements of Jonathan, one of the eeriest vampire tales ever captured on celluloid.
Officially an adaptation of Dracula, Jonathan's weird atmosphere – not to mention its significant plot changes (vampires walking in daylight, for one) – makes it utterly unlike its source text or, indeed, any bloodsucking odyssey that came before or after it.
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)
Okay, so the monsters are probably more alien-zombies than proper vampires, but Mario Bava’s bizarre sci-fi movie is so great we’ll take any excuse to recommend it.
Then there’s that title, so beautifully evocative that you’d expect any actual expression of it to be a disappointment. But Bava’s movie is so brilliant Ridley Scott decided to rip it off for his very own great science-fiction horror flick. We’d tell you the plot, but it can basically be summed up in one word: Alien (1979).
LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973)
Otherwise known as Lady Dracula, Lemora is arguably the creepiest film on this list, concerned as it is with the corruption of an innocent teen by a seductive vampire. When Lila’s (Cheryl Smith) gangster father murders her mother, she escapes to the wilderness after being rescued by a reverend (the movie’s writer-director Richard Blackburn).
But when a mysterious woman offers to take care of her, Lila finds herself encountering madmen and monsters as she struggles to survive. Partially gaining its cult cred from a ban by the Catholic Church, Lemora has a fairlytale atmosphere that makes it utterly unique.
Shot in black-and-white in New York, Nadja features a bleak tone that’d have Ingmar Bergman reaching for the Prozac, a David Lynch morgue attendant cameo AND arguably Peter Fonda’s most eccentric performance – it’s pretty easy to see why Nadja didn’t break into the mainstream.
A tale of a bunch of moody vamps made miserable by immortality, Nadja isn’t an easy watch, but put in the effort and the rewards are as endless as a vampire’s life insurance policy.
BLOOD & DONUTS (1995)
We’re not sure what it is about cult vampire movies that makes cool directors want to cameo in them, but after you watch David Lynch’s turn in Nadja, you should probably line up David Cronenberg’s appearance in Blood & Donuts.
That’s not the only reason to watch it, obviously. Original and fun, this is a black comedy with a soundtrack full of pop songs and a surprisingly philosophical outlook. We follow our undead hero Boya as he struggles with the concept of eternal life, and falls in love with a girl who works in a donut shop. So, yeah, it’s not exactly Abel Ferrera’s The Addiction (1995), but it is sweet and entertaining. Like a donut. With online snippets of the film few and far between, this German-speaking clip should satiate your appetite.
THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971)
Rumour has it that Quentin Tarantino owns the only master print of this one, and as it’s impossible to find on DVD, you’ll probably need a VHS player should you decide to seek out this slice of blood-soaked vampire erotica. It’s worth the search though; they just don’t make this kind of stylish trash anymore.
Featuring a vampire cruising art galleries for victims, before inviting them to her home in the Mojave desert so they can fulfil all of her… appetites, several surreal dream sequences, and a score that puts the mental in experimental – this is as weird as fang-flicks get.
NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)
In 1988, Werner Herzog said that the original Nosferatu (1922) was greatest-ever German film. You should definitely watch that if you’ve never seen it, then, once you’ve done that, make a beeline for Herzog’s cult remake. And if you only watch one Klaus Kinski/Herzog collaboration, it should be Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) or Fitzcarraldo (1982). Then, once you’ve watched those, watch this.
Look, we know we’re giving you a lot of films to put in your Netflix queue, but they’re all worth it. Herzog’s Nosferatu, a film filled with atmosphere and angst, is so good it made the notoriously difficult/angry Klaus Kinski go through four hours of make-up every day without a single temper tantrum, and if that doesn’t make it worth a look, we don’t know what is.
GANJA & HESS (1973)
A blaxploitation flick without the exploitation, Ganja & Hess is essentially an abstract arthouse horror flick that should’ve been as big as The Seventh Seal (1957). It certainly surprised the producers, who hired director Bill Gunn to make another Blacula (1972). He came back with this stylish masterpiece that mixed documentary realism with layered symbolism.
The story of Hess Green, a doctor who returns from Africa with ‘the addiction’, a disease that parallels some elements of the vampire mythos (he craves blood/is immortal) while ignoring others (no fangs/aversion to sunlight). Spiritual and lyrical, Ganja & Hess explores religion, addiction and cultural identity. The Lost Boys (1987) it ain’t. Watch an NSFW clip from the film below.
VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988)
Basically American Psycho (2000) with vampires instead of serial killers, Vampire's Kiss features Nic Cage as Peter Loew; a stressed-out publisher in psychotherapy who suddenly decides that he’s turning into a vampire, even though he probably isn’t. Like American Psycho, Kiss mixes violent fantasy with satirical reality to present a character study following a deeply unlikeable, but utterly compelling lead.
Cage is mesmerising, and absolutely bat shit crazy – this film is where half the footage in most Nic Cage YouTube super cuts comes from. But his mania works. Whether he’s eating a cockroach in the kitchen – for real – or bellowing his ABCs to a baffled therapist, you can’t take your eyes off him.
All vampire movies explore addiction on some level – usually, they operate as pretty obvious metaphors for drug addiction. Habit uses vampire mythos to explore sex addiction, and is far more fascinating for it. It follows our lonely lead character as he meets a mysterious woman, Anna, at an East Side New York hipster Halloween party. Anna is a bit rough in the bedroom, and has a predilection for biting – yet Sam keeps going back for more. But the more he sees Anna, more of his friends start to disappear around him. Sex addiction, depression and obsession are all investigated in this nihilistic and hallucinogenic tale written, directed by and starring Larry Fessenden.