These cinematic vamps don’t conform to the stiff, brocade-wearing Hollywood undead we’ve all come to accept
Jean Paul Gaultier once described one of his collections as “an elegant vampire in a luxurious jogging suit”. So, of course the runway ended up crawling with velvet cowls, industrial-strength pompadours, and Fifth Element monokinis dipped in blood-red sequins. Vampires do not jog in pastel velour with ‘Juicy’ on the ass (because fuck irony), or yoga pants, or anything in polyester. Such is the vampire’s sartorial mythology: doomed to wear Gaultier for eternity, no matter how impractical that would be in 90-degree weather or on the treadmill.
Hollywood, in fact, has banned all but the following options for vampires: brocade waistcoats, preferably in colours called ‘nightshade’ or ‘absinthe’, or else really sheer, really white lace gowns (Modern vampires can wear anything, as long as it’s leather and skin-tight). The most iconic example is, of course, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which won late costumer Eiko Ishioka an Oscar for Best Costume Design. Ishioka gave us LQQKs that have inspired countless designers, drag queens, and club kids since: Lucy’s Elizabethan-Alexander McQueen-pierrot fantasy, the vampire brides’ Gustav Klimt belly dancer outfits, and Dracula’s flayed-skin muscle-man realness. Here are ten more vampire films whose aesthetics were just as unforgettable.
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013)
Jim Jarmusch arthouse film stars fashion’s reigning empress Tilda Swinton and Internet boyfriend Tom Hiddleston as the pair of titular vampire lovers. Swinton plays Eve, a worldly bohemian who lives in Tangiers and has adapted quite easily to the trappings of modern life, such as freezers (blood popsicle) and FaceTime. Hiddleston’s Adam, on the other hand, has been suicidal ever since he hung out with Lord Byron, and spends his days moping around his Victorian in Detroit, composing avante-garde drone folk, and collecting one-of-a-kind guitars. Eve alternates between exquisite Moroccan caftans and all-white leather ensembles, while Adam dresses solely in Regency Era-meets-70s sadboy garb. Nothing much happens besides ennui, addiction, and generation shock, but the cinematography and soundtrack are so arresting it doesn’t really matter.
THE HUNGER (1983)
Two words: David Bowie. The man who left no designer uninfluenced plays opposite YSL muse, model, and actress Catherine Deneuve as a very bourgeois vampire couple in this cult classic. The film opens in a club with a close-up of Peter Murphy mean-mugging in a cage, as Bauhaus performs “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” live in a goth club. From that first scene, Deneuve is striking in silver cat-eye sunglasses, leather air-cadet hat, studded gloves, and blade-shaped earrings, and her outfits only get chic-er from there. Bowie, meanwhile, wears the kind of dandyish cream suits and oversized coats endemic in fashion blogs today. The Hunger’s plot, which involves a love triangle with Susan Sarandon, is…not great. But the visuals and atmosphere, which director Tony Scott said were influenced heavily by Helmut Newton, more than make up for it.
The best part of this movie is undoubtedly Grace Jones, who plays a vampire queen moonlighting as a stripper. Without her, it would be a rather standard 80s horror comedy revolving around a pair of meddlesome frat boys, albeit with a cute synth soundtrack and some cool Burton-esque lighting. Every one of Jones’ Keith Haring-designed costumes is a stunner, from the psychedelic catsuit she wears in her first scene with whiteface and a red wig, to her metal spiral bra and red catsuit as she makes a kill, and her Afrofuturistic metal headdress. Some of the other characters’ (extremely 80s) outfits are cool-looking too, and their performances aren’t awful, but Jones is really the reason to watch here.
This black-and-white “deadpan noir” boasts David Lynch in a cameo (and as executive producer), an uber-hip soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Portishead, and an incredibly funny script. The plot, like some others on this list, is somewhat pointless – it revolves around a very nihilistic vampire named Nadja who didn’t ask to be born. It is worth watching simply for the one-liners and drier-than-Daria performances, but the sheer stylishness of it all establishes its status as a cult staple. Although there are virtually no costume changes in this movie, everyone could have walked out of a (here he is again) Helmut Newton editorial. Highlights are the title character’s cloak-favouring insouciance, her slave Renfield’s Hood by Air/Vetements model vibe, and the very wooden Lucy’s Parisian tomboy chic.
Since this Palme D’Or-nominated masterpiece is by Park Chan-Wook, it contains not a single frame of drabness. The cinematography is characteristically lush and dark and intimate with bursts of icy disassociation – individual shots could be blown up and framed in some cyberpunk villain’s office. The plot and themes (a priest becomes a vampire) are a little ham-handed – this is, after all, from the guy who directed Oldboy and Stoker – but they are handled with Park’s signature dark humour and elegance. Most underrated, however, is Park’s impeccable costuming; he dresses the female lead in Isabelle Adjani’s wardrobe in Possession, the silky blue and grey shifts failing to anchor an increasingly unstable but independent woman. By contrast, the supporting female characters’ flowery dresses and colorful hanboks look frail, manic, and overcompensating.
VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)
Frames from this surrealist coming-of-age movie make frequent appearances on Tumblr and Instagram, along with its aesthetic sisters Daisies and Picnic at Hanging Rock. This is unsurprising – its pale, sad girl palette and Pre-Raphaelite framing make it prime reblog/regram material. The exquisite costumes don’t hurt either, from Valerie’s nightgown-sundress hybrids and magical earrings to her grandmother’s sheer black gloves and ropes of pearls to the extras’ Wicker Man meets Virgin Suicides get-ups. There's not much plot besides the loss of innocence, but literally no one watches it for that.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)
Billed as “the first Iranian vampire Western,” this breathtaking black-and-white neo-noir is about a skateboarding, pop culture-addicted, hijab-wearing teenage vampire in a ghost-town called Bad City. The other kooky denizens of Bad City include an Iranian version of Die Antwoord’s Ninja, a prostitute, and a romantic who falls for our titular girl. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is basically this generation’s Nadja (if a bit more coherent and self-serious), and like Nadja, it’s stylish as hell despite the basic costumes. It has a super-slow, minimalistic plot about young love and breaking out of bad family cycles, but everything’s about the feel and visuals. Plus the symbolism fluctuates between profound and film student levels of on-the-nose.
THE NUDE VAMPIRE (1970)
All of Jean Rollin’s erotic vampire films will do, but the most stylish are Fascination (one scene makes a slaughterhouse look like a great idea for a photoshoot) and The Nude Vampire. Rollin is famous for making ‘artsploitation’ films – too exploitation for the arthouse crowd, too arthouse for the exploitation crowd, and in no way suitable for the general audience. The Nude Vampire has a very loose plot involving a suicide cult and a sheltered vampire, and features the best costumes of his oeuvre: red fishnet bodysuits with spiky pink pasties, metallic stiletto nails, jewel-colored execution hoods, orange chiffon gowns, and go-go outfits that look like they’ve been put together from the five piece French wardrobe. In other words, very Brooke Candy. This (and Rollin’s other films) is another eminently rebloggable Tumblr fav.
THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE (1972)
This giallo-inspired flick, from which Tarantino took the title for the first chapter of Kill Bill Vol. 1, is a loose retelling of Carmilla, the grandmamma of all lesbian vampire stories. Although probably the one with the thickest plot on this list, it still has some chic outfits (lots of cashmere-sweater-tennis-skirt-combos, pastel chiffon cloaks, and an abundance of turtlenecks colour-coordinated with the props and scenery) and gorgeous shots. There are a lot of unusual images, but the most striking one is when the lead’s husband uncovers a vampire buried beneath the sand and breathing out of a snorkel.
VAMPIRE HUNTER D (1985)
This anime was based on designs by Japanese fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano, known for his sensual art nouveau illustrations of otherworldly humanoids. So naturally it’s beautiful to look at, right up there with the work of Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. Set in a post-nuclear dystopia in the very far future, it revolves around a half-vampire, half-human vampire slayer hired by a young woman to protect her from an unwelcome suitor, a 10,000-year-old vampire lord. The titular D has a pretty nifty outfit, but it’s the other characters’ glam-rock H.R. Giger cyberpunk outfits that should appear IRL. The vampire lord’s daughter in particular looks eerily similar to an anime version of FKA Twigs.