Vampires are easily one of the most well-known monsters of the genre fiction, and they have long since escaped their status as strictly horror-themed. Over the many decades, they’ve delved into realms like historical fiction, romance, and comedy, and as far as where they might yet go, the (night) sky is the limit.
To call vampires underplayed would be a stretch, but because there are hundreds upon hundreds of takes on them, no matter how many you’ve seen, chances are there is still plenty you’ve never even heard of. Keeping in mind that these are all films with very adult subjects and must be watched with all the trigger warnings in place, these are some haunting classics that deserve a viewing if you find yourself thirsty for some bloodsucking nightmares from off the beaten path.
Sari moves to the city and befriends a girl named Emi, but when Sari falls in love with a stranger, their friendship is tested. The film does not make many further attempts at plot, instead relying on a variety of film techniques to convey the emotional resonance between characters.
Filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi is today perhaps best known to American audiences for his delightfully off-the-wall horror film House (1977), but he got his start making experimental art house films like this one. Bizarre, clipped together, and occasionally nonsensical, Emotion remains a must-see due to its ability to instill a lingering sense of ghostly foreboding. Emotion is available to stream on YouTube.
A thief who betrayed his fellow thieves after a robbery holds up in a seemingly abandoned castle. Once inside, he discovers two women who are lovers, brandishing knives at him and each other and preparing for a séance with a coven of their fellow witches that is soon to arrive.
Filmmaker Jean Rollin is well-known among international B-movie horror film fans for creating a number of works with exploitation-era themes while imbuing them with a sense of dreaminess and unreality that makes them stand out. Fascinationmay well be his masterpiece, with a number of gruesome murders and betrayals only increasing its strange hold on its audience. Fascination is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
‘The Blood Spattered Bride’ (1972)
Newlywed Susan is stuck in a marriage to a sadist, and her disdain for him grows exponentially as they go to his isolated family estate. Susan is haunted by images of the women of his family, all of whom murdered their husbands, as she becomes increasingly attracted to the mysterious Mircala.
As the title might suggest, The Blood Spattered Bride is a pretty violent movie, but there’s an interesting feminist and queer-friendly subtext to it that adds a lot to what would otherwise be another exploitation-era take on Carmilla. Susan isn’t just disgusted by her domineering husband, she’s also afraid of him, and her understanding of herself as a queer woman remains one of the most interesting parts of the film. The Blood Spattered Bride is available to watch via Pluto and Tubi.
‘A Vampire in Brooklyn’ (1995)
Kicking off with the familiar trope of an abandoned ship crashing in New York, we quickly meet the vampire Maximilian. Quickly pulling the morally questionable Silas and Julius in as his helpers, he sets out to find a Dhampir, who just so happens to be Detective Rita Veder. The two are immediately attracted to one another, and Rita must choose whether she wants to embrace her vampire roots.
Though generally panned at the time of its release, there’s a lot to love about A Vampire in Brooklyn. Not only is it often hilarious, but it’s an interesting role choice for Eddie Murphy, and Angela Bassett is excellent as Rita. A Vampire in Brooklyn is available to watch via Paramount +.
‘Tale of a Vampire’ (1992)
Jane works at a beautiful classic library, which might be a dream job save for the level of interpersonal juggling she has to do with the library’s regulars. Among them is Alex, a sensitive but troubled man who seems both attracted and repelled by the honest and pragmatic Jane. As his obsession grows, Jane is forced to navigate his moody behavior as yet another lurking library patron takes an interest in her, claiming to be an old friend of Alex’s.
Filmmaker Shimako Satō is best known for her work on the horror series Eko Eko Azarakbut Tale of a Vampire shows a knack for slow burn pacing and shocking, sudden moments of violence well before her turn as a full-out horror director. Julian Sands turns out an excellent performance as the seemingly sympathetic but ultimately predatory Alex. Tale of a Vampire is available to watch on YouTube.
‘Vampire Circus’ (1972)
Sometimes a movie just is what it says on the tin, and when the tin says “Vampire Circus,” you can guess that the contents are going to be just as ridiculous and awesome as they sound. Vampire Circus is about, well, a circus populated by vampires. There is a surprising amount of plot points going on otherwise, but, let’s face it, you can pretty much tell from the “vampire circus” part whether you want to watch this movie or not.
There are some incredibly cool gimmicks thrown into the mix. Performers include a dancer painted from head to toe with tiger-themed make-up, a highly creepy set of mirror-hopping twins, and a dashing count. Did we mention there are vampires, and it’s a circus? Because there’s that. Vampire Circus is available to watch via Roku.
‘Daughters of Darkness’ (1971)
Newlyweds Stefan and Valerie have the bad luck of finding themselves stuck in a hotel with Countess Elizabeth Bathory and her lover, Ilona. A series of child murders are in the headlines, and more deaths occur at the hotel. Bathory becomes obsessed by Valerie, who is initially repelled by her but ultimately enthralled.
Featuring one of the great underrated horror soundtracks of all time and a knock-out performance from the otherworldly Delphine Seyrig, Daughters of Darkness is a disturbing examination of toxic masculinity, possessiveness, and the power that demagogues hold over others. Full of surreal and beautiful imagery in contrast to a highly upsetting, sexually obsessive narrative, there is a lot more to this film than what meets the eye. Daughters of Darkness is available to watch on Tubi.
Martin probably isn’t a vampire, but he’s very much convinced that he is. Opening on a brutal scene on a train in which he takes a victim by dosing her then drinking her blood, it immediately obvious that this is a disturbed individual. However, as he narrates his exploits in trying to fit in, we start to find an uncomfortable level of common ground with the guy.
Though director George A. Romero is best known for zombies, Martin remains one of his best works. Featuring on a strange, quirky, but ultimately quite violent young man and using him as a commentary on society, Romero created one of horror’s most complicated villains. It was recently announced that a black and white 3.5-hour director’s cut existsso there’s a chance Martin’s story hasn’t quite wrapped for film lovers. Martin is available to watch on YouTube.
‘Ganja & Hess’ (1973)
While investigating a group of ancient African blood-drinkers, Dr. Hess Green becomes a vampire himself after a violent encounter with his assistant. His assistant’s estranged wife, Ganja, arrives at Hess’s house in search of her husband, but she and the doctor quickly become involved. With each of them reveling in their sudden power, things are not destined to end well.
Written and directed by Bill Gunn, Ganja & Hess features one of Duane Jones’ two lead performances, the other being that of Ben in Night of the Living Dead. Though mostly ignored on its release, the film was ultimately remade by Spike Lee as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Ganja & Hess is available to watch on Roku and Showtime.
Turning vampire mythology on its head by introducing its source as a piece of Jurassic technology, our elderly protagonist Jesus discovers the beetle-shaped machination and is delighted to find his youth and vigor returning to him. Naturally, this entails a sharp increase in his desire to feed on the living. Connected to morality by his loving granddaughter Aurora, Jesus struggles with his humanity in light of his new powers.
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is easily one of the most famous people on this list, but that does not stop Cronos from being a hidden gem in his filmography. Full of the ambiguity and hidden meaning of all del Toro’s best works, this is an early hit from the writer / director that stands on par with any of his later releases. Besides all that, it’s just a really good vampire movie. Cronos is available to watch on HBO Max.
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