One of the first things I told Cat was that I had a list of films I loved that must be mentioned, especially as I thought they were less likely to be known by most people (and also a shame to be missed by those who consider themselves connoisseurs of vampire media). This isn’t my all-time favourites list, but it’s only lacking a couple things to make it that. Instead, I’m sticking to those films that didn’t get as much publicity, things I saw in smaller independent cinemas (and, for the sake of something like brevity, only English-language films for this post). So, whilst I love it, there’s no Lost Boys here. You already know about Lost Boys.
Before we go on, and in case you’re creating a list of films to watch based on our posts, I feel like you need to know that Cat and I have some different requirements from our vampires. As I understand it (and Cat can correct me if I’m wrong), Cat most enjoys the vampire things that show the brutality and the gore hidden in the human-looking beings.*
On the other hand, I most like to see those supposedly-brutal beings who are struggling to find some humanity in themselves or who are dealing with the fact that their need for blood is like my need for air. (Is it immoral for me to breathe, for the lion to hunt his prey, for a vampire to eat the one thing that can actually sustain her?) Whilst I can enjoy a film that’s focused on hunting down or fighting the bloodsuckers (Lost Boys or Blade, anyone?), it’s not usually my preference. Reading Interview With a Vampire, I was all about poor, tortured Louis and was sure I’d hate Lestat…Until we got a chance to learn more in Vampire Lestat and saw his human side as well. It also takes a careful hand for me to enjoy comedic vampire films. (I do hope to see What We Do in the Shadows soon, so, as with my other vampire preferences, there are exceptions.)
I’m pretty sure my preferences are due to me having recurring dreams about being friends with vampires when I was a toddler and then me having a massive weakness for particular kinds of pretty. And, really, I’m a big fan of free will and have respect for anyone, human or vampire, struggling to use their moral agency for good. So, if what you prefer is a gore-fest, a brutal vampire…maybe ignore me? Or at least take my opinions with a grain of salt. I think these are incredible and stand behind them, but only for me. Just like some vampires prefer a certain blood type, I prefer a certain blood-sucker type
In no particular order, here are my top five vampire films that it seems not everyone has seen (aka proof that, in vampire films, I favour stories about how they relate to humans, to each other, and to what humanity they have left).
Only Lovers Left Alive (United Kingdom/Germany)
First, yes, I’ve got the countries right up there. Films can be a production of countries in which they don’t occur. In this case, the events are split between Detroit in the U.S. and Tangier in Morocco. Now…I could write thousands of words about this film. I hoped to like it (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires? Oh my stars…), but had some reservations (the “sister” plotline was surely going to annoy me…). Within literally the first few minutes, sat in that big, empty cinema, I was in love and this film was one of my top films ever. I love Jim Jarmusch’s signature pacing, the sort of slow but inexorable forward motion. I love the obvious yin and yang of the two lead characters. I find some of myself in both of them, so I am given more than entertainment; I am given a catalyst for self examination. I love this very rare example in media of a healthy, if non-standard, relationship. And I love it more for being non-standard. I love seeing this world through the eyes of some vampires who are very different to each other and to what we tend to see from vampires in media. I love the Tesla love they show. There are funny moments, but in the very real-life way that humour happens. Even with a plot that isn’t all happiness and has quiet warnings about the world humans are creating, I find this moody, brooding, and hopeful. This is a unique, dense, and beautiful contribution to the vampire oeuvre, and I could write poems to it. If you don’t need a fast-paced gore fest, I hope you’ll at least give this one a try.
Nadja (United States)
This is David Lynch’s contribution to the vampire oeuvre. It’s a tale of family dynamics and relationship complications as they involve Nadja, a beauty of Romanian descent (the actress is actually Romanian), and Jim, whose crazy “uncle” just stalked and killed someone with a stake. They got Peter Fonda for this, which is kind of surreal to me. Because it’s Lynch, it’s unconventional and intense and awkwardly or darkly funny sometimes. Nadja is a moody black and white film that ignited my love of the band Portishead and almost made me want a cloak. One of its themes, as Nadja herself says, is “the pain of fleeting joy.” Depending on my mood, this film can either encourage me to keep fighting for the joy or give into the pain. (I saw it at a cinema as a double feature with The Addiction. I know some folks who adore The Addiction, but Nadja is the one of the two that struck me and stuck with me. Think I need to hunt down The Addiction and watch it with a little less competition…) Also, this film has a Renfield I adore.
Note 1: Yes, Lynch used a toy camera to shoot some stuff and get an interesting effect. Your copy of the film isn’t broken.
Note 2: Watch the credits to see which two parts Peter Fonda played. It’s worth a little laugh.
Immortality (aka The Wisdom of Crocodiles) (United Kingdom)
I didn’t set out to have female vampires in most my top picks (really, in most the media I’m referencing this month); it just happened. But, as you can see from this, I’m also a sucker for a pretty boy (which you already know if you’ve read the blog before). Really, this is probably the role in which I most fancy Jude Law. Even if he’s an inhuman predator (human predators need not apply). Whilst watching this, I have no delusions about his nature. But it’s also achingly clear, in a way that I find more convincing than any other vampire film I’ve seen, that this isn’t a question of morality. This is another species and, just as I don’t love to watch a lion take down a gazelle but would never apply moral judgement to that lion, he is hunting because he literally needs this to survive. And there’s something about him that gets me on his side, rooting for him and just about willing to be his meal. This one has a unique take on the feeding and should speak to those of you who like your vampires predatory. Plus, hurrah for a vampire who can go out in the sun! There’s a whole other post‘s worth of reasons why that matters to me. (If you’re watching these in order, yes, you did just watch Elina Löwensohn play Nadja, play someone on the other team. Try not to mistake her species in this one. Additionally, one of the cops in this plays a cop in the UK TV serial Ultraviolet, which is also about vampires.)
The Hunger (United Kingdom)
Years before I managed to see this, I’d read the book and hunted down the soundtrack. Because, oh yes, David Bowie. And David Bowie as a vampire? This film was an inevitability. I only hoped it wouldn’t disappoint. Because David Bowie as a vampire. This film made me fall in love with Catherine Deneuve and with a haunting Schubert piece. It had love and brutality. Hunting food and hunting a new mate (hello, Susan Sarandon!). And there was that time I saw it in a cinema with some really pretty person softly kissing my throat all through the opening sequence of Bauhaus singing Bela Lugosi’s Dead whilst Bowie and Deneuve hunted. Yes, please. This film was the first film where I was introduced to the idea of something killing a vampire other than a human. And, yes, I swear that I’d have been just as upset if it hadn’t come at David Bowie’s expense. In this film, as in Only Lovers Left Alive, I appreciate the strong and silent power of the female vampires. I also, as you’ve seen me just say and as you’ll see me say again through the month , appreciate that these vampires can walk in the sun. This one is, in my mind, a classic. I always expect vampire lovers to have seen it, but enough of you have defied my expectations and this film is important enough (and so very good), that I am pleased to feel justified in including it here.
Byzantium (United Kingdom/Ireland)
This film starts off with a nice set of scenes that immediately differentiate the two main characters, a set of female vampires who aren’t quite a matched set. These vampires fall into my beloved “not killed by sunlight” category, which is handy as we see them stumbling over old memories set off by once-familiar places from their pre-creatures-of-the-night lives. We get to see both their origins and where that’s led them. There’s a nice, non-standard creation method in this one, like a few of the others I watched. The first time I watched this, in fact, I recall being eager for them to hurry up and make the process clear. This film is a reminder that, even for those who do best to keep their natures secret, some secrets do more harm than good. Also a reminder (and we’ll see more of them this month) that being a vampire doesn’t guarantee you a life of glamour or ease, especially if it’s not just humans from whom you’re on the run. I find it a nice complement to We Are the Night (which I’ll write about next week).
- Tale of a Vampire – Young Julian Sands in a film that involves a reveal that not everyone will get but that caused me much glee. Loads of slow and quiet moments, interspersed with bits of action, blood, and exposition.
- Nomads (The 1986 film) – Not quite vampires, but a mind-twisty little piece that should surely appeal to you who love vampire films. Maybe a nice pairing with Lost Boys, actually. Featuring a young Adam Ant.
- Near Dark – Featuring a young Adrian Pasdar. This one tanked in cinemas but gained cult status, so putting it here in case you’re not already in the cult. Another to pair well with Lost Boys. It’s American Southern Lost Boys in some ways.