Our review of this week's Dracula Untold doesn't inspire much hope: “This Dracula Begins-style sword-and-fangs curio plays like someone said, 'What if we took a vampire flick but did a find-and-replace swapping out all that bare-neck sensuality for some video-game ass-kicking?'”
But for every genre-entry failure, there are numerous other modern vampire movies that manage to plumb and toy with the creature's mythology in imaginative ways. The breadth of the directors featured in our slideshow — from French auteur Claire Denis to Germany's Werner Herzog to American mavericks Jim Jarmusch and Francis Ford Coppola — speaks to the wide variety of voices that have tackled the genre with such ingenuity in recent decades. — Danny King
20. Vamps (2012) At times winningly dopey but still easily forgotten, Amy Heckerling's undead-BFFs comedy Vamps sends up our pop cultural fascination with bloodsucking but is itself a bit stiff with rigor mortis. “Remember: We said we'd keep up with the times, even if they aren't as good as the '80s,” Stacy (Krysten Ritter), her coffin lined with pinups of Michael J. Fox and Matt Dillon, admonishes Goody (Alicia Silverstone). In staying current, the vampiresses constantly — and to diminishing effect — point out the vapidity of Jersey Shore and iEverything. — Melissa Anderson
19. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2 (2002) The five flicks in the Twilight franchise started silly, but kept getting better. The grand finale, Breaking Dawn: Part 2, is a goofy masterpiece that's two parts Douglas Sirk to one part violent mayhem, climaxing with a vampires versus vampires versus werewolves battle that's so over-the-top audiences at the movie premiere screamed themselves senseless. — Amy Nicholson
18. Fright Night (2011) Senior Charlie Brewster finally has it all going on: he's running with the popular crowd and dating the most coveted girl in his high school. In fact, he's so cool he's even dissing his best friend. But trouble arrives when Jerry moves in next door. He seems like a great guy at first, but there's something not quite right — but everyone, including Charlie's mom, doesn't notice. After observing some very strange activity, Charlie comes to an unmistakable conclusion: Jerry is a vampire preying on the neighborhood. Unable to convince anyone, Charlie has to find a way to get rid of the monster himself.
17. Vampire Academy (2014) Consider this: Director Mark Waters helmed Mean Girls, and screenwriter Daniel Waters penned Heathers. People dismiss films about teen girls, as though that audience's agonies and fears and passions are forever lesser than those of a grown man in tights. But the Waters brothers' work can't be tossed aside. Like their earlier comedies, Vampire Academy nimbly balances teen paranoias with real threats (here, the deadly Strigoi clan of bloodsuckers who want to chew up the school). And it knows that friendship — not romance — is a 17-year-old girl's true obsession. Best friendship can be all-consuming, even dangerous. It can explode. But after the debris settles, it'll still rank first. — Amy Nicholson
16. Thirst (2009) Finally, there's a vampire movie worthy of the title The Hunger — even if it arrives under the more potable name Thirst. Carnal appetite, not a parched palate, is the accelerant that fuels this perverse, prankish, and merrily anti-clerical exercise in bloodletting from Park Chan-wook, the South Korean director whose films function like the moral-retribution mechanisms in the Saw movies — traps with no way out but a permanently scarring exit. Vampirism would seem an unusually . . . genteel diversion for Park, best known for the “Vengeance Trilogy,” which reached its apex with the Jacobean cruelties of 2003's devious Oldboy. Starting with 2002's Byzantine kidnapping-gone-awry saga Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the former film critic and one-time philosophy student has made his subject (and method) the self-destroying machinery of violence. Once somebody throws a switch, the unstoppable gears of his plots mangle the guiltless and the guilty alike. — Jim Ridley
15. Blade II (2002) Taken in some 14 years after its release, Village Voice film editor Alan Scherstuhl writes that this Wesley Snipes vehicle is a “splatter marvel,” but our 2002 review by Mark Holcomb characterizes it differently: “Returning to pulp territory after The Devil's Backbone, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro cribs from his earlier work in an attempt to breathe life in Blade II, a sequel to the 1998 Marve Comics-inspired potboiler. The results rely more on Backbone's gothic pulchritude and Mimic's patent silliness than the whip-smart revisionism of Cronos, and whereas that 1992 film slyly steered the vampire genre into new terrain, the appallingly violent Blade II only wrestles it to the ground and sits on its head.”
14. The Monster Squad (1987) From our 1987 review: “Kids. Why did it have to be kids? I can take a lot, but I can't bear any more E.T./Goonies/Stand By Me summer movies — like The Monster Squad, which pits a band of kids against an alliance of our favorite monsters. The kids are members of a treehouse monster club (except Phoebe, the requisite five-year-old); the monsters are trying to take over the world; you can guess who wins. Cute, precocious children make my blood run cold. The Monster Squad had the potential to be a good Hardy Boys Meet Frankenstein spoof. Not since the '50s have Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Gill-Man, and the Mummy been seen in the same place. One would hope to see fireworks from such a crew, but all we get are fizzles. Dracula is a wimp, Frankenstein has a crush on Phoebe, Wolfman is a furball, Gill-Man gets blown away by one little bullet, and Mummy dearest is an unraveled dolt. — Melanie Pitts
13. Shadow of the Vampire (2000) Premised on the notion that F.W. Murnau's silent horror classic Nosferatu was actually a documentary, Shadow of the Vampire manages to turn a highly dubious concept into a subtle and deliciously mordant comedy. The movie, directed by E. Elias Merhige from Steven Katz's script, joins Jim Shepard's 1998 novel, Nosferatu, as the second recent fiction to feature the German filmmaker as a tormented protagonist. But, unlike Shepard, Katz has only a casual interest in the historical Murnau. His protagonist has been reinvented for the movie as an overbearing Herr Doktor and heterosexual of the s persuasion. Of course, this, as well as numerous other liberties, anachronisms, and historical inaccuracies (Sergei Eisenstein invoked as a “master” of the medium three years before he made his first film), is minor compared to the movie's insistence that Max Schreck, the Reinhardt actor who played the indelibly feral Count Orlock, was actually a centuries-old Carpathian vampire typecast by a filmmaker driven to go beyond “artifice.” — J. Hoberman
12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) From our 1992 review: “Somewhere between heaven and hell lies Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fran Rubel Kuzui's campy little vampire treat isn't quite the “bogus corn” the title implies, but it's no Heathers either. Unlike that other SoCal dark ride, Buffy won't redefine the cynical teen comedy subgenre, even with Paul Reubens's hilarious role as a blood-sucker on a “bad hair day” or Donald Sutherland as the deadpan slayer trainer. But someone had to follow Catwoman and Sharon Stone, and Buffy, played by Kristy Swanson, got the job. Cheerleader turned dewy feminist avenger, Buffy's secret weapon against the undead is her PMS. Of course, she dreamed a different future — as Christian Slater's sweetheart and a buyer. You know, like, “Buyer. Buying. To buy?” to quote our heroine. But once convinced of her birthright as the latest in a long line of stake wielders, she pursues the Big One — I mean vampire pooh-bah Rutger Hauer — with a woman's pragmatism. — Marpeesa Dawn Outlaw
11. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) From our 1979 review: “Werner Herzog's Nosferatue, the Vampyre presents in Klaus Kinski's Count Dracula a reasonable replica of Max Schreck's vampire in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu. There is no seductive courtliness in this powdery-white-skinned, sunken-black-eyed creature of the night, only an animalistic compulsion to feast on the blood of his victims. Whereas Frank Langella, George Hamilton, and even Bela lugosi masqueraded as the last playboys of the central European world, Kinski's Dracula rises from the mists of the psychic and social unconscious to bring pestilence, morbidity, and evil into a well-ordered bourgeois existence.” — J. Hoberman
10. Let the Right One In (2008)A fragile, anxious boy, 12-year-old Oskar is regularly bullied by his stronger classmates but never strikes back. The lonely boy's wish for a friend seems to come true when he meets Eli, also 12, who moves in next door to him with her father. A pale, serious young girl, she only comes out at night and doesn't seem affected by the freezing temperatures. Coinciding with Eli's arrival is a series of inexplicable disappearances and murders. One man is found tied to a tree, another frozen in the lake, a woman bitten in the neck. Blood seems to be the common denominator — and for an introverted boy like Oskar, who is fascinated by gruesome stories, it doesn't take long before he figures out that Eli is a vampire. But, by now a subtle romance has blossomed between Oskar and Eli, and she gives him the strength to fight back against his aggressors. Oskar becomes increasingly aware of the tragic, inhuman dimension of Eli's plight, but cannot bring himself to forsake her. Frozen forever in a 12-year-old's body, with all the burgeoning feelings and confused emotions of a young adolescent, Eli knows that she can only continue to live if she keeps on moving. But when Oskar faces his darkest hour, Eli returns to defend him the only way she can.
9. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)From our 1992 review: “There's more goo that boo in Bram Stoker's Dracula. The new Francis Ford Coppola concoction is a blood-soaked plum pudding of a movie — saccharine, horrific, perhaps a little rummy. It's sodden fun, until the vapors clear and the richness starts to cloy. Romantic and campy, full of pomp and ritual, this Dracula is deliriously maximal — the sort of film in which one stabs the cross on a stone altar and the whole church starts to hemorrhage gore, or where the shock-cut from a dispatched vampire, in her wedding gown, is a huge platter of rare roast beef. The images throughout are layered with voluptuous superimpositions and bizarre match dissolves. The screen ripples with experimental bits of business — just about any three-minute chunk could be dropped into heavy rotation on MTV.” — J. Hoberman
8. The Hunger (1983)Something of an anomaly in the filmography of Tony Scott — who reached his creative stride later in his career, with such exemplary thrillers as Enemy of the State, Spy Game, and Deja Vu — The Hunger benefits from its wild stylistic energy (the opening montage is a stunner) and its ingenious casting, which pairs David Bowie with the great French actress Catherine Deneuve. — Danny King
7. Byzantium (2012)Neil Jordan's Byzantium — its script by Irish-born playwright Moira Buffini — is more in league with Joss Whedon's cerebral, passionate Buffy the Vampire Slayer series than with the fangless Twilight universe. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play 200-year-old vamps on the lam, though neither looks a day over 28: The criminally curvy Clara (Arterton) rustles up a living for the two of them as a prostitute and sometime stripper. Her younger sister, the prim, sensitive Eleanor (Ronan), is a perennial schoolgirl and accomplished pianist. — Stephanie Zacharek
6. Let Me In (2010)The setting of Let Me In is Los Alamos, New Mexico, 1983. The feathery, slow-falling snow comes with the material's Scandinavian pedigree: Swede John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, Let the Right One In, filmed by Tomas Alfredson in 2008, was enough of a boutique hit to attract this American remake by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. — Nick Pinkerton
5. Trouble Every Day (2001)As in many of Claire Denis's movies, plot and narrative cohesion are subordinate to mood and texture, sight and sound. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now more clearly see how this initially castigated movie fits in with the tantamount themes that have dominated Denis's work since Beau Travail, her breakthrough from 1999 (and Trouble Every Day's immediate predecessor): madness, desire, and power, motifs sometimes considered on their own, or, more frequently, in combination. — Melissa Anderson
4. Nadja (1994)From our 1995 review: The lushest film of the year thus far is Michael Almereyda's Nadja, a comic vampire tale, or portrait of the young as a lost tribe of bloodsuckers. Shot in shimmering, undulating black and white — part Fisher-Price Pixelvision, part silvery 35mm — Nadja follows the path of Dracula's moody daughter, who, discontented with the routine, intends somehow to start over, be born again.
Nadja (Elina Lowensohn) is a Romanian in New York, a predator looking for a human arm, or lap, to rest her faithless head on. Her heart isn't in the nightly rite, this exchange of fluids that leaves the other lifeless. (Yes, this too is an AIDS movie.) When her father, Count Dracula Ceaucescu, dies, Nadja believes herself free to change her life. 'I'll find someone; I'll be happy.' In a bar she finds the melancholy Lucy (Galaxy Craze), and entertains her with stories of the Black Sea ('It's blue'), the Carpathians, and her lost twin, Edgar. Lucy: 'Does he live in the shadow of the Carpathians?' Nadja: 'Brooklyn. I've never been there.' But she does mean to go.” — Georgia Brown
3. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)In the world of Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, the director's most emotionally direct film since Dead Man, and maybe his finest, period, vampires are people who prefer to own their music in some tangible form rather than entrust it to some unseen librarian in the Cloud. — Stephanie Zacharek
2. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)From our 1994 review: “Then the newly thin, blonde, tall, blue-eyed [Tom] Cruise isn't the movie's star but more of a supporting player to [Brad] Pitt's depressive, rosy-lipped beauty. (Perhaps seeing Cruise effaced and professionaly humbled is what changed [Interview With the Vampire author Anne Rice]'s mind about the film.) Both actors, with their blue networks of capillaries substituting for facial hair, grow an even whiter shade of pale once our story moves to Paris and Antonio Banderas and Stephen Rea inject the more robust, grown-up aura of Old World evil.” — Georgia Brown
1. Near Dark (1987)Kathryn Bigelow has made bigger movies but none better. Near Dark is a poetic horror film that draws its power from the outlaw mythology of Bonnie and Clyde and Gun Crazy (or maybe the Manson Family), and its brooding loneliness from the western landscape — home to the most successfully Americanized of the vampires. — Jim Hoberman