Spooky season is decidedly in October. The falling leaves, cool breeze, longer nights, and of course Halloween, set a compelling stage for the terrifying and unnatural. But only devoting that slim corridor of time and weather to horror movies might be limiting our enjoyment of a rather versatile genre. After all, classic warm-weather chillers include Midsommar, Jaws, and the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
If you need another reason, remember that Nosferatu is out on Xmas Day this year. Robert Eggers (of The Witch and The Lighthouse fame) adapts the 1922 silent-film classic about a vampire who preys on his estate agent’s wife. Reacquainting yourself with the classics of the genre –the vampire in love with an acquaintance’s wife, the noir romance, the dark visuals– while discovering the twists that each adaptation brings would be the ideal build-up to Nosferatu. Check out our ranking for some inspiration!
Thirst, by Park Chan-wook (2009)
A Cannes Jury prize winner, Thirst is based on the classic French novel Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola. A priest-turned-vampire begins to desire his childhood friend’s wife. The movie, like many other successful productions of the horror genre, doesn’t rely on cheap tricks and jump scares. It instead explores complex themes around blind faith, shame, and self-acceptance. Park Chan-wook also plays with the at once comedic and off-putting juxtaposition of the priest, the supposed human representation of charity and godly love, forced to drink other people’s blood.
The director further subverts the Western vampire convention by rejecting typical stereotypes of garlic and bats, preferring to focus on the idea of the vampire as a “metaphor for any kind of exploiter.” The visuals are also stunning, with ultra-saturated blue-tone scenes characteristic of 2000s films. Thirst has plenty of blood-sucking and pointed teeth, but with a sophisticated thematic take that sets it apart from others of its genre. The film echoes without overlapping with Nosferatu: the ideal film to begin your vampire marathon.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by Francis Ford Coppola (1992)
This is much more classic than Thirst. The titular character is immediately recognizable as the vampire of pop culture; it’s set in Romania and England in 1462. The star-cast (including Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves) further adds to its more conventional and universal appeal. Coppola also draws from his predecessors—the film feels operatic and shadowy, much like the original Nosferatu. Bram Stoker’s Dracula still bears the director’s signature, particularly in its aesthetic. Lush blood reds engulf the screen, a compelling contrast to the vampire’s ghostly pallor. This melodramatic, gaudy luxury is immediately recognizable as a callback to Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy. Bram Stoker's Dracula is a fantastic film to get oriented with the classic tale while appreciating some iconic ‘90s-era cinematography.
Only Lovers Left Alive, by Jim Jarmush (2013)
This one is the furthest departure from the typical vampire narrative so far. Set in the twenty-first century, between a grungy Detroit and a golden Tangiers, Only Lovers Left Alive focuses on the centuries-long romance between two vampires, which is brusquely disrupted by the arrival of an uncontrollable sister. The thematic content of the film is also quite different from the classic exposition of morality, desire, and exploitation. These vampires don't feed on human blood, for fear of twenty-first century contamination, and instead rely on a supplier of “the good stuff.” Progressive social rot is at the center of this movie, with the main character losing faith in the modern world and becoming increasingly reclusive. Maybe this hatred explains the frequent appearance of centuries-old figures like Christopher Marlowe. Jarmush prefers not to treat his vampires as invincible supernatural beings, which makes them more sympathetic and complex; they're not clear-cut lust-driven villains but rather bohemian artists. It's a must-watch if you want to see a different kind of vampire movie, less scary and more melancholic.
Let the Right One In, by Tomas Alfredson (2008)
Let the Right One in is a Swedish film based on a 2004 novel of the same name. It follows a relentlessly bullied twelve-year-old as he befriends a strange girl in a suburb of Stockholm in the 1980s. Surprise, surprise—the strange child is actually a vampire. The film tracks how the two children exact revenge on the boy’s oppressors in a chilling exploration of the horrific violence children are capable of. Let the Right One in is typically Scandi in its aesthetics: expect to see the children clad in bright, fluffy sweaters in one scene and (naturally) covered in blood in the next. The visuals and the focus on the inner worlds of children make the film particularly unique, and perfect for fans of The Sixth Sense.
Blade, by Stephen Norrington (1998)
A rather dark superhero movie, Blade is the child of a woman bitten by a vampire. As a result, he is born a sort of half-vampire, with all the strengths and none of the usual weaknesses, except for the need to consume human blood. Some three decades later, he is a man with a mission: to rid the world of all vampire evil. He is quickly caught in a rivalry with vampire Deacon Frost, who needs Blade’s blood in order to reinforce his power over vampirekind. The plot is unusual in that it’s not at all the typical doomed love story, and also explores the dynamics between vampires, rather than just their relationship with humans. The film’s aesthetic is slick. A power-techno-suit and skinny sunglasses clad Blade bears a striking resemblance to the characters of The Matrix (released just one year later). Rated R for “strong, pervasive vampire violence and gore,” Blade is certainly not for beginners.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)
The title sounds like the typical beginning of a spooky campfire story, but A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is far from a ‘final girl’ tale. It’s set in Bad City, a tenebrous Iranian town, where bad luck seems to be lurking around every corner. But unbeknownst to the residents, there is a lone vampire who preys on the town’s most evil. Much like Blade, this vampire seems to want Good to prevail. The film has been described as the first Iranian-American Western, and it is indeed a hybrid of the two. While the dialogue is exclusively in Persian, the themes are distinctly Spaghetti Western, with the practically abandoned town and lonesome hero(ine). The movie is shot entirely in black and white, with minimal dialogue, which draws an effective parallel with Nosferatu and other German Expressionist films. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is full of fresh, inventive content, but remains grounded in the vampire tradition.
What We Do in the Shadows, by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement (2014)
What We Do in the Shadows is a complete tonal shift—it’s a comedy-horror mockumentary about vampire roommates who struggle with the mundanities of everyday life in a New Zealand suburb. All the characters are from several centuries ago, and have clearly seen better days. Former dandies, tyrants, and young rebels are now some equivalent of starving artists, who prowl the streets, desperately searching for their next meal. Big personalities clash, as they do with all roommates, and the vampires must negotiate ways to get along and continue to survive. Along the way, they make friends and initiate humans into their group with just one bite. This film is ideal for those interested in vampire lore, but not in teetering on the edge of their seat or biting their nails raw.
Cronos, by Guillermo del Toro (1992)
Cronos, much like Spider-Man's radioactive spider, is a centuries-old scarab who confers eternal life to the recipient of his bite. When antique dealer Jesus Gris (a delightful play on words) is bitten, he discovers the pleasures of immortality and everlasting youth. But what Jesus doesn't know is that someone else is looking for Cronos, and will stop at nothing to retrieve him. Guillermo del Toro explores the corruption and addiction to power that come with invincibility, themes quite similar to Balzac’s classic La peau de chagrin. We become increasingly horrified as Jesus sacrifices more and more just to keep Cronos, and realize that being a vampire isn't  always a dark, smouldering walk in the park. The film has that classic ‘90s look, with dusty, slightly diffuse visuals. Cronos is a perfect watch for those interested in the ethical dilemmas and human greed.
The Addiction, byAbel Ferrara (1995)
Abel Ferrara's film is also steeped in philosophical tension. After a student is bitten suddenly in the streets of New York City, her thirst for human blood for her survival quickly morphs into a crippling addiction to the red stuff. The character's affliction is thought to be a metaphor for drug addiction, which becomes especially clear as we witness her tread the tenuous line between being a functioning member of society and constantly seeking out her next fix. The film doesn't delve too deeply into the intricacies of vampire folklore, and prefers to use the vampire archetype to explore the morality of human actions under the debilitating pressure of addiction. Another good watch for those more interested in philosophical ideas, but still want a piece of the vampire action.
From Dusk Till Dawn, by Quentin Tarantino (1996)
From Dusk Till Dawn follows a pair of bank robbers who kidnap a family but suddenly find themselves trapped in a vampire saloon near the US-Mexico border. They all find themselves in a deadly dance to avoid getting bitten. The film bears Tarantino’s trademark high-gore imagery and jarringly unexpected violence. It feels like a vampire-action movie hybrid; it’s more fast-paced and less meditative than several of the other picks on this list. Though initially met with lukewarm reactions from critics, From Dusk Till Dawn later achieved cult-classic status thanks to its iconic aesthetic and inventive storytelling.
Happy watching!