Before he did Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro was making a name for himself in Mexican cinema. He did some really fantastic little films full of cult appeal. Cronos is one of the finer examples of his pre-Hollywood CV.
In a sort of melding of Dracula, The Mummy and Hellraiser, all injected with a wealth of classic era homage and modern (at the time) Raimi/Burtonesque flair, Cronos was a delightful mix of old and new. del Toro’s visual flair was clearly evident in a film which really marked him out as one to watch. This made people pay attention like Braindead did for Peter Jackson, or Evil Dead did for Sam Raimi.
Likewise, the ever reliable Ron Perlman (who of course would later become Hellboy for del Toro among other things) pops up. He tended to appear every now and again in a few notable world cinema films such as this and The City of Lost Children (fantastic film).
From Dusk Till Dawn
Before Robert Rodriguez became somewhat obsessed with 3D, Digital film and CGI, he used to make fantastic and wonderful looking films, loaded to the brim with practical effects work. This is one such film. Written by Quentin Tarantino this starts out very much as a sort of QT road movie about a pair of outlaw brothers on the run. At the half way point it then descends into a love letter to vintage Romero, Raimi and Italian monster horror. Full blown vampire carnage with wonderful fx work.
As you’d expect with Tarantino involved (who also co-stars), a fine cast board the project. This would launch George Clooney from TV sexual tyrannosaur to movie star, whilst Harvel Keitel, Juliette Lewis and a host of cult legends also appear. Lest we also not forget the wonderful Salma Hayek.
Only Lovers Left Alive
You wouldn’t imagine the quirky and indie sensibilities of Jim Jarmusch would lend themselves to the vampire genre but this film, an interesting entry on his CV proves otherwise.
An on/off couple of vampires played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston reconnect. Over the centuries they’ve been together and apart but always intrinsically drawn back together. Matters get complicated by the arrival of Swinton’s younger (and free-spirited) sister (Mia Wasikowska).
A wry wit, subversive take and excellent performances really make this a film worth watching. Perhaps one that will end up drifting out of cinematic consciousness over time as one of those “do you remember?” kind of films, but a creative and compelling film nethertheless and I absolutely love Swinton. She’s almost always utterly amazing.
A love triangle of vampires in Tony Scott’s dark, compelling and beautiful horror. It’s all too easy to forget that Ridley’s younger brother was a fine visual auteur in his own right. The Hunger was an interesting and sexy take on a (then) tired genre. In some ways having been somewhat out of fashion at the tale end of Hammer, in the mid 80’s the vampire genre seemed to be re-invigorated, and The Hunger certainly seemed to play a part in beginning a new wave.
It wasn’t a particularly big box office hit but slowly gained popularity. Whilst the majority of vamp films in the mid and latter stages of the decade would be decidedly lighter, this, much like Near Dark in some ways (which was not without its humour) opted for something more considered and artistically laced. The late great David Bowie stars in one of his iconic roles, whilst Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon are also fantastic.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
An Iranian vampire film with an odd melding of early 20th century central and Eastern European horror, and Spaghetti Western…not convinced? Hey! Come back here now! Right…good. Watch the film!
Ana Lily Amirpour writes and directs a languid, beautiful and delightfully odd take on the vampire mythology. Wonderful visuals combine with an engrossing and atmospheric style, all accompanied by a nice soundtrack.
Sheila Vand as the titular “girl” has the most amazing eyes which say both nothing and everything all in one. She almost looks handdrawn at times, straight from an anime. If you want something a bit quirky from the genre, look no further.
Let The Right One In
I’ll say it right now but if I had to pick a favourite from the list, it would probably be this one. This is also one of my favourite films of the century and when it came out it was a bolt of re-invention sorely needed, not just in the vampire genre specifically, but horror in general (which was becoming increasingly stale).
Tomas Alfredson’s impeccably paced, engrossing and thoughtful tale, teeming with allegory and wonderfully encapsulating the trials of growing up is a masterful piece of cinema. Not only does it have the dramatic heft and intelligence but the “genre” moments hit with such power that it often takes your breath away. Whether it’s the hospital window, the hospital blinds rising or the swimming pool finale, every “horror” element is staged with subtlety, skill and maximum impact. There’s no reliance on editing cheats, emotional manipulation through sheer sound volume or any other post trickery to maximise scares or impact. It’s just skilfully and minimalistically done.
The two youngsters, Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson are excellent in a film which is equally intelligent, touching, gripping, harrowing and horrifying. In addition it’s got a perfectly complementary and low-key score and beautiful visuals. Hyper realism at its finest. Every frame perfectly captures an almost fantastical beauty of a starkly cold retro Sweden, in what looks like it’s been intricately hand painted such is the artistic beauty of every frame.
Lets us know your favourite vampire films in the comments below…