Note: I was tempted to title this post: “Five Vampire Movies You Need to See Right now! #5 will shock you!” But then I decided to write like an adult. Enjoy!
There’s a scene in Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s stylish 2013 vampire film, where a character decides to drink blood the old-fashioned way — from a live human. The titular undead lovers, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are mortified. They get their blood from clinics, and sip it out of flasks and goblets, mostly in tempered, private moments that Jarmusch plays for all the similarities to junkies getting off on a fix. They do not go around ripping people’s necks open. “It’s the 21st Century!” an annoyed Eve tsks the young vampire, before kicking her to the curb. Because everyone who knows about vampires these days knows that they are not the monsters they used to be.
I was reminded of this while watching A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The debut feature from Ana Lily Amirpour has been getting a lot of buzz, mostly for the novelty of being the first vampire film from Iran. That’s not why you should see it. (Plus, it’s a fuzzy claim: the dialogue is all Farsi, and it’s made by a woman of Iranian descent, but shot in California and funded by Americans like Elijah Wood and Vice) The striking poster art, a red and black illustration of a seductive yet threatening female figure cloaked in a chador, is a fair representation of what the movie is, which is, above all else, extremely cool.
Shot in black-and-white, Amirpour’s film is as much about a boy and his car as it is about immortality. It is about a hunger, but for belonging and, failing that, for escape. The vampire, credited only as The Girl, could equally have been called The It Girl—29-year-old Sheila Vand plays her squarely in the Winona Ryder/Emily Strange mold. She lives in a basement apartment decorated with a Madonna poster and is prone to dancing around to vinyl records—in one exquisite scene, with the boy, Arash. In my favourite shot, she skateboards down the middle of an empty street, her chador flapping in the night air behind her. The director has said in interviews that she grew up watching monster movies and is a big fan of Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat, but this isn’t a horror film. And that, despite its exoticness, makes it not unique but rather right in line with all the other great vampire movies that have come out lately.
One of the best things about vampires is their adaptability, how they can be used to tell all kinds of stories, be it horror, comedy, drama, western, fantasy, or anything else. A few years back, I relished the wave of more monstrous nosferatu that popped up as counterpoint to Twilight and the explosion of supernatural romance, in films like 30 Days of Night, Daybreakers and Stakeland. But I’m equally delighted by the ways that vampire films have surprised me since. I’m working on writing more in detail about why I believe the traditional vampire character — predator, dangerous, unsympathetic — is not as popular in contemporary cinema, and what the recent emphasis on transformation and the morality of serial killing means. For now, I just want to celebrate and push these Five Vampire Films You Need to See Right Now!
Absolutely hilarious. Dare I say, the best vampire comedy ever made, by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (Flight of the Conchords), comes in the form of a mockumentary about three undead roommates living in New Zealand. Takes aim at every cliché and answers some very important questions, such as how do you go bar-hopping when you have be invited in everywhere and why does it always have to be a virgin? (You’ll never eat a sandwich the same way again.) There have been good funny vampire movies over the years but this is some serious Spinal Tap level comedy. What We Do in the Shadows has done the festival circuit and is trying to make its way to American theatres in February, via a rather bizarre crowd-funding campaign.
Above-mentioned Jarmusch film is simply divine, and the most seductive vampire movie since The Hunger. Seriously, why wouldn’t you want to watch alabaster Tilda Swinton glide around looking gorgeous for 2 hours? It’s an indie/art movie for sure (i.e., slow) and, as noted, light on the neck biting/hunting, but beautifully explores the malaise of immortality and both the allure and trappings of nostalgia. Hiddleston’s reclusive rock star, with his vintage gear and collection of vinyl records, and bratty attitude, is a fine heir to Lestat. Spend a lazy Sunday with this one, available on Netflix.
Neil Jordan’s last vampire film was Interview with the Vampire, so, you know, no pressure. This one is a gorgeous gothic thriller, adapted from a theatre play about two vampire women trying to hide out in a seaside town from what we eventually learn are nefarious, clandestine authorities. As lady of the night Clara (aka Carmilla), Gemma Arterton brings a legit feminist heroine to the genre, while Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor captures the frustrations of being trapped as the teenager in a mother-daughter relationship for all eternity. It’s plenty bloody and vicious, but not straight up horror. Still, a waterfall of blood, people. Also available on Netflix.
One real horror film about vampires that should be on your radar is this Canadian production, especially if you’re a fan of the found-footage, Paranormal Activity/REC type of film. Unfortunately, I missed its TIFF premiere because they don’t actually advertise it as a vampire film, but it’s definitely a bloodsucker tale. Best friends Clif and Derek set off on an around-the-world adventure, loaded with cameras and gear to document every jackass move on their blog, when Derek gets hit with an unusual bug. Super strength, aversion to sunlight, craving for blood… wanna guess? The filmmakers (who actually are Clif and Derek) are quite clever about making it all believable, and there are some really nasty sequences. Doesn’t break any ground in vampire mythos or anything but well executed and unique in its genre. It’s on Netflix too.
Forget all the buzz. Seek out this film because it’s fun, funny, touching, pretty, moving, sweet and satisfyingly dark. I wanted to know much more about the vampire Girl, her origins and motives for killing. Apparently that’s all coming soon in a comic book. I also wanted her to have more agency, as they say, to be the force that drives the story, and its ending. But I’ll settle for the captivating performances, the long bouts of heavy silence, the scene in which a real vampire meets a boy dressed up as Dracula, then takes him home, the visual poetry, the simple pleasure of watching a young women bare her fangs. Now playing in Toronto at the TIFF Lightbox, coming soon to The Royal.