Existing in some form or another for thousands of years, these blood-sucking creatures serve as one of horror’s most creatively flexible monsters. Besides ghoulish monsters, they can be charmers, warriors, sex symbols, sources of comedy, nihilistic philosophers and aliens. Though mostly confined to horror, vampires have also bleed their way into everything from slapstick comedy to award-winning dramas. Oftentimes, these seemingly villainous predators can even serve as sympathetic protagonists or badass antiheroes. Moreover, vampirism itself has stood in as a natural metaphor for a great number of motifs—drug or alcohol addiction, sex, racism, xenophobia, religion, economic disparity and mental illness, to name just a few.
Popularized in folklore and books, the vampire were a natural fit for the silver screen. Today, Paste is counting down the 100 greatest vampire films that cinema has to offer. First—a few caveats. One, unlike Paste’s previous lists numbering film noirs) or cinematic robots, there are far fewer vampire movies that one could classify as being truly “Great.” This scarcity of quality means that some of the earlier entries might be more problematic than those in the latter segment. In such cases, we have ensured that each installment has something of worth to offer viewers, whether it’s a great visual style, a clever story twist, a standout performance or production design so laughably strange and half-baked that it veers into “so bad, it’s good” territory. The Paste writers have also strived to curate a diverse selection of choices. Granted, filmmakers like Mario Bava and institutions like England’s Hammer Film Productions will be making multiple appearances, but we’ve worked to bring in variety whenever possibly.
Similarly, several entries arguably may not even technically be considered “vampire” movies, whether it be because the creatures are never properly designated as such or the film’s central conceit is more of a riff on the vampire mythos. Again, this decision was made for the sake of diversity and highlighting several offbeat films worthy of further exploration.
Also, though we attempted to seek out as many underseen films as possible, a good portion remain unavailable for easy viewing. As such, I’m sure there are several kooky low-budget vampire-themed adventures from Japan or Italy that I’m missing, but we were simply unable to secure a proper way of watching them for inclusion. What’s more, though erotic horror is obviously a popular vampire subgenre, it’s one that I wasn’t able to fully dive into without feeling as though I needed to have my soul cleansed afterwards. So if we’ve overlooked your favorite vampire-lesbian erotica, I apologize in advance.
Finally—no, none of the Twilight or Underworld films are on this list. (A stand had to be made.)
100. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
The sixth sequel to Hammer’s Horror of Dracula is blessedly the final movie in the series to feature poor, reluctant Christopher Lee in the role, and also brings back Peter Cushing as Van Helsing once again … although he seems to be a different Van Helsing? It’s honestly difficult to tell, and that about sums up The Satanic Rites of Dracula in general—it’s the craziest and most incoherent of the series, and this is presumably what Lee was talking about when he said, “the qualities of the scripts deteriorated, and the demands made on me were virtually nil. All I was asked to do was sort of stand around, and do things occasionally. I lost interest, and I’m sure the public did.” The film is like a “movie loaf,” with unrelated bits clipped together; part spy movie, part science fiction and part gothic horror. Dracula actually plans to wipe out the entire human race this time by creating and unleashing some kind of doomsday plague, which is a pretty big change in MO. Who’s he even going to feed on if all the humans are dead? The movie just feels slapdash compared to some of the earlier examples, and it’s not surprising that it’s since slipped into the public domain.—Jim Vorel
99. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
It’s unlikely that any of the Hammer Dracula series fans saw this one coming. The fifth sequel to Horror of Dracula unexpectedly thrusts the time period forward all the way to “present day” 1972, in a decision that can only be described as equal parts goofy and uncomfortable—Christopher Lee himself called it “ludicrous.” Honest-to-god, most of the first 30 minutes feel like a teen musical comedy of the era, with rooms full of dancing kids, funk music and gigantic afros before, hey, wasn’t Dracula in this movie? The upside is that Peter Cushing is unexpectedly back as Van Helsing, a descendant of the original Van Helsing who is still running on a pretty strong anti-Dracula platform. It really feels like Hammer couldn’t quite decide what the hell the film’s tone was supposed to be—sometimes we’re tooling around in the vibrant, funky London of 1972, and yet Dracula’s abode is still a completely gothic-looking castle that instantly makes you forget the “modern” setting. We get multiple Dracula vs. Van Helsing confrontations, but they’re somewhat watered down from their first battle some 14 years earlier. At least Dracula gets an excellent death scene in this one. —J.V.
98. The Keep (1983)
Let’s get this out of the way—The Keep is not a good movie. Nor is it much faithful to the excellent 1981 horror novel by F. Paul Wilson on which it’s based. Whereas the main antagonist of the book is unambiguously a vampire, the film version chose to excise and strip away any and all vampire iconography in favor of a creature that looks like Skeletor on steroids. That alone should be enough to disqualify it from this list. But here’s the thing—as chaotic as the final product is, it remains a must-see in how it captures the wildcard sensibility and sheer raw talent of a young, brilliant filmmaker like Michael Mann (even if he would all but disown it). Mann’s first stab at a big-budget blockbuster following the critical success of his debut feature Thief saw the notoriously strong-willed filmmaker pushing the envelope for what was considered acceptable in a major studio release, including endowing the film with a dreamy, arthouse vibe that was clearly miles away from the more straightforward horror flick the suits at Paramount were hoping for. There are even reports indicating that his original cut pushed well past the three-and-half hour mark, which goes a long way to explain the theatrical cut’s strange string of logic and plot gaps. Throw in a predictably amazing score by Tangerine Dream and The Keep is a cinematic fiasco that’s worth unraveling. —Mark Rozeman.
97. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
The third Hammer Dracula sequel is where things begin to go off the rails in this series. The vampire’s resurrection is especially convoluted this time—after being reduced to ashes, his remains have been kept hidden away by a shopkeep. They’re acquired by a weird club of bored, foppish aristocrats/hedonists who go out drinking and slumming in brothels every night in an effort to keep themselves entertained. These guys decide that it would be fun to resurrect Dracula on a lark, and purchase his remains. Suffice to say, it doesn’t turn out well for them, as the returning vampire then hunts them all down for no apparent reason. As in previous entries in the series, Christopher Lee is the best thing in it, although once again he has almost no lines and his participation feels pretty rote. Some of the atmosphere and sets are still nice in this entry, but the most egregious offense is how easily Dracula is eventually destroyed. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a big let-down seeing the Prince of Darkness dispatched in this way. Perhaps this is why the next Hammer Dracula film, Scars of Dracula, was released a mere six months later. —J.V.
96. Blood and Roses (1960)
This being a Roger Vadim production, Blood and Roses appears to exist primarily as a lurid vehicle for the director’s actress wife Annette Stroyberg (though the two would officially divorce that same year). Stroyberg plays a young woman who, jealous over the engagement of a friend to her beloved cousin, seemingly becomes possessed by the spirit of a murderous vampire. To Vadim’s credit, the resulting film doesn’t feel quite as blatantly exploitative as some of his previous ventures and, along with an appropriately Gothic feel, there’s a somewhat legitimate sense of poignancy and tragedy to the storyline. It’s the type of erotic horror tale that plays to its strengths and is all the better for it.—M.R.
95. Subspecies (1991)
The Subspecies series is to vampires what, let’s say, The Howling is to werewolves, except without all of The Howling’s dignity and talent. Essentially a series of family scuffles between a big vampire clan that the poor human characters keep getting sucked into, the first entry in the series introduces us to vampire antihero/villain Radu, whose inconsistently spindly fingers evoke Count Orlok of Nosferatu in a way that says, “Hey, at least we’re trying, right?” The film was made by Full Moon Studios as one of the flagship series produced by still-prolific B-movie maven Charles Band, a producer who has ably played a Roger Corman-type role in straight-to-video horror ever since the late ’80s. It features many of the studio’s trademarks—gallingly cheap-looking but charming stop-motion animation creatures, nudity and plenty of magical mumbo-jumbo. This is exactly the sort of film you would have seen on the shelves of Blockbuster Video locations nationwide in 1993, consistently rented by horror hounds with low standards and a desire for titillation in a pre-internet age. —J.V.
94. Kiss of the Damned (2013)
Xan Cassavetes’ long-awaited follow-up to her excellent 2004 documentary, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession proved to be a sort of throwback to the garish, sensual European vampire films of the 1970s. The plot centers on a screenwriter who becomes enraptured by a beautiful woman who turns out to be vampire. After she turns him, their relationship hits a bump when the woman’s sister enters their lives and accuses the classy couple of disregarding their natural predatory lifestyles. The film is a gorgeous exercise in style and mood, which ultimately helps balance its rote, by-the-numbers story and distractingly stiff acting. —M.R.
93. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)
What began as Spike Lee’s woefully mishandled Kickstarter campaign later unveiled itself to be a fascinating, if confounding remake of the cult vampire classic, Ganja & Hess. Transplanting the original film to a modern-day setting, Lee retells the story of a wealthy black anthropologist who transforms into a vampire after being stabbed by a cursed dagger. Filmed over the course of 16 days around Martha’s Vineyard, it’s a suave, stylish experiment whose problem is not style-over-substance but rather, an overabundance of substance. Clocking in at slightly above the two-hour mark, the film juggles all manner of themes concerning addiction, racism, classism and gender politics. As a result, the final product jumps all over the place, never quite settling on a coherent train of thought. Then again, maybe that’s the point—it’s a film determined to provoke questions rather than deliver a clear-cut message. Though certainly sluggish at times, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus has just enough bursts of Lee’s vibrant energy to make the viewing worth one’s time.—M.R.
92. House of Dark Shadows (1970)
To call House of Dark Shadows a continuation of the popular gothic soap opera Dark Shadows would be a bit of a misnomer, as producer/writer Dan Curtis basically used this 1970 film as an opportunity to gather together the show’s cast and essentially retell the story of Barnabas Collins, the fan favorite vampire character. As a feature, the film ultimately suffers from the same issues that plagued the show, most notably some lethargic pacing problems. Nonetheless, the film boasts the same understated, eerie mood that made the TV program a hit, as well as some surprisingly gory segments, given that Curtis wanted to take advantage of not needing to bow to network restrictions. While unmistakably dated, such a modest production still has a decent leg up on Tim Burton’s 2012 cartoonish reimagining when it comes to crafting an intriguing story. —M.R.
91. The Little Vampire (2000)
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m viewing The Little Vampire through the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia goggles. I’m well aware it’s more than slightly corny and a somewhat cynical attempt at marketing vampire stories to young children, but darn it if it didn’t work on me. Jonathan Lipnicki (the adorable child from Jerry Maguire) plays a young boy whose family moves to Scotland. Feeling isolated, he is soon befriended by a family of vampires who are on the run from a ruthless hunter (a pre-Downton Abbey Jim Carter). What happens over the course of the film’s 95-minute runtime is little more than fun, very silly shenanigans of the Casper variety. But, hey, if it ends up peaking a kid’s interest in vampire lore, all the better for it. —M.R.
90.The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998)
The Wisdom of Crocodiles is spearheaded by a magnetic performance from Jude Law. This is important to mention because it is only through the sheer wattage of the actor’s star power that the film’s frequent detours into indulgent, navel-gazing pondering never completely derail the project. Law portrays Steven, a London vampire in desperate search for the right woman to share his life with. He eventually discovers a possible match in the form of Elina Löwensohn’s Anne (it’s worth noting that, Löwensohn had previously starred in Nadja, another out-of-the-box vampire flick); however, it soon becomes clear that their romance is bound to have a not-so-happy end. Notable for excluding several key aspects of vampire tradition (Steven can travel in the sunlight), the film is, at its best, a highly romantic and quasi-poetic interpretation of the standard vampire story. At worst, it’s akin to that annoying guy in your writing class who tries to impress girls with his “deep” thoughts. —M.R.
89. The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
Following several acclaimed psychological dramas, including such classics as Repulsion and Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski tried his hand at kooky comedy with The Fearless Vampire Killers. A comedic take on the kind of Gothic horror productions popularized by Hammer, it’s a film that asks such questions as—could a cross successfully ward off a Jewish vampire? (The answer is no.) As a whole, the plot is a hot mess, awkwardly veering between broad comedy and existential arty drama with little regard to creating a comfortable shift. Nevertheless, there is a macabre fascination to the proceedings, proving that even Polanski’s failures can still be intriguing. —M.R.
88. The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Notable as being the final Hammer production to be funded via American money, The Vampire Lovers marks one of the final projects in the company’s filmography to feel like an actual movie as opposed to a quickie exploitation film where the crew had brief access to a castle. A loose adaptation of Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Gothic work, Carmilla, The Vampire Lovers features future Hammer staple Ingrid Pitt as the “Carmilla” figure, a seductive vampire who targets a wealthy European family—specifically, the gorgeous and impressionable young ladies. Featuring copious amounts of nudity and girl-on-girl action, the action is competently directed enough that it only rarely feels like softcore porn. Hammer would make other lesbian-themed vampire movies, but this one and Countess Dracula (also starring Pitt) stand as the best of the bunch. —M.R.
87. The Night Stalker (1972)
The TV film that gave birth to Carl Kolchak, the protagonist of the short-lived but beloved Kolchak: The Night Stalker series (a program that served as a direct influence for The X-Files), The Night Stalker lays out the origin story of everyone’s favorite abrasive, yet sharp paranormal investigator. As the story opens, Kolchak is a washed-up reporter working a dead-end beat in Las Vegas. One day, a friend at the FBI loops him into a bizarre case wherein someone is sucking the blood of young women. While the pacing might at times be a bit too glacial for today’s viewing audiences, The Night Stalker succeeds largely on the strength of Darren McGavin’s endearing performance and the script by genre legend Richard Matheson. —M.R.
86. Countess Dracula (1971)
As gleefully shameless as its title suggest, Countess Dracula centers on a widow who discovers that she can prolong her youthful exterior by bathing in the blood of young women. She proceeds to kidnap and murder several local girls, carry on a sexual relationship with a young lieutenant and disguise herself as her own daughter to explain away her youthful appearance. It’s the type of madcap insanity that would grow to define latter-day Hammer horror films. Unlike other less successful attempts, however, this production skates right on that thin line between bad taste and trashy fun. —M.R.
85. Midnight Son (2011)
Like most major metropolitans, Los Angeles is a city that breeds night owls. Jacob—the young man at the center of Scott Leberecht’s low-budget horror film—is one such person, albeit not necessarily by choice. His skin burns in the daylight and he is constantly hungry—could he be a vampire? Taking a page from the likes of George A. Romero’s Martin, Midnight Son explores the vampire mythos through the prism of a intimate character drama. Sure, the film is burdened with its fair share of clichés, but it’s a incisive little indie that hits all the right notes and is worthy of more eyeballs. —M.R.
84. Sundown: Vampire in Retreat (1989)
After Vestron Pictures folded in the late ’80s, Sundown was all but unceremoniously dumped from the company’s roster and never granted a proper theatrical release. And while it’s certainly no lost masterpiece, the film’s subsequent cult status more than proves that there was indeed an audience for this offbeat Western/horror/comedy hybrid. The film is set in a desert town where a group of vampires have decided to live out their eternal lives in peace and quiet. Things begin to go awry after an interloping human family becomes the catalyst for a civil war between the vampires who wish to remain hidden and those who desire a return to their predator status. If all that weren’t enough to get you interested, then just know that Bruce Campbell plays a descendant of Van Helsing—that should be enough for most genre fans right there. —M.R.
83. The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Ken Russell may have grown less critically lauded with age, but no one will ever argue that he grew any less strange. Case in point: The Lair of the White Worm. Based on the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker (one infinitely less celebrated than Dracula), the film stars future Doctor Who thespian Peter Capaldi as a Scottish archaeologist who inadvertently releases a vampiric snake monster that begins tormenting those responsible for slaying it in a past life . Also featuring Amanda Donohoe and Hugh Grant in one of his earliest film roles, White Worm serves as a nice slice of latter-day Russell mania. Nestled somewhere between a Oscar Wilde comedy-of-manners and a monster movie on acid, it’s a film that defies characterization. —M.R.
82. Habit (1997)
Released in 1997, Habit portrays vampirism as an extension of one New York bohemian’s ever-escalating descent into self-destruction. Writer/director Larry Fessenden stars as Sam, an artist reeling from the death of his father. One day, he meets a beautiful woman and the two begin engaging in kinky sex-play, mostly involving her sucking blood from his wound. Playing as kind of a vampire take on Leaving Las Vegas, Habit revels in its ambiguity and symbolism. It’s as gritty and subtle as the Hammer entries are bombastic and campy. —M.R.
81. Daybreakers (2009)
Released in the midst of Twilight mania, Daybreakers offered a nice alternative to that tween vampire franchise, taking its influence more from the likes of Philip K. Dick than YA romance novels. Set in the near-future wherein a vast plague has transformed most of the world’s population into vampires, Ethan Hawke stars as a scientist who must figure out a way to save the vampire race before their supply of blood runs out. Daybreakers biggest problem is that it never really makes it clear how seriously we should take its (admittedly cool) premise. At times, it strives for pathos while, other times, it seems content to merely be a trashy B-thriller. In the end, the good mostly outweighs the bad and, given the lack of proper “sci-fi vampire movies,” it’s not a half-bad entry. —M.R.
80. Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)
In comparison to the first Hotel Transylvania, Hotel Transylvania 2 feels like a bit of a rush job. Given the tight turnaround and the fact that director Genndy Tartakovsky had to shelve another project, that certainly seems to be the case. Still, in spite of the restrictions, Tartakovsky still manages to turn in a more than serviceable sequel that captures the original’s vibrant and child-like enthusiasm. If nothing else, star/co-writer Adam Sandler really dove into his Rolodex this time around, recruiting Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Keegan Michael-Key and Dana Carvey to join returning cast members Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James and Steve Buscemi. Extra points for casting the legendary Mel Brooks as Dracula’s father, Vlad. —M.R.
79. Love at First Bite (1979)
George Hamilton brings color to the pasty vampire genre in director Stan Dragoti’s (Mr. Mom) spoof, a fitfully amusing fish-out-of-water tale in which the ageless creature gets plopped in late ’70s New York City. “Children of the night: Shut up!” pleads Hamilton’s Vladimir Dracula, a bloodsucker who’s experienced a series of bummers as of late. He’s been evicted from his castle in Transylvania because of back taxes (natch), and the freewheeling, women’s lib dating scene of disco-era NYC proves lonely. What’s a Count to do when he can’t get past the velvet rope? Along with that Lugosi-copping quip (and makeup artist William Tuttle, who also worked on 1931’s Dracula), the film gives credit where it’s due: The Renfield of Bram Stoker’s novel turns up here as Dracula’s sidekick; Susan Saint James’ fashion model/Hamilton’s love interest is a descendant of his beloved Mina Harker; and Saint James’ BF, psychiatrist Jeffrey Rosenberg, is the grandson of Van Helsing but changed his name to Rosenberg “for professional reasons.” The “humor” is broad as hell—think: blood banks—and at times datedly racist, but Hamilton is winning as the displaced, misunderstood Vlad. —Amanda Schurr
78. I Vampiri (1957)
Before Black Sunday put him on the map, Mario Bava’s first major dalliance with horror came when he shot and co-directed (along with Riccardo Fredda) this tale of a madman who goes around the countryside capturing young woman to drain their blood . As one of Italy’s first official horror films, I Vampiri throws in everything but the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, today it’s more notable as a footnote in history than a legitimate thriller. Still, Bava’s cinematography clearly indicates an eye and feel for the material that would serve him well years later. —M.R.
77. The Night Flier (1997)
The Night Flier is a pulpy, simple story, insular even among other Stephen King short story adaptations. It follows a cynical, charlatan of a tabloid reporter as he searches for a serial killer he’s dubbed the “night flier,” a would-be vampire who flies from small airport to small airport in his personal plane/coffin, killing wantonly as he goes. How the presence of the same plane at each murder site escapes police attention, I’m not entirely sure. Regardless, the “serial killer” does of course turn out to be a real vampire. He’s not on screen long, but the film’s highlight is undoubtedly the gnarly design they chose for the monster—one big, long central tooth, combined with a cheap, costume store Dracula cape. It feels hokey and mildly humorous,and so does The Night Flier, which doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously and intends to simply provide 90 minutes of mildly scary diversion at minimal cost. At least it answers the age-old question of “Do vampires use urinals?” As it turns out; yes they do. —J.V.
76. Scars of Dracula (1970)
Scars of Dracula, the fourth Hammer Dracula sequel, feels like a reaction to a lukewarm response to the previous Taste the Blood of Dracula, a conscious decision to “return the series to its roots,” which really just means rehashing some of the old vampire tropes. Dracula is back in his castle in Transylvania once again for this one, pretty much just preying on a few people who happen to wander into his clutches. The plot leaves much to be desired, but the good news is that Christopher Lee has much more screen time, dialog and vitality in this movie than the last few entries—it’s honestly weird to hear him speaking this much. The action and especially the gore have been turned up in this one as well, with titillation that also sort of mirrors Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. However, as in Taste the Blood of Dracula, it runs out of steam in a conclusion that really comes out of nowhere—it feels like the conclusion of a Shaw Bros. kung fu film where the credits start rolling the second the villain is abruptly killed. It’s an uneven entry in the series, but the castle scenes are exciting and it would probably be a fun watch for an audience who had never seen Christopher Lee as Dracula before. —J.V.