Dracula. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Twilight. Vampires have been such a predominant part of both our culture and our pop culture for so long, it’s easy to believe that there’s nothing new to say about them, and no new way to tell an interesting vampire story. Thankfully, creative types keep proving us wrong.
This month is a good one for blood-suckers on the pop-culture landscape, with FX’s The Strain—based on a series of novels co-written by the mega-talented Guillermo del Toro, who also executive produces the show—returning for a second season this past Sunday. (You can catch up on the first season via Hulu.) On the streaming front, Spike Lee’s crowd-funded vamp flick Da Sweet Blood of Jesus hits Netflix Instant yesterday, starring Stephen Tyrone Williams as a respected anthropologist who begins craving blood after an encounter with a cursed African artifact.
With nosferatu on our minds, we here at the Daily Dot dug into the streaming services in search of the best vampire flicks currently available. Watch these after dark, but be careful: You might wind up marathoning them all the way through till sunrise.
1) Cronos (Hulu)
Since the return of The Strain helped inspire this piece, it’s only fair that we open things up with one of Guillermo del Toro’s earlier takes on vampire lore. In fact, Cronos was del Toro’s first feature film, unleashed on the world over 20 years ago, way back in 1993. Federico Luppi stars as Jesus Gris, an antiques dealer who discovers a strange clockwork contraption inside the hollowed-out base of an angel statue. Things take an unsettling turn when, after tinkering with the contraption, it suddenly unfolds into an insect-like configuration, jabbing him with a needle and injecting some sort of liquid. That’s the sort of crazy shit that would send most people fleeing to the emergency room, but Jesus actually starts feeling better soon… better than ever, actually. His wrinkles are smoothing out, his hair is coming back, even his sex drive is surging. There’s just this odd craving that keeps nagging at him…
As Jesus’ curious transformation continues, the centuries-old history of the device that began it is revealed. Unfortunately, there are powerful, dangerous people in search of the creepy little scarab device, and one of them employs Ron Perlman as muscle.
Cronos received only a limited release here in the States, but it soon became a cult classic that put del Toro on the radar for a generation of fans. Without Cronos, there would have been no Hellboy or The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth or Pacific Rim, and that’s not the kind of world I want to live in. The incredible visual imagination, the surreal mix of the terrifying and the big-hearted, even the presence of del Toro’s muse Ron Perlman—they’re all on deck in Cronos, foreshadowing two decades of brilliance to come.
2) Night Watch (Netflix Instant)
There’s a good chance you might never heard the name Sergei Lukyanenko, but the Kazakhstan-born author is one of the major players in the realms of Russian science fiction and fantasy literature. His breakout title was the 1998 novel Night Watch, which inspired five sequels and this film, directed in 2004 by Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Night Watch introduces a secret world existing in the shadows of our own, where a centuries-old battle between good and evil has settled into a stalemate of sorts. Now the opposing forces of the Night Watch and Day Watch guard both the bright and the twilight hours, ensuring neither side becomes too powerful. But that precarious status quo is threatened by a young boy, whom prophecy suggests could shift the balance of power in favor of the darkness or the light.
Night Watch was a massive hit in Russia, at the time becoming the highest-grossing Russian release of all time. Fox Searchlight eventually snagged the American release rights, bringing it stateside in 2006. Unlike in the rest of the films on this list, vampires are only one part of a much larger paranormal landscape in Night Watch, but they serve as some of the primary forces of darkness here. Director Bekmambetov fills the screen to bursting with the propulsive, adrenaline-soaked style on display in his other films, and even the subtitles are handled in unique and creative ways. Night Watch can definitely be a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but for those who love it, good news: the sequel, Day Watch, is also available on Netflix Instant.
3) Let the Right One In (Netflix Instant)
Oskar is a quiet lad living in early ’80s Stockholm with his mother. Oskar collects newspaper clippings about horrible murders and keeps a knife under his bed (he’s a weird kid). Naturally, he’s bullied by other kids in his class, drawn by the irresistible scent of someone who doesn’t fit in. When he meets Eli, the new girl next door, Oskar finally discovers a kindred spirit, another outsider who doesn’t seem to vibrate at the same frequency as the rest of the world. It goes well beyond that, Oskar eventually discovers: Eli has both a terrible secret and a very particular set of dietary requirements, and a series of nearby murders soon threaten to throw Eli’s secrets into the searing light of day.
Horror has been exploiting the inherently creepy nature of children for decades, from The Shining to The Ring. The outstanding 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In makes you care about the little demon many other flicks would have just used to frighten, but without ever downplaying the child’s violent and horrific nature—most notably during the film’s brilliant climactic swimming pool sequence. Everything in the film is anchored by the genuinely affecting friendship between Oskar and Eli (Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, both sublime). Let the Right One In reminds viewers that, even in a world of nocturnal bloodsuckers, the worst monsters are often of the human variety, and kindness can sometimes be found in the darkest of corners. (It’s worth noting that the American remake, Let Me In, actually does the original justice, thanks to solid direction by Matt Reeves and the twin performances of Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz.)
4) Afflicted (Hulu with Showtime)
Buddies Clif and Derek (co-directors Clif Prowse and Derek Lee) have been traveling the world for years, filming their adventures as part of a webseries called Ends of the Earth. That tradition looks to be in peril after Derek is diagnosed with a condition that means he could literally drop dead at any moment. Determined not to let the bad news defeat him, Derek talks Clif into accompanying him on one last hurrah: a trip to Europe. Once there, Derek hits it off with a beautiful, mysterious girl, and the two go to bed together. The next morning, Clif discovers Derek in his hotel room: bleeding, banged-up, and with no memory of what happened the night before. The two continue their journey, but Derek soon begins acting strangely, becoming skittish around daylight and reacting violently to food. You can probably guess where this is headed. As Derek continues changing, Clif tries to track down the girl, hoping to find answers about what’s happening to his friend.
With the found-footage trend having taken the horror field by storm over the past decade or so, it was just a matter of time until somebody got around to making a vampire version, and Afflicted is as good a combination of those two things as you could hope for. Afflicted is best seen with as little foreknowledge as possible, but, well, there’s not really any way to include it on this list without giving part of the game away. Still, there’s plenty to love about Afflicted beyond the twist. The arc of the film’s infection is a fascinating descent, with the formerly at-death’s-door Derek now leaping tall buildings and outpacing motorbikes in a way that seems right out of your typical superhero origin story—only for things to soon begin spiraling ever worse.
Note: Afflicted is only available to Hulu customers who have also signed up for the streaming service’s new partnership with Showtime, which costs an extra $8.99 per month.
Screengrab via Movieclips Coming Soon/YouTube