In the tenebrous charnel lane, a lithe shadow flits among the tombstones like an eel slithering its way through murky waters. Your heart quickens, starting to match the frenetic patter of your bootsoles against the cobblestones. Clack-clack. Your heels, or the sound of claws, gnarled and stained by grave dirt rapping against a tombstone. As the moon whispers its soft light along the path, two points of light scream back in a piercing voice that cuts you straight to the bone; two feral fangs flying forth from the shadows and piercing through the veil of the living. The catafalque of the undead seems to cover you as you sink to the ground, gazing into the preternatural eyes of your slayer, your mourner, the lone officiant at your funeral. A gasp escapes your numbing lips, one last Canticle Maledictus. "Vampire."
Vampires have woven a spell that enchants our imaginations. Whether they inhabit worlds of horror, extravagance, romance, or all of the above, the allure of the undead is inescapable. Though they started out in folklore as the blood-hungry undead monsters, ravenous corpses in grave clothes seeking to return to the living, many writers from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice have spun a much more romantic mystique around them. The Twilight series was either a high or low point in vampire fiction depending on who you ask, but now that the pentalogy of films has come and gone, vampires can once again grace the screen in a way that doesn't immediately call to mind sparkly skin and copious mouth breathing. For those once more looking to be seduced by the undead, here are a few recent films to pique your interest.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour describes her film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night as "the first Iranian vampire spaghetti western." It was shot in a small southern California town, prominently features skateboarding, and contains music from Armenian-American hip-hop artist Bei Ru. This is your classic tale of a morally ambiguous drifter by way of French New Wave through a filter of neo-noir sensibilities and 80's flavored post-punk nihilism. The influences are diverse and many, but part of the appeal of this film is that you don't have to think of any of these things to enjoy it. This is a movie that slowly washes over you, delivering its tale of crime, drugs, and blood drinking at a slow burn that may make some impatient, but provides the enraptured with just what they crave.
Somewhat surprisingly, this film is a love story at its core between the wry and scrappy Arash (Arash Marandi) and the doe-eyed and mysterious Girl (Sheila Vand). These characters inhabit the streets of Bad City, a place where corpses lie in ditches in the street and those who possess much prey upon those with little for the celebration of their own vices. Arash struggles to make a life that he can be proud of, but is held down by his slovenly father whose addiction and debt has cast the attention of local drug lords upon their household. He soon encounters the titular Girl, who appears to him as another disaffected soul with a penchant for skateboarding and gloomy music, but who hides a darker, bloodthirsty secret.
This one's available on the Hoopla streaming service at the time of writing, so you can give it watch without ever leaving the house. Good thing, because you never know who might be following you...
Only Lovers Left Alive
Fans of Anne Rice need look no further than Jim Jarmusch's Only Lover's Left Alive. Tilde Swinton embodies the role of Eve so perfectly with her ethereal, androgynous beauty, and Tom Hiddleston lends his moody presence to Adam. We are given a glimpse into the lives of this vampire couple who have been together for centuries and who are, though apart at times, still deeply in love. This film does wink and nudge towards the larger idea of vampirism in this movie (several historical characters are suggested to be vampires, one of who we meet), but what makes this movie shine is its quality as a vignette of these two characters' lives. We get glimpses of the ever-present ennui of immortality, the futility of trying to express through music what others can truly never understand, and a view of love as the last shelter from all the dissatisfaction the world heaps upon you. Director Jim Jarmusch delivers as much a vampire story as a gloomy and disaffected tone poem, an impression through film that doesn't so much tell a story as impresses it upon the viewer.
Those seeking a snappy or satisfying narrative are sure to find too many longueurs here, but if you've ever spent a rainy day reading Edgar Allan Poe or gotten lost in the thrumming dolor of Siouxsie and the Banshees, this film is a welcome companion piece. While the mood is the main attraction, there is a narrative here. The film gets a late act injection of drama when Eve, having rejoined Adam at his cloister of a home in Detroit, is forced to deal with her sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) whose reckless and ravenous behavior soon threatens to undo the secrecy for which Adam strives Still, a character study of the relationship between two immortal beings is the best way to describe this film, and if that sounds appealing, check this film out ASAP.
Vampires are monstrous creatures, and if there's one modern filmmaker who understands monsters it's Guillermo del Toro. Whether it's the wholly unique masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, the fun kaiju love letter Pacific Rim, or his two Hellboy adaptations, del Toro fills the screen with creatures that seem equal parts grotesque, innovative, and somewhat traditional. Not one to limit himself to a single medium, del Toro brings us The Strain, a television adaptation of the series of novels written by himself and Chuck Hogan.
The Strain is an interesting blend of genre conventions and tropes that layer upon each other in ways you haven't quite seen before. Pulling from modern versions of undead fiction (typically zombies), The Strain revolves around a parasitic virus that turns its victims into bloodsucking fiends. That may lead you to believe that this biological threat would not be tied to a single being, an Old World vampiric master who holds the lesser undead in his thrall. You'd be wrong. What starts as a possible quarantine situation for CDC agent Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) turns him into an surprisingly capable vampire hunter. He crosses paths with Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), a holocaust survivor who acts as this series Van Helsing and carriers a vendetta against the icy German Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) whose lack of aging since World War II stands as evidence to his preternatural abilities.
Make no mistake, for all of the slow, brooding vampire fiction I've brought up unto this point, this is definitely the most over-the-top, but also the most uneven. The show tries to play with overarching philosophical and religious themes that lend pathos to the ongoing struggle, but lines such as the hacker Dutch spouting "I'm the only one that can slow the internet down to worse than dial up," force you to confront the numerous plot conveniences and silly shortcuts that hobble this show from being more than a fun ride for fans of the horror genre. Regardless, where the show succeeds it is top notch. Del Toro creates a scenario that slowly ratchets up the tension over the course of the first season, showing an unsuspecting Manhattan slowly spiral into chaos as the newborn vampires start to proliferate beneath the city streets (as we learned from Whodini, the freaks come out at night). The show recently ran its second season and has been renewed for a third, so if this show clicks for you, you'll have a lot more to enjoy.
What We Do in the Shadows
If vampires are real, it can't all be ancient curses and romantic brooding. Who's going to take care of the blood-stained dishes? How does having to be invited over the threshold impact what night clubs you can get into? Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Boy) address all of these pressing questions in What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary that follows a trio of vampires around Wellington, New Zealand. We also get to meet Petyr, the 8,000 year old master vampire who looks like he stepped straight out of Nosferatu, a pack of werewolves who naturally are at odds with the undead, and The Beast, a rival creature so nefarious that Vladislav (Clement) dare not speak their true name.
Several sections of this movie could be pulled out and presented as complete, hilarious sketches in their own right, and the movie does a decent job of stringing these uproarious moments together into a loose narrative. It's all very silly at points, but where it takes a step beyond is not merely that these characters are vampires that are presenting their world to a camera crew, but that they know they are presenting to a crew. This movie not only nails the lampooning of vampire tropes, it nails the mannerisms of people who are presenting themselves to the camera and trying to add their own flourishes of drama to the proceedings. The over-saturation of reality television has provided fertile ground for spoofs, but this portrayal of on screen amateurs mugging it for the camera is a cut above. Bloody, charming, hilarious and off beat, this is definitely one worth checking out.
Now that I've suggested some recent vampire entertainment, what are your favorite films and shows that feature vampires? If you crave even more, you can't go wrong with Park Chan-wook's Thirst, Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In, or the surprisingly good Interview with the Vampire (which fans of the book will forever remain split on). Leave a comment below, and please share this article with your friends if you enjoyed reading it.
David loves all sorts of film and music with a soft spot for schlocky B-horror movies, anything with Patrick Swayze, and preposterous concept albums. He adores James Joyce and Virginia Wolfe foremost, but has plenty of Neil Gaiman, Seamus Heaney, and Stephen Jay Gould on his bookshelf as well. Feel free to get in touch with him if you want to argue the merits of why The Fountain should be better regarded among Aronofsky's works or which of The Lord Weird Slough Feg's albums is the best.