So many vampires – so many! And then there are all these other guys who may or may not be. Sometimes it’s hard to say. Sure they drink blood, but do they really need to? Let’s explore.
5. Vampire’s Kiss (1988)
Sure, Nicolas Cage is a whore, a has-been, and his wigs embarrass us all. But back before The Rock (the film that turned him), Cage was always willing to behave in a strangely effeminate manner, and perhaps even eat a bug. He made some great movies that way.
Peter Lowe (pronounced with such relish by Cage) believes he’s been bitten by a vampire (Jennifer Beals) during a one night stand. It turns out, he’s actually just insane. The bite becomes his excuse to indulge his self-obsessed, soulless, predatory nature for the balance of the running time.
Cage gives a masterful comic performance in Vampire’s Kiss as a narcissistic literary editor who descends into madness. The actor is hilarious, demented, his physical performance outstanding. The way he uses his gangly mess of limbs and hulking shoulders inspires darkly, campy comic awe. And the plastic teeth are awesome.
Peter may believe he abuses his wholesome editorial assistant Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso) with sinister panache because he’s slowly turning into a demon, but we know better.
4. The Transfiguration (2016)
Milo likes vampire movies.
Eric Ruffin plays Milo, a friendless teen who believes he is a vampire. What he is really is a lonely child who finds solace in the romantic idea of this cursed, lone predator. But he’s committed to his misguided belief.
All this changes when Milo meets Sophie (Chloe Levine), another outsider and the only white face in Milo’s building. A profound loneliness haunts this film, and the believably awkward behavior of both Ruffin and Levine is as charming as it is heartbreaking.
The Transfiguration is a character study as much as a horror film, and the underwritten lead, slow burn and somewhat tidy resolution undercut both efforts.
Still, there’s an awful lot going for this gritty, soft-spoken new image of a teenage beast.
3. The Reflecting Skin (1990)
Writer/director Philip Ridley has a fascinating imagination, and his film captures your attention from its opening moments.
Seth Dove lives with his emotionally abusive mother and his soft but distant father, who run a gas station in rural Idaho sometime after WWII. Seth’s older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) is off serving in Japan. Seth has decided that the neighborhood widow Dolphin Blue (a wonderfully freaky Lindsay Duncan) is a vampire.
Positively horrible things begin to happen, each of them clouded by the dangerous innocence of our point of view character.
The film plays a bit like a David Lynch effort, but with more honesty. Rather than the hallucinatory dreaminess Lynch injects into films like Blue Velvet (the most similar), this film is ruled by the ferociously logical illogic of childhood.
With this point of view, the realities of a war blend effortlessly with the possibility of vampires. Through little Seth Dove’s eyes, everything that happens is predictably mysterious, as the world is to an 8-year-old. His mind immediately accepts every new happening as a mystery to unravel, and the jibberish adults speak only confirm that assumption.
This film is a beautiful, horrifying, fascinating adventure unlike most anything else available.
2. Cronos (1993)
In 1993, writer/director Guillermo del Toro announced his presence with authorty by way of this tender and unusual “vampire” flick. Del Toro favorites Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman star. Luppi is Jesus Gris, the elder statesman, an antique store owner, loving husband and doting grandfather.
Perlman plays Angel, a thug – what else? Angel’s miserable but very rich uncle wants an Archangel statue from Gris’s store, but the real value has already found its way into Gris’s veins.
A vampire film of sorts, it’s a beautiful story about faith and love – not to mention the real meaning of immortality. Performances are wonderful, and watching this masterful filmmaker find his footing is the real joy.
1. Martin (1978)
Martin (John Amplas) is a lonely young man who believes he’s a vampire. He may be – the film is somewhat ambivalent about it, which is one of the movie’s great strengths. He daydreams in black and white of cloaks, fangs and mobs carrying pitchforks.
Or are those memories? Does Martin’s uncle hate him because Martin, as he claims, is really in his Eighties, as his uncle would surely know? Romero has fun balancing these ideas, tugging between twisted but sympathetic serial killer and twisted but sympathetic undead.
Romero’s understated film is more of a character study than any of his other works, and Amplas is up to the task. Quietly unnerving and entirely sympathetic, you can’t help but root for Martin even as he behaves monstrously. It’s a bit like rooting for Norman Bates. Sure, he’s a bad guy, but you don’t want him to get into any trouble!
The film’s a generational culture clash wrapped in a lyrical fantasy, but quietly so. It’s touching, gory at times, often quite tense, and really well made. That, and it’s all so fabulously Seventies!