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Vampire Movies That Aren't Actually About Vampires

Updated September 23, 2021 660 votes 102 voters 37.5k views15 items

List RulesVote up the movies that best re-vamp the vampire.

Okay, yeah, we admit it: Vampire movies have been done to death (no pun intended). But many modern vampire movies like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night know that and subvert expectations by doing something different with the formula - or not even using the "v" word at all. Then again, vampire movies have been twisting and turning the mythos since the dawn of the moving picture. Even Nosferatu, the silent classic from 1922, is a remake of Dracula with the serial numbers filed off - and a strikingly different look for the Count.

From romantic vampire movies to sterile scientific takes to ambiguous art films and bleak coming-of-age stories, there are plenty of movies out there that do something very different with the standard bloodsucker than Bela Lugosi's velvet capes or Christopher Lee's fangs. Here are a handful of vampire flicks - from the earliest days of cinema through modern vampire movies - that aren't really about vampires, or that do something unexpected with the mythology.

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  • Maybe better known for starring David Bowie than for being Tony Scott's directorial debut, The Hunger is perhaps even better known for its status as a goth anthem. It's hard to beat David Bowie and nightclub scenes set to Bauhaus music for goth appeal, after all.

    The story follows a pair of vampire lovers (Bowie and Catherine Deneuve) who become involved in a love triangle with a doctor (Susan Sarandon) as they discover that, while Bowie's character may have eternal life, he is experiencing rapid aging. The highly stylized film has a 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, which calls it "stylish yet hollow," but it has developed a cult following, especially in the goth community.

    • Actors: David Bowie, Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve, Jane Leeves
    • Released: 1983
    • Directed by: Tony Scott
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  • The "Cronos device" is a little golden machine that looks like an insect - and has an actual insect inside - that can give you eternal life, but only if you feed on fresh blood. That's the basic premise of Guillermo del Toro's directorial debut, which stars Argentinean actor Federico Luppi, as well as Ron Perlman, who would go on to work with del Toro many more times over the years.

    "A vampire film where the word vampire is never used," as it says in del Toro's book Cabinet of Curiosities, Cronos is a movie "about immortality and how we want time to stop." Jesús Gris, the film's vampire, is not the villain; he's an old man who at first uses the device to simply reclaim some of his youth and vitality, only to find that his addiction to it is too dangerous, even without the predations of an obsessed industrialist (Claudio Brook) and his brutish nephew (Perlman).

    • Actors: Ron Perlman, Guillermo del Toro, Claudio Brook, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Federico Luppi
    • Released: 1993
    • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
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  • Being adapted from the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker, it would make sense to expect Ken Russell's The Lair of the White Worm to be at least vampire-adjacent. And there's certainly something vampiric about the snake-worshipping priestess (Amanda Donohoe) who is the villain of the piece - besides her massive, snake-like fangs. But this is a Ken Russell movie, so there's also plenty of camp and weirdness going around - what other vampire movie features a very young Hugh Grant putting speakers on the roof of his ancestral manor to play snake charmer music in order to lure out the villain?

    Besides Stoker's original novel, Russell pulled in elements of the legendary Lambton Worm from County Durham in England to add to the plot, which also lends the film one of the most unlikely theme songs in horror history.

    • Actors: Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi, Catherine Oxenberg, Ken Russell, Amanda Donohoe
    • Released: 1988
    • Directed by: Ken Russell
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  • Photo: Vice Films

    This black-and-white Iranian vampire fable from 2014 is both a traditional vampire movie - director Ana Lily Amirpour had the actors watch the original 1922 classic Nosferatu to prepare for their roles - and a totally new take on the material. Following a "lonesome vampire" who stalks the inhabitants of the "Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness," the film was a breakout success, and currently boasts a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, where the Critics Consensus says that it "blends conventional elements into something brilliantly original." 

    "You're done with vampire movies, right?" writer Andrew O'Hehir writes in the opening of his gushing review of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night for Salon. He goes on to say that, even if you "have concluded that nobody can possibly bring anything new to the bloodsucker genre," you, in fact, "didn’t know that you have been waiting, and indeed longing, for a feminist-romantic Iranian vampire movie, with undertones of Goth graphic novel and Sergio Leone western. Oh, and which is in black-and-white, entirely in Farsi, and was shot in Southern California." He calls A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night the "biggest honest-to-God discovery of 2014."

    For those who missed it back then, though, it can still be a big discovery today.

    • Actors: Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo, Reza Sixo Safai
    • Released: 2014
    • Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour
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