It was a great weekend for vampires, with the final installment of the “Twilight” franchise pouring more than $141 million in domestic grosses into Summit Entertainment’s coffers during its first few days out of the gate. Budgeted at $120 million, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2” still has headway to make before it will match “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’s” $300-million North American haul.
Like its predecessors — and the vampire genre in general — the film’s success is not critically driven. What does matter is budget, and each of the top 10-grossing studio-made vampire films since 1978 has been flush with cash, from Universal's "Van Helsing" ($160 million) to Warner Bros.’ “Interview with the Vampire” ($60 million) and Summit’s “Breaking Dawn -- Part 1” ($110 million).
But what about the little guy — the vampire film made for less than $10 million? If you want to sink your teeth into some fringe-ier bloodsucker cinema after your "Blade" and "Underworld" fix, here are a few titles to get the blood flowing. (Feel free to tell us some of your favorites in the comments.)
Willem Dafoe received a best-supporting-actor Oscar nomination as vampire-turned-actor Max Schreck in director E. Elias Merhige’s black-and-white take on the making of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu.” Generally praised by critics (the Lionsgate picture has an 81-percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the film also had its detractors: Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir labeled it “an academic exercise… that can never dislodge the art fatally wedged up its butt.” Written by Steven Katz and produced by Nicolas Cage’s Saturn Films, “Shadow of the Vampire” stars John Malkovich as a Murnau so intent on making an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” that he promises his star the blood of his female co-star (Catherine McCormack) once shooting wraps.
“Near Dark” (DEG, 1987)
Kathryn Bigelow’s solo directing debut (she co-directed “Loveless” in 1982) lost money for the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), but it has morphed into a cult classic with a 90-percent positive Tomatometer rating. Time’s Richard Corliss gave it the ultimate arthouse praise, deeming it “the ‘Blue Velvet’ of date-night spook shows.” “Near Dark” stars “Heroes” hunk Adrian Pasdar as a small-town boy reluctantly brought into the fold of a roving vampire gang after a tryst with one of its female members. Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton co-star in the film, which was co-written by Bigelow and Eric Red.
A decade before his breakthrough role in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” Jim Carrey starred opposite a game Lauren Hutton as one of the three teenaged virgins her vampire must deflower in order to stay alive and maintain her camera-ready looks. TV director Howard Storm (“Mork & Mindy,” “Laverne & Shirley”) helmed the rare vampire comedy, set in Los Angeles and written by Dimitri Villard (story), David Hines, Jeffrey Hause and Jonathan Roberts. Noting its deft use of one-liners, the Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Thomas called “Once Bitten” “that extreme rarity, a youth movie that's made the grown-up discovery of how sexy and amusing a situation can be if you leave things to the imagination.”
“Transylvania 6-5000” (New World, 1985)
Horror specialty house New World (“Hellraiser, “Children of the Corn”) attempted its own comedic take on supernatural ghouls in writer-director Rudy De Luca’s 1985 effort. Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr. star as tabloid reporters sent to Transylvania to investigate Frankenstein sightings. What they find is a Disneyland-like theme park teaming with demons, including Geena Davis’ lusty vampire. The New York Times’ Janet Maslin was not a fan, stating, “The actors in ‘Transylvania 6-5000’… seem to have the impression that they are doing something funny, though where they got that idea is anybody's guess. It cannot have come from the screenplay, which was written … as a series of utterly listless comic setups.”
“Vamp” (New World, 1986)
Frat boys scoping out exotic dancers to perform at an upcoming party stumble upon a strip joint operated by vampires in this pre-News Corp. era New World Pictures release. Grace Jones vamps it up as the head of the undead, who at one point gloriously laps up a pool of the blood of one of her victims. Director-screenwriter Richard Wenk shares story credit with Donald P. Borchers; “My Bodyguard” lead Chris Makepeace and Robert Rusler star. Reviews are scarce for this pic, but Cinema Crazed writer Felix Vasquez Jr. praises it as a “darkly comedic and creepy… eighties gem that still holds up as a competent and engrossing vampire comedy with sharp performances and a thick sense of dread that achieves the miracle of making Grace Jones look ravishingly sexy.”
A few more for those still hungry:
“Cronos,” directed by Guillermo del Toro (October Films, 1993)
“Irma Vep,” directed by Olivier Assayas (Zeitgeist Films, 1996)
“Let Me In,” directed by Matt Reeves (Overture Films, 2010)
“Nadja,” directed by Michael Almereyda (October Films, 1994)
“Stake Land,” directed by Jim Mickle (IFC Midnight, 2010)