From F.W. Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu to today, the cinematic bloodsucker has been a horror mainstay for over a century. Timelessly versatile in themes, style, and scares, vampire cinema has given film some of its most iconic villains, lushest productions, and entertaining thrills: Universal’s caped count, Blade’s badass daywalker, Twilight’s supernatural romance, and From Dusk Till Dawn’s gonzo genre blending, among countless more. But for every classic and popular vampire tale, there are myriad more worthy of interest that go unknown.
Below is a list of lesser-known vampire hidden gems from outside the U.S.; fangs and gushes of crimson abound.
Blood Red Sky (2021)
Where to watch: Netflix
German action-horror film Blood Red Sky boasts a premise that could have easily been an eye-rolling SyFy original: A 30 Days of Night-esque primal bloodsucker predator goes Passenger 57 on hijackers. Yet director Peter Thorwarth elevates that “Vampire McClane’’ conceit with slick direction and a relentless spiral of fanged carnage. Despite an overstretched pace and flashbacks occasionally muddling the execution, Blood Red Sky continually builds its claustrophobic stakes and evolves its power dynamics in violently clever ways that maximize the airplane setting. The sympathetic and savage presence of Peri Baumeister grounds those high-altitude thrills in earnest humanity, thanks to a performance that excellently juggles mother and monster.
This low-budget French-Swiss co-production is a romance at its core, immersing us in the relationship between Alex (Yannick Rosset) and Livia (Jasna Kohoutova), which takes a turn after Alex is hit by a car and receives a fateful blond transfusion. Chimères grounds its vampire slow burn in the strong performances and natural chemistry of Rosset and Kohoutova, their love tested by increasingly grim trials brought on by an unnatural bloodlust. An overuse of mirror-vision jump scares and a gradual realization of the vampire transformation threaten to diminish that effective core, yet director Olivier Beguin carries the film through dark turns that never betray the characters’ bond. A simmering first half gives way to an eruption of impressively gory consequences and an entertaining final act that pushes Chimères’ moody horror drama into an entirely different genre.
From the Dark (2014)
Conor McMahon’s low-budget Irish chiller thrives on simplicity. A couple, Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell), finds their playful banter cut short when they’re stranded on the roads around an isolated peat farm, only to soon become hunted by a creature of the night. What From the Dark may lack in depth or nuance is more than compensated for by its cat-and-mouse momentum. Every avenue for suspense is wrung from the premise as all possible illumination sources become means for dwindling-light set-pieces: Matches, candles, fridge lights, phone screens, and more help the couple frantically keep darkness at bay. McMahon uses his vampire’s Nosferatu-esque silhouette and gnarled bog-body design to eerie effect, while a pre-Censor Algar emerges as a tenacious and resourceful protagonist whose survival we can’t help but root for.
The Lake Vampire (2018)
Carl Zitelmann’s deliberately paced and unnerving 2018 film is a decades-spanning Venezuelan mystery thriller in the vein of Zodiac, Seven, or The Silence… only these investigators gradually realize their quarry might be an immortal bloodsucker. The Lake Vampire unfolds largely through nested flashbacks as an investigative novelist interviews a retired detective, giving the film an episodic structure driven more by plot than by character. Occult possibility and human evil fuel a grisly investigative procedural, allowing the extended hunt between killer and lawman to form a twisted relationship that takes the usual slayer-versus-evil dynamic into a more uncanny direction. It’s a direction that wouldn’t work without the wonderfully sinister performance from Eduardo Gulino, whose portrayal of the film’s killer acts as an ode to cinematic vampires from Lugosi’s Gothic elegance to Lee’s verminous malice to the haggard immortals of Near Dark. Despite an ending that may underwhelm with its abrupt choices, Zitelmann’s gruesomely unromanticized approach to vampire tropes and cliches lingers as a testament to this horror thriller’s disturbing edge.
Where to watch: Tubi and free with a library card on Kanopy; for rent on iTunes
Also aptly known as Children of the Night, Argentinian horror fairy tale Limbo blends Neverland and elements of Let the Right One In to immerse us in the rites of a child vampire colony through the eyes of a curious journalist. Director Iván Noel weaves a surreal, playful, and dense narrative whose slight means and run time ambitiously explore a network of vampire sanctuaries and its matriarch, immortality locked at a young age, a vampire hunter feud, and Bram Stoker’s legacy, among other threads. Limbo’s micro budget doesn’t prevent Noel from delivering intriguing and unnerving moments throughout: giggling children sucking sheep dry, a blood spigot, whimsical ambushes upon ruthless vampire hunters. The campy, pulpy undertone fully blooms during Limbo’s ravenous bloodspattered finale; any movie with an intestine jump-rope clearly knows how to have fun with its premise.
Night of the Devils (1972)
Where to watch: free with a library card on Kanopy; for rent on Amazon
In 1963, Italian horror legend Mario Bava adapted the story of the vampiric wurdulak for his anthology Black Sabbath. Nine years and the influence of a little film named Night of the Living Dead separate Giorgio Ferroni’s version from Bava’s ’60s Gothic folktale version. Night of the Devils is a vampire folk horror story unmistakably crafted for the 1970s. A surrealistic splatter-filled opening leads into a mental-hospital-set flash-forward, already signaling this is a film where nihilistic madness awaits. The ensuing slow burn of a rural mystery follows a city outsider who finds himself among an odd village family insisting he stay the night, stay inside, and bolt the windows. Fears that their patriarch has become a cursed undead and will return to turn them all are, of course, realized amid an aura of oppressive enigmatic unease. A finale of cackling revenants, grisly gore effects, and grim late-film twists firmly cements Night of the Devils as Italian horror for a grittier and more visceral decade.
While it may share a title with Park Chan-wook’s lush erotic vampire thriller, Gaukur Úlfarsson and Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson’s Thirst couldn’t be more tonally or stylistically different. For one, this Icelandic horror-comedy splatterfest might have set a record for most torn-off, uh, members flopping on screen; it’s that kind of romp, following the gory collision between a drug addict in a bind, a millennium-old gay vampire, and a DIY doomsday cult. The delightful misadventure is one awash in dry-witted deadpan humor, midnight fog, buckets of aerial spray, and creative practical gore rending limbs, heads, throats, and guts with abandon.