The Best 80s Vampire Movies, Ranked
The 1980s was a great decade for horror movies, and wherever you find horror, you usually find vampires. Of course, as the 80s had such a distinctive personality and aesthetic, this made for a unique take on the legendary blood-suckers.
80s vampires didn’t spend so much time lurking in the shadows, swooping out to catch their victims behind their cloaks: these creatures of the night were more likely to be dressed in leather, neon-lit, and to pounce on their victims in a more aggressive fashion. After all, by the 80s, filmmakers no longer faced the same restrictions as their forebears in terms of explicit content, so full-on violence, gore and sexuality were all on the table.
The decade gave us some distinctive and memorable vampire movies – and here, ranked in order of greatness, are what we consider to be the best of them all. Did your favourite make the list?
10. The Lair of the White Worm
Based very loosely on the novel by Dracula creator Bram Stoker, The Lair of the White Worm showcases esteemed British director Ken Russell at his most unabashedly over-the-top. Amanda Donohoe stars as Lady Sylvia Marsh, a bold and enigmatic seductress who turns out to be the undead high priestess of an ancient snake god.
Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi make early appearances, but Donohoe steals the show and plays the villain with palpable relish.
9. Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat
Between his star turns in Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, B-movie icon Bruce Campbell appeared in this tongue-in-cheek mash-up of Gothic horror and Western. The erstwhile Ash takes a supporting role as Robert Van Helsing, a descendant of the legendary vampire hunter who arrives in the remote desert town of Purgatory intent on wiping out its colony of the undead.
David Carradine heads up the cast as a progressive-minded vampire trying to keep his community from returning to their old human-hunting ways.
This gaudy blend of grisly horror and trashy teen comedy sees a trio of dim-witted college boys venture out to the wrong side of the tracks in the hopes of hiring a stripper for a frat party – but who ultimately find themselves under attack by a horde of vampires. Grace Jones stars as the titular ‘vamp’ Katrina, who doesn’t say a single word, but speaks volumes with her dress sense.
It has often been noted that Vamp’s core premise – a strip club full of vampires – seems to have been ‘borrowed’ by the later, better-remembered horror-comedy From Dusk Till Dawn. This may be true, but Vamp is still very much its own animal, and a ferocious one at that.
This utterly bizarre sci-fi horror epic is one of the greatest so-bad-it’s-good movies of the 80s – but even if we consider it a guilty pleasure, Lifeforce makes for unforgettable entertainment. Directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist) and produced by the notorious Cannon Films, the movie gives the undead an otherworldly twist, as it centres on a vampiric threat inadvertently brought back to Earth from a space mission. Rather than drinking blood, these vampires drain vital ‘life energy’ from humans.
The film features Steve Railsback, Peter Firth and Frank Finlay, but you’ll be forgiven for not remembering any cast members other than Mathilda May, the alien vampire woman who spends almost all her screen time with no clothes on. And, believe it or not, that’s not even the craziest thing about the film – but we won’t spoil it for you. Lifeforce can be criticised on any number of levels – but you can certainly never accuse it of being boring.
6. Mr Vampire
This 1985 Hong Kong horror comedy presents us with a distinctly eastern take on the vampire. Lam Ching-ying takes the lead as a Taoist priest who specialises in expunging evil spirits, but when one such job goes wrong he finds himself afflicted with the curse of the undead. All manner of energetic, wire-assisted craziness ensues.
Produced by Hong Kong superstar Sammo Hung, Mr Vampire blends elements of kung fu comedy with supernatural horror to enjoyably madcap effect. It proved a winning formula, and a full-blown Mr Vampire movie franchise followed.
5. The Hunger
Watch as much of a minute of this edgy, arty take on the undead and you’d be forgiven for never suspecting it could be the work of the man who would go on to make eyewatering blockbusters like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II. Nonetheless, 1983’s The Hunger was indeed the feature film debut of director Tony Scott, and it’s a strikingly abstract piece of work about metropolitan vampire couple Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie and their relationship with Susan Sarandon’s Sarah, a scientist researching the aging process.
Met with mixed reviews on release, The Hunger has long been accused of putting style over substance. However, if you like your horror movies with a genuinely dreamlike quality, you can’t go wrong with this one.
4. Near Dark
An early film from future Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark depicts a group of vampires who travel through dustbowl America in a blacked-out RV, drinking blood and raising hell. Along the way, the good-hearted vampire Mae (Jenny Wright) bites small town boy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), involuntarily making him part of the family. They try to bring Caleb into their way of life, but tensions ensue.
Near Dark is a moody, thoroughly atmospheric horror with a hard edge. It flopped on release but found its audience through video and TV. Fun fact: it’s also notable for sharing three key cast members with Aliens: Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein.
3. The Monster Squad
Co-written and directed by Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, RoboCop 3), The Monster Squad is an early example of PG-13 horror. It may be light-hearted and geared towards kids, but the film also features one of the most charismatic Dracula performances of them all. Duncan Regehr plays the iconic vampire with an arch, Shakespearean flourish, lending a real sense of dread to the Count’s outlandish plan to conquer the world with the help of his fellow monsters. However, he has not reckoned upon a plucky gang of monster-mad middle schoolers, who set out to stop him.
The Monster Squad also features Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Gill-Man; but vampires still dominate the show, thanks not only to Regehr’s Dracula, but also a number of the Count’s bloodthirsty brides.
2. The Lost Boys
Like Near Dark and The Monster Squad, The Lost Boys opened in 1987 – but it proved such a massive hit that, at the time, its competitors barely even registered. Director Joel Schumacher’s teen-friendly take on vampires sees Jason Patric’s Michael unwittingly initiated into a gang of undead bad boy bikers, headed up by David (a magnetic performance by Kiefer Sutherland).
Hugely influential on many of the teen-oriented horror movies that have come since (such as The Craft), The Lost Boys enjoys an enthusiastic following to this day. Its fashions, music and MTV-inspired editing may be a bit dated today, but the film perfectly encapsulates the feeling of late 80s adolescence – except with vampires.
1. Fright Night
In terms of storytelling, character-building, special effects, atmosphere and sheer enjoyability, no 80s vampire movie holds up as well today as Fright Night. A potent blend of old-school spookiness and ever-so-80s flashiness, writer-director Tom Holland’s 1985 romp centres on the most irresistible premise: horror-mad teenager Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) realises that his new next-door neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is one of the undead.
The excellent cast is rounded out by Amanda Bearse as Charlie’s long-suffering girlfriend Amy, Roddy McDowall as has-been horror actor Peter Vincent who is unwillingly drafted in to help, and Stephen Geoffreys as Charlie’s anarchic friend ‘Evil’ Ed, who delivers the film’s most memorable line: “Oh, you’re so cool, Brewster!”