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While vampire stories find their roots in gothic literature, and early vampire films are mostly calibrated as horror, modern vampire stories can be found in a myriad of genres. You’ll also find that vampire films tend to be highly eroticized, and thus often filled with a great deal of male gaze. With this in mind, I present twelve vampire films from a variety of different genres, each directed by a woman. The male gaze is gone, but the eroticism remains mostly intact! (For more of Nerdist Vampire Week, click here!)
The Velvet Vampire, 1971 (dir. Stephanie Rothman)
New World Pictures
As the title suggests, this is about a vampire who wears a lot of luxurious velvet. Celeste Yarnall stars as the titular vampire, real name Diane LeFanu – a nod to Sheridan Le Fanu, writer of Carmilla, a stylish desert dwelling vampire who seduces a husband and wife in her secluded estate somewhere in Mojave Desert.
Near Dark, 1987 (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow made her solo directorial debut with another desert-set vampire film. Adrian Pasdar stars as a hapless young man who is seduced by a drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright) and then finds himself entangled with a group of merciless vampires led by Lance Henriksen. Bill Paxton runs away with this film as a hip blood-thirsty member of the gang named Severen.
Dance of the Damned, 1989 (dir. Katt Shea)
Like Stephanie Rothman, Katt Shea broke into the industry making low budget films for Roger Corman. Many of her early films involve exotic dancers, including this moody gem. Starr Andreeff plays a desperate dancer named Jodi who’s life is falling apart when she meets a vampire (Cyril O’Reilly) who mainly stalks people who are likely to commit suicide. The two lost souls form an unlikely friendship. Also of note, this film features three people on the camera crew who would later become Academy Award nominees or winners: Phedon Papamichael (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan), and Mauro Fiore (Avatar).
Tale of a Vampire, 1992 (dir. Shimako Sato)
For those who like their vampire films a little more somber, this is the film for you. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Julian Sands plays Alex, a vampire who spends most of his time in a dusty research library. Enter librarian Anne (Suzanna Hamilton), who reminds him of his long-lost love Virginia. Trouble arises for these star-crossed lovers when a mysterious man named Edgar (Kenneth Cranham) begins stalking them.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, 1992 (dir. Fran Rubel Kuzui)
20th Century Fox
Famously divergent from screenwriter Joss Whedon’s original vision for this story, this high school set action comedy follows high school senior Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) who discovers she is a vampire slayer when a watcher named Merrick (Donald Sutherland) charges her with the task of slaying local vampire Lothos (Rutger Hauer). Paul Reubens, David Arquette, Hilary Swank, Ben Affleck, and Luke Perry round out the stacked cast.
Blood and Donuts, 1995 (dir. Holly Dale)
The first film funded by Canadian Film Centre, the film follows Boya (Gordon Currie), a vampire awakened from a 25-year nap by an errant golf ball. In search of familiar haunts he finds himself at an all-night donut shop, where he becomes entangled in the lives of the shop’s sarcastic waitress (Helene Clarkson), a cab driver (Justin Louis) who is mixed-up with an unnamed crime boss (David Cronenberg) and his ex-girlfriend (Fiona Reid) who’s been pining after him for the last few decades.
Embrace of the Vampire, 1995 (dir. Anne Goursaud)
New Line Cinema
Charlotte (Alyssa Milano), a chaste teen hounded by her boyfriend Chris (Harold Pruett) to sleep with him on her 18th birthday, begins having erotic dreams about a vampire (Martin Kemp). See, this vampire believes she is his true love reincarnate and she must proclaim her love for him in three days or I’ll turn to ash forever. Rachel True, Charlotte Lewis, and Jennifer Tilly round out the cast. Goursaud edited Francis Ford Coppola’s incredibly erotic 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and she brings that same aesthetic to this film, yet somehow films the erotic scenes without ever crossing into exploitation.
Twilight, 2008 (dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
Love it or hate it, Twilight was a PHENOMENON. Launching the careers of stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison, Hardwicke’s tween drama is the blueprint for a decade of female-led YA adaptations. Stewart plays awkward teen Bella Swan, who falls hard for vampire Edward Cullen, who is both a vegetarian (aka only sucks the blood of animals) and a virgin – both plot points important to the Twilight mythos. You can watch this as a standalone film, but to get the whole story you’re looking at committing to a delightfully cheesy five-film franchise.
Vamps, 2012 (dir. Amy Heckerling)
Anchor Bay Films
Marketed as a Sex and the City but make it vampires, this film is actually a commentary on how Homeland Security used the Patriot Act to impede the rights of U.S. Citizens. Yes, you read that right. Vampire roommates Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter) spend their nights taking college classes, working as exterminators, and drinking the blood of rats with straws. When Stacy falls in love with a human (Dan Stevens), the two must figure out what to do about their blood-thirsty stem Ciccerus (a bonkers Sigourney Weaver). The supporting cast is stacked with great character actors including Richard Lewis, Wallace Shawn, Malcolm McDowell, Justin Kirk, Larry Willmore, and Gael García Bernal.
Kiss of the Damned, 2012 (dir. Xan Cassavetes)
Xan Cassavetes, daughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, wrote and directed this stylish vampire drama starring Milo Ventimiglia as screenwriter Paolo who meets a mysterious woman named Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) while browsing in a video store. When the two fall in love Djuan turns Paolo, but their bliss is disrupted when Djuna’s unhinged sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) crashes the party. The film also features great work in small roles from Peter Vack and Riley Keough.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, 2014 (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
Billed as the first first Iranian vampire Western, Amirpour’s directorial debut was a hit at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Set in an Iranian ghost-town called Bad City, a nameless vampire (Sheila Vand) spends her time hanging out with her cat, skateboarding, listening to records, and killing bad men. Things change when she begins to fall for a young man dressed (Arash Marandi) as Dracula.
Underworld: Blood Wars, 2016 (dir. Anna Foerster)
The fifth film in the Underworld franchise, Foerster’s film finds Kate Beckinsale’s Selene in hiding from both the vampires and the Lycans (werewolves), both of which have nefarious purposes in mind for her blood. You can feel Foerster’s touch as this is the only film in the series where the women join up together to fight the shitty men who keep making everything a mess. Also at one point Beckinsale literally rips a man’s spine out. Rips. It. Out. It’s glorious.