Near Dark
Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

With Halloween fast approaching, EW is picking the five best films in a variety of different horror movie categories. Each day, we’ll post our top picks from one specific group—say, ghost movies or slasher flicks—and give you the chance to vote on which is your favorite. On Oct. 31, EW will reveal your top choices. Today, we’re talking about vampire movies.

The Twilight franchise may now be the first films that come to mind when the subject turns to vampire flicks—for better (Eclipse) or worse (anything before Eclipse). But even if you unapologetically enjoy those movies, Edward Cullen probably isn’t what you’re after if you’re seeking “horror” essentials. Here are the five films that deliver.

5. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992): Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Stoker’s 1897 novel and the Dracula legend won three Oscars—for costume design, makeup, and sound effects editing—and was nominated for a fourth (art direction). It’s a visual feast that EW referred to as “an explosion of lava-hot imagery”—and that’s not just a reference to Sadie Frost in Lucy’s red gown. Gary Oldman stars as the titular bloodsucker, who, in 1897, welcomes a young British solicitor, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), to his home in Transylvania to discuss the purchase of property in London. Count Dracula eventually sees a photo of Harker’s fiancée, Mina (Winona Ryder), who bares a striking resemblance to his one true love, and sets sail to make her his own. Above all, a vampire film should never be boring—it feels like an affront to characters who will theoretically live forever—and this one isn’t. While Oldman is definitely more captivating/cray when he’s kimono- and modified-bouffant-wearing Dracula milking lines and licking a razor, he’s still a delicious treat as Vlad, who goes gloriously orgasmic when Mina drinks from him. Notice there’s no mention of Reeves’ awesomely bad acting. That’s because words won’t do it justice.

4. Thirst (2009): From Korean auteur Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Lady Vengeance) comes the tale of a self-flagellating priest (Song Kang-ho) who volunteers for an experimental vaccine to treat a fatal 
blood disease and dies becomes undead. When his thirst builds for both blood and the miserable young woman (Kim Ok-vin) who found herself married into a family that would feel tonally at home in Muriel’s Wedding or Strictly Ballroom, you get what EW called “a gaudy, daring, operatic, and bloody funny provocation of a melodrama.”

3. Let the Right One In (2008): In a genre with a seemingly finite amount of options—the sun is bad, etc.—this Swedish hit directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, upon whose novel it’s based, feels remarkably new even if it’s decidedly grim. It revolves around the friendship between bullied 12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson), a “girl” who’s been 12 for a long time. Visually, it’s the polar opposite of Coppola’s Dracula, with a starkness that adds weight to the dark coming-of-age story, which, rather remarkably, lightens up after Eli goes ripper on Oskar’s tormenters. Remember, it gets better (but not with the 2010 American remake Let Me in).

2. Nosferatu (1922): F.W. Murnau’s classic, an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is the original vampire flick. It’s streaming on Netflix now, but to fully appreciate what EW has dubbed as “the director’s precise framing, painterly lighting, and adroit editing,” you’ll want to try to find the masterpiece on a larger screen accompanied by a live orchestra. Though chilling at the time of its release, to some modern viewers, Max Schreck’s clawed Count Orlok—in the gaunt flesh or in a haunting shadow—may be about as frightening as Joss Whedon’s Mutant Enemy logo (“Grr… Argh…”). That said, can we all agree that Knock, his minion with equally out-of-control eyebrows, remains genuinely disturbing?

1. Near Dark (1987): Released only a few months after The Lost Boys, this Kathryn Bigelow-directed cult hit remains, as EW later proclaimed, “one of the sharpest, pulpiest bloodsucking flicks most people have never seen.” The word “vampire” is never uttered, but it’s clear that’s what hot young cowboy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) becomes when he falls for Mae (Jenny Wright) and she and her family of bloodthirsty outlaws—including Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, and a pre-Teen Witch Joshua John Miller—attempt to turn him into a killer. Why does this come in at No. 1? Paxton. As the merciless Severen, he steals the film using the spur on his boot to slice a bartender’s neck and deadpanning lines like, “Fasten your f–kin’ seatbelt” while he’s hanging on to the front of a semi with half his face missing.