Whatever happened to scary vampires?

Did vampires slowly transition from creatures of horror to this romanticized ideal or did it happen over night?

I remember the conversation we had at The Functional Nerds with Mike Resnick wherein he said, “When I was growing up, Vampires were unclean things that wanted to suck your blood.” He’s not wrong.

How did we get to the point where teenage girls are swooning over them? How did vamps become what they are and when did we forget what they were?

Everyone will have their own opinion of where it all began (Mike pointed to Frank Langella’s performance as Dracula, for example), but for my own part, I guess it started with Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows. Once you put a vampire in a soap opera, it’s pretty much downhill from there. Barnabas was a sympathetic villain, a vampire who had been cursed, who’d had everything taken away from him – who isn’t going to feel for him? But he was also a monster, and people tend to forget that. They romanticize him.

Then you have Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles. Ah, Louis; tortured, vulnerable, sympathetic and conflicted Louis. You have to give Rice credit, she knows how to turn the tables on you and make the ‘bad guy’ sympathetic. Like Barnabas, Louis had his monster status thrust upon him. In his case, simply because he caught the eye of the wrong vampire. That vampire, Lestat, who, for all his fan following among the ‘vampires are sexy’ camp, shouted to the heavens on more than one occasion that he was a monster and wasn’t afraid or shy to prove it to you at the drop of a hat by ripping your throat out. For this illustration, let us remember the books and forget the horrid film adaptations…

But let us not think that, while these vampires were running around picking up groupies, that everyone out there was pushing the sexy vampire stories – Stephen King kept vampires pretty evil in his book, Salem’s Lot. The TV adaptation was pretty good too – I remember the 1979 TV movie; the thing that sticks with me to this day is when this little kid was floating outside his bedroom window. They’d buried him, but there he was – floating outside the window begging his brother to let him in… Which he does. The boy floats in, opens his arms to hug his brother and then bites him… Just remembering that scene still makes me shiver. So creepy.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Hollywood did the gritty, scary vampires you saw in Salem’s Lot and you found yourself with offerings such as, ‘Once Bitten‘ and ‘Fright Night‘ and suddenly, Vampires don’t seem to be much of a threat anymore and were, in fact, a bit tongue in cheek. I’d go so far as to say they had become comic foils for the hero. Add to that the (disastrous) film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you can sort of start to chart where vampires went from ‘unclean things that want to suck your blood’ to ‘comedic foil’ to ‘cute & cuddly angst ridden sex symbols’. Toss Angel in that mix, by the way, with all of his broody forehead added in for good measure. Early Spike had potential; together with Dru he was an evil vampire to live up to the history. Then they had to go make him soulful, sorrowful and ruin it all.

Don’t get me wrong – there were still plenty of examples of vampires as the bad guys (and gals) out there. Take the Dresden File books from Jim Butcher; I don’t think anyone has created vampires with quite the same level of malice and malevolence as Jim Butcher’s Black Court, at least, not in quite some time. For me, it was refreshing. Here, at last, were vampires! Evil, ready to kill-you-and-suck-you-dry-because-you-are-food vampires! Unless you want to point to the vamps in Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain – then I’d be hard pressed to fight you on it.

And then came Twilight.

Ugh. Kudos to Stephanie Meyers for creating a phenomenon but…

Let’s skip that and talk about 30 days of Night. This graphic novel, written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith, portrays vampires as truly evil creatures fueled by hunger for blood. They descend upon an Alaskan town as it enters a cycle of 30 days where there is no sunlight, thus giving the vampires complete and total carte blanche to do what they will – and what they will is to feed….

Last, we have True Blood, which seems to sort of bridge the past and the present; you have vampires who want your blood, they hunger for it and they will rip your throat out to get it, but they’ll have lots of sex with you first. They also have that human element, the romance people apparently want from them… To be honest, my eyes gloss over for a lot of that. I think what the vampire Russell did on television for the whole world to see (I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it – but HOLY CRAP DUDE!) was possibly the coolest vamp visual ever created (and should’ve been the season finale cliffhanger moment IMHO).

If you haven’t picked up on it yet – I prefer my vampires dark, evil, scary – a threat. You are the prey, they are the hunter. They’re all about blood and hunger and they should scare the living crap out of you. I agree with Mike Resnick – they are evil, unclean things and that’s when they are at their absolute best. I don’t want some romanticized ideal of a sexy vamp all tortured and vulnerable…

…oh, yeah. Forgot about her…

Filed under: BooksMovies

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