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Whatever Happened To Scary Vampires?

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…

About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

26 Comments on Whatever Happened To Scary Vampires?

  1. I dunno, the evil unclean MONSTER vampires are great when you get them, but they often just turn into stake fodder… I prefer my vampires tortured and possibly insane, Spike and Drusilla from Buffy did it brilliantly (well untill they decided Spike was popular so should be a good guy), I also like vampire children because there is something shockingly brilliant about having an 8 year old girl who just wants to kill and feed.

  2. There have always been tales of vampire lovers and succubi, not only in literature, but in the original folklore myths of many cultures. Vampires are about the loss of identity, and thus, variable, from the total loss of identity — the mindless, mishapen, bloodthirsty ghoul (and zombies,) to the semi-lost who plot and scheme as monsters and have some memory of what they were (Dracula,) to the vamps who are struggling to hold on to the vestiges of their identity through connection with humans (Twilight, which replaced the beast in Beauty and the Beast with a vampire.) It means that vampires can be used for all sorts of stories and all sorts of metaphors, which is why vampires in fiction will never die.

    I’m sorry that Patrick’s manhood is threatened because a teenage romance with vampires was very popular, primarily among, wouldn’t you know it, teenage girls, especially when it was turned into a movie with cute young male actors. But seriously, dude, that’s kind of wimpy. Even, you know, sparkly. You’re a little too much in touch with your feelings, Patrick. Stephen King would not be impressed. πŸ™‚


  3. Twilight is just freaking creepy…


    A 100 year old dude hangs around picking up chicks in highschool?  Creepy…

  4. The trend of a sexy vampire started a long, long time ago with John William Polidori’s aristocratic Lord Ruthven who was based on Byron. Polidori’s “The Vampyre” came out in 1819 before Stoker’s “Dracula,” which came out in 1897. Polidori wrote “The Vampyre” during the same summer writing challenge when Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein.” The two spent the summer with Shelley’s husband Percy Shelley. . . and Lord Byron.

    The idea of a vampire as a beautiful but deadly creature has been vying with the outright monster version of him for a very long time.

  5. Funny you should post this just after I watched last weeks interview of Guillermo del Toro by Stephen Colbert where he mentioned the same thing.  He prefers mean and nasty vampires as well which are part of his Strain trilogy.


    One of the main reasons is that people like story. I’ve watched things like True Blood, and it’s fantastic television: there is an incredible amount of storytelling within the show (They can tone down elements of it, but that’s not the point here) and I think that people don’t like one dimensional villians, they want characters, they want bad characters that they can understand. 

  7. I can’t find the part where he says it threatens his manhood.

  8. Been thinking on this a bit, and it does seem that over the last decade or so vampires have changed a fair bit and I suppose its the fault of urban fantasy and women…

    It used to be that vampires were the property of spotty geeks into their fantasy/horror which was something that by and large women used to stay a country mile away from, or those that did partake understood that vampires were just monsters to be staked and occasionally evil women (often scantily clad with heaving bosoms) out to rob virgin geeks of their geekiness with the lure of actually getting sex.

    Then Anne Rice came along and made vampires cool and sexy with her Lestat novels, this started to change things but as these novels were only really read by goths (as well as the traditional spotty geeks) the effect was minimal, Tom Cruise and the movie dragged vampires into the spot light a bit more but really the effect at the time was minimal.

    The tide started to change with Buffy (the TV series not the awful movie) in which Whedon spotted the draw of having a tormented brooding hunk of man meat in Angel which gave the show appeal beyond the geeky crowd mixing this with some great writing, good story lines and a good mix of tongue in cheek humour and some solid acting and he had a surprise hit show on his hands… Angel became the tall dark and handsome one that girls were meant to swoon over, then along came Spike as the bad boy who was only a bit part at first but rapidly became a show regular as he became a fan favorite, and things got even more interesting. Yes Whedon did change the landscape a bit, but he still kept Vampires as monsters and no matter how tangled they became in love stories we got reminded often enough that these guys were dangerous. The mere threat of Angel loosing his soul and returning to his alter ego of Angelous was enough to send shivers down the spine as you knew carnage was coming, yes Spike did become a wuss but we were reminded often enough that he wasn’t to be trusted and was still dangerous.

    To my mind it was the explosion of Urban fiction that pitted strong sexually confident women (often with supernatural powers of their own) that treated vampires as toys they seemed to loose their fangs because they could never really be a threat to the lead character, Laura K Hamilton’s Anita Blake was the first of these series I became aware of and one of the first (if not the first) to break into the main stream of fiction and from then on there have been a tidal wave of copycat novels each hammering yet another nail into the coffin of vampires, until the ultimate indignation of sparkle sparkle.

    At the same time as the rise of Urban fiction there have also been a slew of Vampire TV shows that have been led by ‘white hat’ vampires who have given up blood and set about helping mere mortals and defending them from their wicked kin (often by being PIs), again the vampire is cast as tall dark and handsome with a brooding dark side that charms the women, both in the show and its female fans.

    Now I am not saying of this has been a bad thing, giving us more introspective vampires has given us a lot of interesting tv shows but like all introspection it tends to lead to pointless navel gazing…. sparkle sparkle….

  9. Vampires have been sex objects ever since Carmilla stepped out of her coffin and Lord Byron inspired Polidori (and even before that! Read the poem Bride of Corinth). And Bela Lugosi was a sex object decades and decades ago.

    You’ve always had the parallel development of sexy and unsexy vampires. There’s the German film Nosferatu and there’s the well-put together American Dracula.

    Romance and horror have co-existed for a very long time and we had vampires angsting over their vampirism ever since the 1930s when “Dracula’s Daughter” just wanted to be human and be able to love the nice, handsome human guy she liked.

  10. My writing couldn’t be further from vampires (hard-working people who are hoping for just beans, not blood), but I want to second the comment above about the visitor to Colbert. I have no interest in these books, but this author seemed very pleasant, and apparently his ‘pires are mean and ugly!

  11. Great article but there are three major Vampire movies being left out.

    1. Bela Lagosi/Gary Oldman – Dracula – Yes both played the role in very different interpretations but  both played a very sexy and romanticized version of a dark charater.  The role of Dracula is one that has spawned countless interpritations both humorus and dark. 

    2. Max Schreck – Nosferatu – This is the origion of the dark and ugly evil that vampires are ment to be. Schreck’s portrail of the vampire who shall not be called Dracula was even romaticized in its own right. It ranks in the top 100 films of all time in certain list to this day for a reason.

    3. Let us not forget “One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach, all the damn vampires.” Lost Boys was probably the introduction to vampires for most people in our generation. And it had everything that a young man could want in a movie. Pretty Girl, Rebelious Teens, and the ability to fly and stay out all night. This ,as campy as it was, was even a romanticized look at vampires.  


    Vampires have become by popular belief, sexy symbols of romantic fantasy notions. And it started long before Tom Cruise had his slash film with Brad Pitt and the author who spawned it. 


    BTW, a couple of other forgotten ones are Blade, Kindred the Embraced, and Vampire Diaries.

  12. I live out here in Grays Harbor County just south of Forks, Wa., where Twilight was supposed to take place.  At Ocean Shores the owner of a beach horse renal business told me that tourists as far as the East Coast and Europe were staying in Ocean Shores while visiting Forks.  There are not enough motels and hotels in Forks, so the overflow stays in Ocean Shores.

    Amazing those books could affect the tourist industry.


  13. KatG – wait. what? When & how did my manhood get involved in this?!

    I have to agree with TW – a 100 year old vampire dating a teenage girl is creepy.   Imagine if granpa brought a 16 year old to Thanksgiving as his date… or grandma did, for that matter…  Ewww…

    MikeP – me either! Where’d that come from?

    Andy W – Yes, Whedon had a lot to do with it.


  14. David Ellis // September 28, 2010 at 8:54 am //

    Scary vampires are still around. They just don’t get Twilight level press.

    Check out David Wellington’s vampire novels:

  15. Why would a sparkly emo of the apocalypse threaten someone’s manhood?  A true test of courage is sitting in a dark theater watching a scary movie.  About the only thing scary about Twilight is the fact that a few of the actors are suffering from ptsd due to fans trying to get them to bite said fan on the neck during an autograph session.

  16. There’s also the problem that it doesn’t matter how monstrous your vampires are, as long as they’re characters they’ll still get romanticized — because there’s always a subgroup who’ll find a bad guy appealing no matter how bad he is. Look how many marriage proposals real-life serial killers get in prison.

  17. I prefer no vampires in my SF/F, as they are really horror.

  18. I was being tongue in cheek, as Patrick was in his post, but the fact that you guys are freaking out over Twilight all the time does seem to indicate some, er, insecurities perhaps. You’re a little bit too invested in how vampires are portrayed. πŸ™‚

    Me, I like having a variety. And that does get you Kate Beckinsale in skin tight leather, now doesn’t it?


  19. Two words:  Anne Rice.

    This was the turning point in the meteoric decline to the vampire suckage we have today.  (no pun intended)

  20. A vampire that is limited to being a vicious predator can not also be, by definition, a 3 dimensional character.  A vampire that is never a vicious predator – well, why bother?

    The vampires of Buffy & Angel are different from classic vampires in origin as well as behavior.  Demons haunted by the memories of the people who used to inhabit the bodies they have stolen can be simultaneously scary, tragic & laughable to fit the demands of the story.

    As much as I enjoyed the look of Kate Beckinsale in her Underworld costume, both the vampires & the werewolves in those movies were so preoccupied with each other they did not seem to be much danger to us ordinary people anymore.

  21. John C. Wright // September 29, 2010 at 3:04 pm //

    My own personal theory is that romance in stories is more dramatic when the heroine is attracted to a man who is more powerful and more scary than she is. Those of you who do not think Lord Darcy is intimidating to Elizabeth Bennet must have read a difference version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE than did I. Glance at the lurid covers of lurid romance novels in the supermarket, and you may notice a pattern: not only is the woman swooning in the arms of the male lead, the male is usually a figure of untamed masculine power, pirate or a Red Indian or a hot-blooded duel-fighting bravo with his shirt ripped open.

    With no offense meant to any feminists in the audience, part of the appeal of romance is the appeal of a powerful, dangerous, and forbidden man — a manly man. Normally there is a tension between the needs of feminism (women do not want to be domineered) and the needs of romance (woman want a domineering man).

    Urban fantasies and Buffy wannabes reconcile this tension by having a strong female protagonist, usually a vampire-slayer with a werewolf boyfriend, be attracted to a forbidden man of the enemy camp, namely, a vampire. Ordinary men (think of Riley from BUFFY) are simply not manly enough to compete with, and certainly not manly enough to impress, a monster-hunting chick with superhuman strength or mad kung fu skillz.

    If the guy is a vampire, the romantic lead can be as masculine and as old-fashioned as need be, as well as being as dangerous and (most importantly) someone society FORBIDS her to love, without necessarily offending any modern feminist ideas. Very few men these days are persons women are forbidden to love: old barriers of race and religion and class do not have much story-telling power in them. The vampire-as-hunk stories can both appeal to the modern girl by having a strong female lead, and appeal to the old fashioned romance by having the man be a forbidden apple.

    As mentioned by other answer above, this idea of vampires as dangerous male seducers dates back to Lord Byron (who, I believe modern science now proves, was a Nosferatu); but I suggest that there has a general distaste for dangerous and manly men in literature — the macho figure is often a figure of fun rather than admiration — which leaves a void for supernatural macho figures like vampires to fill.

    As for the vampiress, from siren to vili to succubus to mermaid, all dangerous blood-drinking females of the darker parts of elfland have always been portrayed as sensual and irresitable. I cannot bring to mind even a single she-vampire from any story who was an ugly old hag. So that is nothing new.

    Now, whether you find this trend disquieting and unhealthy is a separate question. Myself, I think there is something distinctly morbid about it. My seven-year-old son cannot walk through the aisles of bookstores these days because so many images of horror and skeletal rottedness leer from the blood-dripping cover art to every side of him. Perhaps he is over sensitive; or perhaps we have all been desensitized.

  22. “I prefer no vampires in my SF/F, as they are really horror.”

    I agree, but will allow for the following exceptions: Colin Wilson (THE SPACE VAMPIRES), AE van Vogt (SUPERMIND), Peter Watts (BLINDSIGHT).


  23. The only good vampire is one that is staked out, staked, stuffed with garlic and left in the sun…


    But seriously: I don’t think that vampires threaten my “manhood”. But I am somewhat bothered by this fascination of having relations with undead that want to drain your blood and steal your soul. Aren’t there enough “cute emo” human boys around for those teenage grrlz?

  24. Well, Twelve by Jasper Kent “brings blood-gushing brutality back to vampire fiction,” according to Publishers Weekly, which added “[character] self-examination doesn’t impede densely detailed, hard-driving action… and the vampires are genuinely scary villains, more vivid than most of the living characters. With no romantic yearning or teen angst in sight, this is just a bloody good tale.”


  25. Well, Twelve by Jasper Kent “brings blood-gushing brutality back to vampire fiction” according to PW. They also note that its “vampires are genuinely scary villains.”


  26. Seems like the writer is just describing genre cycles. And the idea of vampire as sex symbol is nothing new in cinema.

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