Remember the days when vampires were creepy and scary? Believe it or not, bloodsuckers back in the day generated more fear than lust, but that is not the case anymore. The evolution of vampire films has diluted the bloodline, making modern vampires hip, attractive, and (gasp!) emotionally vulnerable.
The vampire is one of humanity’s oldest monsters. Indeed, stories of vampirism may go back all the way to prehistoric times. They have been known by different names, such as vrykolakas (Greece) and strigoi (Romania) and have not always necessarily subsisted on blood. Vampires have been known to extract the life essence of the living—such essence could include the soul, the mind, and of course blood.
Initial stories about vampires focused on the horror. However, in 1897, Bram Stoker introduced the character of Count Dracula, perhaps the most famous of vampires. It is this character that influenced generations of writers that followed. Not only was horror a key element of the Dracula story, but also the gothic nature of the story, including the uncanny attractiveness evoked by the count and his wives.
In 1976, Ann Rice explored the more humane characteristics of the vampire in her novel Interview with a Vampire. In the novel, the protagonist, Louis, abhors his vampiric nature, electing to feed on animals rather than humans to survive. The novel was turned into a movie and released in 1994.
In 1981, Whitley Strieber pushed the envelope of vampire evolution even further by writing the novel The Hunger. Although Strieber’s novel remained clearly in the horror genre (his horror was subtle but ultimately very effective), readers really resonated with the chic and beautiful vampire characters of Miriam Blaylock and John. Consequently, the move adaptation of The Hunger also focused on the chic and gothic nature of the vampire, as exemplified perfectly by Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie.
The impact of these two novels was startling, forever changing the vampire mythology. Instead of evoking fear, the vampire now instilled lust and attraction. As a result of this transition, filmmakers began to explore the vampire as at first as an anti-hero and subsequently as a hero. Movies like Blade (1998) and Underworld (2003) heralded this transition, but it was until the publication of Twilight in 2005 that the transition was complete. Often dubbed a dark romance, the book and the film (2008) included a vampire family, all of whom drank the blood of animals (now a common theme) rather than that of humans.
With the vampire now having been embraced as a romantic if not tragic hero, it can no longer be considered a true monster of horror, one that gives people nightmares. Long gone is the guise of Max Shreck as a rat-like creature that brings plague. Instead of that hideous silhouette, we are given a brooding and pale Robert Pattinson.
Perhaps time will be kind to the vampire and in the future a new author or filmmaker will bring the bloodsucker back deep into the realm of horror. This transition is entirely possible, as there remain facets of the vampire that cut deeply into humanity’s fragile psyche. It is my sincere hope that the vampire once again scares rather than titillates.