The Problem With Vampires: Part 1

 

Today's overindulgence of vampires has given me an undead hangover

I was once a big fan of vampires. As a child growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I often begged my parents to let me watch anything on TV that had a vampire in it. This included the well-known vampire movies, like those starring Christopher Lee (who would later be promoted to Sith Lord and be an ally of Sauron), and - of course - ‘Salem's Lot. But this also included the odd and oft-times campy appearances of vampires. I’m talking lesser known movies like Vampire Circus (1972), the classic series Dark Shadows…heck, there was even a vampire story in an episode of BJ and the Bear.  

This last example notwithstanding, these creatures embodied everything that made horror so, well, horrifying: they were irredeemably sinister, and operated outside of human understanding. Images of shadowy creatures with bright eyes and blood stained teeth lurking in the darkness kept me up many nights, wishing desperately for the sun to rise so I could get some sleep.

But something has happened over the years, and it’s not just that I’m getting older, you darn kids. Vampires aren’t what they used to be. Somehow vampires have transformed from this:

Some creepy vampires

 Into this:

 Vampires....I guess?
 

Please don’t take this the wrong way. I am not in any way criticizing these writers or the fans of these books, or the similarly themed movies and TV shows. I am, however, saying they’ve stolen the vampire and hidden it under a pile of designer clothes and angst. Let’s be honest…if it weren’t for the word “vampire” stamped across many of these novels, you’d have been sure that you’d been misdirected to the Romance section by Amazon’s search engine. And of course, it’s not just books. Shows like True Blood and the Vampire Diaries, plus movies like Twilight, turned the vampire into something that it shouldn’t be: boring.

I am not passing judgment on the literary or entertainment qualities of any of these books or shows. I can’t, since I have never bothered to read them or watch. And before anyone tosses out the “then how do you know they’re boring if you’ve never watched/read these” argument, I have a couple of things to back me up.

  • First, you have to be either blind or incredibly insincere if you try to argue that vampires haven’t really changed over the past 30 years or so.

  • Second, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Vampires are everywhere now. At least, what passes for them these days.

  • Third, and the real point of this tirade: vampires can’t be heroes. They’re the living dead, they feed on blood, and they are unholy and incapable of love. They are driven by lust for blood, not boners. They don’t want to be understood. They want to prey on the innocent and murder them so they can be added to their growing army of the undead.

There...it's out.

But what about the dreamy Lost Boys? Or that sexy Vampire Lestat? Glad you asked. With the Lost Boys, the vampires were arguably cool, but there was nothing about them that smacked of the angst love story that currently manifests in today’s vampire stories. The villains were evil, pure and simple, who quickly cast aside their masks of humanity to feed. That made them cool and horrifying.

 

Then there’s Lestat. 

Not this one.

 
This one.

Now, I love Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. Her works are examples of incredible creativity and powerful storytelling that demonstrates that there are no absolute rules in literature. And she did a great job of doing the thing I don’t particularly like in vampire stories: she humanized them, and it was great to read.

However, I think Anne Rice did for vampires what Tolkien did for fantasy…she defined it so completely that most writers that have tried to emulate her (and these are legion) usually pale in comparison. And in the free market of “humanized vampires,”  the best way to show their moral struggles was (surprise) love and sex. I think what has happened since Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles publication is that the whole idea of a more "human" vampire has redefined the creature. Where once the vampire was defined by words such as “horrible,” “dark,” and “terrifying," now it is “passionate,” erotic,” and “beautiful." We've gone from Nosferatu to “Bro’sferatu,” which was a movie about Chad vampires that were jocks on the varsity team that had to feed on coeds to keep from burning up in the sunlight. This last line was not true, but you believed it because deep down you know I'm right.

In my mind, in the world of horror, the vampire doesn't need to be more human. The best horror is when the human struggles against inhumanity. Once upon a time, the vampire was the archetypal villain. We learned more about our protagonists as they struggled against the inconceivable horror of the vampire. Now, the vampire is simply a human who happens to be dead and has a substance abuse problem. And also is a nymphomaniac. One could argue that what has actually happened is that the vampire has been split into two different sub-genres…one classic, and one romantic or adventurous. If so, it makes no difference. The book shelves, various TV series, and movies have overwhelmed the image, and now I think the vampire has lost its edge. I mean I get it: sex sells. But we all bought vampires a long time ago when they didn’t have six-pack abs and/or heaving cleavage.* In short, it has become a sexual bore.

*Maybe some cleavage.**

**Also, Heaving Cleavage sounds like a great rock band name

 

 

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