[Written by co-conspirator P. G. Bell]
Vampires. Is there any creation of the horror genre that has so thoroughly and effectively infiltrated mainstream culture? Stop anyone on the street – young, old, male or female – and I can guarantee they will be familiar with at least one vampire story, be it the gothic chills of Dracula or the post-modern witticisms of Buffy.
But have vampires become victims of their own success? As Europe labours under a barrage of publicity for the latest Twilight movie, it’s become impossible to avoid the brooding, haunted stares of these children of the night. They gaze at us from billboards, from the shelves of bookshops and supermarkets, from our televisions. Is it any wonder that even Stephenie Meyer, who has gained more from the thriving Paranormal Romance market than anyone, is suffering vampire fatigue? Perhaps it’s time to step back and take stock.
That’s where Vampire Awareness Month comes in.
For the next 30 days, an international conglomeration of horror fans will chart the development of our fanged friends through a century of film, literature, comics and television. How did the nightmare creatures of European folklore become the angst-ridden pin ups of today’s craze? Some blame Stephenie Meyer. Others blame Joss Whedon. I blame Bela Lugosi.
Before his star turn in Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931), vampires had never been sex symbols. Just the opposite – for centuries they had been embodiments of death, spreading disease and corruption in their foul, unnatural wake. Even Bram Stoker, Dracula’s creator, described the Count as something closer to animal than man, feeding like a tic on the blood of his victims and spending his days curled, like some hideous foetus, in deconsecrated grave soil. He was never sexy; rather, he represents the grubbier parts of our own flawed natures – the people we’re afraid we might become if we allow our lowest desires to overcome our morals.
It’s one thing to depict that in a novel but how do you represent such philosophical struggles on screen? Nosferatu (1922) manages it with nothing more than a shadow reaching across a bed but it’s far easier to make the vampire itself visually appealing.
That, I suspect, is why Lugosi’s suave, charismatic portrayal is a world away from the freakish nightmare man of Nosferatu. The cloak, the suit, the widow’s peak… from Buffy to Sesame Street, the modern vampire still lingers in his shadow. The charm was always wafer thin, however. Dracula was still a monster; you were still supposed to cheer when he died.
Today’s vampires are very different beasts. Transplanted from the horror genre to the romance novel, the charm remains intact while the depravity has been judiciously pruned. The monster has become the hero – flawed but seeking redemption and to win the love of a beautiful young woman. And that’s fine; there are some good stories to be had there. But I suspect the best of them have already been told and the time is right to move on.
The question is, where? Having broken loose from the genre that spawned them, can we expect the vampires to retrace their steps? Or will they follow the scent of money to bigger, more lucrative fields?
Perhaps the next month will provide some answers. We’ll post reviews, articles and features, both here and at the Impossible Podcasts blog. We hope you’ll join us.
[Join Amanda Pillar tomorrow for the mythology of the vampire]