The other night I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, LEGACIES. There was one particularly touching scene that got to me. It was a proverbial “Aaawww” moment. MG, a good-natured vampire, wipes the memory of his one true, human friend in order to keep him safe. It was a true act of ultimate friendship because MG desperately wants a friend. And in the middle of this sweet scene, I began to wonder: Why isn’t he tearing this kid’s throat out? He’s a vampire, for goodness sake. He needs the blood and with the kid dead, his secret is safe. And then I realized, none of the witches, vampires, werewolves and assortment of “other worldly” characters in this story are particularly threatening to non-other worldly creatures. But monsters, beware!
When did it become okay to be a vampire? When did it become okay to give up your humanity, die, and accept the role of blood-sucking, night-dweller who supposedly preys on the living? I’m old-school. When you watch the re-runs of horror movies on Svengoollie or whatever your Saturday night monster fest show is called, you have to understand, I saw these at a first run theater as a kid. The Hammer productions starring Christopher Lee (Dracula) and Peter Cushing (Van Helsing) were the perfect duo to justify your cuddling with your girlfriend in the back seat at the drive-in. (Google: Hammer films.)
Dracula was the bad guy. Van Helsing always killed him before the closing credits ran. Then, in the next movie, some servant of the dark lord would always resurrect him, and the chase was on again. Then you had Count Yorga, and he was guaranteed to have your girlfriend screaming to get into your arms. The hero would go in to stake the Count and, suddenly, the Count was behind him and the tables were turned. Count Yorga never had to be resurrected because he always won.
Ah, the good old days. For decades, Dracula by Bram Stoker dominated the genre. In fact, it was the genre. It was published in 1897 and virtually dominated the vampire market until 1954. There were authors who tried their hand at vampire literature, but they are merely footnotes in literary history. None were able to capture the imagination like the original Count.
In 1954, Richard Matheson published I Am Legend, which took the vampire into the post-apocalyptic age and crossed into the science fiction genre. But that said, vampires were still the bad guys. The novel was successfully adapted into several films: The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price (1964), The Omega Man starring Charleton Heston (1971), and I AM Legend starring Will Smith (2007).
Some people credit Steven King’s Salem’s Lot (1975) for ushering in the modern wave of vampires. However, his vampires were still evil and needed destroyed. It wasn’t until the following year that the vampire rose from the ashes anew. Anne Rice took the literary community by storm with Interview With The Vampire (1976). She gave us a wondrously villainous vampire in the character of Lestat, and the vampire with scruples, morals, and, dare I say, a heart with Louis (played by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, respectively, in the 1994 movie.) Then, in 1978, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro published her first Count of Saint-Germain novel. In it, she combined historical fiction, romance, and horror all centering around a cultured, well-traveled, articulate, elegant, and mysterious vampire. Between Rice and Yarbro, the transition to break away from the traditional vampire clichés and create a totally new vampire character was underway.
The split could be seen in the next couple of movies and TV shows. I remembered the 1983 movie The Hunger, based on the book of the same title by Whitley Strieber, starring Catherine Deneuve (Mariam), David Bowie (John), and Susan Sarandon (Sarah). Although John and Mariam were both vampires, it was John who becomes the monster when he kills a child in hopes that her young blood would stop the degenerative process that his ancient body was undergoing. Not much after John’s death, Mariam turns her sights toward seducing Sarah. Though innocent compared to John, Mariam still wasn’t a good guy, per se, though love was a theme throughout the movie. And let’s not forget Forever Knight, the 1992 TV series about an 800-year-old vampire, Nick Knight, who lived as a detective and lamented his immortality. In fact, Knight was trying to break the curse of being a vampire through blood letting and transfusions. Though he couldn’t allow himself to forget he was a monster, he tried to correct the wrongs of his life but aiding humans and protecting them from other monsters (human and otherworldly). Of course that leads us to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), where loving a vampire, though a faux pas, was realized. The relationship between Buffy and Angel showed a new side to the lamenting, emotional, witty vampire – one that had a loving heart and whom was not as scary as he first seemed.
The vampire was surely on a path of change, and that change led us to the next transition. Once you felt sorry for Pitt’s Louis, felt intrigued by Saint-Germain, felt vindicated by Knight, and felt empathy for Buffy, the flood gates opened for the romantic and thus Stephenie Myer to pen The Twilight Saga (2005). If Rice’s and Yarbro’s work gave us the groundwork for good guy vampires versus bad guy vampires – all fighting for dominance, then Meyer’s grabbed a page from Buffy and ran with it to create the all-new romantic vampire being that dripped with teenage angst. Old vampires passed for young teenagers, lived among humans, and even had romantic relationships with them. Now, vampires were sexy creatures that humans wanted to be with, not fear, and the humans weren’t very remorseful or shy about their love.
Fear of the monstrous vampire had been waning before Meyer, but her work was the final straw for irradicating the vampire fiend. At present, vampires are known for their beautiful/handsome appearance, their human emotions, their strength – both physically and psychologically, and their romantic relationships with humans. They are your friend, your family, your lover. They aren’t feared or scary; they are the cool people that everyone wants to be like. For some of the younger generation today, “it’s hard to be afraid of a vampire who sparkles” because “vampires are dangerous.” And that’s the problem.
Contemporary vampires are mostly portrayed as romantic, anti-heroes caught in the tragic web of their existence. And when you look at vampires in this light, there is no other way to view vampires than as watered-down fabrications of what they once were. Though evolution and progression are good things in general, it hurt the vampire genre a great deal, with the oversaturation of vampire romance fiction an indication that a new transition is way overdue. So, what will the new vampire look like, feel like, behave like? Only time will tell. But I, for one, hope for a return of the fiendish monster who scares viewers at every turn.
What do you think? Are you ready for another evolution? Should vampires be scary again? Or is the romantic vampire still wanted? Share your ideas in the comments. And as always, you can read non-romance vampire stories in THE DARK SIRE by purchasing an issue in the TDS Store. Better yet – submit your vampire stories! We’d love to read your work.