They say you never forget your first … vampire, of course.
Mine was Brad Pitt’s Louis in the Anne Rice film adaptation Interview with the vampire. I was overjoyed, and so began a slight lifelong obsession with vampire tales.
By the time I was introduced to the quintessential, and some would say OG, vampire in college, I was aware of all the tropes that stemmed from him. Written in 1897, Dracula is the model for all the vampires that have followed: he only appears at night, he is secret, he drinks blood, he is attractive. But over the years we’ve come across all kinds of vampires and they’re all attractive, not just because of who they are, but because of what they stand for.
At their most obvious, vampires are about darkness, both theirs and ours. They are creatures of the night (most of the time), and therefore embody all that the night brings: uncertainty, fear, danger, threat. But they can also be enticing and, like darkness, offer protection and freedom, and allow us to be who we really are. Vampires are beings who indulge their needs without any thought for the consequences. In the eternal life of a vampire, they come first. All of these things speak of desires in the hearts of all of us.
Vampires are also a symbol of otherness. They live apart from society, they are sometimes misunderstood, they have to hide their true identity for fear of persecution, and they can often be intensely alone. It’s no wonder that vampire stories – sometimes vampires are the other, sometimes they represent society rejecting the other – often speak to people who feel rebellious or who belong to marginalized groups, though, until very, very recently, vampire stories also largely excluded people from these same underrepresented parts of society.
The rebellion was at the heart of The lost boys, a 1987 supernatural horror vampire film starring Kiefer Sutherland. The title boys are both a biker gang and a vampire bunch: their rebellious punk aesthetic rose up against the corporate, capitalist and powerful hordes of the 1980s, and addressed a rebellious basement and anarchic.
That changed slightly in the early 1990s, with two quite different vampire films: Buffy the vampire slayer and Interview with a Vampire. The latter starred Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, both idolaters and booming in Hollywood, as well as a young Kirsten Dunst. It was a movie that played in very traditional vampire tropes and was meant to show us the allure of vampires. It succeeded. I went to the local library to devour Rice’s novel. And then, for a while, I forgot about vampires, distracted by pop music and the brilliant boy bands and girl groups of the 1990s.
The late 1990s were a relatively stable and upbeat period in the West: in the UK, Labor had come to power in 1997, offering a new perspective and positivity, while in the US, Bill Clinton was still President and presided over a relatively secure country economically. period. This optimism meant that we didn’t need to look to vampires for a glimpse of who we were, but liked to imagine ourselves as defenders of the light, seeking justice and peace, love and friendship.
And so, to meet all of our needs, Buffy came, again, this time in TV show format. The film sank largely without a trace, but it was part of a canon of vampire tales focused on the vampire hunter rather than the vampire; Blade, who first appeared in Marvel comics before appearing onscreen, is another example, and one of the few vampire tales to have included a person of color (Wesley Snipes has played the main character in the 1998 film).
Buffy, in her televised guise, is perhaps the turning point for many people when it comes to vampires; even those who were not previously “in” the fancy came on board. The series, which began in 1997, struck as the “girl power” movement exploded. And Buffy fitted in: she was tough, she was independent, she was sassy and sarcastic, and she could fight a horde of vampires while still looking good doing it. For six years, Buffy the vampire slayer – and her killer comrades Faith (a little tougher, a little more rebellious) and Kendra (a black woman killed after just three episodes) – both gifted us a new kind of female superhero and also made us do more. of a decade of discussions on “strong feminine character”.
Sure, the vampires in Buffy’s world were essential, but they were – for the early series at least – more wacky than anything we’ve seen before. Spike and Drusilla were a kind of comedic relief to begin with, constantly thwarted by Buffy whenever they tried to hurt. And Angel was brooding and handsome, until suddenly he wasn’t; after living a moment of ecstasy with Buffy, he transformed into an evil vampire. And so, Buffy the vampire slayer, aware of her teenage audience, gently alluded to her about the connection between vampires and sex.
Some TV shows and vampire movies have chosen to largely ignore vampiric bloodlust, which often involves real lust as well, while others have leaned into it. An example of each quickly filled the Buffy the vampire slayer gap in our lives: there was Real blood, most certainly for adults, and dusk, who took the vampire trope and turned it into something almost innocent.
For every sex scene involving a vampire in Real blood (and there were many), there was a seductive but asexual looking vampire in dusk. Or Real blood played the seduction of his characters (who can forget the way Stephen Moyer’s Bill mumbled “Sookie” or Alexander Skarsgard’s overtly sexual Eric?), Twilight did everything to make vampires the most innocuous things ever.
duskThe ridiculousness of s – her vampires SHINING if the sunlight touched them – hasn’t stopped a legion of teens and adults, turning Stephenie Meyer’s books and subsequent film adaptations into huge successes. And Real blood also found a massive following, running for several series.
The two adaptations were inclusive, to some extent, which was unusual for vampire tales; vampires, with their pale skin, have always been the preserve of whites. dusk didn’t do much to change that, and his Native American characters in particular were stereotypes, while his only dark vampire died at the start of the first film. Real blood was better; he showed us black and LGBTQ + characters (including vampires) who have lived busy lives and who have wanted and been allowed to desire, and that’s part of a canon of vampire stories where vampires replaced marginalized groups.
The two dusk and Real blood are cultural touchstones, but arguably those stories that have come since then have more in common with the latter than the innocence of the former. This is due in part to the times in which we live.
As the election of Donald Trump was a setback by some sections of society to the election and eight-year term of Barack Obama, the vampires who appeared on our screen in the post-Twilight years were a rebellion. And they have also helped us understand, or reflect, our world filled with problems.
Series as The originals and Shadow Hunters focused on the excluded nature of vampires and how they were a threat, echoing how society has alternately seen and continues to see people who don’t fit a mainstream view – white, cis, het – like ” other “. They’ve also served as a bridge between the fascination with vampires that teens and adults have, and bring us to the present: 2021 is truly the year of the adult vampire show.
by netflix Midnight Mass takes ideas of faith, sorrow, and purpose, all of which we find particularly relevant in this pandemic-laden existence. Who are we? What are we doing to make the world a better place? Is there a cure for our problems, from climate change to online abuse to inequality? Do we need a miracle like the ones that appear in Midnight Mass? Or do we have to burn it all down and start over? To say too much about Midnight Mass and its vampires would spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but the series continues the tradition of using vampires to mirror and expose our ailments.
Vampires are, whatever the story, more often than not “bad”; their inherent violence, their “true” nature means that there is always a dark undertone in the stories about them. But isn’t that also very, very human? And isn’t that why we’ll continue to watch vampire stories for years to come?