Recently, vampires have risen from the grave to claim the title as the hottest cold-blooded species on the silver and small screens.
Vampires have haunted the human imagination for many years. Dracula – from Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name – was one of the first rich, attractive European men to set pulses aflutter. Depicting vampirism as demonic possession (with a subtext of syphilis), Dracula was about sex, death and blood, and struck a chord with the straight-laced readership of Victorian Europe. Dracula first appeared in celluloid in German director F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922): a film that follows the themes and ideas in the novel Dracula, but couldn’t be called as such for copyright reasons. ‘Count Dracula’ was disguised as ‘Count Orlock’ in this early adaptation. Since then, Dracula has appeared in Dracula (1931), The Horror of Dracula (1958) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – to name only a few.
The blood-sucking fiends have entered the popular consciousness; a staple in the diet of science fiction and fantasy works. From the more serious science-based, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (adapted for the screen three times), to the hugely popular Anne Rice series, The Vampire Chronicles, to the overly erotic Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, vampires have continued to capture the human consciousness.
But what is it exactly about the undead that makes mere human hearts beat so hard? The fact that all vampires appear to be really, really ridiculously good-looking is an obvious point. Everyone wants to get it on with the undead – even those who should be slaying them.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the title character of Joss Whedon’s critically acclaimed television series, which ran from 1997 to 2003 (not the ill-fated film), declared her love for not one, but two vampires throughout the show’s seven seasons. Buffy followed a sixteen-year-old slayer as she battled her way through the Hell Mouth and high school alike. Buffy featured a brand of vampire that was certainly demonic, but also capable of human emotions: love, hate, selfishness, and sadness. Joss Whedon, mastermind planner, also made sure that his vampires remained relatively truthful to myths and folklore. His vampires were unlikely to enjoy a picnic in sunlight, never ate garlic bread, and could be ended by a swift stake through the heart.
However, vampires have been around for centuries. So why have the original Renaissance-born bad boys experienced such a, well, renaissance in recent years? My own theory is that geek is now chic. Just as the internet, Buddy Holly glasses and comic book movies have become the lifeblood of mainstream culture, so too have vampires been allowed out of their traditionally nerd-closeted coffins. No longer are science fiction and fantasy films the realm of the socially awkward alone – everyone is embracing their desire for escapism.
As vampire-lovers have grown in their numbers, so too have depictions of vampires in film and television become more and more fantasy-friendly. The most obvious examples include the recent success of theTwilight franchise, and True Blood, now in its second season. Both rely heavily on the fact that people find vampires positively sinful and sexy.
The Twilight franchise – so far comprising of four books and two films – follows the story of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her undead boyfriend, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Twilight is of the ‘less is more’ approach to the supernatural and sex. That is: less sex, more abstinence. Plus, more mash-ups of vampire mythology. These vampires are not inherently evil, though they do struggle with their desire for blood. They can only be overcome by fire or werewolf tag teaming – or by their own, undying love for you, if it drives them to do something crazy. And, um, they sparkle in sunlight.
True Blood is similar, in terms of premise. Virginal small-town girl (Anna Paquin, The Piano, X-Men) gets vampire boyfriend (Stephen Moyer, The Starter Wife). But she doesn’t remain pure for long. True Blood is Twilight but with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Blending pseudo-political commentary (vampires “coming out the closet,” so to speak) with soft-core porn and B-grade blood effects, True Blood is nothing less than an eternity of entertainment.
Which is not say that all recent depictions of vampires on the screen have been sparkles and sex. 30 Days of Night (2007, starring Josh Hartnett) showed a breed of vampire with totally creepy double-layered shark teeth, and I Am Legend (2007, with Will Smith) was a film about isolation and despair. Vampires can still get their creep and killing-sprees on – but it seems safe (and fairly obvious) to say that the most popular vampires in school are those who are more into love bites, and less into blood draining.
So, have you too caught the vampire bug (and not in a terrifying ‘vampirism is contagious and you’re going to become soulless in a I am Legend kind of way’)? Then perhaps you’d like to sink your fangs into these upcoming film releases…
Cirque de Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is another vampire coming-of-age tale – this time focusing on an immortal teenage boy, who will never age at all. He becomes involved with a mysterious traveling troupe (never a good sign) and must learn to grow up while staying good. This film stars Chris Massoglia (mostly only seen in television appearances thus far) as the teen dream – or nightmare – and John C Reilly (Chicago). Australian release date 7th January 2010.
Daybreakers, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, is a vampire sci-fi action film, which feels like it might be a bit neo-noir. Filmed in Australia with a cast including; Willem Dafoe (Spiderman 1, 2 and 3), Isabelle Lucas (Transformers 2), Ethan Hawke (Gattaca), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) and Claudia Karvan (from Australian series Love My Way), Daybreakers promises to deliver. Australian release date 21st January 2010
Whether or not the vampires’ rise to fame will continue, or be struck stone cold dead, one thing is for sure – zombies will not be next. They just do not have the same romantic appeal.