Vampires: How they’ve changed over the years

Dracula

Look at ol’ Christopher Lee, dressed up like the stereotypical vampire – black cape, white collar, hair all slicked back and teeth bared as he rasps at his victim. Oh, get back in your dingy coffin, you outdated has-been!

Vampires have come a long way since those old Hammer Horror movies, haven’t they? I don’t quite recall when the change took place, but I suspect it might have been Buffy and Angel who introduced a more glamorous version of vampire relations to our generation.

OK, there were movie adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and [[Anne Rice]]’s Interview With The Vampire, but Buffy suddenly brought vampires to a whole new audience – lovestruck teenagers. Sure, vampires have been charming humans for years, with a view to emptying their veins. Actually, wasn’t it Interview With The Vampire that gave us a first-hand look into the lifestyles of vampires?

Vegetarian vampires…

Back in the Hammer Horror days, Vlad the Impaler was the sinister aggressor. He’d keep entire Transylvanian villages in mortal terror, but you never knew what motivated him beyond blood lust. Anne Rice’s vampires had more depth – Louis de Pointe du Lac establishing a vampire character who was horrified by his compulsion to drink blood – the first of the vegetarian vampires?

Louis was followed throughout the years by abstaining vamps such as private detective Mick St John in Moonlight, the Cullen family in Twilight, and even integrationist vampires like Bill Compton in True Blood who drink synthetic blood. Naturally, these types of vampires often tend to regard humans as more than just prey and frequently repress their tendencies in order to have romantic relationships with humans.

Working together, or alone?

In earlier vampire movies, the undead would often work alone. OK, Dracula would sometimes have a wench or two around him, but more often than not he hunted solo.

In Anne Rice’s novels, the characters would mostly arrange themselves in groups of two. But there were also covens, such as the Parisian one ruled by Armand. These covens established rules for the conduct of vampires – concerning killing one of their own kind and also forbidding the creation of other vampires. And the consequences of disobeying these rules – even if you didn’t know about them – could be quite disastrous.

Occassionally, you come up against ruling councils of vampires. Priya mentioned the Volturi in the new Twilight movie, and of course the vampire Eric holds court in True Blood.

Limitations of vampires

I want to talk about this in a separate post, but the abilities and limitations of vampires change a lot in literature.

Most vampires seem to be able to abstain from drinking blood for long periods without dying. Even the Hammer Horror blood-suckers would be rejuvinated by a few drops on their dusty corpses.

Esposure to sunlight isn’t the instant death it once was. Even in Anne Rice novels, Lestate and Armand survive direct exposure to sunlight, and of course the great and powerful Marius was turfed onto a bonfire and survived. Mick St John in Moonlight could survive in daylight for short periods of time, but became more animalistic as the exposure weakened him. And of course, lovely Edward Cullen turns into a shimmering god when exposed to Sol’s golden rays.

Garlic and crucifixes have gone out of fashion as vamp-destroying substances. OK, the Buffster could get away with using stakes to reduce her enemies to cinders, but you don’t see them about so much in the post-Buffy world. I know they paralysed, but didn’t kill Mick St John.

In a lot of vampire literature, certain vamps will be bestowed with additional powers – perhaps the ability to levitate, or read minds or ignite fires with their thoughts. The standard vampire attributes seem to be immortality, great speed and strength, highly sensitive reflexes, and of course the ability to drain humans of blood.

Romance

Which brings me back to Buffy, teenagers and cross-species dry humping. Yes, these days instead of trying to kill our fanged brethren, we send teenage girls out to obsess over them.

Buffy went gaga over Angel, Beth Turner chose Mick St John over her boyfriend-with-a-pulse, and of course Bella Sawn became sickeningly obsessed with the angular-jawed Mr Cullen.

But let’s face it, the vampire is the ultimate bad boy. There’s a risk involved in dating vampires that you don’t get with human boys. I’m speaking mostly about Twilight here, which makes me wonder if – in the teenage sense – blood lust isn’t just an allegory for sexual lust. Hmm, discuss.

Of course, the always-fantastic True Blood swings things into far-out filthy territory with people who sleep with vampires being labelled Fang-Bangers. The romance between Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton is designed to reflect racial tensions, of course, but it’s interesting to see prejudice and violence woven into a vampire-human love story. Certainly, True Blood is nowhere near as cloying as Twilight for that very reason.

Modern vampires!

That’s my brief look at how vampires have changed over the years. You’ll have noticed that I’m sticking to the vampires I know of. Perhaps you’ve read more extensively? If so, I’d be glad to hear your own thoughts on how vampires have been adapted down the decades!

6 Comments

  1. astarie

    I must admit..””’That’s my brief look at how vampires have changed over the years. You’ll have noticed that I’m sticking to the vampires I know of. ””

    man thats spooky!!! .. Vampires you know of? Is that personally!!!?’ πŸ™‚
    Hope I haven’t offended :D.. it just made me chuckle!
    .. Halloweens coming up shortly too!!

    But I have to agree with you..
    Vampires have changed over the times…

    I like the old black and white movies myself.. they make me chuckle now.. not in a sarcastic way or owt! just how from the fiction.. as with aliens for example.
    and thats What people don’t understand is that, there are some that walk this planet that look different.. and because they look different, (especially back in the transalvanian period),how many hundreds of years ago was that?!! no computer or telephone or tv, just a sign from god!.. and then the first beginnigns of a mythology?
    Strangely enough I’d been reading up about vampires.. dont ask me why, cos I aint got a clue. The history of its origins are very fascinating too.. who wrote the first Dracula novel? Was that just purely imagination or was that based on an experience or a myth.. and what is a myth?.. hmmm…just makes me wonder..and apologies.. I’m talking out loud again
    I shall have to research more me thinks πŸ™‚

    I liked Peter Cushing myself.. I think he played a part in Dracula once. He was such a fab actor .. always had me engrossed in my seat.
    Did he ever play count Dracula? I have a recollection he did.. tho I’m not 100% sure?.

  2. IanG

    Thanks for a very interesting overview, Gerard.

    I’ve been into the vampire stories and movies for years and, while I’m glad that there are writers and film producers with the ability to update the genre, I think that the keener modern storytellers are to remove the traditional myths and limitations of the old bloodsuckers, the more they run the risk of taking the danger, and therefore, the fun out of the whole thing.

    Anne Rice opened up the possibilities of creating a saga out of the vampire myth and that’s the way most modern books and movies have gone. I think True Blood has been best depiction of vampires since Interview With The Vampire because it has kept the darkness and sexiness well to the fore. It also uses the conflicts in the stories as metaphores for real-life conflicts, going way beyond the simple good-versus-evil theme of Dracula.

    I’m currently reading New Moon. It’s ok, but I think Stephenie Meyer’s notion of ‘good’ vampires resisting temptation goes dangerously close to removing the whole point of writing a vampire story. Twilight is basically an teenage romance, rather than a serious addition to the genre; it’s no accident that Romeo and Juliet is mentioned so often. To be honest. Edward’s surly brooding and Bella’s mooning about him got on my nerves after a while. However, I’m hoping that Meyer’s can expand the story beyond simply rewriting a tale of star-crossed lovers.

    Btw astarie, Peter Cushing never played Dracula. He did play his arch nemesis Van Helsing, however. 

    1. Gerard McGarry

      Ian, that’s an excellent point about Twilight – I’ve done the first three books of Twilight, and found myself why two supernatural creatures are obsessed by one gloomy teenage girl. The Cullens are a castrated vampire family, whereas Sookie Stackhouse in the Southern Vampire Mysteries is routinely injured or disfigured by her association with vampires.

      For my money though, Anne Rice has been the most successful in bringing the vampire world to life through her writing – she’s careful to give the long, winding backstory of her vamps, their centuries-long lives. Adversaires are cultists who believe that vampires are the instruments of Satan, whereas vampires like Marius existed even before Christianity.

      I like the Charlaine Harris stories as well though – they’re fun and sexy, although Sookie is by turns conservative Christian and then all raging hormones for the male characters. Harris has created a very authentic universe in which the vampires have come out of the coffin and are seeking “equality”. This is the environment in which the Stackhouse stories exist – vampires being persecuted by humans, some vampires feeling superior to humans and refusing to respect their laws and boundaries.

      I also like the fact that Bill Compton and the other vampires cannot exist in the sunlight. Please stop bending the rules of vampirism!

  3. IanG

    Gerrard, I think you hit nail on the head as to why the Anne Rice and Charlaine Harris sagas are so popular with vampire fans.

    Age

    Their vampires are mostly very old, well beyond any human experience, and their backstories have a very real sense of history. At about 125 years old, Edward Cullen is old but not that far outside of what is humanly possible, and no age at all for a vamp! To be fair, though, I’m well outside the age range of the target audience for Twilight saga and the books are a good enough entry into the genre for people who’ve never read a vampire story before.

    Environment

    I think it’s interesting that the southern United States seem to have become the new Transylvania. There’s definitely something about the steamy Bayou setting that lends a lot of atmosphere to vampire stories. I’m not sure whether it has more to do with the oppressive heat or the overbearing social and religious conservatism of the South (as a gay agnostic myself, I find this aspect of the stories particularly interesting), but I found the change of location away from Europe very refreshing. Again, though the remoteness of Forks gives plenty of scope for there to be something nasty lurking in the woods, I find the constant references to the gloom and rain of the location soon become boring. We get enough of that from the weather forecast, don’t you think? πŸ™‚

     

    1. Gerard McGarry

      What I don’t like about Forks (and the forthcoming Vampire Diaries) is the fact that the vampires can run around in broad daylight. No, no, no. A vampire should have some element of vulnerability. As for the Cullens, they’re glittery vampires. The only reason they avoid sunlight is to avoid detection due to their tell-tale sparkles!

      A vampire going to ground, whether it’s Lestat de Lioncourt or Bill Compton, is a feral survival instinct and a stark reminder that these creatures are dead. I like that Anne Rice’s vampires can be as elegant and glamorous as they please, but still have to succumb to their weaknesses as vampires.

      I see what you’re saying about Stephanie Meyer’s books being a good entry point to the world of vampires, but they avoid any kind of sexual deviance in their ‘vampirism as a metaphor for sexual abstinence’ agenda. But with Meyer, her vampires aren’t even really vampires. They have no glamour, none of that dangerous attraction that the undead should have, none of the rich mythology that other writers created for their vampires.

  4. IanG

    You’re spot on, Gerard!

    I think the bottom line is that vampires are the most wicked, and therefore, the best of the many famous supernatural characters. If a writer can give the old story a new twist, fine, but they should stop faffing about with the rules for the sake of trying to make them more sympathetic.

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