It has become obvious to most that Vampires are an obsession of mine. I get this sometimes, ever since I was a kid some cultural phenomenon appeals to my imagination and that is it. I read books, I watch films, I study it, talk about it. Previous obsessions have been, in no particular order, Witches, Fairies, The Beatles, Serial Killers (weird I know) and John Cusack. My current obsession is, and has been for a while, Vampires.
I am going to be a little honest here as is often my style. I had a bad phase, I have suffered them on and off for years. Unlike off days they can go on for weeks at a time and they tend to make me susceptible to fantasy, an anything is better than reality mentality. It was during my most recent period of this that I first watched Twilight. Not a traditional Vampire film granted, but enough. This piece is going to try, hopefully successfully, to explain why Vampires are so appealing and have endured in my mind for well over a year now. I am going to use books, TV and film in this piece, I know that it is a slight deviation from the purpose of the site but I hope that you indulge me.
So Twilight, I have written defence of it numerous occasions on this very site. Yes it is aimed at young girls and yes it is a devotion from the norm but I don’t think that is a bad thing. There is a reason why the film wouldn’t work if Edward wasn’t a Vampire. The other world or the supernatural is something that is appealing across the board be it angels, super heroes or demons most people have a fascination with at least one of them. Lets face it, I am not trying to be insulting here, but most of us don’t have action filled exciting lives, most of us are actually bored most of the time. We like to escape, TV, films and the internet are all socially acceptable versions of that, but its more than that with the supernatural it is about wishing there was more. In Twilight Bella is a normal girl, more so in the books where she is a drab clumsy thing with nothing special about her apart from the fact that she is new at school. Edward is drawn to her, not because she is beautiful or smart or popular but simply because there is something about her, in this instance the smell of her blood. What could be better for girls across the globe? They don’t have to do anything particular to find their soul enhancing love, just be alive. It is a heartening and totally fantastical message. It would never happen but in our society we are taught of the one true love, this idea of soul mates. Without Edward as a Vampire it would have been harder to get that message across. Also there is the tension it creates, forbidden love is one of the most key stories told and retold. This is a rehash of it. What drama’s do teenagers now face that could make the love forbidden? Family feuds are out dated race is not pc and religion has been done. Making Edward a vampire makes him not only forbidden but also dangerous is a strangely safe way.
I thought initially that my obsession was with Twilight alone, it took me no time at all to read all the books, watch the films more times than I could possibly guess and inevitably start dreaming about the characters. I needed something new and if you read any website about literary vampires you will inevitably be lead to Ann Rice. This is where I want to make a rather indignant point, a lot of insults have been leveled at the Twilight vampires, specifically the Cullen’s not drinking human blood (along with the sparkling thing of course) I don’t want to rant too much but if you look back to folklore cinematic vampires are a mish mash of many different myths, fears and beliefs that were conveniently collated by Bram Stoker. Not all vampires in legend or in film burn in the sun, not all vampires drink blood at all (the emphasis seems to be more on life force) but even if I do buy in to the modern depiction of vampires (which don’t even agree) then one of the most famous vampire films is Interview With A Vampire. This film and book does well to explain one of the reasons I love vampires so much, first though Brad Pitt’s Louis doesn’t drink human blood in the most part… so there. Right, back to being a little more adult about it, what Interview does, as well as the more character driven vampire films, is asks questions about good and evil. What defines evil? Is it an action or is it who you are? It could open up a massive debate, although no one has really used it to its full potential yet, there are overtones of bigotry in vampire stories. That one event or what they are makes them inherently evil. The ‘nice’ vampires seem to challenge this and are probably born out of the civil rights movements. The idea that you shouldn’t just judge based on things beyond the persons control.
In folklore Vampires were the explanation for numerous things, from illness’ such as porphyria to the birth of evil (Lilith) Nosferatu might as well have been Dracula. The story is the same, the ending is different, but it is more than that. Nosferatu is not attractive, not at all, he is pail an deathly, there would be no mistaking him for anything other than non human. His fangs are is front teeth, there is nothing charming about him. This film plays more on peoples desire to be scared. You do end up feeling a little sorry for him that is true of many Vampire films, though the slasher horror genre doesn’t have as much depth most celluloid Vampires have something a little sad about them. Where Dracula is different, aside from the ending, is the sex. It doesn’t take a genius to link the extending fangs and penetration of the skin to sex. Vampires are sexy in many of their guises, again this is a fictional development but the idea of vampires seducing people is one that dates back thousand of years, although in most instances the vampire would be a woman and the victims young children and men. Lilith is, arguably, the first feminist. She told Adam that she wanted to be treated as an equal, when he said no she left him. Vampire fiction has often kept this gender equality. Often the head vampire is a woman, this is true with Ann Rice’s Queen of the Damned, it is also true in the True Blood series. Though I could argue that the equation to men is down to the fang metaphor making female vampires less female I don’t want to. My one criticism of most literary vampires would be that they can be overly cruel, often a lot nastier than their male counterparts, however I know plenty of men who would argue that this is pretty close to reality.
One of the first Vampire films I watched, and one that remains one of my favourite films ever is ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ although you can only really watch it once and get the full experience of its brilliance I still think that it is a very skilful film. Firstly it is a shock, unless someone has ruined it for you (like I expect I will have done in this blog) it comes from left field. Although the vampires are not the cute fluffy types there is something wonderful about them, their diversity and the humour that literally oozes off the screen throughout the whole film. Clooney is wonderful. What it does well though is challenge the ideas of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ Clooney and Tarantino aren’t ‘good guys’ but you end up rooting for them, it explores how bad situations can force unlikely people together, granted you don’t need vampires to do that, but it helps.
Back to the sex. In early vampire films and books the vampire would seduce their victim, feeding was intrinsically linked with sex, but it was almost foreplay, sex wasn’t the end result and it was a natural drive more than an expression of humanity. Dracula stalks his pray who are lying prone in bed, in whimsical white nightdress’ with hair strewn about their heads. That could be construed as a message about how sex outside of relationships and love is intrinsically bad, lust is a sin. Yet there is always something so pure about the victim, so the message may not be about the act of sex at all but rather the desire for it, or possibly the fear of young women being sexualised too soon, certainly a trait in the Twilight saga. However the new wave of vampires fall in love with humans. True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, The Morganville Vampires and Twilight all look at this type of relationship. This throws up delicious things, from the self control that the vampire has to have, again linking the whole thing to sex, the vampire has to repress its urges to maintain the relationship. There is something sexy about that, but also romantic. These relationships are exploring the way that relationships are complicated, people have to moderate your behaviour and you can’t help who you fall in love with. It is overly romantic of course but again I ask, what is wrong with that?
Daybreakers took the vampires as humans theme to the next level, and did so fairly well. Blood in your coffee, the concerns about blood reserves. It was modern and had more than a couple of parallels with modern life. I had one or two issues with the plot but saying that it was clever and does seem like the natural direction that the vampire craze is going in. There are more and more ways that writers are trying to get around the sunshine myth that they applied themselves, in Morganville it is tinted windows and vampire areas, in The Vampire Diaries it is a gem stone, Twilight and the sparkles. There is something stopping the creators of these books and films from getting rid of the attachment to darkness totally, there is something exciting about that part of it. Again the natural attachment to forbidden and hidden things.
I could write another five pages on this subject, I have barely grazed the surface of the appeal of vampires to me. They are sexy, dangerous, complex, fragile and interesting. There are so many directions that they can be taken in, from action heroes such as the vampires in ‘Underworld’ they can be romantic leads like in Twilight they can be the bad guys, they are almost never simple.