From Shadows to Body Glitter: The Evolution of the On-Screen Vampire
The lore around vampires is incredibly rich and dates all the way back to 18th century Europe. This rich tradition has made the vampire one of the most popular subjects in 20th and 21st century film. The vampire in film began as a creature of the shadows who preyed on the innocent and unsuspecting. Their victims were mostly female. This was meant as a cautionary tale to women to beware the night and those who might stalk them. The main figure of this genre has almost always been Dracula. He’s the romantic figure of the vampire as he’s wealthy, charming, and has a foreign accent.
In the 80s, we get the Lost Boys. In this film, the vampires have taken the form of a biker gang looking to have some fun. So you know, they float and eat people. In the 90s, we get a return to the classic vampire in the form of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and my personal favorite, Interview with the Vampire. They tell the sad story of lovelorn vampires who live a torturous afterlife. They can never have what they want because they are the damned.
As the new millennium begins, vampires in film change again. Let’s start with the Blade series. This is the first time a vampire is introduced that can walk in the daylight. Prior to this, exposing a vampire to sunlight meant they were going to burst into flames because light represented all that is good. Then Underworld came along; the tale of a vampire warrior named Selene who hunted and killed werewolves. The vampire evolves again as she falls in love with a werewolf who eventually becomes the first werewolf/vampire hybrid. Prior to this, the werewolf was the guardian of the vampire and typically not its significant other.
2008 rolls around and Let the Right One In premieres. A great vampire tale about a young boy that falls in love with a 200-year-old vampire girl that is technically his age. So she’s totally not a pedophile. She has to follow all the typical vampire rules: she must be invited in; sun is bad; and she must feed on blood and not food. She’s a killer, but eventually the boy gets over it after she saves him from his bullies. Because you know, it’s wrong to kill except when it’s beneficial to you.
Also in 2008 comes a new mutation to vampires, Twilight. This is the strangest evolution of the vampire yet and oddly the most popular among teens and Mormons. In this film, the vampires can only go outside when it’s overcast or night. Not because they’ll burst into flames like previous forms, but because they will sparkle. The film depicts the vampire as having most of the usual characteristics of its predecessors: speed, strength, the need for blood. That is pretty much where the similarities end. The vampires in Twilight are depicted as statue-like and bloodless. A far cry from the living dead we’ve seen in previous films. Some of the vampires feed on animals rather than human blood. The subject of human blood is treated like heroin, and all vampires are either addicts or recovering addicts. This turns the vampire into a whiney, co-dependent creature of the northwest. Despite being devoid of blood, the vampire in this film is somehow able to muster up enough juice to knock up his inept love. This somehow leads to a vampire birth, which has never happened in mainstream film before.
So there you have it folks; vampires went from being blood-craving nightmares that owned land in Eastern Europe, to recovering blood addicts that are just like you and me. I think it’s about time they returned to form. The 2011 remake of Fright Night was an excellent example of this. It was fun, bloody, full of lore, stakes, and the vampire was pretty much an evil bloodthirsty dick. Here’s hoping that with the upcoming end of the Twilight series, that vampires will continue this trend towards being evil again. Because, let’s face it, they’re just more fun that way.