Welcome back, and today we’re going to explore a type of monster that is currently riding highly along with the zombie: the vampire.
Like zombies, the vampire myth’s roots go far back into human culture, such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews and ancient Greeks. They were different from the vampires we know today though. While they were undead, many took forms more similar to ghosts than corporeal monsters, and often their vampirism was the result of demonic possession or something wicked they had done while still alive (suicide, witchcraft, murder, etc.). Many would return to the places they had lived in order to torment and haunt those they knew during their lives. And, of course, they acquired sustenance from feeding off living creatures, with special attention on imbibing the blood. And while a diet consisting primarily of blood would explain the pale and gaunt features of a vampire, most early vampires were described as ruddy and a bit on the bloated side.
The word “vampire” did not enter the common lexicon until roughly the early 18th Century Europe when vampire superstition rivaled that of the Salem witch trials in the American colonies. Some people were killed on suspicion of being vampires, and many townsfolk even took it upon themselves to desecrated and raze the remains of the dead since they believed that vampires rose from the grave to commit atrocities.
In the 19th Century, vampires went from being more than a superstition to sophisticated and charismatic monsters in human disguises. And the book that started it all was…
Not only was Bram Stoker’s novel not the first to portray the vampire in a more humanistic light, but Polidori’s story was one of the most successful and influential on the whole 19th Century. (Which makes sense, considering Stoker’s novel was published in 1897.) But where Polidori left off, Stoker took the vampire mythos even further, and to this day, Dracula is not only one of the most adapted pieces of literature in the world, but it is the story from which nearly all modern vampire stories are based.
With the advent of moving pictures, the 20th Century saw vampires on the silver screen for the first time. While 1931’s Dracula starring Bela Lugosi was the smash hit that continued to set the tone for vampire’s legend, there were others that came before it. The first known film adaptation was a 1920 silent film from Russia, Drakula. Unfortunately, all prints and negatives from the film have been lost to time, and some question if the movie ever even existed, but there was a German adaptation that was released two years later that just barely survived.
It’s only due to pirated bootlegs that this film even still exists. Stoker’s widow sued the filmmakers for plagiarism and ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed. But since the bootlegs survived and the film has now entered the public domain, the movie is still available to be watched nearly a century after its release…and I own a copy!
The popularity of the vampire is difficult to overlook. They live forever, never age, have superhuman abilities and with an eternal life comes time to perfect skills and gain experiences which gives them advantages in sexuality. Stories such as True Blood, Vampire Diaries and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles have juxtaposed the feral to the romantic, turning folk tales of demonic spirits on the prowl for vengeance and mischief into dourer versions of Beauty and the Beast…which isn’t a bad thing, per se. It makes the vampire more accessible and approachable. Unlike a zombie or werewolf, the vampire is given a choice to give in to its primal desires or use “the gift” for others. In Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula, the Count brings the curse upon himself out of grief for the loss of the woman he loved more than his own life. That’s why vampires can be depicted in children’s films like Hotel Transylvania, television shows like Sesame Street and even cereal boxes; they’re the monsters we both fear to love and love to fear.