Today, vampires are sissies compared to what they used to be. I love classic vampire flicks, Bela Lugosi as Dracula or the rodent like Count Orlok in Nosferatu. The sparkly big haired bloodsuckers today are just . . . well, they just don’t compare.
Historically cultures would create stories or myths to explain the things around them they didn’t understand. Monster myths usually centered around the terrifying or taboo and were fairly specific to the cultural contexts that created them. A werewolf for instance may have been how someone explained away cannibalism, alcoholism or bipolar disorder. Vampires are a bit trickier to pin down though, and there are many theories as to what inspired them.
The traditional eastern European vampire was a far cry from the bloodsuckers we know today. To start off, sunlight didn’t kill them. They were usually “sorcerers” during their mortal lives. While they were typically killed by decapitation, tracking them down was the really tricky part. People who were suspected of becoming vampires had scythe blades wedged into their coffins above their necks so that if they were to sit up the blade would cut their undying life a bit short. Otherwise, they would hide out in their graves during the day until the cover of darkness when they would attack sleeping victims, draining them of their blood.
Shapeshifting into creatures such as a bat, a rat or a wolf was common, as was the ability to take the form of fog. One way to ward off these traditional monsters was to scatter seeds around the graves. Luckily vampires have a neurotic obsession with counting and would waste the entire night counting the seeds until they were forced to go below ground to avoid discovery.
These legends came to the Western mainstream when Bram Stoker wrote his novel Dracula. He portrayed the Count as a night-prowling seducer with several interesting powers similar to the earlier legends. Dracula could walk around in sunlight without any problems, although it did greatly limit his supernatural powers. He could talk to rats and turn into a wolf, a bat or fog. He was as strong as 10 men and devilishly smart after centuries of experience and planning. Stoker used Dracula mostly as a metaphor for repressed sexuality in an uptight society. Also, there was definitely a lot of fear for foreigners in the way he describes Dracula’s appearance and actions.
After Dracula, we have another manifestation of this kind of vampire in the unauthorized German film Nosferatu, which was a rough retelling of Dracula. The film portrays the villain, Count Orlok, as a bald, rat-like creature and is really creepy. “Nosferatu” literally means “plague bearer,” a rather fitting title. This story is also about sexuality as the main heroine seduces the Count until the sunlight comes up and destroys him, sacrificing her sexual purity and suitability as a wife in order to stop the killings. This is also the source of the “death by sunlight” rule, where previously it would only limit the powers of the undead, not destroy them.
For a long while, these were the major sources of inspiration for vampire stories, up until another writer came along and changed the formula almost as much as Stoker did in Dracula. Anne Rice’s vampire books, such as Interview with the Vampire, turned vampires into the pretty-boys they are today. Lestat and Louis are portrayed as immortal playboys who either glory in their existence or, more importantly, in the case of Louis, whine about it while taking everything for granted at the same time.
Next were the Matrix-style vampires. Blade and the Underworld series are the best examples of this. The most important thing that happened at this stage was that vampires started a long eternal war with werewolves and became action stars. The action movie vampire is really as deep as most action movie related things.
And finally, we arrive at the Twilight vampire, much beloved by the ladies. This is a combination of the Anne Rice whining vampire with the action vampire and the sexual predator theme of the Stoker vampire, plus hairspray mixed in for good measure. Something about a sparkly beautiful man who drinks blood and feels guilty over his own existence just drives the girls nuts!
So this Halloween I’m thinking of dressing up as a vampire. The way I see it, if girls wear stuff I like to see them in, I could return the favour for a night.