The Vampire Blogs: Episode I: The Phantom Scariness

In honor of October, which is one of the best months in the calendar because it ends with Halloween, I’m writing a series of blogs musing on various topics from vampires to ghosts, ghouls and everything else that made Halloween a real treat my whole life. I have a special place in my heart for this upstart pseudo-holiday after all. It kicks off “holiday season,” is the preface to All Souls Day and is the setting of the single movie that still scares the living bejeezus out of me.

There’s going to be a special focus on vampires, though. There are a handful of reasons for this, which are:

  1. They have always been my “favorite” supernatural creature and endless source of fascination;
  2. They were once the penultimate source of scariness;
  3. I dressed as a vampire for three (maybe four) Halloweens as a kid for reasons I’m sure I’m still repressing;
  4. I read all four Twilight books because someone in my house felt that I needed to ground my criticisms on the runaway hit on a more intimate knowledge of how pedestrian it is; and
  5. Vampires!

The State of the Undead

Bela Lugosi Dracula

All right, I know it isn't scary now. But it was terrifying then.

Frankly, I find the state of vampire lore to be dismal. Partial blame lies with the current Twilight fixation of wussing up a previously virile supernatural villain and partial blame lies with our post-modern fixation with “explaining away” the inexplicable with bologna science a la Star Trek.

For instance, as much as I enjoy Blade as a fun action movie with well-executed fight scenes, it reveals better than most why so much wind is out of the collective vampire sail. We, as a culture, are at the point that we reject the things that go bump in the night as anything but some aspect of the natural world we haven’t examined enough. Like MacGyver, we can overcome anything with the simple chemicals found in our kitchen cleaners!

And that misses the point of things like vampires. These things remind us that our position of power as a species is individually fragile but collectively strong. So how do we defeat threats we cannot handle alone? Through faith, courage and community.

Myths like vampires have served the serious purpose in our collective subconscious to preserve these three things and never lose sight of the fact that individual people are easy prey while people who work together to ward off the bogeyman are able to overcome the scariest of circumstances. Why else do you think, when we construct our horror tales, the ones who die are always those who go off alone?


The Lost Aspects of the Vampire

After all, what is a vampire but a loner? He is unable to connect with those around him because he is so thoughtless and exclusive that he chose a path of ultimate selfishness. He has chosen a path that involves the sacrificing of everyone and anything at any cost to preserve his own life. Vampires kill people to lengthen their life. Not by burning crops or stealing livelihoods, either — by actually consuming their selves. And often, he’ll damn his victims to a life like his so that he can have servants at his command.

Edward Cullen

It's not all his fault. It would be easy to blame him, but it's not just him.

And again, as tempting as it is to lay the blame at the feet of Twilight, I won’t. Vampires have been undergoing an increasing level of wussification ever since Joss Whedon had his way with them and Buffy. As much as I enjoyed that movie and that TV show, it was the peak of the slippery slope. Once the door was open to wisecracks and the diminishing of the fear factor through humor, it became, as it often does in Hollywood, a game of escalation.

Whedon at least maintained the inexplicably supernatural aspects of the vampire, though. Blade came along and removed that in favor of the “virus” idea. Ann Rice watered her vampires down through successive volumes to the point where it was just execrable. What made that all the more lamentable was that she started so well.

The inevitable children of these trailblazers are Twilight, Vampire Diaries and the overrated True Blood.

And what do all three of those have in common?

Women Have Ruined It

For goodness’ sake, I have to consider the feelings of vampires now too?

The very least these three female authors could have done is at least follow the example of Kathryn Bigelow (yes, the one who later won an Oscar® for Hurt Locker) and make something cool like Near Dark. That had a love story, but also vampires who were awesome and evil. See? Everyone leaves happy. The ending was a little weak but the movie as a whole is worth watching.

Instead we’re treated to vampires as seen through the filter of Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey. They’re only evil because immortality is in the way of their self-actualization.

And to spare this from being some completely misogynistic tear, Francis Ford Coppola had a field day turning the Big Baddy of All Vampires, Dracula himself, into a namby-pamby whiny little bastard. There were parts of Bram Stoker’s Dracula which were, in fact, scary as they should have been, but then he brought in this element stolen from Nosferatu where he wanted to be reunited with his reincarnated love and made it all angst ridden and weak.

Fie upon it, I say! Fie!

So Let’s Make Them Scary Again!

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula

You want to mess with this? Or did you just mess yourself when he came out of the basement?

I’m not talking in terms of making the next torture-porn-flick-pretending-to-be-a-horror-film about a vampire. I’m talking about making a real return to the suspenseful, frightening vampires that used to keep us all up at night. You know, like the old Hammer films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. By Jove, most of those are lost classics at this point.

Tell me that seeing Christopher Lee with bloody fangs and red eyes, with that booming voice, doesn’t scare the Hell out of you. And that’s the damned point!

The real shame is that John Carpenter completely dropped the ball when he took his shot with directing the film version of one of the best books you’ll ever read, simply called Vampire$. The movie’s all right, but you can skip it and just read the book. Trust me, you won’t regret it. It’s all sorts of awesome.

So Whom Do We Nominate?

I always default to Christopher Nolan (as does, apparently, Warner Bros. Entertainment). He’s a great director with an excellent eye whose films are always well-edited and carry a definite tone about them. I could see him pulling off a worthwhile vampire film.

I’d ban Brett Ratner or Zack Snyder from ever getting close to a vampire project, though.

Outside of that, though, who can resuscitate our ailing demons? Someone has to.