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The Evolution of the Vampire in Popular Media

The Evolution of the Vampire in Popular Media


Vampire. The monster that I both love and loathe. The monster that can be both sensual and utterly terrifying. The monster that, in the past few decades, has done a complete 360 in how the entertainment industry has portrayed them.

In honour of Hallowe’en, one of my favourite holidays, I wanted to take a look at how these creatures have changed over the years.

(Please note that while this is looking at some of the trends in popular media, it doesn’t mean that there only this type of vampire was popular at any given time – for example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer straddles the lines between the Sympathetic and Romantic vampire.)

Vampires in popular media
Photo taken by davidd

The Original Horror

The story of the vampire can be traced back in folk stories for centuries, but it didn’t become popular in literature until the 19th century, when authors like Bram Stoker drew inspiration from these stories to create their own stories.

Often, these are the monsters that you will see that will strike terror to all other creatures – they kill in order to survive, can transform into other animals (not just bats, but often are known to transform into wolves as well), entrance humans to do their bidding… They are an extremely sensual being, in that they can both terrify and overwhelm your senses.

You can see examples of this vampire in:
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (the book – not the movies)

Introduction of the Sympathetic Vampire

I once heard a writer say (and I really wish I could remember exactly who it was, but I can tell you that it was at FanExpo Canada about 5 years ago) that the sympathetic vampire was developed because authors wanted to explore the vampire as a protagonist. They started being portrayed as a sympathetic lead – a misunderstood hero with a good heart who despises the horror he has become – because you can only portray your main character as an evil creature for so long before wanting to explore other possible aspects of their personality. These creatures became popular in part due to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.

Examples of this vampire are:
  • Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Barnabas Collins in the Dark Shadows TV show and movies

The Vampire as a Romantic Lead

It’s not that big a step to move from sympathetic lead to romantic lead.

The vampire as a romantic hero typically draws a lot of influence Byronic heroes, instead of drawing from traditional tales of vampires. If you really take a look at characters like Heathcliff from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, he’s not that much different from a lot of the romantic vampire leads that you can see in popular media – dark, brooding and dangerous.

These characters typically have the whole “bad boy” appeal with their attitudes, with the added bonus that maybe, just maybe, the love of a human can turn them into a nice bad boy.

Some of the more popular romantic vampire fiction include:
  • Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books and the movies based off them
  • Charlene Harris’ True Blood series and the television show

Death of the Romantic Vampire; Return to the Nightmare

While there were always some popular books and movies that focused on the scary vampire while both the sympathetic and romantic vampires were more mainstream, as a whole, the scary vampire is much more popular again. These creatures are often much more macabre than we had seen previously, allowing for a terror that can be more extreme than, say, Bram Stoker’s original story.

The way that we’re returning to the scary vampire with a vengeance can be seen as a bit of a rebellion to the romantic vampire. We started to see this trend during the heyday of the romantic vampire, and it’s only continuing to grow.

Examples where you can see the return to the scary vampire include:
  • Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain trilogy and the television show based off it
  • Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

Personally, I am thrilled that we’re getting back to the terrifying vampire – there’s nothing that I like better than being curled up in bed with a book that is going to terrify me. Or making the boyfriend watch a horror movie with me, with the knowledge that when it’s time to sleep, he’ll be forced to comfort me when I start letting my imagination get the better of me.

What about you? Do you have a favourite kind of vampire?


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