Why It's Okay for Vamps to Stop Being One Dimensional

Several years ago I wrote a script that was based on a standup routine I was doing about a woman who becomes a vampire thinking it will solve all of her problems, specifically poverty, body image, insomnia and loneliness. Needless to say it doesn't work out the way and she's more miserable than ever. I entered it into a peer reviewed script contest and got a surprising number of reviews complaining that the script, which was billed as a comedy, wasn't scary enough. Since then I've heard the same thing about vampires over and over again. Vampires have been wussified and now have, shudder, feelings! How did this happen?

Bram Stoker's Dracula is the template for the modern vampire; a soulless, murdering creature that sucks the lifeblood from its victims, only to have those victims return with the same traits. Protections against this monster include garlic flowers (although most people have forgotten the flower part and rely on garlic as protection), white roses, and religious artifacts like holy water and crucifixes. Dracula also had the ability to turn himself into a fog, a wolf or a bat and could mesmerize his victims. And of course one of the most important things we as a culture learned from the Dracula novel is that you can kill a vampire by staking it. (In the book you also had to cut off its head and do a couple of other things, but the staking is what has survived and permeated our pop culture.)

Dracula was a delicious monster, intelligent, cultured, wealthy and obsessive. The novel was voluptuous, brimming with sensuality that titillated its readers. They were thrilled by this creature that dared to enter women's boudoirs and could seduce even the most innocent, destroying their innocence. They were horrified by his blood lust and his ability to kill with no conscience. Published in 1897, not even a decade had passed since Jack the Ripper had walked the streets of Whitechapel, leaving a trail of corpses behind him. But while the Ripper had preyed upon ladies of the night, women whose professions were too sordid for "nice" women to even know about, Dracula went after anyone who caught his eye, even Lucy Westenra, who is wooed by a Lord. He was worse than the ripper as anyone was fair game.

Dracula filled a niche and did it beautifully. But in the century and change since it was originally published another type of monster has claimed the public's attention; namely that of the serial killer. There are so many thrillers that feature serial killers they've almost become boring. Take a look at the Saw movies; the killers are much more monstrous than any traditional monster. Dracula may have drained his victims of life but he didn't toy with them and make them torture each other. His victims became like him, soulless and hungry, but they didn't choose their fates, unlike Jigsaw's "apprentices", who apparently were so enamored with their torturific experiences that they not only recreate them but they also inflict them on others. Hannibal, another famous serial killer, takes it even further, literally hypnotizing Clarice and making her into a mindless version of himself. Hannibal is a lot like Dracula in that he is sophisticated, dresses well, fastidious; in short completely able to hide his monster under a suave exterior.

Serial killers are monsters in human form, scary, amoral, and in some series very difficult to kill. They walk among us and we don't know they are there until it's too late. As these monsters took the places of classic monsters the real monsters no longer had the oomph they had. Bela Lugosi went from frightening to campy in a relatively short time. As the traditional vampire bag of tricks became less frightening authors and screenwriters were able to focus on other aspects of what it means to be a monster. Instead of reveling in their bloodlust, some vamps became angsty, others forsook human blood completely while some tried to subsist on blood stolen from a blood bank. And thus began the grumbling from those who say these aren't real vampires.

I just turned 47 and I've been reading about different kinds of vampires for more than thirty years. Anne Rice is pretty famous for writing "whiny vamps" that don't appreciate all they have, instead lounging around their New Orleans or Paris homes complaining and longing for more. (I enjoyed the majority of her vampire books, although I much preferred the Taltos books.) Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was also writing at the same time, about her vampire hero Saint-Germain, a swoony fellow I've had a crush on since I was fourteen or so. Saint-Germain is quite old, a scientist, an alchemist and a lover of the arts. He wants emotion with his blood, so chooses his partners with care, wanting to share a deep connection with them while feeds, taking only a small amount of blood at a time. You can find out more about these lovely stories here: http://www.chelseaquinnyarbro.net/saint-germain.html.

No matter how "unscary" the main character vampires might be, whether they're sparkly members of the Cullen clan or the vampire brothers from The Vampire Diaries, there is one common theme in these stories, which is danger to the protagonist. Sookie Stackhouse isn't menaced by Bill the Vampire but she's certainly always in trouble, whether it's the vampire haters, another clan of vamps or someone who is hunting shapeshifters that is putting her in harm's way. Bella from Twilight has nearly died more than once, despite the ever watchful eyes of Edward. In my own script an actual emissary from Hell is after my heroine, attacking her at every turn, and yet somehow it wasn't quite enough for some readers. They weren't going to be happy until my heroine was a human beset by terrors. Interestingly, even human serial killers, who have become more monstrous than monsters, have become so commonplace that they're now shifting, with the rise of characters like Dexter, the killer who works on the side of goodness and justice. We're also starting to see something similar with zombies, who have fast risen to be America's favorite monsters, with books like Brains and I Kissed a Zombie and I liked It elevating zombies from brainless eaters to something much more. Will there be people who complain about this transformation? Of course there will but there will also be people like me who celebrate interesting new ideas.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Shiny Pebble who writes in to say, "Clash of the Titans was terrible. No titans, no clash to speak of, and no plot. Fun to make fun of though!" Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.