I've always wanted to do one of these.
Every Halloween, and probably now after every Twilight movie, damn near every entertainment website publishes a list of their favorite vampires. As a complete...um...sucker for these kind of light articles, I always wind up a bit disappointed afterward. The lists are basically the same. It's the guy from Near Dark, the guy from Lost Boys, Edward, the kid from Let The Right One In, and a bone thrown to Count Orlock from Nosferatu as the scariest vampire ever captured on screen. By and large, these vampires tend to fall into two categories: the tormented creature of the night and the overenthusiastic predatory date rapist.
Don't get me wrong, the lists are usually pretty good. But there are a lot of great vampires out there that don't get a lot of recognition. So, without further ado, here's my favorite vampires:
My elementary school had a deal with Scholastic books where they sold tons of young adult books at discount. I'd bring their catalogue home and my parents, indulgent creatures that they were, bought me everything I wanted. Among the little treasures I picked up were kid-friendly versions of classic novels like Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula.
I loved those books. They introduced me to the fog-swept streets of Victorian England and the monsters that lurked among the cobblestone streets and tastefully-appointed drawing rooms. The books were wonderful gateways to imaginative fiction and classic literature. My favorite was, of course, Bram Stoker's immortal Dracula.
I loved the creepy Transylvanian Count, the decaying old keep on the mountainside, the sexy vampire women that inadvertently ushered me into puberty, the polite first meetings with the Count, Lucy wasting away, the chase across the mountains, and the exciting final battle between hero and monster. That shit was FUN.
The Count was cool. He was elegant and predatory and threatening. He hadn't been shellacked with that layer of romantic angst that vampires would pick up in the following years. Reading that book was a wonderful introduction to the character and it left a lasting impression on me. I have a copy of Dracula I picked up from my trip to Transylvania, I have a piece of masonry from Vlad Dracul's actual castle a few inches from me as I write this, and I've collected a bunch of goofy memorabilia. Dracula always was and will be the man.
Louis and Lestat
The whole romantic vampire thing started here. After Interview got published, vampires became less about monsters and more about power fantasies. Still, I have a lot of fondness for the silly, soppy little vampires of Anne Rice's tales.
I first encountered Lestat and Louis during my freshman year in high school, when I was all Gothic and susceptible to flowery prose. Until that point, vampires were undead soulless things, but getting to see history and morality from a vampire's point of view was fascinating.
I empathized more with Louis when I was younger. While all the superpowers and glamor sounds fun, I would have shared his distaste with hurting people. As time went on and my morality crumbled like a sand castle in a tsunami I came to love Lestat's "gentleman death" vibe. I didn't stick with the series long enough for him to become a Jesus allegory and I have come to understand that Anne Rice has since renounced her earlier work after her return to Catholicism. But I still greatly enjoyed both Interview and The Vampire Lestat.
Morbius The Living Vampire
Among my many nerdy obsessions, I was a huge comic book geek. I started reading during the late eighties, when dark-tinged supernatural heroes like Ghost Rider were big. Marvel, seizing on the popularity of the character, created a crossover series called Midnight Sons, reintroducing classic horror heroes into their own series. The best of all these books focused on Spider-Man's former vampiric nemesis Morbius The Living Vampire.
Morbius was unique in that he was not a supernatural vampire. The product of a botched medical experiment aimed at saving him from a life-threatening disease, Morbius developed powers and limitations suspiciously similar to a traditional vampires. While compelled to kill by a near-overpowering thirst, he was horrified by his actions.
One of the things I liked about Morbius was how intensely he struggled with his need for blood. Vampires are often a metaphor for addiction, though many romantic vampires jettison this aspect of the mythos. Morbius was a good man brought down by his curse, and the only way he reconciles himself with his needs is to prey on killers and other urban scum. He straddled the line between morality and damnation, and was pretty damn entertaining because of it.
Do you guys remember the third Castlevania game? In it, you could pick up one of three allies in your quest to take down Count Dracula. The most useful one was undoubtedly the wall-climbing pirate guy, but if you were willing to to cross the map you could enlist the assistance of Alucard, Dracula's estranged vampire son.
I loved the notion of playing a vampire. Sure, he didn't really do much beside change into a bat, but it was still a cool idea. Konami later expanded Alucard's role into a full game, the cult favorite Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Alucard was elegant and cool, and the notion of a son slaying his father for the greater good made for some interesting drama.
I'm not the world's biggest fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but they did get some things right. One of them was Drusilla, the mad seer vampire.
I loved Drusilla. She was gorgeous, she wore clothes and hairstyles from a different age, she spoke in delusion-fuelled poetry, and unlike most of the Whedonverse's vampires she never stopped being a nasty piece of work. Many of Whedon's vampire antagonists eventually came over to the light and often became diluted and boring but Drusilla remained a monster. She's one of those characters I'd like to transport into other horror stories because she shines a dark little light whenever she appears.
Garth Ennis's Preacher series, a cross-genre Vertigo series about a supernaturally-gifted preacher's search for God, gave us Proinsias Cassidy, Irish uprising volunteer turned vampire. He was one of the richest characters in comic history. Cassidy avoided the classical tropes of vampire. He didn't have fangs, he wasn't particularly elegant, and he was selfish and irresponsible. Unlike ninety percent of vampires-both good and bad-he was defined by who he was rather than the rules he had to live by.
I really liked Cassidy's backstory, particularly his involvement in the 1916 Easter uprising and his chance meetings with several historical and literary figures of Ireland and America. Vampires have the advantage of immortality and have the opportunity to witness history in the making. Most writers treat this aspect of vampirism in a very glib, shallow manner, but Cassidy's experiences are all cleverly filtered through his hard drinking, party-boy lifestyle. His wry observation on Brendan Behan's drinking and social habits are worth the price of admission alone.
Cassidy's lifestyle of overindulgence, fuelled by his body's ability to take whatever punishment life can throw at it, made him into a selfish, immature, weak person. He betrays his friends, sinks into drug addiction, hurts the people who care about him, and leaves a trail of ruined friendships in his wake. After burning every bridge and pissing away any shot at redemption, he reaches out to his last friend, trying to dig his way out of a very human damnation. Cassidy was a shit, but he's one of the best characters I've ever spent time with.
Hm. I was a little kid. I like vampires. I like bunnies. Just ask Professor Demon Bunny.
Therefore, I loved Bunnicula.
Remember that scene where the guy winds up in a strange dance club underneath a meat warehouse? He's in a weird crowd, enticed by a mysterious girl, and suddenly blood pours from the sprinklers. He screams, everyone cheers, and he realized they're all vampires. He runs away in terror, stumbles to the floor, crawls to safety, and just when all hope is lost...
Another one of Marvel's Midnight Sons characters, Blade really came into his own after he got into the movies. His world was dark and exotic, full of hedonistic vampires and the trappings of extreme wealth. Blade and his blue-collar operation wreck havoc on the vampire's ordered little world. It's all muscle cars and shotguns and harsh language, a far cry from Van Helsing's genteel efforts.
Invincible super-killers tend not to interest me, but Blade has some depth to him. As the series goes on we get the sense that Blade's quest borders on the fanatical He's at war with his predatory nature, he hates the vampire community yet he doesn't seem to like humans all that much. He exists in a terrible outsider state, orphaned and alone, turned cruel by his quest. Even when he's reunited with his supposedly dead father figure, the coldness Blade shows to the man while trying to figure out if he's turned reveals just how disconnected he is. It's a lonely life and Blade struggles to get by. He's just plain cool, and he is the obvious inspiration for Blacula Hunter Jefferson Twilight from The Venture Bros.
I have covered Let The Right One In at length before, in one of my better articles. The same stuff still holds true. I loved Eli's relationship with Oskar, I loved the weird combination of regret and viciousness that characterized Eli's personality. I loved the savage brutality of Eli's feeding, which is about a million miles away from any sexy neck nibbling. Like Cassidy, Eli works primarily because he/she is a great character. I am absolutely terrified about how bad the upcoming American remake will be.
Vampire: The Masquerade
There are two articles sitting on my blog dashboard that I haven't figured out a way to complete yet. One is on chilling Slave Labor Graphic mini-series Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and one on the now-defunct White Wolf RPG Vampire: The Masquerade. Both works had a tremendous impact on my adolescence.
V:tM is a game about secret societies of vampires operating beyond human awareness. You create a vampire and attempt to negotiate the Byzantinian politics of supernatural society, committing evil deeds while attempting to hang on to their last shreds of humanity.
V:tM worked because it covered every possible variation on vampirism. There were elegant vampires, thuggish vampires, exotic vampires, saintly vampires, devil vampires, and everything else in between. You could have a lot of fun creating an alternate persona for yourself. The system wasn't perfect and the mythology crumbled under its own weight, but it was a fun world to game in.
Back in the harsh and angst-ridden years of my mid-adolescence, I got involved in the Goth scene. My entire wardrobe went black, my music became much more down-tempo, and my hair got longer and very multi-colored.
I went to a small-town high school without much access to a counter culture, so me and my few "babybats" had nothing but the internet, some CDs, and old copies of Propaganda and Carpe Noctem magazine. We passed these little items back-and-forth between us and they lead us to the work of Gothling writer Poppy Z. Brite.
At the time, Poppy Z. Brite was famous in the Goth scene for writing Lost Souls, a vampire novel full of Goths, violence, New Orleans, and gay sex. Lots and lots of gay sex.
Obviously, this isn't a bad thing. Reading Poppy Z. Brite definitely broadened my mind. Once my frail little Catholic boy brain recovered from the shock, I found a really great story. Nothing, the moody protagonist, mirrored the isolation and impatience I felt from being a little odd in a square community. His slow awakening into his vampire heritage is fascinating to watch, and Brite is very good at painting Southern Gothic decay. It's a great book and writing this blog post has compelled me to re-read it.
Anyway, those are some of my favorite vampires. I hope you dug this list, and I'm sure I'll come up with a few more right after I publish this. In the meantime, enjoy the deluge of vampire romance.
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