Ever since I was young, vampires have been my favourite ‘monsters’. I grew up dressing as Dracula for every Halloween, having loved the Hammer Horror Christopher Lee films. But vampires are a monster that have been through all manner of incarnations in films and TV shows even over the last few years, and a lot of it bears no relation to what I fell in love with as a child.
Of course, anything as easily saleable as a sexy blood-sucking monster is always going to have lots of different representations, particularly as vampires are so easily associated with that ever-popular market of teenagers. The most obvious of these is obviously the Twilight books and films, which tap into the vein of teenage sexual angst and have been hugely successful because the world of vampires and werewolves fit so well into that area.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, it makes for pretty lousy entertainment if you aren’t entranced by Edward Cullen‘s brooding stare, but the combination of vampires and teenagers isn’t always so achingly dull. The Vampire Diaries does it much better, with Kevin Williamson’s knack for action and humour lifting it above the basic premise of ‘girl falls in love with brooding boy who turns out to be a vampire’. It’s still just a teen drama with fangs, but unlike Twilight, the fangs are both visible and have a real bite to them.
It’s quite curious that The Vampire Diaries has managed to be successful given its proximity to Twilight, but perhaps that has helped it, as vampires have certainly been in vogue recently. Yet another series of books about a girl who fell in love with a vampire has also been taken to the screen successfully in the shape of True Blood. Firmly aimed at adults, it adds the sex and violence mostly missing from Twilight and makes it a heck of a lot more bloody and naked than The Vampire Diaries.
For all of those reasons, and because it’s by Alan ‘Six Feet Under’ Ball, True Blood is definitely my favourite of the modern-day vampire sagas. One of the things that I like most about it is that it twists the usual mythology by placing itself in an America where vampires have ‘come out’ and live amongst humans openly (thus setting up many subtle and not-so-subtle comparisons with the situations faced by gays in modern-day America – like the ‘God Hates Fangs’ sign in the opening credits), which takes away a lot of the usual pained attempts to keep their existence a secret.
I also like that it does away with moody teenagers almost entirely, with the grown-up lead characters providing a refreshing change as they don’t spend their time in school classes or at dances. Seemingly ever since Buffy first mixed the worlds of American high schools and blood-sucking monsters, the two have been permanently intertwined, for better or (usually) for worse. Either that or they are clad in PVC for dumb action films like Van Helsing or the Blade and Underworld series, where they are little more than bad guys with pointy teeth.
What I’d love to see is a return to more sophisticated and traditional vampire stories on screen. The mid-90s brought a couple of those with the flawed Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the tedious Interview With A Vampire, neither of which captured the gothic magic of the Hammer Horror or Universal Dracula films. Perhaps, with Hammer now back up and releasing some pretty good new horror films, the time is right for them to reinvent the vampire once more and save them from glossy American teens with cheekbones sharper than their fangs…
Last night I watched what felt like four or five hours of new show Red Or Black, with The X-Factor providing some extra overwrought emotion in the middle of its two parts. Afterwards, I felt a bit like Kevin McCarthy in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.