In 1819, John William Polidori published The Vampyre, which birthed the conception of the modern vampire; this idea has grown exponentially into the innumerable representations that we see in contemporary literature, and more specifically, cinema. For the last almost two hundred years, the idea of the vampire (and the monster itself) has been a prominent trope in horror films. Of course, how the vampire is expressed in the stories can change drastically, and often have different qualities that occasionally blur the line between the vampire and other monsters such as zombies, sometimes in order to create an entirely new monster with qualities of both. So, looking at the different characteristics that the Vampire may embody, what makes a vampire “good” in movies? What would your perfect idea of a vampire be, and what would the tone be for that movie?
The oldest Vampire film that I have seen is Dracula from 1931, from which the Universal Monster films emanated (Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, etc.) and really began the trend of the monster horror films we continue to see today (for better or worse). Of course, Dracula is THE traditional vampire, with all of the traditional vampire traits, which definitely works in a film like this. As with the rest of the Universal Monster films, this character is quite romanticized and allows for the audience to think of Dracula as more than simply a leech of the night but rather a hero almost, whom we side with in the story. The audience is meant to pity the monster, and this theme grows as more and more renditions of Dracula emerge especially in 2014’s Dracula Untold, which is very much a tragic Beauty and the Beast story. While this character also has to stay out of the light, drink blood, can turn into bats, etc., it works because of how he’s also updated into a warrior, and his human traits are more apparent. This is the main difference between horror and science fiction: in horror films, the “monster” is relatable but in sci-fi films, the “creature” is not. What makes Dracula work is how human he is, and the “monster” he is is always one that we pity and respect.
I think that the first Vampire movie that I saw (that wasn’t on the Disney channel) was The Lost Boys, which I thoroughly enjoyed at the time. The Vampire in this film is absolutely the classic version, adhering to rules such as being invited into a home, garlic, mirrors, sleeping upside down, stakes, crosses, drinking blood, etc. which I found to be slightly silly while watching. Maybe I’m just spoiled by the more modernized and improved version of the monster, but having the monster being limited by elements such as those made it hard to take the film seriously, even though it was supposed to be a fun 80’s film at heart (which one could definitely find in it). A film that I find to be similar in tone and theme would be Fright Night, either the original or the remake (which I prefer). The original Fright Night, released in 1985, very much played with and made fun of classic vampire themes. Like The Lost Boys, the film contained a protagonist who believes that somebody is a vampire, and goes out to try to prove this which lands him in a lot of trouble and danger. To make that work, the vampire would have to be the traditional version, yet in the remake, the vampire is much improved and therefore, much more frightening and threatening. The remake was more effective in this way because while it still had the very fun and almost goofy atmosphere, there was an additional layer of horror that the first one lacked. In my opinion, the 1985 version was way too silly, and the 2011 version improved vastly on the tone by adding many more horror elements. I’ll go ahead and add From Dusk to Dawn to my “too silly to be good” category.
That being said, I’m not trying to say that Vampire films have to take themselves seriously in order to be good. What We Do in the Shadows is a fantastic film, and is a spoof of the classic and modern Vampire tropes. In this film, we have a group of traditional Vampires living together in hiding inside of a mansion, going through the daily life of any normal Vampire. What works about this comedy is that it knows that it’s silly and employs that to its advantage; the film is 100% comedy, and every startle or thrill that comes out of the story is just a fun bonus. For me, What We Do in the Shadows is a love letter to classic Vampire films, and a bookend to them as well. It’s time to update the Vampire, or at least update the subgenre of Vampire for a contemporary audience. There have been many films to do this (some better than others), but one that stood out to me whilst still using the traditional Vampire was the remake of Let the Right One In, Let Me In. I have not seen the original so I can currently comment exclusively on the 2010 film, but the element that I respected most in the movie was that it took the traditional Vampire and gave it a story that hadn’t been explored, at least not in my experience. Without updating the Vampire, this film updated the genre in glorious ways, and the love that develops between the Vampire and a young boy is very much “beauty and beast” but with the gender roles reversed. Plus, it’s just a great movie at its heart, I definitely recommend watching it.
Now, let’s look at Vampire films that updated the Vampire into something more than you would find in Dracula or any other film depicting the more traditionalist notion of Vampiristic characters: Twilight! Just kidding. No, I’m not. Let’s talk about Twilight. In this series (all of which I’ve read and seen), we have Vampires who drink human blood, live forever, don’t go in the sun, and other classic Vampire tropes, but with a twist. They don’t go in the sun because their skin is totally like super sparkly, mkay? They can run really fast, jump really high, and for all intents and purposes, are humans except for the fact that they live forever and have to drink human blood (they can live off of animal blood but it won’t sustain them as human blood would). While they aren’t the least intimidating Vampires I’ve ever seen, they are too “perfect” to be monsters. Instead, they’re like humans with unfortunate diseases which is a plot thread that does allow for the “beauty and beast” story to be explored (by beating a dead horse) with this love story. It’s extremely romanticized until you’re nauseous and the story surrounding the vampires and werewolves is a joke.
There are two other films that I know of that updated the vampire genre to great levels, and those are Blade and Daybreakers. While I don’t love either of these films, I think they bring the Vampire genre to new levels by adding elements that even the other contemporary Vampire films don’t really touch on, the former letting us know that there is an entire culture of Vampires that we’re completely oblivious to (and I don’t just mean a small group or a club). Blade added Vampires to the superhero genre which allowed for a certain campiness to be explored without making the film too ridiculous. Having somebody who is half-vampire was fascinating as well, and seeing him fight dozens of Vampires action-movie-style was a blast. Daybreakers offers an alternative notion: what if almost everybody in the world was a vampire, and the humans were hunted and farmed for blood? This is more of a mystery/thriller, and is probably the most original Vampire film because of how it completely flips the Vamparadigm (feel free to use that word) by trading human roles for vampire roles. In this way, it’s an alternative future (or maybe this is prophetic, who knows?) and takes us to places that other Vampire films have not thought to explore, and it was very refreshing in this way. Everything after the exposition is a little less impressive, but the general idea that this film offers up is fascinating and fun.
So, back to the original question: What makes a good vampire? The answer: it depends! It depends on the genre, theme, tone and plot and a successful vampire could have any qualities if it fits its story. For me, I would definitely lean towards something like Let Me In because the traditional vampire is a beautiful trope. So much can be explored there, especially in the style of the classic “beauty and beast” story, a lá Dracula or any other real Monster movies. I would most likely set mine in present day and this universe/timeline, but an alternative universe might also be cool to explore and see if I can create another world that works for Vampires. Who knows! What about you? What do you think about all of this? Any renditions of Vampires that you favor? What would your Vampire film be like? Let me know! As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!