Since the moment the epic novel of Bram Stoker “Dracula” was published in 1897, the archetype of a Victorian England vampire occupied an essential place in Western pop-culture. He has been appearing in countless forms and shapes since then. The fear of folklore monsters — vampires, was successfully used in cinematography for over a century now. This fear gradually became a well-selling emotion and took its niche in popular movie art of the 20th century. However, by today it went through the wild evolution — the impression of the legendary mysterious hunters has dramatically changed. Hence, this work will analyse what pop-culture made of the folklore monster and why they no longer terrorise human minds.

The legends of vampires are ancient. They appear in every culture from the times of first civilisations. The first known records of blood-sucking demons dated a few thousand years B.C.E. Thompson, R. Campbell in his book “Semitic Magic, its Origins and Development” writes about “Seven Spirits” and draws a parallel between Assyrian demons and the vampire how modern era knows it:  “…Their predilection for human blood, as described in the cuneiform incantation, is in keeping with all the traditions of the grisly medieval vampires”. (p.52)

Vampires appear to be a migrant from the Middle East to Southeastern Europe. Gradually the myths filtered into every European culture — from Balkan to Celtic nations. The middle ages, however, became a period when the beliefs were mass spread in folklore. Medieval Europe became a perfect ground for the undead legends, diseases and plagues raged all over the lands. People were suffering from lack of nutrition rich food and mental illnesses, for example the catalepsy — “a condition of diminished responsiveness usually characterised by a trancelike state and constantly maintained immobility” (Free Dictionary) was unexplainable for people and induced to find mystical causes. Due to deficiency in medical science, superstition mind was seeking the explanation of those phenomenas in undead spirits preying on the livings. However, not only impossibility to explain those issues scientifically was the reason people created the cult of vampire. The sadistic inclinations of European rulers played a significant role in shaping of the modern vampire. “The fictional Count Dracula’s home is in Transylvania, a part of modern-day Romania that was also home to Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), whose family name was Dracula. Vlad’s habit of impaling his enemies on long wooden spikes inspired his nickname, although his sinister reputation only developed after his death.” (National Geographic, “1897:Dracula Published ”)

All afore-mentioned led to “vampire hysteria”, which reached the apogee by the 18th century. This led to an explosion of Vampire themes in literature.

One of the first literary characters who was close to the image of the vampire as we know him now was Lord Ruthven, “The seductive, corrupting aristocratic vampire arrived in 1819 with a short story by William Polidori published with much sensation in the London press. Lord Ruthven is the title character of The Vampyre, a bloated, lustful beast who preys on young women, particularly terrifying because he does so in the most exclusive salons of society. The vampire has moved from the folkloric margins of the peasantry to fuse with the melodramatic image of the aristocratic libertine.” (Roger Luckhurst for BBC, 2015) Few of the earlier sources show that Stoker wasn’t the first author who established the appearance of the vampire. “A long series of “penny dreadfuls” published throughout the 1840s present Varney the Vampyre as a pale and skeletal aristocrat with hypnotic eyes and protruding fangs.”, writes Jonty Claypole, in the Afterwards for Stoker’s Dracula (Stoker, p.520)

In spite of this, Stoker’s Dracula marked the dawn of a new era of Vampire history. “There is something unforgettable about Dracula, some universal fear he feeds upon, that has rendered him more powerful than perhaps even Stoker ever hoped”, wrote Claypole (Stoker, p. 520). It is Stoker who consolidated the image of Vampire, endowing him with traits that are so successfully used in the pop-culture a century later. Fiction and cinema usually portray the vampire as charismatic, handsome, polite and individualistic villain, who is strong and able to control human minds, cunning and quick, a perfect undead predator walking among livings, standing on the top of evolutionary tree.

Everything has changed cardinally with the invention of cinematography in the very end of 19th century. Decades later, directors have gotten a chance to experiment with the character and interpret his image according to their conceptions. The first remained and well-known adaptation of Stoker’s novel appeared on the big screen in 1922. “Nosferatu – A Symphony Of Horror”, composed by Henrik Galeen, actor, screenwriter and director, “One of the great figures in early German expressionist cinema. A master of symbolism.” (IMDb), and directed by F.W. Murnau, German director inspired by Schopenhauer and Shakespeare. The character of Dracula — Count Orlok, differs from the stately aristocratic vampire from the novel. Tall man with disproportionately long arms, extended with terrifying claws. His look is mad, big eccentrically and horrifically looking from under bushy sternly knitted eyebrows eyes. Sharp visible front teeth and animal-like ears add monstrosity to the landlord of uncanny uninhabited castle in the gloomy mountains of Transylvania. The image of Count Orlok fills with disgust and frightens the viewer. The vision of director portrayed the Count very similar to a rat, which periodically appears on the screen swarming around the coffin, he had rather animal characteristics than human. The Nosferatu created a myth, that sunlight kills the vampire, however, according to Dr.Van Helsing in novel, the sunlight just makes a vampire weaker. He is dressed in drab Eastern European clothing. The appalling look of the character and fear of him is intensified by the silent scenes and symphonic orchestra, playing ominous melodies. It is impossible even to imagine what emotions viewers were experiencing on the premier, if the vampire, played by Max Schreck, scares human minds even nowadays. The monster of silent era, embodying the natural fear instead of personified one will stay in the history of cinematography as a legend for centuries. 

The ”Dracula” 1933, directed by Tod Browning became the first American horror movie and established the popular image of on-screen character, who is looking from the book and comics covers, shelves of Halloween costumes stores and anything related to vampires up till now.  Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi, an actor played Count Dracula in the black & white adaptation of the novel, created a cult character. Classy vampire, gallant gentlemen, representative of aristocracy with first-class manners. He dressed spick and span, wearing tuxedo and pomaded hairstyle. Bela Lugosi is originally Romanian, which adds to the character some Southeastern European charm. His accent sounds very natural and goes perfectly with how the original novel’s vampire was described. Intensified effects of tension and terror is achieved by close ups, facial expression of the actor is very impressive, his look is disturbing and piercing, with a premiss of craziness. This charming villain possesses a gift of mind control and he is not reflected in the mirror, since then many vampires have the same features. 

More than 20 years later Christopher Lee appeared before the viewers as a legendary Count Dracula in of the same name movie, which became a British “response” to American Dracula with Lugosi. “Horror of Dracula” directed by Terence Fisher and produced by famous Hammer Film Production was released in the summer of 1958.(IMDb) The film production progress has advanced and creators got an opportunity to make an image more active, so Christopher Lee had freedom to with his character, the “improved” Count Dracula speaks perfect English, even though he doesn’t have many cues. The character keeps the same style Bela Lugosi set in silver screen adaptation, he is still an enigmatic villain, dressed in a black cloak, but he is more animated and adaptive. Lee personifies the image of an undead evil, following his crafty plans and inspiring people with fear, so the spectator knew, now it is for real. The cinematography has already been coloured, what allowed to use blood special effects properly to reach the verisimilitude of Dracula attacks. Peter Bradshaw in his article, dedicated to memory of Christopher Lee writes “..when Lee’s Count Dracula first walked down to the stairs to greet his visitors … was a revelation. He was tall (six foot five), handsome and well-built, with an easy athleticism and a frank, direct manner. His deep, melodious voice completed the effect: commanding. There was nothing unwholesome-looking about this vampire, not at first: he looked more like a British or at any rate Central European version of Gary Cooper. So it was even more powerful and shocking when this patrician figure disclosed his Satanic qualities: and that face became pale and contorted, when the lips peeled back to reveal the fangs, the eyes turned red and the lips dripped with blood — and his whole being oozed with forbidden sexuality.” (The Guardian, 2015) The metaphorical parallel drawn between bloodsucking and sexual lust in “Dracula” novel, became obvious in scenes of Dracula night visits to Mina, she is excited about his company and feels the the utmost delight while Count digging his teeth into her beautiful neck. Jimmy Sangster, screenplay writer (IMDb) swop the characters and the story itself, so Mina here is a sister of Jonathan, not his beloved, as she is in the original novel. The synopsis is Jonathan Harker comes to Dracula’s castle prepared to stack the vampire, what obviously is not happening, so by the moment Dr.Van Helsing reaches the castle to rescue Jonathan, the one is peacefully resting in his coffin, turned into a vampire. After the murdering of Harker Van Helsing is going back to England and meeting Mina, and Harker’s fiancee Lucy. Mina is weakening, Van Helsing immediately realises that the reason is Count wearing her out at nights. So the hunting on Dracula starts and in the end the evil is defeated.

On-screen vampire was evolving simultaneously with the times and history changing. The Count Dracula played by the German actor Udo Kier in the later screen version of 1974, directed by Paul Morrissey, is one of those rare interpretations, tightly connected to social and cultural changes. There are many provocative scenes and nudity in the movie. “Blood For Dracula” or so-called Warhol’s Dracula has nothing in common with the original novel’s plot, but the main character and the lands he is coming from.  Count Dracula feeds on virgins’ blood only.  Since there are no more of innocent girls in Romania, he is forced to run to Italy, seeking for “food” to survive. The vampire here resembles an alien, pale lean face, big blue childish eyes, thin exhausted body, yet he is too weak that he can only move on a wheel chair. The king of darkness is just a pitiful dying creature, desperately clinging on to life, his extinction, however, symbolises the dying of the times of purity and innocence, brought by sexual revolution. Such an unique portrayal affected by the creative hand of Andy Warhol, an artist, whose name is far from boredom and ordinary. 

In 1987 the vampires moved to another level. The “Lost Boys” by Joel Schumacher. The young group of bloodthirsty reckless vampires terrorising Santa-Carlo by night, meanwhile their “father” —  the head vampire, very decent mid-40th man, flirting with the new in town mother of two sons, who doesn’t know what is going on, yet.

Such “bad guys” perfectly matched the atmosphere of carefree California spirit of 1970s, what made the movie popular among teenagers. The vampires have a scary monstrous red-yellow eyes and sleep as bats, upside down, in the local anarchist den. However, they stereotypically can’t stand the garlic and holy water, so the brave family deals with them in “American way” — with anything they can lay hands on. The times of rock music, punks and freedom are reflected in the characters.   The soundtracks also accentuate a specific spirit of mystery and estrangement — The Doors’s “People are strange” and Gerard McMahon’s gothic rock anthem “Cry little sister”, accompany the scenes of the group riding bikes on foggy roads to their den, gloomy desolate spot, covered with anarchist symbolics. The vampire here is real and it is a monster, which has to be destroyed.

Less than a decade later the world has seen the best known vampires of Anne Rice, famous gothic fiction writer, Lestat and Louie, played by sex symbols of 90s Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in “Interview with a vampire”. The story is told by one of them, Louie, in his interview to a pragmatical journalist, who just sneered when the vampire revealed what he is. 

The Brad Pitt character, Louie, became the first vampire on the big screen, who stirred up sympathy, being so desponded by eternal life and blood lust. He is humane and overly sensitive to everything, what Lestat does, being a stereotypically cruel, merciless and dissolute vampire, who enjoys all “gift” he has been given. The only human trait he posses is attachment to Louie, whom he turned into vampire to be a companion and brother for himself. He is desperately trying to set Louie on the path of the true vampire, according to him, the only creature compared to God. Meanwhile, Louie has nothing but pangs, doing everything in his power to resist the needs of his nature, suffering and substituting the human blood for rats and puddles. At the very moment Lestat thought he is losing his friend, the new personage joining the duet, the abandoned child, Lestat turned. So they have a beautiful undead daughter, Louie cares about the most, since he “died”. Claudia is an unruly little monster, she blames Lestat for being doomed to stay a girl of her age for ever, so she will never experience being a woman. So she kills Lestat with blood of the dead, which is poison for vampires, and Louie is just watching it and helping to eliminate the body. 

Both of them Louie and Claudia are looking for answers, so they start on the journey to find “their kind”. The find brings Louie more suffering and disappointment. A group of European inhuman blood-suckers takes his love, the precious daughter and kills her, because such a young creature is not allowed to exist. Despaired and lonely the main character burns the den of the vampires and leaves to knock about the Europe. In the end he forsakes an old world and comes back to America. He submitted his fate, and peacefully narrating the story of his eternal life. “Dracula is a fiction” says Louie in his interview, it was obvious that the history of the cinema genre was divided in two, the new vampire and old vampire.

One of the most sensational vampire movies of 2000s became “Twilight”. The beautiful undead form of Edward Cullen won the hearts of millions of young ladies around the world.

“Twilight is mad, bad and deeply unwholesome to know, and perhaps, in its serious way, the most entertaining teen film since 10 Things I Hate About You. It is certainly a new twist on the time-honoured nice-girl-bad-boy storyline.” (The Guardian, 2008)— says the Guardian’s film critic Peter Bradshaw in his review of the movie. Cullen’s are a family of attractive vampires living in the woods near a small northwestern town, they keep a rigorous diet — only animal blood, they are exceptional. They are caring and value family the most. Some of the Cullen’s vampires attend school and cling together so they don’t really communicate with the other students, until the moment a human girl name Bella from Arizona moved to cloudy Forks and Edward is feeling drawn to her.

He is trying to stay away from her, but in vain, he follows her everywhere to be ready to help anytime and watches her sleep. Soon he has to reveal the truth about himself. The vampire, according to Stephanie Meyer, the author of “Twilight” is fast and strong, they possess different gifts, Edward can read thoughts of everyone around, but Bella’s. “I am designed to kill” says the character in the moment of revelation. The attribute distinction of these vampires is how they react to the sunlight, unlike the all vampires in history, the sunlight doesn’t even hurt the Cullen’s, it makes their skin shine as bright as diamonds. In spite of this truth the brave Bella is still in love with Edward and not letting him go. The approach to relationships is very conservative here, so Bella becomes a part of the vampires family very soon. However, the movie about vegetarian vampires couldn’t be without a bad guy to keep the balance. The stranger vampire James, sensed the human amongst immortals and hunts her. The Cullen’s family does everything to protect Bella, Edward is on time to save her life and destroy a bad vampire James. So now they can go to prom together and live happily ever after.  “Twilight” is the great example of trend that metamorphosized Stoker’s vampire into a desirable boyfriend.

Every single person heard about the Count Dracula, the dead living in the mountains at his castle in Transylvania. But what was his previous life like? Gary Shore, the director of the same name film “Dracula: Untold”, released in 2014 lifted the vail of the mystery. “Men don’t fear swords, they fear monsters” says prince Vlad, the protagonist who is a loving and caring father and husband, devoted to his kingdom and people. In a long war with the Ottoman Empire. All the turks ask to make peace are to give a thousand soldiers, including the little prince. Vlad refuses and the only chance to overpower the Sultan Mehmed now is to take a curse from the immortal monster living in the mountains, but he has to sacrifice humanity and become a blood lusting monster in return, if he tries a human blood within three days, there is no way back. He gets the power to destroy the whole army of turks by his own, blowing over the troops like swarm of bats and scattering the troops with a hand move. A great warrior trying to protect his child and kingdom is ready for anything. By the end of the third day his beloved wife is attacked by turks, he rushes to help her, but she is falling down from the cliff and dying, at the moment the blood thirst is irresistible and he is digging his teeth in her neck and becomes a monster doomed to eternal existence. All what is left is vengeance, he turns his soldiers into vampires and the undead army is annihilating troops of turks. After the victory they all are dying under the sun light, all but prince, who was saved by his servant. The film is about the strength of the spirit, justice and punishment for the cruelty. The legendary Dracula used to be national hero, loving father and husband, who sacrificed everything to save his family and was cursed, forever.

The modern vampire is not what he used to be! Each of the monsters that ever made an appearance on the screen, brought a valuable contribution to the image of the blood-sucking demon, as we know him now. Every decade of the last century the character met the need of the audience, according to consumer needs, evolving from the creepy animal-like vampire in silent movie, to the beautiful and touching teenage vampire falling in love with a human. Important to notice that genre is still very fluid, but the vampire has lost it’s mysteriousness and asceticism. The modern vampire goes to school and having a human girlfriend, desperately fighting with the whole world for the right to be happily in love. He propagandise the family values and decency. It is not in line with the original idea of a vampire, the terrifying, mystically immortal creature, what stands on the top of the evolutionary tree, predator with the mind of human beings, legends of whom make people tremble with fear.

Published by stacylinevichblog

Journalism student, based in Prague. Love reading books, history, jazz. Passionate about design, architecture and culture.

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