A Hollywood History of Vampires

With the revival of vampire literature after the release of Twilight back in 2006, vampires, having faded in popularity, suddenly skyrocketed, with shows such as True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and films such as Hotel Transylvania (and of course, the Twilight Saga) pumping out at every turn, amassing massive popularity. But how did the vampire evolve? From the “Golden Age” of Hollywood to now, the vampire has changed quite a bit. But how?

To start, we’ll look at the most famous vampire of all, Dracula (if you thought Edward Cullen, shame on you). The character, having originated in Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897, was originally portrayed as a Count from the fictional Eastern European country known as Transylvania. He attempts to move to England and “vampify” the nation, leaving a small team of men and a woman to stop him.

Dracula found his first film appearance as Count Orlok in F.W Murnau’s Nosferatu, which was released in 1922. Although his name was not Dracula, Count Orlok was very similar to Bram Stoker’s character, with the plot closely following the story line of the novel (in fact, it was so similar, Florence Stoker, Bram Stoker’s wife, sued and demanded that every copy of Nosferatu be destroyed). Later, Count Dracula would find himself back on the screen (this time with his namesake) in Universal Studios’ release of Dracula by Tod Browning in 1931. This film, would cause Dracula to become a household name, his character becoming a permanent figure in Hollywood history. This film would gain so much popularity that it would lead to the release of the sequel Dracula’s Daughter in 1936.

In their original forms, vampires represented beings of pure evil, with no remorse over what they were, and nothing to gain sympathy from the audience. However, with the relaxation of Hollywood standards around what could be shown on the screen in the 1960’s and 1970’s, more dimensional elements began creeping into vampire films, in particular, sensuality. These elements would lead to a shift in how the vampire is portrayed, a marker of this being 1983’s “The Hunger”, by Tony Scott. In this film, John, a human lover of the vampire Miriam Blaylock, is hit with “sudden living death”, where he ages rapidly but is still alive. Sexual promiscuity is apparent throughout the film, with Miriam sleeping with both men and women, and trying to tie them to her as lovers to make them “vampire-like”. While still pertaining horror-like qualities, the films adds a new, less horrifying dimension to vampires, setting them up for the eventual “humanization” that would occur in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

Vampires from then on would be defanged-literally. Their fangs would become retractable, and in Buffy the Vampire Slayer they acted just like normal humans. By the release of Twilight in 2008, vampires had become super-sexy almost human beings. During the time period, they were considered the apex of supernatural romance, (although sparkling in the sun rather than burning to death didn’t catch on very well). And it wasn’t just TwilightTrue Blood and Vampire Diaries also boasted super-sexy male vampires, with fans fawning over them at every which way and point.

With Hollywood so drastically changing the vampire from nightmare-inducing to hot and cuddly, it does beg the question- are we stuck with them like this? I don’t think so. While vampires have lost some of their popularity on the big screen, shows like Penny Dreadful and the Strain have portrayed vampires back in their original form-truly terrifying. There is a decent turn away from the romantic protagonist vampire, with vampires once again being seen as the villains, acting sort-of-human but still definitely different. It seems, now, that audiences are getting sick of the “softening” of vampires-which, in my opinion, is probably for the best.

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