Dracula and the Modern Man-pire

The problem with modern fangs

The vampire is a timeless monster, ever since Stoker’s novel and the first adaptation of it in Nosferatu the world has been obsessed with the idea of the vampire and the immortality that comes with it. Recently the vampire genre, though it’s never really gone away, has had something of a resurgence in the shape of the “modern manpire”. The immortal beast has other things on his mind these days and is no longer simply about necks, blood, avoiding daylight and the best location for a pine box. In True Blood there’s a hierarchy, most of the mythology about vampires is little more than vamp propaganda and complicated love lives not to mention business interests and a spokesperson for their civil rights. Their fixation seems to be more on sexual intercourse than the advancement of their species through siring and the consumption of blood or at least those we’re lead to care about, Bill Compton being a fine example.

The Twilight saga takes the disinterest in blood a step further with the Cullen “family”, a group of vampires who pose as parents and children with little interest in human blood, preferring to hunt animals and even then out of necessity rather than instinct. Edward’s primary obsession is getting Bella into a wedding dress and down the isle to swap their ‘I do’s’ and the rest of the family…well their personal relationships could rival that of Brookside, for anyone old enough to remember it. All reference to the physical and primitive needs is washed away and replaced with a monster you could actually bring home to your parents and it wouldn’t even have to be at night as the Cullen’s just seem to sparkle during the day rather than combust or turn to ash. The Vampire Diaries is no different with feuding brothers, long term relationships and complicated social lives is closer to 90210 than it is to Dracula.

This has become a startling trend in the genre though it’s not recent, even in Dracula Lugosi’s interest was in Jonathan’s beloved and not Jonathan as the drinking of blood, the consumption of human life is so closely linked to the sexual that it could have been construed almost as deviancy to lust after a member of the same sex…even if it’s a different species. The end goal was always the same though, whether it was Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Lon Chaney, Vincent Price, or Salma Hayek to drink them dry. The sexuality of the vampire is at best bait for those humans obsessed with the aesthetic and physical.
Many of the modern vampires don't even possess the physical transformation when they release their instinctive killing side. Historically the vampire was an unattractive creature that had some sort of magical allure of was physically attractive in passive form but once aroused physically changed in and around the face. With the Universal Pictures horror era that changed as the vampire became attractive with Lugosi, and in Britain in the Hammer horror franchise the vampires were sexually alluring but ultimately extremely deadly.  The active vampire mode changed again with the most recognised alteration of the last generation was the sloping of the brow, tightening of the forehead, deadening of the eyes and elongation of the teeth made popular in Hollywood in the 80’s with The Lost Boys, reinforced in From Dusk til Dawn and perfected by Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then Angel. Now those sort of changes are reserved for “the bad vampires” (like there’s another kind).

It seems ironic that in an industry where so many film and television characters are little more than two dimensional broad strokes that Hollywood is intent on fleshing out a character type that is at it’s best when they are two dimensional. The vampire should be in the same category as the crocodile. The crocodile has not changed in over two hundred million years, it has evoked to the point where it has reached perfection, we would call it ‘Self Actualisation’. Whatever it’s called; the crocodile is the perfect killing machine. It can last for hours without breathing or moving as it watches its prey and when it strikes it moves with speed, fluidity…grace even and makes small work of those lower down the food chain that it. That is what the vampire is. For vampires to exist they would have to have been around for years upon years, to have witnessed the crucifixion of Christ, outlasted the black death and will have seen mankind wage war on itself time and time again. They have learned to blend in with the general population, exist at night while it’s prey sleeps and, as most legends portray, can glamour the weak minded human beings into obeying their will. The pursuit of blood and the pleasure it’s consumption brings is the vampires equivalent to sex. Basic human needs no longer concern then as they are no longer basic humans, they are the perfect killing machine and at the top of the chain. Modern vampires preoccupation with their nightclubs (True Blood), love lives (True Blood, Twilight & The Vampire Diaries) or civil rights (True Blood) is little more than Hollywood’s effort to give story arches.  To humanise the inhuman, make the antagonist a protagonist and in doing so is striping the vampire of the most interesting aspects of what a vampire is.  2010 even saw the release of the innocent vampire, the child beast of Let Me In (the English language remake of Let the Right One In) has reinforced the beauty of the twenty-first century vampire.

In most cultures, over the years, age is something to strive towards as it brings with it respect, wisdom and the promise of a community than will take care of you until you are ready to pass on into whatever lies beyond this life. The secular world is changing that and with more and more people attempting to cling on to their youth through cosmetic surgery the idea of immortality and the connotations with it has changed from something to be feared, something dark, living in the shadows of existence to something to strive towards.

The vampire has been put on the endangered species list thanks to the modern life and the pursuit of lasting beautiful and youth. Jim Mickle looks to change that. Stake Land brings the vampire back to the screen in it’s most beautifully grotesque form and places the beast in the shadows again. A creature to be feared, a force to be reckoned with and a monster that would strike fear into the manpires of Edward Cullen and Bill Compton. For the sake of the vampire mythology Hollywood must accept that these creatures do not belong to the drama, they are supernatural two dimensional killing machines . They belong in the dark corners of your room, under your bed and feeding indiscriminately on man, woman and child alike. They are perfect just the way they are, so let’s just leave them that way and remember not to invite anyone into our homes with a widows peak or a Romanian accent.

Jim Mickle’s Stake Land is playing as part of the 2011 Belfast Film Festival.


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