By Jen P
Whether you like them gore-addled or sparkling in the sunshine, the vampire is one of the most often-portrayed monsters in modern media. That’s probably because bloodsuckers have been feared by almost every human culture throughout history.
The original blood drinkers weren’t human at all—they were gods or demons, rarely portrayed in human form, but as monsters or animals. Shards of ancient Persian pottery depict demons feasting on blood (Vampire Forensics, Mark Collins Jenkins), and around the same time, the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet supposedly drank the blood of those who defied the sun god, Ra. That’s as far back as 3000 BCE, as in, pre Ancient Greece!
But for now, let’s put aside these ancient demons and focus on the vampires of modern fiction. The vampires we know today are fierce, usually dead, human (or at least humanoid) beings that carry a wide range of traits depending on who made them up. Some are immortal; while others age and die like the rest of us. Some are hideous, slimy creatures that skulk in the dark; while others sparkle and inspire hormonal teens to throw their quaking bodies at their feet. Some are funny, some are sexy, some are terrifying, and some are a combination of all three (like Jerry, from Fright Night). The only thing all vampires share is the need to feast on human blood.
Let’s take a look at the evolution of the modern vampire.
The concept we know as the modern vampire (the humanoid bloodsucker), arose in 1656 (Medieval times) with the first reported human vampire, Jure Grando. Legend holds that Grando rose from his grave for 16 years after his death, regularly raping his widow and murdering townsfolk until he was beheaded by the villagers with a saw. You can read more on that here.
But the 1700’s brought on the world’s first “vampire craze”. And no, I don’t mean tweens lining up to check out a young and pasty Ben Franklin with fangs; this vampire craze occurred when Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole (I apologize for the Wikipedia link, but the original information is in German. You can find it here .) reportedly rose from the grave and killed a bunch of people. Their murders and subsequent stakings were well documented by authorities, and both men were believed to be real life vampires. What followed was mass paranoia in Europe: graves were ransacked, and stakes were driven through the hearts of suspected vamps.
Then came the literature. It began with mildly-erotic German poetry:
“And as softly thou art sleeping
To thee shall I come creeping
And thy life’s blood drain away.
And so shalt thou be trembling
For thus shall I be kissing
And death’s threshold thou’ it be crossing
With fear, in my cold arms.”
An excerpt from Der Vampyr, by Heinrich Ossenfelder
Soon, the English picked up on the craze and made it their own with plays and penny dreadfuls, keeping the Germanic theme of seduction and expanding on it.
The stories grew smuttier and gorier—none moreso than Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), where we truly meet the father of the vampires we know today.
Stoker based his literary character off of Vladislav Dracula, aka Vlad the Impaler, though took quite a few liberties with the mythology surrounding the man. Stoker moved the location of Dracula’s castle from Wallachia to Transylvania, replaced his brutality with bloodsucking, and because Vlad liked to impale people, Stoker translated that to staking vampires in the heart.
Few names are so synonymous with the monster who bore them as Dracula is to vampires. To this day, Dracula is the single-most portrayed character in film. Period. He appears in over 170 different features, starting with a silent Russian film (Drakula, 1920). Now, he’s featured in everything from children’s films (Hotel Transylvania) to the gore-porn you’ll find on premium channels (Penny Dreadful).
So now that you know where vampires came from, here are a few modern vamps you either know or need to know:
To keep the list short, I stuck with mostly TV and film, but there are many other media outlets for these blood-sucking beasties. Feel free to take to the comments with your favorites in all forms.
- Spike, Angel and Drusilla, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most kids of the nineties grew up on Buffy, and if you didn’t ship Buffy and Spike over Buffy and Angel, then we can’t be friends.
- David and his gang, The Lost Boys. Read my “10 Reasons We Love” article on this film to learn everything you need to know. Let’s just say, it’s one of my favorite movies OF ALL TIME.
- Jerry, Fright Night (1985). Ridiculous, funny, and weird as sh**; if you need a dose of the Elvira-style 80’s, Fright Night delivers.
- Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows (TV and film). Johnny Depp’s version was decently entertaining, but the original series earned this character his star-studded reboot.
- Nick, I Heart Vampires web series. A spoof of Twilight and other teen-geared vampire fare, I Heart Vampires is well acted and fun to watch.
- The Roommates, What We Do In the Shadows. This mockumentary takes you through the day-to-day life of four vampires and their supernatural frenemies.
- Mark and The Countess, Once Bitten. This 80’s film almost fell in the nostalgia category. Jim Carrey, in one of his earliest roles, is more annoying than funny; but the supporting cast keeps the laughs coming in this “virgin vampire trying to get laid” comedy.
- Bella and Edward, Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. Love them or hate them, they influenced a generation of glitter-loving teens and inspired the “mommy porn” fan-fictions, Fifty Shades of Grey and Beautiful Bastard.
- Aidan, Being Human. A ghost, a werewolf, and a vampire move into an apartment… The American version of this British show ran for four seasons on SyFy channel and wrapped up with the kind of lovely ending you rarely find on TV.
- Stephan or Damon? How will Elena ever choose between these hot, totally opposite brothers? This series includes more angsty teen drama than you could possibly stomach in an eight-season show. (The Vampire Diaries, TV and books)
- Abby, Let Me In. Chloe Grace Moretz is ultra-creepy as a child vampire in this 2010 horror film.
- The Upir, Hemlock Grove. I can’t give their names or I’ll spoil you, but trust me, these Romanian vamps are heavy hitters on the gore scale. That’s probably because this Netflix series is executive produced by Eli Roth, the man behind Hostel and Cabin Fever.
- Eric, Bill, Jessica, and Pam, True Blood. Funny, gory, and southern gothic at its best, True Blood cost me a lot of money in premium cable back in the day. Mild spoiler: half of the non-vampire cast becomes vampire or is murdered violently by the end of this series. Be sure to check out the Sookie Stackhouse book series by Charlane Harris as well. Dead Until Dark matches the first season of True Blood pretty closely; but after that, it’s a-whole-nother story.
- The Vampires of Penny Dreadful. Nasty, slimy creatures that steal babies in the night and feast on the blood of the innocent… yeah, I’m going to have nightmares. But the vamps aren’t always the scene stealers in this show that features many Victorian-era ghouls from Dr. Frankenstein to the Wolf Man, and even Dracula himself.
- Jerry, Fright Night (2011). Colin Farrell is hot, evil, and creepy as hell in this remake of the 80’s comedy-horror. Sure, there are plenty of laughs to be had, but few from Jerry. Farrell plays this sociopathic vampire to perfection.
- Blade, Blade (comics and film). Wesley Snipes brought this Marvel comic character to life on the big screen, kicking off a franchise that keeps delivering to this day.
- Selene, Underworld. She’s the strongest leading female vampire in film, and boy does she kick ass. We need more girl vamps like her!
- Lestat, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. The vampire Lestat is one of the most famous vampires, second only to Dracula himself. Don’t miss the film version either. Interview with the Vampire features one of the sexiest ensemble casts ever, including Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Kirsten Dunst, and Antonio Banderas.
- I already mentioned Dracula in his many forms, but my favorite is the Gary Oldman version. He’s creepy when he needs to be, and steampunk-sexy before steampunk was a thing. The supporting cast is great too; Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves play the couple Dracula torments. (Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992)
I’ll leave you with this: though there’s never been proof of vampires, people continue to fear them. As recently as 2002, a man accused of vampirism was stoned to death in the African country of Malawi, proving that cultures all over the world still speculate over the existence of these terrifying creatures. With no way of proving they don’t exist, are you willing to sleep without a stake under your pillow tonight?
Good night, Geeks. Sleep tight. Don’t let the vampires bite.