Legends Of Urban Fantasy: The Vampire

We’ve been talking a lot here about Urban Fantasy in books, television and movies. So I thought it might be time for us to take a closer look at the creatures behind the stories. Let’s start with the oldest – if not the scariest – of them all: The Vampire.

In modern times, the vampire legend has been derived from Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, Dracula. Anne Rice, if you will pardon the pun, literally became the Queen of the Damned. Rice’s many books introduced us to Lestat, Marius, Louis, Jesse, David and a whole host of characters.

With the arrival of the 21st Century came a new, younger take on vampires. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series focused on a young teen, Bella Swan, who falls for a much older Edward Cullen.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

From Stoker’s original through Meyer’s works, these books were adapted to the big screen with varying degrees of success. Some were fantastic while others were fantastically terrible.

In between, we’ve had the Hammer films with Christopher Lee playing Dracula from 1958 until 1973. Peter Cushing was usually cast in the role of Van Helsing in these films.

Vampires: Origins

But where did the vampire legend originate?

Vlad The Impaler is thought to be the original vampire.

Vlad Tepes

Most lay the origin of the vampire at the feet of Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. The Romanian Prince was indeed a ruthless man on the battlefield back in the mid-15th Century.

And the legends of his drinking the blood of the Turks he’d impaled on the battlefield certainly sound vampirish. But Medival Europe feared vampires long before Vlad started skewering his defeated enemies in Romania.

Two centuries before, when the “Black Death” killed an estimated eight million Europeans alone, vampires were blamed for many unexplained things.

Mass burials and a lack of experience with seeing what happens when exposed human bodies decompose led to unwarranted fears. Blood flowing from mouths and noses of the dead and noises coming from the corpses sparked fears of the undead feasting on the living.

To keep a corpse in its grave, iron spikes were driven into the torso. And now you know where the stake in the heart aspect of vampire lore comes from.

However, vampiric creatures were roaming the Earth way back in ancient Greece. Empusas, creatures who transformed themselves into a beautiful woman to lure young men that they could feed upon, might be the first known blood-sucker in history.

For whatever reason – the power of being able to control another’s will, the allure of being a sexual creature or extended life – the vampire continues to both terrify and captivate our imaginations.

Who Wrote The Vampire Best?

Clearly, the two front-runners in the literary world are Stoker and Rice. Rice has created a vast universe spread across time and the globe and filled it with a variety of vampires and humans.

But Stoker’s original continues to withstand the test of time and is the work all vampire books are judged by. Stoker laid the foundation and the canon for the vampire genre.

For now, we’ll have to say Stoker remains as the best of the best. Despite the many adaptations of his original manuscript, no one has quite fully captured Stoker’s original masterpiece. Although, one director came very close not so long ago.

Best Vampire Adaptation

1922’s Nosferatu

The first attempt was made in 1922 by F.W. Murnau. Nosferatu was a silent film out of Germany that took seven years to finally debut in the U.S.

The name Dracula was nowhere to be seen in the film as a copyright issue forced the character to be named Count Orlock. But the Stoker story was definitely there.

Bela Legosi was Dracula in 1931.

Two years later in 1931 the adaptation of the stage play starring Bela Legosi as Count Dracula was released. If Stoker wrote the book on Dracula, Legosi wrote the book on portraying the cursed count for the next six decades.

Christopher Lee’s run as Dracula added Hammer’s flare to the legend. Frank Langella’s turn as the Count in 1979 was also well done.

But in 1992, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Gary Oldman nailed Dracula/Prince Vlad in a way that will be hard for any actor to surpass.

1992’s portrayal by Gary Oldham just might be the best Dracula ever.

Just ask Luke Evans who did quite well as Vlad in Dracula Untold (2014) despite the movie itself disappointing at the box office.

So for now, we’ll have to crown Oldman as the Crown Prince of Dracula with Coppola acknowledged as having come the closest of all directors to fully telling Stoker’s original.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you agree or disagree? Tell us who you thought was the best Dracula, who wrote the best vamp story in a book or on the screen.

There’s no right or wrong answer, just enjoyment of an old legend that has ingrained itself deep into our collective psyche.

About the author

Richard Paolinelli

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