Yes, I know, I’m stealing the title from a 2010 movie. As bad as that movie might have been (I have no desire to subject myself to that torture), the title is on point. Now, I don’t regard all vampire appearances in entertainment as awful. But who can resist the doubly-fun hyperbole of ‘Vampires Suck’?
Lest you think I’m out to bash Twilight – have no fear. I’ve watched parts of the movies and haven’t read the books, but I don’t regard them as strong contributors to my disdain.
The most common complaint I hear about Twilight (other than Kristen Stewart’s acting) is the vampire as a romantic figure. I wholeheartedly agree; casting a vampire character as a romantic figure is akin to putting a mosquito on the cover of People magazine.
All kidding aside, though, you can’t even lay that trope at the feet of Anne Rice. To a lesser extent, Stoker portrayed his count as sophisticated and debonair, and Lugosi’s portrayal in the film adaptation firmly cemented the image of the suave, debonair vampire lord preying on comely young women.
Vampires: It’s a no from me
The classics of cinema are forgivable; it’s the modern iterations that are most annoying. Interview With a Vampire – meh. The Hunger – eh. Late Anita Blake? Great googly moogly. I don’t watch it, but I’ve heard that Vampire Diaries has to the to-be-expected CW romantic angst and stunningly attractive cast well-covered.
I’m on the fence . . .
Buffy The Vampire Slayer had plenty of great moments during its extended run, but the on again, off again stuff with Angel and Buffy got old really fast.
What I actually like is . . .
Now, of course there are exceptions to the rule. First and foremost we have Jim Butcher’s use of vampires in The Dresden Files. The various vampire courts have their own unique and interesting abilities while standing alone from the established folklore. White Court vampires feed on emotions, and while the Red Court are close to ‘true’ vampires in their need for blood, they are non-human creatures posing as human rather than risen dead. The vampires that occupy the ‘Dracula’ niche in the Dresden-verse are members of the Black Court, and, well . . . Bob the Skull said it best.
“They didn’t call them anything, Harry,” Bob said in a tone of gentle patience. “That’s why the White Court had Stoker publish the book. To tell people about them.”
To put it into context – one court of vampires solicited Stoker’s book as an instruction guide on how to get rid of the Black Court – nearly extinct as a result in the Dresden-verse. Because even Jim Butcher knows that vampires suck. 😀
Peace through superior firepower
Blade, its sequels, and the TV series (remember that?) do suffer a bit from mixed storytelling. The first movie has a bit of magical mysticism, the second is more grounded in science, and the next circles back around to the mixture of the first movie. That and the first hew more closely to the comics, but Guillermo del Toro’s first sequel checks off all of the boxes for me. It’s a bit of a riff on Aliens (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but the soundtrack is dynamite, the set pieces are great, and the final fight with Ron Perlman’s character is magnificent.
Like a vampire-hunting James Bond, Blade has all sorts of nifty-gadgets to put the creatures of the night back in the ground, where they belong. Silver bullets, swords with booby-trapped grips, and UV grenades. It’s great entertainment. Along the same lines, by the way, comes the portrayal of vampires in Declan Finn’s Love at First Bite series.
Upping the ante
Finn tweaks the folklore enough that a vampire as a romantic figure works, but then he one-ups even Blade in terms of vampire-killing gadgets: holy-water fire hoses, Barrett anti-material rifles, and Rosary bead garrotes. Those “eureka!” moments also expand in interesting ways in the following books, but it would be a pretty big spoiler to lay out the how and why, there.
Basically, what it comes down to is the fact that traditional vampires have such glaring weaknesses that the best and most interesting portrayals have to do something unique to make them more dangerous as antagonists. That said, it’s almost a balancing act. Remove too many of the weaknesses, and you end up with invincible monsters. In some genres, that sort of thing is a staple, but with urban fantasy, in particular, fighting and being able to win against evil is one of the hallmarks of the story.
There are plenty more examples of great use of vampires, from my perspective, and I’m sure I’m missing a few. If you think I overlooked something, feel free to chime in on the comments.
Vampires, Kill vampires. Get paid. Very much a nascent Monster Hunter International, though the mercenaries in this book are contracted through the Vatican. The movie is not nearly as good, but James Woods is his campy best in the role of the protagonist.
Near Dark. Has a romantic subplot, but it redeems itself with the sheer brutality of the vampire clan. Bonus points for Tim Thomerson. Several Aliens alums are in it, as well.
The Lost Boys. Romance pops in, again, but it works, mostly. Love the ending twist, and the Grandpa is the greatest character EVER. “Got the TV Guide, why would I need a TV?”
‘Salem’s Lot. Early King is the best King, and this book is flat-out perfect. Even the bummer ending plays out well, as the heroes are forced to retreat and regroup. I’m shaky on the film adaptations, I honestly don’t remember if they were any good or not.
Fright Night. Loved the first, enjoyed the second. The comic book series (did you know it had one?) was also great, expanding the mythology into other types of monsters. Heck, I even like the Anton Yelchin (RIP) remake.