Vampires have had it rough lately. Not in terms of popularity — shit, between Twilight and True Blood, not to mention the undying devotion of fans to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dark Shadows, vampires have rarely been more popular. No, they’ve had it rough when it comes to their dignity, their street cred, if you will. Once upon a time they were the scourge of mankind, the hated and despised creations of writers like John Polidori and Bram Stoker, the antagonists of films by F.W. Murnau, Terence Fisher and Werner Herzog. They were ferocious, they were feared. Now, in the hands of the likes of Anne Rice, Joss Whedon and Stephenie Meyer, vampires are . . . Let me put it this way: if today’s vampires were rappers, 50 Cent would have released a diss track calling them out as soft-ass posers a good while ago.
This wussification of vampires started, near as I can tell, in the 1970s with the publication of the first vampire novels of Anne Rice. Rice’s vampires weren’t just heartless bloodsuckers — they were erudite, romantic figures, well read and snappy dressers. And sometimes they were downright ambivalent about the whole “killing people and drinking their blood” thing. In the 1990s Joss Whedon picked up on the ambivalence of Rice’s vampires (though happily not their tendency to be baroque, overwrought, nigh-on intolerable douchebags) and incorporated it into the character of Angel, and later the character of Spike, in his Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Don’t mistake me — I’m a fan of Buffy, and even more so of Angel, the spin-off series centered on the vampire with a soul and his wacky adventures fighting crime in Los Angeles. But the success of Whedon’s watered-down vampires — who weren’t that hard for even unskilled humans to kill, and vanished into clouds of dust at the barest touch of a wooden stake — paved the way for something a hell of a lot worse.
By which I mean Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Not only are the vampires of Twilight a lot of hair gel-sporting mopes — they’re celibate hair gel-sporting mopes. From Grady Hendrix at Slate.com:
At least Angel . . . and most of the rest of them have a lot of sex. But Edward Cullen, immortal star of the Twilight books, does not have sex. Edward tells Bella, his human paramour, that they need to wait until they’re married before doing the deed. In the meantime, he’s fascinated by her, beguiled by her, he can’t stay away from her — but he can’t touch her. Instead, he lies next to her in bed and moons over her as she sleeps. Leaving aside the fact that he’s a 90-year-old man, this is what stalkers do, not boyfriends.
Worse yet, Meyer’s novels disregard whole chunks of classic vampire myth. The undead of Twilight have nothing to fear from garlic, or the sign of the crucifix, or even the fucking Sun. Remember the ending to Hammer’s Horror of Dracula? The best ending to a horror movie, ever? When Peter Cushing races across the table, leaps and yanks the curtains down, bathing the room in morning sunlight, reducing Christopher Lee’s Dracula to ashes and an empty suit in a matter of seconds? That trick wouldn’t work on Edward Cullen. No, sunlight just makes him sparkly.
Can you imagine anything even remotely as stupid as that? Go on and try. I’ll give you a minute if you need it.
Why are the Stephenie Meyers of the world so eager to fix what ain’t broke? You want to write a vampire story? Here are the basics: they come back from the dead, they drink people’s blood, they don’t like garlic, they have a serious problem with Christianity, and fire, beheading, stakes through the heart and sunlight will end their shit and right quick, too. If you don’t want your vampire to sleep in a coffin or turn into a bat, fine. Whatever. I’m cool with that. But how much more can you change and still call what you’ve got left a vampire?
Many years ago I was talking to the brother of my then-girlfriend about an idea I had for a vampire comic book. “Yeah,” he said, “I have an idea for a vampire story, too, but my vampires don’t suck blood — they just psychically drain people’s life force.” That’s not a vampire, you fucking twit. That’s some pretentious goth fop with black fingernails who pretends he’s a vampire to fuck fat chicks at LARPs.
I’m not normally a fan of one-dimensional characters, but what I wouldn’t give for a vampire who is just a bloodthirsty killing machine without any of the bullshit baggage of Anne Rice, quippy pop culture savvy of Joss Whedon, or blatant Mormon propaganda of Stephenie Meyer. Just give me a vampire who sleeps all day, goes out at night and drinks motherfuckers’ blood. Somebody. Anybody. I’m begging you. Enough with the sparkling.