Losing Their Bite: “Sharp-Dressed Men with Sharp Teeth”
From sinister villains, to friends and lovers; from seeking out human blood as their dinner, to only consuming the blood from animals as their diet; from bad smelling and not well groomed, to best dress metrosexuals—this is the alterations that’s taken place between Bram Stokers, Dracula, which was published in 1897, and the modern day vampires, such as Twilight’s most beloved, Edward Cullen. This illustrates how our view on vampires in our culture is continually evolving from year to year; therefore, I want to explore the significant transformations that the vampire has undertaken as well as the moral rise from feared villain of mythology to a dark hero of modern fiction and its continuing popularity as an icon of popular culture.
With books such as Dracula, Carmilla, and Interview with the Vampire being published, Goth subculture now takes the largest credit for being the time period in which the vampires were ‘born’ into our society, as well as our imaginations. This new interest for these monstrous figures sparked fear in people and soon some even claimed they knew people that displayed these characteristics and behaviors that were similar to the vampires they had read about in these books. People became obsessed and fearful with the idea of getting their blood sucked out by one of these monsters. To take the credit for this new sparked terror was Bram Stoker. Stoker wrote Dracula, one of the first popular writings that influenced the vampire stereotype. In the novel he describes Dracula as “a tall, thin man, with a beaky nose and black moustache and pointed beard...His face was not a good face; it was hard, and cruel, and sensual, and his big white teeth, that looked all the whiter because his lips were so red, were pointed like an animal’s” (Stoker, 1897, p. 202). Also, adding more monstrosity to vampires, Le Fanu’s, Carmilla, adds even more ambiguous characteristics to the description: “she is amphibious in nature, sleeps in the grave by day, has a strong blood lust, a powerful grip, may arise anytime, anywhere from a suicide who led a wicked life...and can only be destroyed by staking, decapitation, and burning of the corpse” (Goodlad, 2007, p. 295). Carmilla, correspondingly relates many of the traditional elements to mysterious Gothic fiction; a castle, complete with a “Gothic chapel” and a “steep Gothic bridge,” ruins, isolation, and a motherless girl. While these novels created clichés of the genre, Anne Rice’s 1976 novel, Interview with the Vampire broke away from tradition and gave vampires a new boldness by letting the story be told from a their perspective. Rice evokes our sympathy through Louis, the main character and vampire, by focusing on the loneliness and isolation that he expresses; he also experiences both ecstasy and the repulsion of the kill, which shows that he feels remorse and compassion for what he does and who he is. This unveiled a new cultural representation of the vampires in the upcoming century.
Things took a turn in the world of vampires and our culture in 1997 when the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer was aired. The transformation was starting; even though the show was mostly focused around the “slaying” of vampires it also exhibited a genuine “love affair between a vampire and a vampire slayer serving as the show’s controlling metaphor” (Goodlad, 2007, p. 315). This was the first time since the existence of these creatures we started seeing a more romantic twist between the human world and the vampire world. In books like Dracula, they too had passion slightly added to the plot, but only with the help of the vampire’s supernatural ability to transform into a charming, younger man and use their powers to seduce and lure them in. Even before Buffy the Vampire Slayer we began to see the transformation in one of the first television shows to feature a vampire character, The Munsters.