While “children of the night” fans gather in tents around the downtown LA theaters and huddle before their small screens at home, cooler heads ponder the perennial appeal of the neck-biting monster, immortalized by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but molded and re-imagined by every generation since: What is the appeal; why does the iconic figure never seem to fall out of favor; and what do the current refashionings tell us about our time?
Vampires have become the perfectly malleable character, says Leslie Klinger, author of “The New Annotated Dracula,” morphing into everything from a secret agent to a bad guy and a poor, misunderstood soul. In the beginning, he points out, “the vampire was a monster – it was spawned from our wish to overcome death and be immortal.”
New unmacho masculine appeal
Today’s devotees are drawn to the sheer visual panache of the 21st century vampire, says 27 year-old public relations specialist Kevin Malinowski. “The idea of a physically-appealing male has changed over the last decade. Men don’t have to appear ‘macho’ and ‘tough’ to be sexy.”
“They can be as pretty as the women, and be just as attractive to the opposite sex,” he says via email, adding, that at the same time, “Guys and girls alike are still impressed by a character who can do some damage. The way that vampires are shown today gives the audience the visual of the 21st century, metrosexual male, who at the same time is a hyped-up version of the most deadly killers ever created on screen. This is incredibly stimulating for both sexes.”
“There are all these massive anxieties bearing down on people and they want to tame monsters, to have them on their side,” he says. “The thing about my vampire is he is still a predator – he is still scary.”
“The shorthand version is that he doesn’t sparkle,” he says referring to the Twilight characters who are not hurt by the sun, but rather “sparkle.” “That is the thing people are looking at after 9/11 – people are looking for monsters on their side who are scarier than the ones we face. His job is to frighten people.”
Vampire tales go back thousands of years
The concept of a blood-drinking creature who achieves eternal life by consuming the forbidden “blood of life” dates back at least several thousand years and spans continents – from the Indian Kali up to the 400 or so vampire-related films of the past century, says Thomas Garza, professor of Slavic & Eurasian studies at The University of Texas at Austin, who teaches a standing-room-only course on vampires.
The vampire has become a perfect stand-in for our fears about the “other,” or whatever scares us, he says, noting that in the Stoker novel, the figure was “stereotypical Eastern Jewish, at a time when anti-Semitism was raging throughout Eastern Europe.” The character was “tarted up” in the Bela Lugosi film classic, and it was depicted as more aristocratic and seductively alluring.
Mr. Garza dates today’s sleek, coolly sexy vampires to this version in which polite society could “slum with evil.” Today, he points out, we are far too sophisticated to fall for the nasty brute of a devil. But, he adds, “When the monster is attractive and evil is easy to love, well that’s how Eve was charmed into taking the apple, wasn’t it?”
Yet another evolution may be the “vampirization” of this generation.
Sociologist Ben Agger says the current generation’s busy, harried lifestyle gives added appeal to the night-dwelling creatures.
“Today’s kids are overscheduled, ever-tested, overrun with obligations and just like the vampires,” the author of “Fast Families: Virtual children” says. “The night is the only time they have to themselves. They are free to do as they please, for once.”