Modern vampires come in many guises, but they all address our fascination with sex and death. From the ghastly Count Orlok to the glam vampires of True Blood, thirsty fiends are endlessly appealing.
- Vampires have an appeal like no other monster. They embody our darkest desires: the violent urges and forbidden lusts we secretly wish we could indulge. They also reflect our conflicting attitudes about two of the great concerns of life: sex and death.
The most famous vampire of all time is, of course, Count Dracula. Created at the end of the 19th Century, Bram Stoker's famous creation has proved to be a flexible metaphor. In the 1922 German silent film Nosferatu, the vampire stood in for the First World War. In 1931, audiences flocked to see Bela Lugosi play the Count, who now represented the draining forces of the Great Depression. Christopher Lee's Dracula embodied mid-century fears of sexuality (particularly female sexuality), while Gary Oldman's Dracula was part lover, part monster, and all Goth.
Dracula's attitudes toward sex were rooted in the late 19th Century. A century later, Anne Rice gave us a new breed of bloodsuckers: Vampires as tortured heroes and amoral villains, freed from society's constraints. With Interview with the Vampire, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt gave Rice's story the kind of star power that no vampire movie had ever seen, all the more surprising given the characters' implied bisexuality. Vampirism has served as a metaphor for alternative sexuality from 1936's Dracula's Daughter through the lesbian vampire cycle of the 1970s to HBO's recent television series True Blood. Based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, True Blood took viewers into a sex-charged world where vampires emerged from the shadows into mainstream society.
The 1987 classic The Lost Boys reimagined vampires as troubled teens living a Peter Pan lifestyle filled with big hair and shirtless saxophone players. The 1996 Western-Horror hybrid From Dusk 'Till Dawn's vampires are seductive strippers and rowdy bikers who are actually bat creatures that gush green blood. 2008's Let the Right One In forsakes standard clichés in its story about a lonely boy who befriends a vampire girl. The film's vampires are scary, but sympathetic.
Vampires are usually portrayed as creatures with dual natures - they're passionate lovers and merciless killers. But in the 2000s, perhaps mirroring the polarization of society, we've seen them split into two radically different types: The vampire as vicious predator, in films like 30 Days of Night; and the vampire as dreamboat boyfriend, in the most commercially successful vampire film of all time, Twilight. Although Twilight is often scorned by horror fans and criticized for its conservative sexual politics, it was the rare vampire film to give its female protagonist total agency and a strong point of view.
Interviewees include Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino, Alex Winter, Joel Schumacher, Kristen Bauer van Straten, Jordan Peele, Diablo Cody, Lina Leandersson, John Landis, Ana Lily Amirpour, Catherine Hardwicke, Candice King, Jack Black, Rutina Wesley, Mike Dougherty, Leonard Maltin, Mary Harron, Josh Hartnett, Steve Niles, Kevin Williamson, Bryan Fuller, Mick Garris and Joe Hill.