The Evolution of Vampires in Film and Television
A Look at Where Vampires Started in Film, and How We Got to Where They Are Today
In this day and age, vampires are seen as romantic figures—these beautiful, misunderstood creatures that we can’t help but fall in love with. This wasn’t always the case, though. Vampires used to be something that terrified us, that gave us nightmares. How did that change? I won’t be going into the why, but rather the how. There have been many vampire films and TV shows over the years. This is a look at their progression—their evolution from terrifying monsters to creatures we love and lust after. There are far too many to go through all of them. I will be looking at the big ones that were either very well known at the time of their release, or mark a change from what had been done before.
Nosferatu was the first widely known vampire film. Released in 1922, it is a German silent film. It is the story of Dracula, but they didn’t get the rights so all the names had to be changed. That is how we got Count Orlok, a rat-like creature with long pointed fingers, little sharp teeth, and pointed ears. Very much a monster, he doesn’t resemble a human at all.
Then we got the first official Dracula film with Bêla Lugosi in the title role. This gave vampires an air of mystery. He was part of the aristocracy and foreign, piquing the interest of his female victims. He was so different from the other men in these women’s lives that he was really seen as something new—a fascination, a curiosity that grabbed their attention.
The next major change wouldn’t come for vampire films for almost 50 years. One small mention I feel I should give here is to the Dracula films made by Hammer Horror between 1958 and 1976. They didn’t change the character in any noticeable way, but they did change one thing. They were the first company to make horror films in colour. Now we return to Frank Langella’s Dracula. His was the first to add sexuality and a kind of love to his relationships with his victims. He went to Lucy and seduced her, treating her with a sort of reverence as he turned her into a vampire. Gone is the vampire who simply sneaks into a woman’s room and drains her blood. Now it’s more of a romantic and sexual act that the woman actually participates in.
'The Lost Boys' (1987)
This is the movie all of you Twihard fans should be thankful for. If it wasn’t for The Lost Boys, Twilight probably never would have existed. This was the first instance of teenage vampires, creating the idea of vampires being the ultimate cool, being young and beautiful forever, never growing old or dying. As the movie’s tag line says, “Sleep all day, party all night. It’s fun to be a vampire.”
Interview with the Vampire is our introduction to the guilt ridden, suffering vampire. The vampire who doesn’t want to kill, and even once he does, wishes he didn’t have to. Yet another film Twihards should be thankful for. No Louis, no Edward Cullen. This film also sets up a trope that is repeated in most vampire fiction today: having one vampire who regrets and suffers, and another who revels in killing and takes joy in what they are.
Buffy brought us to where we are today: the vampire romance. She’s the Slayer, and her job is to kill vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. It’s because of this that she has a hard time maintaining relationships. She actually makes a decent try at it with a boy named Riley when she’s in college. It ultimately ends because he can’t deal with the fact that she’s stronger than him and doesn’t always need him. She has two other major relationships over the course of the show, both with vampires. The first is with Angel, a vampire cursed with a soul. Later she has a relationship with Spike. It’s not the healthiest of relationships, but he actually makes an effort to try and be better. He evolves as a character and chooses to become a better person for her.
So there we have it. From there we get things like Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and True Blood. Just a little reminder that vampires weren’t always the romantic heroes we think of today.