I for one am sick of vampires today.
Currently it's all the rage to have a brooding, wangsty vampire who would never ever bite an unwilling victim, and who therefore is as menacing as a blob of cold oatmeal. Nobody in these books believes that you would lose your soul or chance at heaven just by becoming an undead bloodsucking parasite, so it's seen as a free ticket to immortality and good looks with no downsides. And sexual attractiveness has become the signature of the vampire -- not any fear, awe or dread of an eternity as a monster.
Hell, vampires are even able to walk in the daylight without harm. And they SPARKLE. What the hell?
Now I like an adorable vampire as much as the next person (Otto Chriek and Myrnin are among my favorites) but really, enough bishie whiners. So here are a few items that might actually stoke a little vampiric feeling.
Well, obviously there's Dracula (Enriched Classics). Who doesn't love old Vlad Tepes, his brides, his spooky ol' castle, and his boxes of dirt?
This is effectively where the vampire mythos that we know and love began, though it was not the first vampire novel, nor was it a "Twilight-style" megabestseller. It's chilling, weird and haunted by the presence of Dracula even when he's not there, as well as featuring a band of brothers (plus one sister) who are determined to destroy him at any costs. There are also some not-so-subtle subtexts woven into the story about, among other things, sex and English society of the time.
A far more obscure read would be The Vampyre (Forgotten Books), about a seductive vampire who leaves a trail of death wherever he goes, and a young man helpless to stop the vampire from destroying someone he loves. This was apparently based on Lord Byron, and I'd say Polidori wasn't too fond of the guy.
Gay/lesbian vampires are pretty much par for the course in modern-day fiction, but Carmilla: A Tragic Love Story got there first and did it best. A young English woman gains a mysterious companion whom she dreamt of many years ago, and whom she claimed bit her. They become good friends, but Carmilla's behavior is bizarre -- she walks at night, hates Christianity, and strangely resembles an ancestor named Mircalla. A brighter person would have clued in by now, but it takes some outside help to save the day.
And if you don't mind books that go on FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER, the vast penny dreadful gothic Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood might be of interest as well. While highly repetitive and contained substories that don't add anything, "Varney the Vampyre" is nevertheless an eerie little vampire story that contains some wonderfully weird stuff, as well as the source of modern-day tropes.
A more recent classic of the genre turns the entire typical vampire story on its head, with a man lost in an endless world of vampires. I Am Legend is the sort of thing that creeps you out not only with its horror content, but with the hopeless knowledge that he can really never turn the world back to how it was. And oh yeah, the ending is absolutely brilliant.
Obviously there aren't enough awesome vampires in modern fiction, but there are some. One book that harkens back to old Transylvanian legend, myth and folklore is My Swordhand Is Singing, a book that puts some of the visceral horror and ghastliness back into the undead. It's basically a book about a young boy who finds that vampires are arising in the village where he lives, and are threatening a friend of his -- among others. But he can't triumph without the help of his drunken father's secret weapons.
Yeah, its a young adult book. But who cares? The story and the writing are utterly brilliant.
Tim Powers took a slightly different approach with The Stress of Her Regard, the tale of a young man being stalked by a strange lamialike vampire thingy, whose jealousy threatens to destroy everybody around him. It's not a typical vampire story, and Powers handles it in an utterly unique fashion.
An unusual vampire book set in Stockholm is Let the Right One In: A Novel, in which the vampire is more a victim than a villain -- although the vampire can do more than its fair share of damage too. A lonely and disturbed boy makes friends with a strange young "girl" who only appears at night, and seems unaffected by the cold. Serial killings, a pedophile servant, and a woman who is infected all come into play -- and for once a vampire's terrible history honestly makes you shiver and sympathize. It's a weird, sweet little love story with some unusual twists.
Vampires figure in many of Jim Butcher's books, but Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, Book 3) is when they really come out to play -- we're introduced to the Black Court, the White Court, and a lot of the nastiest elements working for the Red Court. Butcher also manages to weave in fairies, ghosts, and holy knights, but the vampires and a brewing war with them is what forms the heart of this book, and many of the ones that follow. It also introduces a tragic vampiric twist for his hero Harry Dresden, which has no easy answer.
It also introduces one of the sexiest and most tragic vampires in fiction, Thomas Raith. Just because he has a good heart and is in love with a human (whose mere touch burns him) doesn't mean that his Hunger can't turn him into a demonic killing machine who will rape you and eat your soul. Just sayin'.
Despite urban fantasy's love of hypersexed vampires in leather pants, Ilona Andrews went in the opposite direction with Magic Bites (Kate Daniels), a gritty bloodsoaked story of a mercenary who finds herself in the middle of sorcerous goings-on and werepolitics. The vampires in this are pretty... different. Think mutated mindless scuttling monsters who have to be telepathically "driven."
And Anne Rice's longrunning Vampire Chronicles series has ups and downs... kind of extreme ones, actually... plus crossovers with witches and endless historical stories. But one of her novels is the absolute pinnacle of her writing skill -- The Queen of the Damned: A Novel (Vampire Chronicles) is a brilliant, complex novel that creates a rich "vampire history" and a sort of Eve of their race, who wants to remake the world in her own image. It stretches across the world and back through millennia, and leaves you wishing that Rice had written another of its kind.
On the flipside, there's also the concept that vampires are a separate species, like in Fevre Dream, a terrifying and dark novel of vampires loose in New Orleans. This is no Ricean fantasy, but a story of a strange friendship between a vampire and a human as they strive to stop a dictatorial vampire from slowly destroying their tiny race. Warning: has baby slaughtering, cannibalism, and a Gollumesque sidekick of the bad guy.
Even Terry Pratchett has written a vampire novel, namely the brilliantly-named Carpe Jugulum (Discworld), or "Seize the neck." Needless to say he has lots of fun with the concept -- the vampire Count Magpyr decides he wants to rule Lancre, so he tells Verence that he's moving in. And since vampires have hypnotic abilities, nobody has a problem with the vampires taking over the country... except Granny Weatherwax, naturally.
And as an example of Pratchettian humor, we have young vampire rebels who wear bright colors and stay up until the middle of the... day. This is also the start of several books with bloodsucking characters, including the adorable vampire photographer Otto Chriek ("Zer bosoms!") and a vampire determined to not be excluded from various professions merely because of what he is. Think sunglasses tester, pencil manufacturer, et cetera.
One of the ghastliest vampire novels in recent memory also comes from the dude who created "Blade II" and "Pan's Labyrinth" -- Guillermo del Toro got together with Chuck Hogan to create The Strain: Book One of The Strain Trilogy. A plane lands at Kennedy Airport, seemingly lifeless -- and with everyone except a few passengers dead with no outward cause. But the survivors begin undergoing bizarre changes, and the dead bodies fail to rot... beginning a terrible metamorphosis, and a plan by an ancient creature that once prowled Nazi death camps for prey.
While many urban fantasy authors like to view themselves as writing hard-boiled stuff, P.N. Elrod can actually say it truthfully. While she's got maybe three or four vampire series and some standalones, her best known is The Vampire Files, a series that mingles vampiric fantasy with gangsters, PIs and nightclubs.
And for those with a liking for postapocalyptic western/medieval/sci-fi, Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D, Vol. 1 is an absolute must read. This ongoing series of "light novels" is all about an exquisitely beautiful dhampir many millennia in the future, who wanders the world killing the vampiric Nobility wherever he goes. Kikuchi's way of depicting the future is rather uneven, and he throws everything into the pot, but he's got a knack for edging his works with lots and lots of horror.
More recently, Christopher Farnsworth created a pretty unique vampire story that serves as a more masculine antidote to "Twilight" --Blood Oath, the story of a rather annoying young politico who is assigned to be the liaison to a mysterious secret agent... who turns out to be a vampire blood-oathed to the president. With the US threatened by a horde of undead monsters, the odd pair have to work together.
And Justin Cronin's vampires are more than just bogeymen in The Passage: A Novel (Book One of The Passage Trilogy), in which a mysterious disease is injected into a small group of human subjects -- and they end up transforming into grotesque insectile vampires. The experiment leads to the destruction of the US as we know it, turned into a postapocalyptic wasteland full of "virals" and a few remaining humans... and the only hope lies in a strange little girl.
Movies and TV
Way not enough of this stuff -- most vampire movies and TV shows are kitschy sentimental things with lots of plastic fangs and sex. But like any other genre, there are some glorious examples that float to the top.
First of all, there are the greatest of classic examples -- Nosferatu (The Ultimate Two-Disc Edition) was the first vampire movie, and despite efforts by Bram Stoker's widow to have it destroyed, it still exists today. It holds up remarkably well -- a rat-faced, pasty vampire who seems more like a creeping monstrosity than a typical bloodsucker.
Fortunately the Nosferatu story doesn't end there either -- Werner Herzog came out with the remake Nosferatu (The Vampyre / Phantom Der Nacht) in the 1970s, merging it with "Dracula" and adding some new twists. And Shadow of the Vampire adds a brilliant idea to the usual making-of movie: what if the guy playing Count Orlok was a REAL Nosferatu, an ancient and dying vampire who slakes his thirst on a movie set.... and getting away with it, because the director is too obsessed with his film?
Then there's Dracula (Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection), the classic adaptation of Stoker's novel in which Bela Lugosi gave a sophisticated, charming, and eerie performance as the bloodthirsty count. A more faithful if somewhat less atmospheric adaptation followed in the seventies, when the BBC created Count Dracula (BBC Mini-Series). Both are brilliant adaptations with awesome acting and great direction, and definitely both should be seen.
And the Spanish-language adaptation -- usually bundled with Lugosi's version of Dracula -- is a brilliant adaptation as well.
And of course, Christopher Lee ranks among the most brilliant Draculae with Horror of Dracula, and while the movie is a tepid adaptation, he's perfect in every way as the aristocratic, imposing vampire. A lesser-known classic is Vampyr, a misty murky story of a young man who finds himself neck-deep in vampiric intrigue, with a strange woman who is apparently drinking the blood of a young girl -- it's loosely based on "Carmilla" and a few other stories, but the ghostly visuals are what make it brilliant.
Only the first part of The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler (Double Feature) actually deals with a vampire, but both stories involve somebody stealing the blood of innocent victims. A feisty reporter with a knack for finding the supernatural stumbles across first a vampire who is tearing a bloody gash through a city, and then a mysterious immortal who derives his longevity from human blood.
While vampire TV is hot right now, it didn't give enough of a boost to one of the best of the bunch, namely the adaptation of Tanya Huff's books, Blood Ties: Season 1. Her vampire is the bastard son of Henry VIII, the beautiful and deadly Henry Fitzroy, who is refreshingly unangsty about his nature as a vampire. He's also deadly, dignified, artistic, unashamed of taking blood from mesmerized victims, and knows just about everything there is to know about evil magic.
And Hideyuki Kikuchi's beautiful dhampir is given anime form in Vampire Hunter D and Vampire Hunter D - Bloodlust, adaptations of the first and third adventures of D. Blood, monsters, castles, bounty hunters and a tragic love affair all take their parts in these stories, which also drawn on Stoker and Le Fanu's characters of Dracula and Carmilla.
For an even darker anime story, there's Blood - The Last Vampire, an OAV about a strange young girl who slays bloodsucking vampires who have infested an American military base. The story is extended in the gory follow-up Blood +: Part One with Bonus Disc, in which an amnesiac Saya is living with a loving human family... until the day a strange man with a cello helps her fight against a vampiric Chiropteran. After that, Saya can no longer escape her destiny to destroy the Chiropterans with her toxic blood --and she can't escape a confrontation with another vampire queen. Warning: this series has EXTREMELY graphic violence, lots of death, some anti-American sentiments, and some offscreen child molestation.
And there are other anime out there with some brilliant vampires in them -- Hellsing: Complete Box Set introduces us to the vicious, grinning Alucard, working for the Hellsing Society. And the lighter Black Blood Brothers: Box Set introduces us to a behatted vampire and his angelic-looking "little brother," on a boat headed for a safe zone for vampires. Lots of different vampire breeds, fights, and mild gruesomeness (our hero gets burned down to a skeleton by running water, only to heal on dry land).
New Zealand also puts in its two cents with Perfect Creature, a steampunk tale of an alternate world in which vampires form a priesthood who are believed to be necessary to keep humanity safe. But one of their order has gone mad from strange experiments, and he is infecting the entire city with a horrendous plague. Only his own brother and a human cop can hope to stop him.
Guillermo Del Toro also created a hair-raising tale of vampirism that was very, very different from the norm in Cronos -- a kindly antique dealer finds a strange metal object inside an angel statue, which addicts him to its sting. Soon he finds himself craving the taste of blood and unable to die... and at war for the object with a dying American businessman and his cruel nephew. Del Toro also gave his unique twist to Blade II [DVD], in which the typical run-of-the-mill vampires find themselves threatened by a highly contagious new breed, who are turning humans and vampires alike into face-splitting Nosferatuesque monstrosities. Their only hope may be their mortal enemy, the Daywalker Blade.
Nadja is a hazy, eerie remake of an older movie about the daughter of Dracula -- the beautiful Nadja finds herself free when Van Helsing kills her father, and rejoices in her ability to love and live without the shadow of dear daddy. But her affair with Van Helsing's niece-by-marriage leads to an inevitable clash, as the shadowy and lethal side of Nadja's personality emerges.
And since it was such a huge hit in Sweden, it was inevitable that Let The Right One In would be adapted from the brilliant book. It makes some changes to Elli's nature and backstory, but it's still the same essential story -- an eerie young vampire and her strange tale of blood, death, bullying and puppy love with a tormented human boy.
And while the protagonist of
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is a good-guy vampire who walks in the day and does detective work, he's still enough of a buttkicker to count as an awesome vampire. His backstory is blood and tragic, and he's stalked by shadowy horrors from his past and present -- meaning there's a lot of blood, gruesome killings, and really strange monsters of all kinds. These vampires don't all walk on two feet!