I’ve read or watched three vampire tomes that I truly enjoyed. The original Dracula by Bram Stoker – along with several movies based on it, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and HBO’s True Blood. Each of these novels has something about them that – God help me, but I swore I’d never use this putrid phrase – transcend the genre. Dracula is full of Victorian angst and an undercurrent of fear in the two decades leading up to World War I. Salem’s Lot uses the vampire Barlow to goose a town into showing its true colors, which aren’t all that pretty to begin with. And True Blood has a Plots With Guns vibe I find irresistible.
Beyond that, I am majorly bored with vampires. I know, I know. Vampires sell. Edward and Bella. Let’s not forget Lestat. But Twilight has a limited appeal, which is why I’ve always preferred Harry Potter for my YA fantasy. Harry lives in a geek’s world with a deliciously whiny villain. I certainly applaud Stephanie Meyer for getting a new generation of fans to read, but it doesn’t really appeal.
Why? With the exception of True Blood, the vampire tomes I’ve read depict vampires for what they are, basically zombies with a mind still working in their skulls. Stoker’s Dracula is a filthy, nasty thing more repulsive than frightening. His movie counterparts, with the exception of Gary Oldman’s faithful version, may be charismatic aristocrats befitting the undead king of Romania, but Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Frank Langella all projected an undercurrent of death and malevolence underneath that veneer of charm. They are, in fact, the spiritual brethren of Hannibal Lecter.
King takes it a step further. Barlow comes to town, using his toadie to create the illusion of a witty, erudite English gay couple settling down to sell antiques. But the filth and fear ooze out in the town. Naturally, the elderly gay couple is a novelty, so the townsfolk start blaming that writer fella for all the strange goings on.
True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, takes a different tact. This is noir with fangs, and the gritty, 35mm kind you’d expect Tarantino to shoot. Harris’s vampires interact with humans, kill them, have sex with them and each other, and are just as vicious in undeath as they likely were in real life. In other words, they are caricatures of us. The horror is there, and often as not, the humans are just as monstrous as the vampires.
Edward and Bella? Not feeling it. The undead are monsters, maybe unwilling at times, but monsters. Nor do I care for Lestat’s three centuries of self-love and self-loathing or Louis’s incessant whining. If anything, I found Anne Rice’s Claudia, the girl frozen in childhood when she became a vampire, the creepiest.
I know, I know. The bloodsuckers sell. A couple of writers I know make a good living writing about them. But for me, the fad has worn out its welcome. It’s become a gimmick, not a vehicle for good storytelling. Frankly, the undead leave me…