On Vampires: Dracula

My main character in Generation V is a vampire. This is in no way a scientific declaration, but I’d say that vampires are probably the most used fantasy creature, with werewolves sliding into the number two spot. After that are probably witches and, far in the distance, elves.

There are actually a huge amount of vampire myths, and when you go back into the original stuff you’ll notice a fairly massive difference between how we view the classic vampire now and how they were originally conceived. For one thing, they were generally not looked on as particularly sexy, while that is practically the guiding principle now. Bram Stoker’s Dracula changed a lot of stuff (though if you read it, he doesn’t exactly come off as particularly attractive).

But here are the things that is pretty much the dogma for the modern vampire:

• No sunlight.
• Issues with garlic.
• No reflections.
• Nourished solely by blood.
• They were all once human, and had to die to become a vampire.
• Once a human becomes a vampire, they cease aging entirely.
• They can be warded off by crosses, and holy water will burn them.
• A vampire can make a human into a vampire. (this process is permanent)
• The only way to kill a vampire is to drive a stake through its heart.

Are those the only things? Definitely not. Here are a few others that are less common, but still pop up:

• Vampires cannot cross running water.
• Vampires are completely OCD, and if you leave a pile of rice, they have to stop and count each grain. (okay, that one doesn’t come up much, but in the classic vampire myths this one came up a lot)
• Decapitation can also work for killing a vampire.
• Vampires like to wear leather (seriously, tell me this isn’t a thing)

Now, every person who either writes a vampire book, TV series, or movie plays around with these things. Take sunlight – sometimes they can go outside in it as long as they wear sunglasses (are there are any Moonlight fans in the house?), but other times they are actually rendered completely helpless and have to hide out in coffins or basements.

So there really isn’t a “right” kind of vampire right now. Everyone who writes vampires ends up putting some kind of different spin on the idea to create “their” vampire. I’m pretty much the same – I took a basic modern vampire idea, then started making adjustments until I ended up with a vampire that was interesting to me. Some things I changed a lot – for instance, my vampires have no problems at all with running water! Okay, that one has pretty much been abandoned. But think about that one for a second – if someone wrote a vampire story where vampires couldn’t cross running water, does this mean that you’d be safe if you hid out in a shower? Characters would be all, “Oh noes, vampires! Quick, get into the shower!

So for the next few entries, I’m going to write about my vampire influences. For kicks, I’ll even try to keep this relatively chronological. Should be fun, and if anyone is reading along, feel free to chime in down in the comments section!

The first vampire influence I can remember is….

Dracula. The 1992 movie.

The one with Keanu Reeves. (yes, the horror!)

I was ten the year that it hit theaters, which means that this actually isn’t really my first vampire influence (I saw it on video). But I really don’t want to spend an entire entry ruminating about Count Chocula cereal commercials and what I remember of Count Duckula cartoons.

If you remember Count Duckula, though, mental high-five.

According to IMDb (because I refuse to watch that movie again, even for the sake of this blog) that also starred Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, and Gary Oldman, which is blowing my mind completely, because I actually do not remember any of those people, who I know I’d seen in other stuff by that age. And apparently Cary Elwes was in this thing! That is amazing that I actually didn’t remember that, given that I should’ve recognized him from The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men In Tights. (side fact: I know that I saw Robin Hood: Men In Tights before I saw Dracula, because that movie was the first Mel Brooks film I ever saw, and was basically my personal benchmark for humor for many, many years.) (another side fact: The IMDb photo of Cary Elwes? Dude, I know you couldn’t stay looking like Guilford Dudley or Captain William Boone forever, but, seriously, that just made me sad)

But back to Keanu Reeves. This was maybe not the best casting decision, and it has stuck in my mind for years and years. Basically, at one point Keanu (playing Harker, kind of sucking at it) has been abandoned at Castle Dracula and is imprisoned by the female vampires. Here’s half of my big long-term takeaway from this movie: the female vampires were really, really slutty. They were also interchangeably attractive, but mostly slutty. Also noticeably, they really don’t have characters. While Dracula has lots of dialogue and motivation, the female vampires are mostly there to add heaving cleavage. You could credit part of that to the original book (Bram Stoker clearly had some era-appropriate problems with female sexuality, with the result being that women who show arousal and desire are either evil vampires or on their way to becoming evil vampires.), but Lucy’s transition from modest English rose to heaving, pawing, British man assaulting creature of the night doesn’t stand by itself in the canon.

The other half of my takeaway was Gary Oldman’s hair as Dracula. Seriously, look at this shit:

Yeah, you can tell that he casts no reflection.

Relevant to the book? About 50%. Color and creepy old-man, yeah, but, really, those are Madonna hair tits on top of that! Remember when Leslie Nielsen riffed on that hairdo in Dracula: Dead and Loving It? (which is completely one of my other great influences, which will probably go unexamined, lest I just spend an entire post quoting awesome lines and linking to YouTube videos)

Oh, what the hell. Watch this, and if you don’t laugh, you’re a cylon.

Then, of course, there’s the whole thing where coming to England has returned Dracula to his youth, where we get this:

Now who does this remind me of…

And suddenly I know who Johnny Depp’s personal style icon is. Good grief!

Noticeable both here and in the original text is that the sunlight issue is really flexible. Dracula is strolling around on the streets of London, which at least suggests that foggy days are okay. Also, once he starts looking like Johnny Depp, Gary Oldman’s Dracula does start showing some strut, but this kind of vampire doesn’t have that very blatant sexuality that started happening later. Okay, okay, yes, you can always make the vampire bite = sex comparison, but this is more about presentation.

Vampires weren’t that complicated in this movie. Yeah, there’s the old-to-young thing, and we definitely have that strong establishment that male vampires are of the classy and debonair school of monster-dom (as opposed to wolfman or Frankenstein), but his motivations do basically boil down to: meet pretty girl, bite pretty girl, pretty girl then becomes kind of like a hooker who I no longer pay attention to. The heroes here are the guys trying to save the pretty girl and kill the vampire. My next influence would really change a lot of these basic elements.

Next time, Anne Rice, and the vampire craze of the 1990s.

About M. L. Brennan

Author of the Generation V urban fantasy series, published by Roc Books. Not your usual vampires, kitsune shapeshifters with attitude, Doctor Who jokes, and underemployment. GENERATION V and its sequel, IRON NIGHT, available wherever books are sold. Third installment, TAINTED BLOOD, to be published 11/14.

Posted on August 5, 2012, in Vampires. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Amusing little tirade. A few thoughts: I think the lesser roles for the female vampires was because they were “lesser vampires.” Dracula was the master vampire, and hence, more important. Also, they were heaving, cauldron’s of sexuality because they were trying to seduce a man. And that generally works with men. The sexuality was kind of a quasi-demonic nature; it was supposed to be carnal and bestial on a very basic level. Personally, I think it was a bit over-the-top, and I get tired of all the over-sexualization of the vampire… but, it’s there.

    • That’s very true – Dracula was clearly the maker of all of the female vampires. He was the most powerful, the central figure, and really the only one who could really make independent plans or choices. It makes me wonder — when was the first time I can remember a master vampire who was female? What do you think?

      The seduction element is interesting – if part of what a vampire is supposed to do is seduce, it does kind of highlight that the female vampires’ approach really is so incredibly one-note — heave, woman, heave! They usually don’t even try to verbally entice much. Compare that to Dracula, who does have a few different elements to his seduction.

      You know what that always makes me think of, though? In Mel Brooks’s Dracula parody, there’s the moment when the female vampires are in Harker’s room, and he says, “What ARE you doing to the furniture?”

      • I only remember that scene from Brooks’ parody vaguely, but it still gave me a good laugh. As for female master vampires, I think there have been a few in literature here and there, but not so much in movies.

  2. Matthew: Yeah, the only female master vampire in movies that I can remember is Amelia from the Underworld #1 & #3 movies, but she’s killed without a line in #1, and is still just a background player in #3.

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