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History of Vampires in the Media

In The Beginning...

For centuries, vampires, those blood-drinking yet strangely desirable creatures of legend, have haunted our oral and literary history, from whispered stories told to warn children away from venturing out after dark and the early mentions of Revenants, the term ascribed to visible ghosts or animated corpses, in William of Newburghs Chronicles in the latter part of the 12th Century to 19th Century penny dreadfuls like Thomas Pecket Prest's (also ascribed to James Malcolm Rymer) 1845 series of tales featuring "Varney The Vampire". From these humble beginnings, the vampire appeared in the lauded classics such as Joseph Sheridan De Fanu's "Camilla" (1872), H. G. Wells' "The Flowering Of The Strange Orchid" (1894) and Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (1897), the count if the tale was purportedly based upon the 15th Century Wallachian Prince Vlad Tepes III, a man of immense skill in warcraft and invention of tortures (1431-1476). Stoker built on the notoriety of his now-famous character by providing another tale entitled "Dracula's Guest", published in 1913, though this was simply a part which had been edited from the original published "Dracula" novel.  

And for as long as we have had movie cameras and the ability to use them, we have had vampires on our screens. Some of the earliest times a vampires were seen 'in the flesh' was in the 1909 silent movie "Vampires Of The Coast", "The Vampire's Trail" made in 1910 and the earliest British vampire film offering in 1912, rather intriguingly entitled "The Secrets Of House No. 5". In 1913 the silent film "The Vampire" was released, though the female vampires in question were seductresses more than the murderous, blood-sucking vampires we know now. 

The Terrifying Twenties

However one of the first and most memorable screen vampires appeared in 1922's chilling silent movie, "Nosferatu" directed by F. W. Murnau. The story was allegedly borrowed from Bram Stoker's Dracula from 1921, and the parallels within the story, character names and setting notwithstanding, are glaringly clear, so much so that the widow of Bram Stoker filed a successful lawsuit for copyright infringement against Murnau. The outcomeof the lawsuit was that Mrs. Stoker wanted all copies of the film to be destroyed. Fortunately for us, some survived allowing us to be chilled by the film nearly 100 years later.  And what a crime it would've been to be denied this film! Who can easily forget that looming shadow mounting the stairs, heralding the arrival of the pasty-faced, rat-fanged vampire himself as he seeks out his prey in the form of shapely Greta Schroeder? "Nosferatu", though an unofficial adaptation, was the earliest surviving attempt to bring the story of Dracula to the screen, after Russia and Hungary both had their attempts in 1920 and 1921 respectively. It was a scant two years later that a stage version of Bram Stoker's book adapted by Hamilton Deane was revealed and had a little known Hungarian-born actor named Bela Lugosi as the titular character. 

As the 1920's marched along, the film industry also moved on allowing the vampire to sink his teeth into the dark, primal fears which periodically lurk in the back of everyone's minds. This fear and interest in vampires was helped along when the crimes of Friedrich 'Fritz' Harmann, the 'Vampire of Hanover' was convicted of murdering 24 young men and boys, though perhaps as many as 27 in total, in 1924. He was put to death for his crimes in 1925 by guillotine. More stories of vampires and their ways appeared, inevitably most depictions were drawn from the inspirational "Varney the Vampire" and "Dracula". During the 1930's, the vampire was very much in vogue thanks to Bela Lugosi's unforgettable performance of Count Dracula in 1931, alongside some quite random armadillos in the ruined outer part of Castle Dracula. This followed his popular stint playing the same character on stage. His perfect vocal timbre and proud way of carrying himself cemented that iconic character in our minds. 

The Thirsty Thirties to the Fang-tastic Fifties

Away from the world of make believe, 1931 also saw the execution of another "real vampire" from Germany, that of the child-murderer Peter Kurten (though strenuously denied by its creator, Fritz Lang's first 'talkie' "M", made and released in 1931, bears uncanny similarities to the Kurten case, including location and events) who claimed 9 young lives and made attempts on at least 7 more. He too was put to death by guillotine. 

Soon though, despite the films, books and strange cases of life mirroring fiction, vampires' popularity waned after the horror market was saturated, almost literally draining the life from the monster, with a mass of films including "Vampyr" (1932), "Vampire Bat" (1933), "Condemned To Live" and "Mark Of The Vampire", both (1935), "Dracula's Daughter" (1936) and the somewhat lacklustre vampire played by Humphrey Bogart in "The Return Of Dr. X" in 1939. 

There were many vampire films produced right into the mid-1940's and 1950's, including a rather interesting addition to the genre, the 1942 film "Asylum" which features odd alien vampires. There were several more adaptations of the Dracula story and in 1956, the first Japanese vampire story, "Kyuketsuki Ga" was released on film. However, despite this glut of vampire tales, the interest in the subject was and still is very cyclic. 

The Sexy Sixties

Vampires fell from favour again, it seems, until 1960, when Roger Vadim directed "Blood and Roses", a film only very loosely based on "Camilla". This started the craze for lesbian vampires and led to the 1964 Italian film "Camilla" also based on the novel and starring Christopher Lee who would soon become synonymous with a different vampire entirely. And at the end of this raunchy decade would come one of the first gay vampire films along with its numerous titles including "Dracula", "Does Dracula Really Suck?" and "Dracula and the Boys".  

It was also in the 1960's that spoofs of vampire films and stories appeared, these well-known monsters not now considered frightening but objects of fun or erotic fantasy, in films such as Roman Polanski's "Fearless Vampire Killers" (1967) and "La Viol Du Vampire" (1968) respectively. And it was in Sixties when the growing medium of television began to bring us vampires in the television shows "The Addams Family" (1964-1966, 64 episodes) and "The Munsters" (1964-1966, 72 episodes). Both shows fizzled out in 1966, just in time for another supernaturally-based show, "Dark Shadows", to make its debut. It was 1967 before the show's vampire, Barnabas Collins (played by the excellent Jonathan Frid), appeared but the character was a hit and remained with the show until its ultimate end in 1971. During that time there came a technological revolution and in 1967 the characters of "Dark Shadows" and a great many other programmes were seen in 'glorious technicolour' for the first time. 

Around this time, the British Occult Society (a group of influential investigators which was eventually disbanded in 1988) gave rise to a small dedicated group of researchers, The Vampire Research Society which was founded by Reverend Sean Manchester. Their intention was to locate and exorcise vampires in the real world. One of their most famous exploits involved the destruction of The Highgate Vampire in the late 1960's and early 1970's. 

The Blood-Soaked Seventies

Dracula came to the fore once more, this time in literary form again in the 1972 book "In Search Of Dracula" written by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu where they researched the life of Vlad Tepes. The same year saw a new and sadly short lived television series called "The Night Stalker" starring Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, an investigative reporter whose cases more often than not bring him in contact with the supernatural. Despite only lasting for 20 episodes, this series spawned two TV movies, "The Night Stalker" in 1972 and "The Night Strangler" a year later. Both TV movies seem to deal with vampires of one fashion or another. 

But on the film front, Hammer Film Productions were not to be outdone. They resurrected the imposing and stately Count Dracula, now played by Christopher Lee and pursued by his nemesis, Dr Van Helsing, often played by Peter Cushing, into one of Hammer Horror's icons. Rather surprisingly, Christopher Lee has also played the character of Dracula in a number of other non-Hammer films such as "Jess Franco's Count Dracula", an uncredited appearance in "One More Time", and "Dracula pere et fils" (1979) where Dracula's son ventures into the human world to see if he can survive. However, the first of the Hammer films bringing together the two legendary actors of Lee and Cushing was "Dracula" (1958). This new incarnation of Dracula made vampires very much the in thing once more and even as the series of ever more camp Hammer Dracula films forged on into the 1970's - "Dracula: Prince Of Darkness" (1966), "Dracula Has Risen From The Grave" (1968), "Taste The Blood Of Dracula" (1970), "Scars Of Dracula" (1970), "Dracula A.D. 1972" (1972), "Satanic Rites Of Dracula" (1973) - we were also "treated", and the term I use loosely for some inclusions of the genre, to some of the more bizarre additions to the vampire legend. "Vampyros Lesbos" from 1971, leaves us in no doubt of the carnal activities found nestling within the cradle of its credits; "Lemora", made in 1973 but not released until 1975 because of its potentially paedophilic content, introduced the concept of more than one species of vampire and they they, within the film at least, were at war; and "Ganja And Hess", also from 1971, a shortlisted Cannes Festival film in which titular Doctor Hess Green, played by Duane Jones, becomes a vampire after being stabbed by a cursed dagger and falls in love with the lovely Ganja (Marlene Clark), the wife of his assistant and the man who stabbed him in the first place who was played by Bill Gunn, the director. 

A scant few years later, 1976 gave us the first instalment of Anne Rice's incredibly popular series of books, "Interview With A Vampire", which later became a film in 1994 starring, among others, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Christian Slater. Anne Rice went on to write nine more instalments of her 'Vampire Chronicles' series over the next three decades. And in 1977, another well-known name, George A. Romero, the man most famously at the helm of the "... Of The Dead" zombie films, gave the vampire a more pseudo-scientific approach. In his film "Martin", the titular character suffers from clinical vampirism and the film shows how it is confused by superstitious outsiders with mythological vampirism. At the end of the 1970's, interest in vampires once more died away, tailing off into nothingness after 1979's well-made adaptation of Stephen King's book "Salem's Lot" about a town which becomes over-run with vampires when a new neighbour moves in. Only Ben Mears (David Soul) can save the town with the help of a young Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin). 

The Eerie Eighties

Ah, but everyone knows you can't keep a good vampire down (unless perhaps you consider the Christmas 1980 suicide in prison of Richard Chase, the excitingly named "Vampire Of Sacramento", who killed, exsanguinated and ate the bodies of no less than 6 victims in one month in California-that's definitely down for him) and sure enough, within a few years there was another resurgence of vampire films with movies such as "The Hunger" (1983), based on Whitley Strieber's 1981 novel of the same name and starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. Vampire interest fell a little quiet for a couple of years and then, in 1985, we saw not only Anne Rice's second 'Vampire Chronicles' book, "The Vampire Lestat" but also the cult favourite, "Fright Night" where teenager Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) tries to save his girlfriend from the attention of the suave, sexy vampire next door, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) with the help of TV vampire killer Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell). It was accompanied, three years later, by a somewhat inferior sequel "Fright Night 2" in 1989 as well as a film deemed by many to be a modern classic, "The Lost Boys" (1987). Also in 1987 came the sequel to the 1970's miniseries "'Salem's Lot" called, predictably enough, "Return To 'Salem's Lot", starring Michael Moriarty as an anthropologist whom the vampires draft in to write their story. It bears little if any resemblance to Stephen King's tale. 

However, the penchant in the 1980's was to have other genres mixed with the vampires, perhaps to keep them fresh. "The Keep" is a 1985 war film where German soldiers are set against a vampire and can only be saved by a Jewish scholar, played by Sir Ian McKellan, and his daughter Eva, played by Alberta Watson. This is a slightly laborious film based on the 1981 novel of the same name by F. Paul Wilson. "Vampire Hunter D" (1985) was a feature-length animated film based on a series of Japanese graphic novels set in a post-apocalypse world and two years later, Kathryn Bigelow introduced us to her brilliant cowboy vampires in "Near Dark" (1987). Who can forget the family taking over the bar while trying to coax Caleb (Adrian Pasdar, now better known for his role in "Heroes") into feeding? Meanwhile, one year later gave us the film loosely based on the not-quite-vampiric vampire tale by Bram Stoker, "Lair Of The White Worm". Written in 1911, Stoker's heavily cut book references the legend of The Lambton Worm rather than true vampire legends and the somewhat disjointed film gave us Hugh Grant as a Scottish heir, wearing a kilt for much of the film, presumably so as we can identify his accent. 

Vampires also went to school in the 1988 horror-comedy film, "My Best Friend Is A Vampire" where Robert Sean Leonard plays Jeremy, an all American teen who, after some erotic dreams, meets the woman who stars in them, joins her for his first experience of sex and ends up being turns into one of the undead. Japan was also on the vampire bandwagon with 4-part the cult favourite "Vampire Princess Miyu" where Miyu, the child of a human and a demon (the term used in the mini-series is 'Shinma' and means 'demon' in Japanese), grows up to be a guardian who sends all stray Shinma "back to darkness". 

A year later, the debut vampire story from Nancy Collins was published, a tale entitled "Sunglasses After Dark". This story won the Bram Stoker Award and started off a series of eight books in her Sonja Blue series as well as two other series of vampire books to date. In an odd and perhaps slightly disturbing approach to the vampire legend, 1989 also gave us "Vampire's Kiss" in which Nicolas Cage plays a businessman and party animal Peter Loew whose mind is slowly unravelling. Whether he really was bitten by Rachel the vampire (Jennifer Beals) or if that incident was a figment of his imagination is hard to tell as he descends into madness throughout the film leading to a disconcerting ending. 

And thats same year that fans of Dracula, our well known recurring creature of the night who refuses to lay down and die, benefitted from some gory political upheavals in Transylvania when the dictator Nikolai Ceaucescu's execution opened the door for tours of the country so vividly shared by Stoker in his book. 

The (Super) Natural Nineties

And the inspiration of vampires both real and imagined doesn't stop there. The aforementioned seventies TV series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" inspired a young Chris Carter into creating "The X-Files" (1993-2002) which, unsurprisingly, featured vampires of its very own among the plethora of supernatural and extraterrestrial plotlines. In a nice little return of the favour, the success of Carter's show prompted a short six episode return for Carl Kolchak, this time played by Stuart Townshend, in 2005. 

However, before all of this, rock music met vampires and the offspring of that unholy union was the 1990 film "Rockula" where Ralph (Dean Cameron), the Rockula of the title, is a virgin vampire cursed to watch the woman he loves being reborn and killed throughout the centuries in a delightfully daft fashion - beaten to death by a ham-bone wielding pirate with a rhinestone peg leg. Except this time, he's determined to save her from her fate, and apparently becoming a rock star helps him along the way. 

Vampires, well technically the people behind the vampires, began a revolution that was to change how vampires were perceived. In "Blood Ties", a TV movie from 1991, a family of vampires form Carpathia who move to America and try to fit in with humanity but their efforts are hampered when vampire hunters come into town looking for them after having killed one of their family members. It has developed quite an underground following and there have been repeated calls over the years to bring this lost gem back to our screens. Prior to this series, vampires had mostly been predatory loners, while "Blood Ties" gave them almost human family hierarchies and reactions. 

Vampires were very busy over the course of the decade because the same year gave us the first of five films in the "Subspecies" series, which told the tale of vampire Radu Vladislas (Anders Hove) and his attempts to make Michelle Morgan (Laura Tate) his fledgeling, or vampire companion. Radu is opposed by his brother Stefan (Michael Watson), also a vampire, who is in love with Michelle and will risk anything to save her. The second film, "Bloodstone: Subspecies II" (1993), takes up where the first film left off and continues the story, this time with the feisty vampire Michelle played by Denice Duff. The third film, "Bloodlust: Subspecies III" (1994) once more brings Radu back from the dead, this time Michelle is there with the intent of ending Radu's reign of terror once and for all. But like all good vampires, you can't keep this guy down. The fourth film, "Vampire Journals" (1997) departs from the canon slightly and follows the tale of one of another vampire, Zachery (David Gunn) who finds himself up against one of the other vampires, Ash (Jonathon Morris) who, like Radu before him, has his sights set on Zachery's lady friend, who is vampirised. Zachery makes a bold decision to kill Serena, Ash and the rest of Serena's bloodline. However, he falls for a human pianist, Sofia (Kirsten Cerre) and Ash exploits this weakness to bring the troublesome Zachery to him. The fifth and final film, "Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm" (1998) returns to Radu's tale. Yes, the vampire who just won't die, almost in a Hammer Horror Dracula fashion, is back. He's still trying to catch Michelle and this time he calls in another of his fledgelings, Ash (he from "Vampire Journals") to help.  

Also in 1991, thanks to the White Wolf company's ingenious idea, it wasn't enough to simply watch vampires on the big or small screens. Vampire enthusiasts could now role play as vampires in "Vampire: The Masquerade". It made its first appearance in 1991 and players could 'be' a number of different kinds of vampires, all of whom had their own traits, rules of conduct & powers.  Such was the popularity of the game that it began to cover not only the basic RPG (Role Play Game) scene, but LARP (Live Action Role Play where players dress as their characters and meet in person to act out the conflicts-fear not, this is done safely),  novels, computer games and even spawned a clever TV series in 1996 called "Kindred: The Embraced" which took the main breeds or groups of vampires and told the story of Clan leaders Julian Luna (Mark Frankel), Archon Raine (Patrick Bauchau), Daedalus (Jeff Kober), Lillie Langtry (Stacy Haiduk), Eddie Fiori (Brian Thompson) and Cash (Channon Roe) as they tried to help their people blend in with humans while, in many cases, falling on love with humans. Sadly this show only lasted for one series. It was cancelled perhaps partially due to the death of the main vampire lead, Mark Frankel, in a tragic motorcycle accident. 

Oh, but we don't get away from the grand-father of all vampires quite so quickly. Francis Ford Coppola reminded us that Dracula is the original vampire in his 1992 modern classic, "Bram Stoker's Dracula" starring Gary Oldman as the vampire himself facing his nemesis Abraham Van Helsing, played by Anthony Hopkins, while wooing the very image of the woman he loved, Mina Harker (Winona Ryder) in fog-strewn Whitby. This was a fairly 'true to the book' adaptation, closer than many of the previous attempts with Oldman in particular being praised for his fine performance.  

It was in this vampire saturated time that we were given one of the most memorable vampire slayers of all time. She is the Chosen One, she is, Buffy! "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" (1992) was the original film on which the 1997 series was based, starring Kristy Swanson as the cheerleader turned vampire killer Buffy and Donald Sutherland as her Watcher, i.e. mentor, Merrick, helping her to battle the sinister and ever-so-cool Lothos (Rutger Hauer). The film was not a huge success for writer Joss Whedon but, as anyone with half an eye on the supernatural shows of the last twenty years will know, this did not deter the man who became the Godfather of the screen vampire slayers. For the series, a relative unknown by the name of Sarah Michelle Gellar was cast as Buffy and the action moved to a small, fictional town in California called Sunnydale and the rest, as they say, is history. "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" spanned 7 series between 1997 to 2003 and made household names of not only Geller but David Boreanaz (Buffy's vampire-with-a-soul boyfriend Angel), Alyson Hannigan (the show's usually good witch Willow Rosenberg), now Alyson Denisof as she married her Buffy co-star Alexis Denisof (who played Welsey Wyndam-Pryce, Buffy's replacement Watcher for a time), Nicholas Brendon (the wisecracking Xander Harris) and Anthony Stewart Head as Buffy's Watcher, Rupert "Ripper" Giles. "Buffy" also gave us the popular spin-off series "Angel" which began in 1999 and followed Buffy's usually good but sometimes evil vampire boyfriend Angel as he moves to Los Angeles to fight supernatural crime and try to forget the Slayer he loves. He is helped along the way by old friends from Sunnydale like Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Denisof) and new friends Doyle (Glen Quinn), Gunn (J. August Richards) and Lorne (Andy Hallett). Angel ran for five series' and had several guest appearances by characters from its parent show. 

Ah but not to be left out, popular horror writer Stephen King also gave us more screen vampires, of a sort, in the 1992 film "Sleepwalkers" where a mother and son, Mary and Charles Brady (Alice Krige and Brian Krause respectively), move into a small town and proceed to try to find a virgin on which to feed. The Bradys (and who can see the irony of that name in there creatures) are what are known as Sleepwalkers, a kind of energy vampire who move from place to place in search of their food, and Charles has his eye on Tanya (Madchen Amick). Unusually for this type of film, the hero of the film is not a human but a cat named Clovis (played by a cat named Sparks).  

This was again the time of the vampire, with Anne Rice's "Interview With A Vampire" creating a stir in 1994 at the box office with even the author herself being won over, eventually, by Tom Cruise's performance despite initial doubts over his suitability for the role. The story is told to writer Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater in the role originally meant for the late River Phoenix who died of a drug overdose in 1993 during filming) from the point of view of Louis du Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) of his life from birth to the present, a life spanning hundreds of years and many sumptuous (and some not so sumptuous) locations. 

As Tom Cruise was winning audiences over as the deranged Lestat, in the real world a real monster, the Rostov Ripper, was finally stopped. In Russia, Andrei Chikatilo was executed after a killing spree lasting 16 years and claiming the lives of 53 women and children. All were killed and cannibalised by Chikatilo, then their bodies and faces mutilated beyond recognition. 

However, in the nineties, vampires were sometimes not just monsters but also metaphors for other things. The clever 1993 Mexican vampire film, "Cronos" starring Ron Perlman uses vampirism as a metaphor for the exploitation of Mexico by America. And in 1995's strange shades-of-grey horror film "The Addiction" starring Christopher Walken, the vampirism has strong connotations to do with the AIDS epidemic. 

Meanwhile, 1994's "Nadja" is a creepy yet sometimes comedic modern take on the Dracula story. Nadja (Elina Lowensohn) is the vampire of the title and Peter Fonda is the Van Helsing who is after her, yet still shot in black and white. 

To counterpoint the serious issues being highlighted in some of the vampire films, there were also comedic vampires let loose. "Vampire In Brooklyn" (1995) had Eddie Murphy as Maximillian, the lonely last survivor of the vampire race who heads to New York to find Rita Veder (Angela Bassett), whose father was a vampire, in hopes of spending eternity with her. However, it is his pet ghoul, petty thief Julius Jones (Kadeem Hardison), who raises many of the biggest laughs as he begins to fall apart, literally. And inevitably, Mel Books, the undisputed king of spoofs, tried his hand at the vampire genre with his fun film "Dracula: Dead And Loving It" starring Leslie Nielsen as Dracula. It makes impish fun of not only Gary Oldman's turn in "Bram Stoker's Dracula", but Bela Lugosi's original "Dracula" and many other non-vampire films besides while nonetheless sticking remarkably close to Bram Stoker's original story. And "Bordello Of Blood" (1996) was a "Tales From The Crypt" offering for vampire fans everywhere. With his usual scathing wit, The Cryptkeeper (voiced by John Kassir) presents a tales of blood, sex, and death as a funeral parlour moonlights as a vampire brothel, the Bordello of the title. 

And harkening back to the 1980's fondness of blending genres, Quentin Tarantino, the enfent terrible of the indie film world, gave us the vampire/crime genre mash-up, "From Dusk 'til Dawn" where the violent thieves Seth (George Clooney) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino) Gecko flee to a Mexico bar after they kidnap disenchanted priest Jacob (Harvey Keitel) and his children Kate and Scott (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) only to find its run by some hungry vampires, led by Satanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek). This was followed in 1999 by "From Dusk 'til Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money" which told further tales from the Mexican vampire bar. Another independent film had a great deal of success in 1998 when "Razor Blade Smile", a tale of a vampire turned assassin, won awards at the B-Movie Festival, British Independent Film Awards, Gerardmer Film Festival and the Swden Fantastic Film Festival. There was also and odd little addition to the vampire genre in the same year with the British offering "The Wisdom Of Crocodiles", also called "Immortality" in some countries, which is an atypical kind of vampire film. It stars Jude Law as Steven Griscz, a vampire who is looking for love and redemption but never seems quite able to prevent himself from killing his prospective partners. 

While independent films were serving vampires well, it was a big budget film based on a popular Marvel comic book of the same name that caught everyone's attention. "Blade", with its unforgettable vampire club opening scene, introduced us to Blade (Wesley Snipes), a vampire/human hybrid who hunts down vampires to protect humanity while looking for the vampire who attacked his mother and made what he is. This film spawned two sequels in the next decade and a cleverly made TV series which was sadly cut short when ratings were not as high as expected.

To be continued with the Nibbly Noughties and beyond...

Written by Melissa Kane of the Official Vampire High website.