Vampire origins: the price of immortality

This is the second part in a four part series looking at the extraordinary popularity of the vampire genre, Dracula being the subject of more films than any other fictional character. The four parts are:

  1.  One hundred years of vampire films looks at the longevity of the vampire genre, the box office takings of some of the recent major vampire movies, and the surge in interest in the vampire genre over the last 10 years.
  2. Vampire origins: the price of immortality examines how the vampire genre prods our sensitivities about death and aging, and builds on a wealth of known Christian religious symbolism.
  3. Vampires selling unsafe sex?  looks at the thinly-veiled, yet Rated-M sexual metaphors of the vampire genre and the way it has tracked the sexual interests of various generations, from the Victorian period to the swinging Sixties, and the recent focus on adolescence and virginity.
  4. Vampirism ‘the bloodborne disease’ focuses on the recent medicalization of vampire stories and the zombie/vampire crossovers, paralleling popular fears of bloodborne diseases like hepatitis and AIDS.

Vampire roots: immortality & the religious price to be paid

Gravestone photo by Chris Fleming from Flickr licensed under Creative Commons

The long term interest in vampirism dates back well beyond Bram Stoker’s creation to blood sucking demons that feature in nearly every culture on earth, from Eastern Europe, to Phillipines and Malaysian vampires sucking on the blood of foetuses.

What if we didn’t have to worry about death or aging?

As personal experience of death has retreated out of the house over the last century and into the hospital ward it is more mysterious and probably no less scary. Vampires in many films now are not the decrepit Nosferatu types but frozen in the flower of Hollywood youth, or sometimes even their teens.

At a simple level the vampire genre of course enables an audience to experience the ever-popular idea of eternal life (the 80% of the population professing religious beliefs can hardly be wrong can they) but at a price. Because of course there is only one (depending on your religion) respectable route to salvation via God.

It’s not clear that readers of the genre are more religious than anyone else but it’s amusing to note  Twilight author Stephanie Meyer’s Mormon background and Anne Rice’s subsequent conversion to Christianity.

A bucket-load of religious iconography

Bram Stoker's Dracula on AmazonThere are of course religious trappings threaded all through the vampire story in terms of their operating in darkness and aversion to light, the Cross, and holy water. People become vampires after being excommunicated and of course there is the redemptive end to Coppola’s version of Dracula (1992) where Dracula reunites with God by having Mina behead him.

It it perhaps not unexpected that in the Christian church you drink the blood of Christ at Communion!

True Blood the HBO television series even makes drinking the blood of vampires a drug gateway to a semi-religious rapture.

So what happens if you take away the fear of death for the reader or perhaps even scarier in our culture the fear of aging (always assuming of course the vampire can obtain an adequate blood supply and doesn’t come across anyone athletic with a stake)?

For side-stepping God there’s a price

As one would expect given the often annoying moral calculus in fiction and drama there’s a heavy price. At the root of it all vampire tales perhaps  reinforce the taboo against cannibalism in most cultures.

Interview with the Vampire on AmazonTragedy and tortured loneliness is well-explored in Frances Ford-Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and in Interview with the Vampire you can almost imagine Tom Cruise sitting on the therapist’s couch as opposed to next to the narrator.     This is the Greek fear and pity cathartic angle: the tragedy of the vampire who is semi-human but cannot enjoy human things like real food or sunlight (or maybe, as we’ll explore shortly, sex).

In the thoughtful 1987 vampire flick Near Dark and in Rice’s Interview with the Vampire the price of vampirism is perhaps most poignantly expressed through the characters of the small boy Homer and the girl Claudia who are effectively adults frozen in time in children’s bodies, the theme of forestalled development.

It will be interesting to see which  fiction series will form the next vampire cinema blockbuster or TV series. Place your bets below.

This article filed under the following 'Interest' categories (click category for more) Cliche watch, Reviews

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Article posted by @Drivelry on January 15, 2011

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