Bite Me! Please!! Why We Are Attracted to Vampires
November 25, 2009 by Udo Blick
It looks like 2009 is emerging as the Year of the Vampire. Judging from the fan girls’ responses to the recent release of New Moon, the second installment of the Twilight saga, vampires seem to have no trouble sending heart rates racing. At the recent London premiere of New Moon, Robert Pattinson was greeted by hundreds of screaming girls. Twilight, the film, released in the UK last year, took £11 million in the UK and its soundtrack has sold more than 200, 000 copies.
But lest we forget, the vampires of New Moon are merely the latest in the long line of vampires appearing on a screen near you. And the list is growing longer than my arm. We have, for example, the Korean film Thirst, a film Korean director Park Chan-Wook, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes (2009). We also have the Swedish film, Let The Right One In, directed by Thomas Alfredson, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s book of the same name. As N. Hayes indicate, not all of these
“are arthouse flicks either. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire Assistant, which opened a couple of weeks ago, might have been a big box-office hit had it been anything other than vein-openingly tedious from start to finish.”
However, as vampire lovers all know, it being the Year of the Vampire, vampires are also appearing on our small screens too and stalking us across the pages of vampire fiction, a burgeoning field in itself. On the small screen in the UK, we have Being Human where the traditional comedic set-up of a flat-share is given a delightful spin by having a ghost, vampire and werewolf share a house in Bristol. The Vampire Diaries is another offering on the small screen. Based on L. J. Smith’s novels The Vampire Diaries, this TV series follows the love affair between a vampire and human girl.
And last, but not by the longest shot, least, we have the steamy Southern Gothic True Blood. This hit HBO series has set hearts alight, sent pulses racing and fans swooning in heated fantasies about what they would do to the True Blood vampires if and when they get their hands on them. Poor vampires. No longer the creatures to be feared these fanged creatures are now the subject of fans’ lustful responses and heated fantasies. Can you blame me for feeling some sympathy for our True Blood vampires?
N. Haynes isn’t the first one to wonder aloud about why we are so in love with the vampire. According to Haynes, she suggests that,
“First, they fulfill our need for monsters. People have always needed epic storytelling […] We want gods, heroes, and monsters, because fantasy takes us away from the pedestrian world in which we live. And when the economy is faltering and the news depressing, we look for escapism even more than usual.”
Haynes also continues to suggest that part of the allure of being with a vampire and becoming vampire is because
“You become immortal […] You don’t get ill, you don’t get old. In a culture that worships youth above all things, is it any wonder that we are falling for ever-young, ever-strong vampires? […] Vampires are also the acceptable face of fetish. The universal vampire characteristics are being pale, going out at night, wearing dark clothes and having nice manners […] and biting isn’t too deviant, on a sliding scale from nought to Max Mosley [A/N: UK readers will probably smile at this statement, appreciating the irony of this comparison of vampires to Moseley]”
But I heavily suspect there is more to this vampire mystique than merely the act of biting or having the fantasy of being forever youthful. Surely Botox could cover that need sufficiently? If message boards, chat rooms and fan clubs are any indication, the whole scenario of being seduced and surrendering control to a powerful dangerous immortal being is a huge part of the fantasy. In short, and not to mince one’s words, compared to sex with mere mortals, the potential of death via vampire sex gives the vampire a lot of their sexual edge. Indeed, Katherine Ramsland, Professor of psychology at DeSales University has even suggested that,
“It’s kind of autoerotic asphyxia […] In terms of fantasy, the vampire mystique is 90 per cent sexual. It’s a metaphor for dangerous sex. Because if it goes wrong, you’re gone […] I think it’s weird to be the impaled one, the seduced one […] There are so many women who want to lose control. And I thought women had come a little further than that.”
And the contemporary vampire, whether it’s Edward Cullen, Spike, Angel, Vampire Bill Compton or Eric Northman allow those fantasies to be played out through them. They become our mirror on which we project the wide spectrum of our modern 21st century fantasies. Whether it’s a sweet old-fashioned vampire romance; dangerous sexuality; or steamy fantasies; our attraction to vampires boil down to the classic tormented relationship with forms of otherness.
As our mirror, the contemporary vampire, in his various incarnations on the small and big screen, appears as the glamorous outcast, sexual deviant, rebel, rogue and tortured soul. We only have to cast our minds back to Spike, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and remember how he updates several of these conventions associated with the image of the vampire as alluring, sensual outsider and, as such, is the latest contribution to the image of the sympathetic and charismatic vampire as anti-hero. Spike, as sympathetic vampire, reaches back to ideas about vampirism stemming from the Romantic Movement and indeed back to Lord Byron. The vampires of the hit HBO series True Blood are also firmly walking in that long-standing tradition. No longer the crazed, loathsome shambling outsider of the Nosferatu legend; these True Blood vampires are creatures who inhabit our contemporary cultural landscape. Judging from the heated responses to Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) and the Viking vampire Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard), we are head over heels in adoration with these fanged creatures of the night.
As we know by now, the introduction of the sympathetic vampire in the early years of the 20th century simultaneously generated a dedicated and large fan club which persists today. Similarly, Hollywood produced a number of sympathetic vampires, including Bela Lugosi’s lonely depiction of Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931). A decade later, Universal produced a second sympathetic version of Dracula in House of Dracula (Erle C. Kenton, 1945) in which the vampire was portrayed as genuinely longing for release from his vampiric ‘malady’.
Following firmly in the footsteps of the vampires preceding them, the sympathetic and ambiguous vampires of True Blood (rather than vampire-as-menace) who are intent on mainstreaming have similarly produced enormous fan cultures. And these vampires are more than capable of sating the fans’ appetite for vampires who embody the full spectrum of vampire allure and sexuality.
Where Vampire Bill might epitomize the gentility of Southern charm and manners and Eric Northman unruly cool; within True Blood fandom, both characters conjure images of hidden suffering and enforced ‘outsider’ status. Just witness the fans’ responses to the back stories of both Bill Compton and Eric Northman. Where once Lord Byron, James Dean and Rochester were capable of making female readers and viewers swoon; it now appears that the True Blood vampires have assumed that much coveted status.
In short, our attraction to vampires is because they represent the otherness of vampires and dangerous sexuality, having become inexorably intertwined since Stoker’s iconic sexual predator Count Dracula took a little nip of Mina and Lucy back in 1897. Our modern vampires have come a long way since Count Dracula. While they have been humanized through their desire to mainstream, these vampires still embody a perverse yet attractive hypersexuality. Coupled with the potential for danger and death, Vampire Bill and Eric Northman share the dubious and envied ability of making some of the most unlikely of women yearn for the vampire embrace.
Photo credit: HBO Inc.