Vampire-themed films and literature can be traced to the 17th century during the Victorian era. However, it is ‘Count Dracula’ that revolutionized vampire films and literature, and many authors and film writers have used the novel as a template in their subsequent works (Hallab, 2009). Vampire literature and films have evolved over the years and the traditional vampires that were scary creatures of death have been replaced with modern vampires with human features and personalities (Freelad, 2014). These changes have been implemented to ensure that vampire films and literature remain relevant and realistic to the modern audience. In the age of younger viewers, authors and film makers have been forced to incorporate vampires into popular media and content to increase their popularity among the younger audience. This paper will evaluate the evolution of vampires in literature and films, and assess the potential future trends as far as vampire content is concerned.
During the 18th century, vampire fiction emerged from the ‘vampire craze’ that characterized the 1720s and led to the exhumation of people who were suspected to be vampires such as Arnold Paole and Petar Blagojevich in Serbia (Hallab, 2009). Among the first works of vampire fiction was ‘The vampire’, which was a poem by August Ossenfelder, a German, in 1748. In English literature, the origins of the vampire can be traced to the poem ‘Thalaba the Destroyer’, which was written by Robert Southey in 1797 (Melton, 2016).
In the 19th century, Lord Byron wrote the poem ‘The Glaour’ in 1813 which narrated the powers that vampires had to suck blood and destroy the lives of nations. In 1897, ‘Dracula’ was written by Bram Stoker and it popularized vampire fiction for over a century. It portrayed vampires as being diseased creatures that could pass their demons to people they bit. It had undertones of blood, sex and death, which people in the Victorian era identified with since they were struggling with diseases such as syphilis and tuberculosis (Melton, 2016).
During the 20th century, Count Dracula remained an icon. Moreover, vampire fiction during this era transcended the traditional Gothicism and embraced a genre such as science-fiction. Many authors adopted this theme and they included Rosny who wrote the novel ‘The Young Vampire’ in 1920. One of the most influential vampire novels during this time was ‘I am Legend’ by Richard Matheson in 1954 (Melton, 2016). The novel featured the Los Angeles City being dominated by bloodsucking and cannibalistic creatures. It was later adapted into films that included Will Smith’s ‘I am legend’ in 2007. Moreover, the late 20th century embraced mass-market fiction novels that developed into Gothic subcultures that analyzed vampire sexuality.
In the 21st Century, the open sexuality theme was less prevalent and was instead replaced by a conventional sexual role. Various novels adopted romantic liaisons between handsome vampires and women. Some of these include ‘Argeneau’ by Lynsay Sands and ‘The southern vampire Series’ by Charlaine Harris (Melton, 2016). In fields of young adult and juvenile literature, various novels were written and one of the most popular was ‘The Saga of Darren Shan’ by Darren Shan which revolved around a young boy’s feat of becoming the assistant to a vampire. Another evolution of the vampire literature during this era was the exploration of the science of vampires, and a novel such as ‘Blindsight’ by Peter watts depicts vampires as human offshoots who have evolved (Hallab, 2009).
In terms of traits, vampires have evolved from repulsive and scary creatures to romantic vampires. They have been transformed from monsters into creatures that are regarded as sexy and elegant (Hallab, 2009). However, vampires in literature still consume blood for survival. In some novels, vampires are depicted as unable to consume human foods and they are forced to mime chew, or avoid public places to deceive their intended human targets. Vampires in contemporary literature usually have certain weaknesses and special powers. Authors select qualities that they find believable.
Vampires date as far back as Ancient Greece and Mesopotamia during the era of spirits and vampire creatures. However, Vampires as they are now known originated in the Victorian literature during the 1700s when foreigners and natives alike recorded superstitions and folklore on the Balkan countries, which would later create the most famous vampire; Count Dracula (Maloney, 2014). Moreover, their depiction in television and films has evolved over time.
One of the first pieces of literature that later shaped how vampires are depicted in film and television, was the novel ‘Count Dracula’ which was written by Bram Stoker in 1897 (Maloney, 2014). At the time, the English were facing threats of being invaded by other countries, since it was at the end of the Victorian era where England had invaded countries such as Argentina, Indian, Siam (Thailand), and China (Hallab, 2009). Stoker developed an image of Dracula that many subsequent authors and television writers adopted. He painted Dracula as a hairy aristocrat who had bushy, curly hair, with wide eyebrows. He had pointed teeth and ears and had the ability to shift his shape.
For several decades, vampires have been depicted as monsters and nasty creatures in subsequent movies including ‘New Moon’, and ‘Dracula’. The 1931 classic film “Dracula” set the stage for horrific vampire films and it was adapted from a stage play that had been performed in 1924 (Maloney, 2014). ‘Dracula’ was the first truly horrific movie in the US and several people fainted in the theatre while watching the film. It was so successful in depicting the monstrous images of vampires that its star, Lugosi, played the vampire role in his career.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Hollywood relaxed its standard and vampire stories began embracing themes associated with sensuality. The producers of vampire films began targeting the teenage audience in its movies. For instance, the teen soap ‘Dark Shadows’ emerged in 1966 as a daytime show and it targeted ABC’s afterschool market. This series was successful in proving that the vampire themes could be tailored to appeal to younger audiences, and it paved way for the creation of later teen-vampire shows such as ‘Supernatural’ (Maloney, 2014).
During the 1980s and 1990s, most vampires have exemplified a persona that combined an equal part of a monster and rock star. One of the examples of such films was David Bowie’s ‘The Hunger’, which was screened in 1983 (Gross, 2009). Moreover, vampire movies have evolved into creatures that no longer have fangs, where they talked, walked and behaved like the rest of humans. This is revealed in movies such as ‘Forsaken” and ‘Near Dark’ (Gross, 2009). Additionally, the series ‘Twilight New Moon” features a vampire who is fangless and is more interested in finding love than sucking victims’ blood (Gross, 2009). Many characters who embraced the role of vampires were beautiful and handsome women and men who looked mysterious. Vampires became smarter, prettier and more talented than other humans.
The evolution of vampires in literature and film has been a positive thing for young readers and viewers. It has led to the development of new vampires who are relatable to the modern and young audience. Previously in film and literature, vampires were depicted as horrific creatures that thrived on sucking blood and causing suffering and death (Freelad, 2014). However, modern authors and film writers have developed a humane aspect to vampires, and in the modern world they are defined by terms such as sexy and elegant since they have taken the persona of handsome men and beautiful women that fit into society. They have also adopted human form and they share many common characteristics with ordinary people, including being fangless. Authors and film writers changed the form of vampires to make them more realistic and believable to their target audience (Hallab, 2009). This has encouraged wide readership and viewership of vampire content especially by young people.
Moreover, evolution of vampires in literature and film has created modern vampires who conform to the values of modern society. The traditional myths associated with vampires have been replaced by the modern way of life, to enhance the understanding of vampire stories by the modern and young audience. For instance, traditionally, vampires could not walk during daytime, and they could be countered using wooden crosses, garlic and other substances. However, the present day vampire can walk during daytime and can take animal blood when human blood is inaccessible. Moreover, modern focus on vampires in film and literature has shifted from horrific acts that vampires perform, to incorporating them in modern day ordinary life. Modern vampires enter into relationships with humans and relate well with human beings. Some literatures and films feature vampire comedy, and this has demystified vampires from horrific to gentler creatures, albeit still dangerous to humans. This transformation is necessary to increase popularity of vampire content among young people in the modern generation since vampires can now do things that the present society relates with.
Vampire films and literature have not been ‘done to death’ and on the contrary, they will continue being popular into the future. The fact that vampire films and literature have evolved over several centuries and managed to retain their popularity means that they will continue transforming themselves to embrace the needs of the society in the future. For instance, vampire literature and films have incorporated female lead characters and have ventured into comedy. In the future, females may be the predominant leads in vampire literature and film since the modern society is oriented towards female empowerment. The future films and literature will incorporate vampire themes in popular media.
One of the possible areas that future vampire content will gravitate to is sci-fi. The modern society has embraced sci-fi films and literature and it is likely that vampire movies and novels will feature the scientology of vampires. Future authors and film writers will try to demystify vampires through use of science and they may be incorporated into investigative series such as CSI and Dexter, and sci-fi literature. Perhaps vampires will also be incorporated into reality shows which are very popular with the current generation. Other areas where the vampire theme may be applied include music, cartoons, and politically-themed films and literature.
However, it is unlikely that the traditional image of vampires as scary creatures that propagate death, will make a comeback. Apart from the occasional horror-themed content, it appears that society has moved on from the traditional portrayal of vampires. One of the amazing facts is that vampire content has survived since its inception during the 17th century. The fact that such content has managed to transform itself and remain relevant to society, despite the generational changes, means that it will still excel into the future, as long as authors and film writers remain creative and sensitive to the needs of the modern audience.
In summary, vampire films and literature have evolved over time. Some of the main transformations relate to the form and traits possessed by vampires, and modern vampires are relatable to ordinary human beings since they have similar features and personalities as humans. The main reason for this transformation was to ensure that the authors and film makers attained their goals of attracting a wider audience to their content, which meant that they needed to develop content that was relatable to each passing generation. They also needed to incorporate trends in the film and literature industries to remain relevant to readers and viewers. Since vampires have survived many generations and they have evolved to cater for the needs of the present society, then it is likely that they will remain relevant in future. However, vampire content may require further evolution and transformation for it to satisfy the needs of future generations.
Freelad, C. A. (2014). The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror. Westview
Gross, D. (2009). From Dracula to Edward: The changing face of vampires. Retrieved from
Hallab, M. (2009). Vampire God: The Allure of the Undead in Western Culture. State
University of New York Press
Maloney, D. (2014). The wild evolution of vampires, from Bram to Stoker to Dracula Untold.
Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2014/10/vampire-evolution/
Melton, J. G. (2016). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Visible Ink Press.
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