By Jethro Wegener
What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of the word ‘vampire’? Is it the sparkly Edward from Twilight? Or is it the striking Selene from the ‘Underworld’ movies? Whatever the picture is, it is most likely an attractive, or even sexy, one. Today, vampires are usually the heroes of stories or at the very least they are the attractive, suave villains, but did you know that this has not always been the case?
Stories of vampires go as far back as prehistoric times. Almost every culture has some version of vampires – Malaysia has the Penanggalan, a creature that detaches it’s head from it’s body at night and goes in search of food, with its internal organs and spinal column dangling beneath it; Russia has the Upyr, a creature that looks just like anyone else until they decide to devour you with their metal teeth and eat your heart. Even Africa has a version, with the Asasabonsam from Ghana, a thing with metal hooks for feet that lives in trees and waits for people to pass underneath it before hooking them upwards and eating them alive.
The most popular image of the vampire, however, comes from 18th century Eastern Europe. It was a dark time, as sickness was prevalent and it was not uncommon for people to die from diseases they did not even know of yet. The superstitious townsfolk hence began to attribute it to supernatural creatures that preyed on the living; a belief that was ‘confirmed’ when the villagers dug up graves to discover bloated, still bleeding corpses that they quickly ‘killed’ by staking them through the heart to nail them down to the coffin.
These legends subsequently led to one of the most famous examples of the vampire: Count Dracula. Bram Stoker, the author of the novel, incorporated Eastern European folklore into his work, including the Transylvanian setting, garlic and stakes, as well as adding his own twists by making the vampire afraid of crosses and sunlight. Stoker’s Dracula was unlike any other vampire before; he was suave, sophisticated and attractive. But he was also very deadly.
Throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s, vampires were portrayed much like Dracula: as distinguished noblemen with a decidedly dark side. It wasn’t until the 70s that the vampire stories started to get more sexualised. The 1970s was a time when people started to be a lot more open about sex, and the movies took advantage of that by showing more explicit content. The female vampire also came into being around this time – a beautiful but dangerous woman who would kill to get what she wanted.
However, while vampires are mostly ruthless in their earlier adaptations, it wasn’t until Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with the Vampire’, and the subsequent film adaptation with Tom Cruise, that vampires started to have morals. In Rice’s work, the creatures displayed a more humanistic side, leading to them to have more sympathetic traits than ever before. The fact that the two leads, played Cruise and Brad Pitt, also meant that they were given notions of being appealing and sexy.
The theme of the vampire as the hero started to invade popular culture from the 90s onwards. Countless novels, movies and even video games have featured beautiful, sexy vampires as leads – think of Edward Cullen in Twilight, or Luke Evans in Dracula Untold. They are no longer the monsters to fear, but rather, people to lust after.
Hence, vampires have evolved a lot over the years, having gone from terrifying horrors of the night, to mannered gentlemen, to what they are today. Nowadays, the word no longer conjures up nasty beasts in the forests or even suave nobles. Now, the word ‘vampire’ is synonymous with sexy.