Emer Schlosser: What’s the Deal with Vampires?

How and why did a creature that was once the source of nightmares turn into fodder for fantasy?

In a time when it was taboo to kiss, I understand the allure of a virile monster sinking sinister teeth deep into the sensitive flesh of the neck to nestle into a pulsing vein and suck the very essence of your life. Sexuality was repressed and here was an escape. But what is repressive about today’s North American society? We have celebs flashing snatches to paparazzi, porn out from behind the beaded curtain in the back of the bygone video store and on cable, sex is a subject splattered in big glossy letters across the majority of magazine covers at grocery checkouts, and just Jersey Shore alone should be enough to demonstrate how uninhibited people have become. And yet, the bloodsuckers are back like fangbusters.

When you want to examine the psychology behind something who does one automatically turn to? Why Freud, of course. So, I looked up our friend Freud to find his opinions on the matter of the undead. Here’s what I found: “All human experiences of morbid dread signify the presence of repressed sexual and aggressive wishes, and in vampirism we see these repressed wishes becoming plainly visible.”

Perhaps I’m jumping ahead and we need to look back. Before the silver screen it lived – or unlived – in folklore and pages. Vampires were mythological beings who survive from feeding off the living. The idea of the undead sucking life from those actually alive has circulated many cultures for centuries. In fact, evidence of the hysteria and real fear of vampires just recently surfaced when impaled remains were discovered in Bulgaria. But it was Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, which really put them on the map. His novel is viewed as the quintessential book and provides the basis of modern most vampire depictions. Vlad the Impaler

Then it came cinema’s turn to illustrate vampires. And in exploring the scope of the cinema portrayal, there is zero doubt that there is a drastic difference between 1922’s Nosferatu and 2008’s Twilight. That’s 86 years in which the screen has gone from depicting a grotesque creature to a sparkling sex symbol.

In the former, Count Orlok, portrayed by Friedrich Gustav Max Schreck, shows a bald sinister creature with long creepy claws and dark sunken eyes, who skulks around with a quasi-Quasimoto slouch. Now leap ahead to the latter, which is the present day Robert Pattison portrayal of vampire Edward Cullen who is so pretty he literally sparkles in the sun. Where’s the sinister? Where’s the scary? Why are bloodsuckers about as bad ass as Justin Bieber?

The disparity between the two begs me to ask the question, what happened? At the base there’s a gothic romance, sure. Being swept away by a suave object of desire you know is bad and forbidden…it’s a deadlier Romeo, the undead bad boy, the attraction of the asshole, cause let’s face it, not calling or texting after a one night stand is one thing, but sucking you dry is in a totally different ball game.

So, as stated before, one of if not the first time a vampire was depicted on screen was Schreck as Orlock in the 1922, silent, white and black, blah blah blah…Bottom line, he was creepy! There was no way this vampire would satiate any gal’s daydreams…the thought of those talons tracing your body would send the bad sort of shivers through you, the ones full of fear and revulsion, not lust or desire.

Looking forward a few years we have what became the archetype-turned-stereotype portrayal by Bela Lugosi…though in retrospect a complete caricature.  You may not think so compared to the People’s Sexiest Man Alive type of today, but Lugosi was a handsome sex symbol. He came up not only with the on-screen allure of the life-challenged, but also the catch phrase “I vant to suck your blood”.

Fast forward through such representations as Christopher Lee in the Hammer Dracula series, the first Blaxploitation horror Blacula, the lesbian vampire sub-genre (potentially interesting side-note, a British film entitled Lesbian Vampire Killers, one I had previously skipped over based on a bias against the title alone but stumbled upon accidentally and got sucked in, turned out to be pretty good, check it out if it happens to appear on your TV guide), and then arrive at the first contemporary vampire film in my memory: Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola. It had Gary Oldman vacillate between a sophisticated and handsome man and a grotesque shriveled old creature he was within. He embodied both the sexy and the scary.

Just two years later Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were vampires being interviewed by Christian Slater. These were some of the hottest celebs at the time, donning frills and fangs and seducing women while simultaneously sucking their blood. Was it these two stars who began to bring the cool back to sucking blood? But that film was decades ago. It could be considered the smoldering kindling, but couldn’t be classified as the catalyst to what we have today.

[Ok, confession, that’s not entirely true, two years earlier I’d seen Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) as a vampire in the gnarly-in-a-good-way Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which incidentally also starred 90210’s Luke Perry and Canadian legend Donald Sutherland) who got slowly slain by Kristy Swanson’s keen fashion sense.]

Now in the twenty-first century we have the bedlam of Twilight. Here there’s a heartthrob without a heartbeat who suppresses his desires to rip open the female lead’s clothes…and neck. So does the theory that vampires are used as a source to remove repression still work when self-restraint is a huge theme? Is this in fact a backlash to a society that has become to unrepressed? Or is this the response to a resurgence of religious right? Let’s look at the background of who penned the Twilight series: Stephenie Meyer. The author is a Mormon and some reports would have you believe she wrote about “the erotics of abstinence”. Teenage characters who don’t engage in intercourse until after they’re married. An intense lust and love with minimal physical interactions who leave the characters full to the brim to the point of overflowing with sappy teenage Archie-style love triangles that are ever so dramatic. So with this denial and self-restraint perhaps Twilight is the opposite, a backlash, a desire to put boundaries back. Perhaps the build up and relishing of simple acts like holding hands is wanted in a sex-filled society?

But then from Twilight spawned Fifty Shades of Grey to totally oppose that theory. This latest book “sensation” is sweeping the generation up (and up…and up…) from the Twilight teens and become a bestseller. Described as housewife eroti-fiction about a virgin who enters a contract giving control of her life over to a wealthy man who enjoys engaging in BDSM. So is there a need for more? Do vampires still hold a firm place in the future?

It seems that way as there are many more sexy bloodsuckers set to suck cinema screens near you. Quirky director Jim Jarmusch is jumping on fang-wagon. The cast is rumoured to include Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, and I, for one, am having my fingers crossed that the hunky Fassbender bears fangs and sinks his sexy teeth into some sentious arteries. This is the director of such quirkish films as Down by Law, Dead Man, Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes and Broken Flowers is sure to bring an interesting approach to these phantasms. We also have the Twilight Saga: Eclipse director David Slade taking Jude Law (yum yum), Noomi Rapace (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Sir Ben Kingsley into the world of vampires.  There’s also rumours of another Buffy the Vampire Slayer flick (now whether this one goes comedy like the original or darker like the series is yet to be know, either way, I’m pumped!).

So perhaps in the end there is no deep-rooted meaning to these macabre creatures. Maybe they’re just a fun genre to sit back and enjoy in the theatre? I think that’s certainly the case for the next one I’m eagerly anticipating: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter!

Emer fills in for NXNE bound Nadia Elkharadly this week.

Nadia’s column appears every Tuesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

Emer Schlosser is a Torontonian, cinephile, writer, and lover of food. She began her career in writing at Kontent Group as an intern at FQ and SIR Magazine, before becoming a staff entertainment journalist for Inside Entertainment magazine. Next she added IE online editor as well as entertainment news and celebrity gossip writer for Canadian Press under KP International to her Kontent duties. She went on to be a contributor to Woman.ca with film and book reviews, blog for Cheese Boutique, and content manager for casaGURU.com. Schlosser has since pursued a transition from writing about films and productions to being directly involved with making them. Her first (produced) foray as screenwriter, the short film Black Cadillacs, was screened at the Short Film Corner in Cannes and continues through the festival circuit. She is currently Associate Producer and Script Editor for the independent short With Her, has two feature films in development with Ferro Films, and continues to write and produce independently. Emer’s blog can be found at: http://emerschlosser.wordpress.com/

5 Responses to “Emer Schlosser: What’s the Deal with Vampires?”

  1. Lots of info there. Personally, I think the over-romanticization of vampires is kind of gross… I mean, they are really supposed to be walking corpses.

    • My favourite take on the ‘Sparkly Vampires’ from the Twilight series and all the other romanticized teen heartthrob vampires was put forth by a doctor friend of mine. “Why”, she asked, “Would girls want to be with these guys. They do not possess a beating heart and are bloodless (except for what they drink). Therefore if there’s no blood, and no heart pumping it through their bodies, there is no way on earth any of them could get an erection.” The woman has a point. LOL

      • this just adds to my point that the Twilight Saga Vampires are just eunuchs in vampire form. they have no fangs, which, as Jason on True Blood called them, are really just twin hard ons. So they are essentially prepubscent, none threatening boys that scared little girls like Meyer can crush on without fear of, well, anything. And when the poor “heroine” of the story finally gets some, it’s painful, torturous and she immediately gets pregnant with monster spawn. the lesson here? sex is bad, mmmkay.

        and don’t even GET ME STARTED on 50 shades of shit…grey.

  2. […] I had the privilege of filling in for Nadia who’s swamped in the NXNE ether on Bob Segarini’s Don’t Believe a Word I Say. What spewed out of my fingers was a look at vampires. I had intended to make purely superficial aesthetic comparisons on the evolution of the appearance of vampires in films over the years. However, that detoured a tad into somewhat psychological waters. And, well, what resulted was “What’s the Deal with Vampires?” […]

  3. […] you all last week in my absence.  And, of course, thank you to the lovely Emer Schlosser for covering for me in my North by North East prep insanity.  Yes, I survived, as evidenced by the existence of […]

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