When I read this piece last year called “Bloodlines: A History of the Modern Vampyre”, I was more than shocked to find that the author was seventeen years old. There is an esoteric knowledge behind his style, and you can tell that he knows his subject matter inside and out. Not only that, but I love how he keeps to the vampires of tradition. I enjoyed reading it so much that I asked Todd Crawford if I could repost it, and he kindly granted me permission to do so. If you enjoy this piece, be sure to like his Facebook page.
It can be found on the blog of Dan Dillard, Demon Author, where it was originally published.
(The following is reposted with Todd Crawford’s permission.)
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Bloodlines: A History of the Modern Vampyre by Todd Crawford
“The vampire cult is the last and most damnable step in [the] exploration of Satanism”. William Schnoebelen
Mankind has always had a fascination with the morbid side of his own subconscious, a temptation luring his mind to probe the graves of his deepest thoughts in the half-hearted attempts of a child to rouse some unsettled demons that may lie there like a ghost inside the local haunted house waiting for a vain child to come knocking on its rickety doorstep. Just as Horror as a genre has become a staple of pop culture, spawning all types from Stephen King to the Two Cory’s and Dan Dillard, the self proclaimed “Demon Author” and myself, but just as deep a staple in the modern culture of cinema, literature, and song as the domain from which its title belongs, the fangs of vampires are as firmly planted. Never can one scan the shelves of Wal-Mart’s already-cluttered magazine and literature aisles without finding themselves immersed in the glittering undead. Rarely does one browse the internet without being plagued by the pale face of Edward Cullen, looking fresh off the set of Tim Burton’s abysmal adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Only, this isn’t the latest lackluster Burton outing, this has become one of the most prominent figures of our times, and one can only ask themselves “What happened?” What has happened to audiences today? What has become of our beloved Hollywood studios (well, beloved may not be too accurate) and the publishing houses we once trusted? (Okay, trusted is definitely an exaggeration.) Well, that is why I, Todd Crawford, am here to tell you exactly what has become of the traditional vampire mythologies, and why it may be too soon to throw the curtains open and cast away all thoughts of successful future vampire endeavors.
Bram Stoker, (in)famous for writing the masterwork Dracula, is often cited as the pioneer of the vampire genre, but although his classic novel undeniably brought attention to the vampire in the mainstream eye through its pages and countless film adaptations the legends of the undead rising to drain the living of their blood and virginity had long before existed. Every society has had its share of deities and devils explaining that which science could not, from the Romans and Greeks to modern-day Christ. The most common relation to vampires was real-life illnesses that plagued civilizations before health care was as advanced as it has become today. Tuberculosis is the guiltiest by association, sporting symptoms that could invoke the most damnable offenders of the underworld in the uneducated minds of the Victorian-era population. The pale discoloration of the ill’s flesh, and sensitivity to the light by their swollen, reddish eyes was certainly questionable. The weak heartbeat and rapidly declining temperatures then, were alarming, but not nearly as undeniably supernatural as the coughing up blood, which in the old ages could only mean one thing: the vampire-in-question had previously consumed the blood of others. How else could one explain the spreading illness of those who shared a household with the sickly? Well, back then that seemed like a much more logical answer than Tuberculosis having been a contagious and fatal disease. A similar ailment of the times, known as Porphyria, a unique brand of hemophilia which causes those under its spell to suffer from receding gums and lips, gave the illusion of fangs to become more and more apparent as the sickness infects its host. There has been one recorded case of one inflicted from Porphyria’s condition to actually heal with the digestion of external blood, which replaced the lack thereof in their own system. The now-primitive medical standards of the times had caused for subjects of both disorders to have been prematurely buried, resulting in cases of the dead appearing to rise from the grave once the buried are roused from their not-so-eternal slumber. Another debatable source of the vampire’s rise is the defilement of the Christian religion. The first ever recorded mention of a vampire was in fact from a Babylonian prayer! To quote Nick Kushner, “The Vampire in one regard is an inversion of the mythology of Christ. Both entities rise from the dead but as Christ offers his body and blood for his disciples to feast upon in communion with him, the vampire as contrary to this, devours the flesh and blood of his victims in order to make them one with him.” As a fellow author, and also a self-proclaimed wordsmith it comes across as a degradation to one’s ego to admit another superior in conveying a message, but sometimes, as is the case in this study, it’s better to appreciate a quote of such perfection rather than lamely attempt (and fail) to imitate it.
Now what did Stoker bring to the table? First of all, a modern (at the time of its release) update on the Forbidden Fruit connotations The Bible had established in the Book of Genesis. If one considers Jonathan Harker and Mina as the proverbial Adam and Eve’s of the tale, and Dracula the serpentine agent of Satan tempting them not with eternal knowledge, but eternal life in immortality. Stoker’s interpretation of the vampire was already decked in the style of the modern vampire, as a seductive and decadent figure. The Count Dracula resides in the golgothic estate of a Victorian (well, of modern architectural design for the time of its writing) mansion, which some have speculated to be a phallic symbol of itself. It should be explained, without any further ado, that during the Victorian Era, sexual repression was at a high due to cultural and religious contradictions, and it took an unholy being to indulge in such “Satanic” (or human, but that’s a Blog for another day) practices. The homoerotic undertones of biting another man on the neck would have more men sleeping with stakes at their bedsides than eternal damnation on Earth. The act of submitting to a superior being than a human, (I can hear Tony Todd purring as Candyman “Be my victim…” as I type this) has its Freudian connotations, as well as the oral gratifications of fangs as phallic symbols. To further this Freudian psychology, it has been said that the image of the vampire withdrawing in the daylight to its tomb to be allegoric for the rejection of society and symbolic of crawling back into the mother’s womb. The triumph of a human ritualistically slaying the vampire being that of an Oedipal nature. (Kimberly, 40,41) After being stalked and bitten by a vampire, the women he pursued (notably soon-to-be-wives) forfeit their innocence in favor of sexual dominance over their male peers. Although Stoker’s Dracula was not the first effort to bring the dead to life, the popularity of his novel ushered in literally countless vampire novels, films, and both film adaptations and unofficial sequels to his own book. (The latest deemed an “official” sequel, being that of Stoker’s own great grand-nephew, Draco Stoker.)
In the 70’s and 80’s, a new breed of vampire was born. Rising star and current voice of Horror, Stephen King, his own interpretation of the bloodsucking mythologies in a novel called Salem’s Lot, which would go on to be adapted into a television miniseries by Texas Chainsaw-director, Tobe Hooper. Clive Barker, introduced to the mainstream by King himself, offered his own unique vision of the undead in the sixth and final Book of Blood in his debut series of short horror fiction, Cabal. Barker later went on to direct a film version of the tale under the title Nightbreed. Anne Rice was also gaining popularity in the literary world with her vampire-oriented Lestat series, before renouncing the undead late in her career and becoming an evangelical novelist. On the silver screen is where the modern vampire really began to take its form with outings such as the cult hits Lost Boys, Fright Night, and Near Dark. Each of the films demonstrated the traditional portraits of the undead, but rather than an unholy state of being haunting the foreskin of the Earth, the vampires were plagued with addiction as blood junkies. The faces of this new generation of the undead were depicted as alarmingly human in stark contrast with their more demonic predecessors, and a newfound edge was given to the then-old traditions of the parable.
It was not until the 90’s and New Millennium that the final stake in the proverbial coffin of the traditional vampire is driven home with action and romance shit-oriented films such as Underworld and Twilight. Vampires have become something to aspire to, the Forbidden Fruit traded in exchange for baseball bats and the Book of Mormon. (And I don’t mean tickets to South Park-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s controversial play!) Vampires have become followers of the religions and victims of the sexual repression they were created to defy, and in this juxtaposition their nature is demystified, leaving the purpose of their existence unfulfilled and hollow. Not all has been lost in the cycle of the vampire, drawn and complete, as demonstrated in such films as Let The Right One In based on the “awe”-and gag-inducing novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Try pronouncing that one!) or The Thirst by Oldboy director Park Chan Wook. Although the present day may seem bleak for vampires and fans of the undead alike, the future is looking continuously more promising as the pretentiously-dubbed Twilight Saga draws to an end and the Dawn of the Vampire is fading to black. After all, it is nightfall when the vampires are at their best.