Sunday, 8 March 2009

Vampires

It’s confession time again; I am going to reveal another weird thing about myself:

I am absolutely fascinated by vampires.

I’ve tried to trace the roots of their appeal and I think I’ve pinpointed to the time when my dad allowed me to watch a vampire film at the age of eleven. Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote in October last year about the experience:


I remember as an eleven year old kid pestering my dad to allow me to watch a horror film. I must have been a real pain in arse because he finally gave in and allowed me to watch “Dracula” starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I was so excited I almost peed my pyjamas. I watched the film and then actually peed my pyjamas. I have never been so scared in my entire life. I spoke with a stammer for ten weeks. I didn’t get a wink of sleep for an entire month. I quite literally avoided cemeteries for ten years. My dad certainly taught me a lesson. He asked me about a month later if I wanted to watch “Dracula Has Risen From The Grave”.“Has he risen from the grave?” I stammered. “Yes,” he replied. I spent the next fortnight under the duvet with a crucifix, a torch and a telephone directory trying to find the number for Professor Van Helsing.
I recovered from that trauma eventually and as I grew older I began to watch more films about vampires. They scared the hell out of me but, I was drawn to them, like a moth to a flame. I was enthralled by them; their evil, their thirst for blood; their strengths and apparent weaknesses; the intrigue of their existence.

I watched all of the Hammer vampire films and many others but had to do so clutching a cushion in a room full of people. In particular, “Salem’s Lot”, based on a book by Stephen King, and starring David Soul, scared me half to death. I thought I was overcoming my fear and I watched this two part drama at the tender age of 16, with no idea at all that vampires were involved. I can still picture the young boy, converted to a vampire, hovering outside the bedroom window of another boy, scratching the glass and begging to be let in. Why did it scare me? Because it made vampires seem to be more invincible and also showed that the victims of vampires weren’t just adults. The scene where the “Master” vampire confronts the priest who is defending himself with a cross struck a particular chord. Vampires were supposed to be terrified of holy symbols; this one wasn’t – he simply tore the cross from the priest’s hands.

I would go to bed engulfed by anxiety and quake as my eyes searched the darkness for signs of vampiric movement. As intriguing as they were, vampires were pure evil and, being a Roman Catholic, anything that was ungodly in anyway pressed a deep button that injected pure terror into my psyche. My fear of all things diabolical was all-consuming.

I had a huge brass cross on my window sill that I could use for self defence should the need arise, though I prayed that the “Master” vampire from “Salem’s Lot” wouldn’t be the one who called. If a vampire actually had materialised at my bedside I would have screamed and been desperately terrified. Yet, I would have been pleased at a deep primeval level.

Is that a paradox? At the time I thought it was and I didn’t understand it at all. How could I be so scared of such a tainted, evil, godless creature yet actually want to meet one?

Now, however, I think I understand.

As terrifying as they are, the appeal of the vampire is the romance and sexuality that accompanies them. Dracula appeared at the window of a beautiful woman, entranced her and then sucked her blood, ultimately converting her to one of the legions of the undead. And amidst all that evil, there was love. The film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” starring Gary Oldman as the evil count illustrates this perfectly. In a similar way, I found the portrayal of female vampires beguiling. The very lifestyle of a vampire had a menacing attraction. These creatures could come and go as they pleased; they could hold their victims in thrall and feast off them; they were creatures of the night. However vulnerable they were during the day, they had guardians who would protect them with their lives. They were hunters, like cats, who stalked their prey, except instead of killing them (which they sometimes did unfortunately) they would captivate them, entrance them and bond with them. It was this lifestyle that was appealing.

I enjoyed the film “Interview With The Vampire” for this reason. I would love to watch an interview with a real vampire. I’m unsure that I would want to do the interview myself (especially given what happened to the interviewer in that film). I would certainly have taken more precautions, like having crosses and Holy Water present and I would have almost certainly have done the interview remotely, that is, at 8am in the morning in Manchester where it is bright and sunny, via satellite to Los Angeles where the vampire could relax in his night time environment.

While I am merely fascinated by these remarkable fictional beings, there are others who have taken their interest much further - into the realms of dangerous obsession. A whole subculture exists with people who are infatuated by vampires. It makes scary reading.

These days, I can watch vampire films with no qualms and no feelings of primordial dread and I do so with pure enjoyment. I can retire to my bed after a vampire film with no fear.

Sadly, in recent times, vampires on film have become nothing more than just an average bad guy and, apart from a few exceptions, they are not really scary at all. I blame “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” for this – though there are other culprits. I watched a couple of episodes of that particular series and then refused to watch it further since, to me, it was contributing to the demise of the true genre. While some may argue that it was broadening their appeal, I would regard it as dumbing down for the masses.

Similarly, I love the “Blade” films but the mysticism surrounding vampires is sacrificed in favour of using them as bad guys for Wesley Snipes to turn to ash with maximum prejudice. I regard these films simply as action films rather than horror films, though most of the elements of traditional vampirism are used.

Maybe the vampire needs to evolve. I know one author has taken the vampire myth and used it to create a race of creatures that really are terrifying, even more so that Dracula. Brian Lumley’s “Necroscope” series of novels have introduced the concept that a vampire is in fact a symbiotic parasite, a creature that invades a human host and mutates that person into a monster that is far more fearsome than anything Bram Stoker could have dreamed up. He has even given them a more romantic name; “Wamphyri”. For me that conjures up an image of pure ancient evil. These creatures are almost invincible and it requires a supremely powerful super-hero to be able to combat them. I would recommend reading them; I won’t spoil it for you but there are thirteen novels in the series and each one of them is superb.

If they ever make a film based on “Necroscope” you can guarantee that it will be genuinely frightening. I will march into the cinema, popcorn in hand and watch it, knowing that I will once more be scared out of my wits exactly as I was when I was a na├»ve little eleven year old.

Now, where’s that big brass cross?

10 comments:

earthtoholly said...

Hi PM,

I remember that post...peeing in your pajamas was so funny...and still is! I don't remember vampires especially scaring me but I'm sure they did. Even nowdays, if I'm watching that kind of movie I'd rather die of thirst than go to the kitchen for water---once in the dark my imagination runs away from me!

I haven't heard of "Necroscope" but will take your word for it and make a point to see it if it ever comes to the screen. Just make sure that you don't wear your jammies to that one! :o)

The Mother said...

I loved the original Dracula, for the reasons you list: it was about sex and power, told in a form that the Victorian world could allow. The best of the vampire novels and movies push that envelope-the worst forget the vampire's origin.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Holly,

I know how you feel about dying of thirst. if there's a really scary movie on TV I try to persuade Mrs PM to go for refreshments. Mind you, she's even worse than I am, so we BOTH suffer - particularly with three black cats roaming the house.

:-)

Cheers

PM

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi TM,

I totally agree. Something has been lost. I would love to see a true remake that was genuinely scary. With today's effects it could be done easily I think.

Cheers

PM

Peter Allyn said...

The line from a vampire once was "I don't live to kill, I kill to live."

One side of a vampire is love, the other seems(as in Dark Shadows) that being a vampire is torture and a curse, and that eventually death is a relief.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Peter,

That's a great line and so true.

The fact that it is a curse is shown with Brad Pitt's character in "Interview With The Vampire" as he spends the entire film trying NOT to drink human blood.

Cheers

PM

Jon said...

I had a very similar experience. When I was young I too was allowed to watch all those old B&W horror flicks. They scared the S*** out of me, but I loved them. I've been fascinated with the horror genre ever since.

Funny you should mention Brad Pitt's vampire. I recently watched BBC's 'Being Human' which, coincidentally, was about a vampire trying to stay of the red stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed the show but found vampires walking around in the daylight a little strange. OK, so I know it's 2009, but a vampire is still a vampire.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Jon,

Yes - totally agree about daytime vampires. I thought the same about "Blade" whom the other vampires call "Daywalker" because he too can walk around in sunlight - but because I love the films I forgave the writers.

Cheers

PM

drb said...

Hi PM,
What do you think about the Twilight series?

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

I've only seen the first film. It was okay but I prefer vampire movies that are more scary. I think "Buffy" started a trend towards making vampires more mainstream - and as a result of that the fear has gone.

I prefer the scary ones. In the post I mention "The Necroscope" series by a British author called Brian Lumley - now they ARE scary and the vampires in those books are like nothing you have ever imagined.

:-)

Cheers

PM