Vampires in Film: the Cinematic Renderings That Reshape Myths & Legends

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Vampires In Film:
The Cinematic Renderings That Reshape Myths & Legends

Bryan Mitchell

ENG 668 – Film Genre Studies
Dr. Stephen Tropiano
2 October 2012

Vampires In Film:
The Cinematic Renderings That Reshape Myths & Legends

Since the dawn of the vampire film genre, writers and filmmakers alike have introduced new and unique imageries and characteristics to ultimately create or redefine the cinematic vampire. Giving proper recognition to Bram Stoker for his 1897 best-selling Gothic novel, Dracula, the original prevalent image of the vampire was that of a tall, pale-skinned, debonair, tuxedo and cape sporting nobleman, with fangs (Taylor 91). This distinguishing semblance and deportment was suitably brandished by Bela Lugosi with his classic portrayal of the Count in the Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931), and would be copied to one degree or another in myriad films for decades to follow (Wikipedia, 2012). But the film industry has greatly modified the image of the vampire over the years, and has likewise crafted a certain level of flexibility with regard to the vampire’s basic features, customs, and faculties, as depicted within the corresponding films comprising this mythical genre (Gelder 86). As much as vampires in film have changed, one important factor remains deathly consistent: Filmmakers have always exercised and will continue to exercise artistic license with regard to the vampire film.

The origin of vampires, or at least the events leading up to the ancient beliefs and analyses of vampirism, remains vastly obscure—a circumstance which can be easily compared to the origin of humanity itself. According to legends and folklore, vampire mythology dates back over a thousand years, perhaps stretching as far back as prehistoric times (Melton xxi). Some sources indicate the birth of vampirism occurred in Eastern Europe, or, more specifically Transylvania (Stevenson 5). Other sources indicate vampires had their start in ancient Greece, while still others point to the deserts of ancient Egypt (Origins, 1999). Far more variable and inconsistent are the incidents which only vaguely begin to explain the development of vampires: how they began, how they transformed, how they came to be what many have referred to as “the undead” (Origins, 1999). It is the extreme nebulousness of these accounts and the sweeping superstitions or beliefs, coupled with the unmistakable allure which only vampires can truly possess, that enables and encourages writers and filmmakers to forever indulge their endless supply of creative energy (Karg 76).

In Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, it is implied that Count Dracula became a vampire through unspeakable dealings with the Devil, a notion that was never truly addressed in the 1931 or 1992 film versions (Origins, 1999). In Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire (1994) and Michael Rymer’s Queen of the Damned (2002), the film adaptations of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, it was affirmed that vampirism began in ancient Egypt and was linked to witchcraft and connections with evil spirits. In John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998), the master vampire was said to be possessed by demons, an affliction that spawned the entire vampire lineage. In Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2012), vampirism was said to be caused by a witch’s vindictive curse; and the gothic television soap opera of the 1960s on which this film was based, suggested a similar curse, along with the infectious bite from a vampire bat.

In addition to theatrical claims of mysticism and sorcery, science-fiction has also played a unique role in the advent of vampirism, not to mention the evolution of vampire film. In Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend (2007), human beings were transformed into vampires by a man-made vaccine that was intended to cure cancer, but backfired fatally. The concept of “vampirism by virus” easily lends itself to the sci-fi genre in addition to horror, as does the idea of alien vampires...
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