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Stacie Ponder – Something for Everyone: Looking at the Varieties of Vampires

Blogger Stacie Ponder’s horror columns appear every Wednesday.

Hitting shelves this week is the long-awaited Criterion Collection DVD edition of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr . The surrealist 1932 movie is a loose interpretation of J Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and it’s got me thinking startlingly profound thoughts — ruminations on the supernatural, the relationship between dreams and reality — that have led to some surprising soul-searching. In fact, I’ve had one recurring deep thought ever since I added Vampyr to my Amazon wish list: Wow, there sure are a lot of different flavors of vampire!

When I think of, say, Frankenstein’s monster, it’s pretty much Boris Karloff’s classic Universal Monsters interpretation that immediately springs to mind: Flat-top hairdo, bolts in the neck and elevator shoes. Most monsters, like Frankie and werewolves, have few permutations. But with vampires there’s a veritable rainbow of styles! Everyone’s got their favorite type: The one they find the most frightening, the one they’d like to make out with, the one they can’t stand, and, for those folks who take things way too seriously, the one they’d like to be. Come to think of it, vampires are kind of like Smurfs.

Unearthly Beauties
Vampyr, as I said, is a superficial retelling of Carmilla,
the novella that launched a horror subgenre that still thrives today:
The eerie and erotic realm of the lesbian vampire. Dreyer’s film strays
from the source material in many ways, but the most striking difference is that the female vampire isn’t an unearthly beauty who can
seduce with the bat of an eyelash — she’s a nasty old
thing… a crone. While that grodiness speaks to the horror elements, it
doesn’t necessarily speak to the more sensual side of the vampire film,
and more often than not, a lesbian vampire is going to be a hottie
(Ingrid Pitt, Catherine Deneuve, and Lucy Liu are just a few of the
beauties who have made with the Sapphic bloodsucking). This makes sense
— if I’m going to watch women in flouncy tops biting each other on the
neck, I suppose I’d rather they look like Lucy Liu than that old witch who
tried to eat Hansel and Gretel.

Attractiveness isn’t relegated to
the world of the female vampire, however; so much of Dracula’s power
arises from his ability to seduce, and let’s be honest: A Dracula who
looks like Christopher Lee stands a much better chance at seducing a
victim than, say, your average rat-faced Nosferatu. Unless, of course,
you’re into that kind of thing, which… you know, more power to ya.
I’m not here to judge.

Romantic Vampires
There are
plenty of fans swept up in the romantic side of vampire mythology,
wishing that Frank Langella and his poofy hair would fly through the
window and make with the bite-bite, or that they could spend
their nights interviewing a befanged Brad Pitt or dancing with Chris
Sarandon. Vampires are sexy — hell, in Queen of the Damned ,
vampires are rock stars. Not realizing the bad guy is a bad guy until
it’s too late is a favorite device — “But he was so nice and handsome
and oh, how he could dance! I just couldn’t believe it when he showed
me his pointy teeth and he tried to kill me.” It also makes for prime
horror/melodrama fodder; one of the finest explorations of the “vampire
as jerk boyfriend” metaphor is season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Truly Monstrous Vampires
though, cerebral horror ain’t enough — I just want to be flat-out
scared, and the only vampires who get that job done are the more obviously
monstrous. As Dracula , Bela Lugosi would earn a “Why do you keep staring at me?!” from yours truly, while Max Schreck, as Nosferatu ,
would have me cowering in the corner. Long, talon-like fingers, pointy
ears, sharp teeth, yellow eyes — guys like Nosferatu are the stuff
nightmares are made of. Though Hammer-style gothic vampire movies are
fun and entertaining, it takes something like ‘Salem’s Lot and the evil, demon-like Mr Barlow to really push my buttons.

Way Cooler Than You Vampires
all this talk of pretty boys, pretty lesbians, and monsters, we can’t
forget another major vampire clique: The postmodern cool kids. Typified
in movies like Near Dark and The Lost Boys ,
these vampires generally enjoy being bad and as such, they are way
cooler than you’ll ever be. They wear leather jackets, sunglasses and
headbands; they’ll insult you as quickly as they’ll bite you, and your
last thoughts will be along the lines of “Ow, my neck! Dang, why am I
so unpopularrrrrrr?” Getting bitten by a vampire is bad enough, I
certainly don’t need to be made to feel like a tool before they do it.

Cute and Fluffy Vampires
all this grown-up vampire stuff is too scary for you, you can
get your fill from fluffy animals like children’s book star Bunnicula (I was all over those books when I was a Little Stacie) or Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, a film that closes with a shot of a vampire puppy. Let me say that again — vampire puppy. The oxymoron boggles the mind, and I’m sure I’d be going, “Squeeee! So cute!” even as it tore into my jugular.

puppies and headbands — indeed it’s been enlightening, no? We’ve all
learned that the world of the vampire movies don’t move to the beat of
just one drum and that’s just fine by me. Surely there’s some
variation on the fanged menace out there to satisfy every
horror lover’s whim, whether you like ’em sexy, grody, furry, or some
weird hybrid of all three. Hey, like I said, I’m not here to judge.

sp.jpgA fan of horror movies and scary stuff, Stacie Ponder started her blog Final Girl so she’d have a platform from which she could tell everyone that, say, Friday the 13th, Part 2 rules. She leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.

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