Go back to the days of Gothic horror and three figures loom large in the shadows. Snarling and clawing at the ground to the left is the always angry werewolf. To its right, Frankenstein’s monster lumbers into view. Finally, sitting back away from the light and sporting an ominous grin is the immortal vampire.
As youthful looking as they are enduring, vampires have not only survived the test of time but become an integral part of the horror genre. Yes, werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster (i.e. a type of zombie) are all popular to this day. But when you consider the lengths Dracula et al have gone to quench their thirst for blood, it’s little wonder vampires are as relevant today as they ever were.
What we’re talking about here is the apparent flexibility of these creatures. One minute they’ll be terrorising parts of Romania, the next they’re making out with college kids in America. Put simply, there’s almost no other horror creations that are as dynamic, diverse and downright impressive as vampires. However, to truly understand their place in our subculture, we need to go back in time.
From Real Roots, Vampires Have Become Iconic
According to the History network, Vlad the Impaler may have been the seed that spawned vampires as we know them today. Although academics are split, some believe that Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula (1847) was based on Vlad. Why? Well, back in 1456, when Vlad Dracula (his real name) ruled Walachia, Romania, he liked to feast among the dying victims of war. To make matters gorier, he would dip his bread in their blood.
Folktale or not, these images have clearly inspired the works of novelists and directors ever since. By the Middle Ages, the plague perpetuated the myth of vampires. As victims of the disease were left with mouth lesions, onlookers mistook the blood for that of someone else. By wrongly assuming that plague sufferers were vampires, their myth gradually spread across Europe and, eventually, the world.
Horror So Good it Could be Real
In fact, it’s this base in semi-reality that’s made vampires so impactful. When you look at the horror genre, vampires often have the biggest bite because they’re almost human. For example, when you look at Keyface from Insidious, there’s no doubt it’s scary. However, the key-fingered demon doesn’t really look like something you’d meet on your local high street. In contrast, if you watch the forthcoming reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the fang-toothed killers look just like us (except more glamorous).
As horror fans, we like the idea of escapism and surrealism. But we don’t want to escape too far from reality. Indeed, the current wave of zombie-based movies and TV shows such as The Walking Dead are a testament to that. What’s also interesting is how this element of realism has allowed vampires to slip into the shadows of other genres and, moreover, subcultures.
Vampires Are More than Movie Marvels
A gameplay trailer for The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
Stepping out of the movie theatre for a moment, vampires have become popular in the gaming world. Often narrative-based, vampire video games typically put players in the role of the hunter or the killer. For example, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing on the Steam network plunge players into the gothic-noir world of Borgovia. Tasked with ridding the town of vampiric nasties, Van Helsing has to traverse dark yet eerily familiar terrains and learn new skills along the way.
Crossing the gaming spectrum, vampires have also found their way into slots. Borrowing features such as montages, sublevels and animations from video games, modern slots have become an ideal breeding ground for bloodsuckers. At Wink Bingo, players can bypass the 90 and 75 ball bingo games and opt to play vampire slots such as Transylvania Mania. Aside from a progressive jackpot, this game’s appeal is the many emotions you’ll experience as you play.
From there, Gothic touches help bring the horror theme to life, as do themed features such as “undead wilds”. The most interesting thing about this Wink slot is that it’s not necessarily scary. Yes, there is an ominous undertone. However, there are parts of the game that are quirky, almost humorous. That, as we’ve said, is the reason vampires have survived so long. By having the ability to cross boundaries, they’ve not only created new subgenres but become ingrained in the minds of the general public.
Crossing Genres Has Kept Vampires Alive
We’ve mentioned Buffy, but what about What We Do In Shadows? Released in 2014, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s creation puts ancient vampires in a modern setting. That’s all fairly standard but the twist here is that they’re far from competent. Naturally, hilarity ensues, and you get an interesting mix of horror (there are killings) and humour. A TV show of the same name was released in March 2019 due to the film’s interesting take on the vampire genre. This fusion of fun and frights is also present in Bit. Slightly more sombre and political than What We Do In Shadows, this movie has a macabre sense of humour that’s indicative of modern vampire products.
A clip from 2019 film Bit
Of course, even with vampire hybrids making noise, there’s still a place for the classics. 1943 hit The Return of the Vampire was re-released on DVD and Blu-ray. Telling the tale of Armand Tesla from the 17th century stalking the streets of London in 1918, the movie has shades of Dracula throughout. This ability to remain a figure of fear from the Gothic era but simultaneously slot into new, modern genres is what really keeps vampires alive.
Their appeal stems from a connection with reality and, in turn, their versatility. Because vampires can look just like humans, they’re able to transition into other genres more easily than werewolves and zombies. That, for us, is why we love them and, more importantly, why they’ll live on as horror icons forevermore.