I have the honor of sharing a guest post from my good friend Sarah Doebereiner. Sarah is a writer from central Ohio who graduated with a bachelor’s in English. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Dayton Daily News, Nexus Literary Journal and Screech Owl and is expecting a novella to be published in the near future. She enjoys writing in all forms and genres.
Monsters. We’ve seen strict interpretations that draw on ancient lore, and modern reimagining of those classic notions. Many people think we are reaching the point where we have seen it all. There are no new stories, only new voices. To me, it seems like the market has a distinctly circular pattern. It shifts from romanticized versions to murderous realism and back and back and back. But why? Are monsters meant to be scary? Are they friendly and misunderstood; or perhaps they are both?
I think it’s simpler than that. The market shifts in direct response to the oversaturation of a trope. The viewers like the clichés because they make the genre what it is. If you deviate too far from the original lore, then you have to ask yourself if the creature still deserves inclusion in their subcategory. However, too much cliché is boring and lifeless. So, our culture switches back and forth between two clichés and champions the one trending at that moment. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll focus on a cross section of mainstream vampire movies.
The first stories were cautionary tales invoking the old superstitious. With Nosferatu in 1922 we saw the rise of the beast vampire. The fear and terror of the monster dominated the characters. Their attitude towards humans was derogatory at best. There was little room for reason beyond the pursuit of sustenance. A savage hunter trope emerged.
Times changed and technology made people less afraid of the old lore. Modern culture grew tired of the beast vampire. Soon a subtle splice of humanity crept in. The Lost Boys in 1987 was a shift towards the romanticized vampire. The vampires in this movie are still tough on humans, but they value them as more than merely cattle. Part of this shift is that vampires in this cross section used to be humans. So the innate value of the humans extended as far as they would make decent additions to the group.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Interview with a Vampire (1994) continued this trend towards an attractive vampire. Charm moved these vampires another step away from the snarling beast and towards a gentlemanly refinement. The focus becomes the struggle of morals/manners, yet we still get the impression underneath the class, they have the capacity for brutality. Interview with a Vampire explores the themes of humanity vs. savagery in depth.
After a while people felt that these more rational vampires had lost the original intent of the creature. They were too plagued by their humanity to be scary. In fact, they had stopped trying to be scary, and seemed much more interested in seduction and conversion. These frustrations caused a move back to the beast vampires of Blade (1998) and Vampires (1998). These movies were a return to the old tropes. Vampires were vicious killers who toyed with human beings. You should run or fight, not snog them. It’s worth mentioning that Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) also emerged during this time period although the show swings back and forth between the tropes with the trending cliché.
Dracula 2000 and Underworld (2003) focused on the misunderstood nature of the monsters. They were sympathetic, reasonable, and more human in their emotional struggles. In many ways, the stories became more about individuals struggle to find a place in the world.
Shortly after that, 2007 brought us 30 Days of Night and I am Legend. These vampires verged on zombies so there was a little bit of ambiguous beast mixed in. These were pack hunters with mob frenzy mentalities. The moral of these stories was clear. It’s daft to become a monster. It’s daft to reason with a beast.
But just how daft is it, and why can’t we learn our lesson? Twilight (2008) was full of teenage angst and romance. The story is basically one girl falling in love with, and trying to become a vampire despite the obvious problems. The rise of this kind of sparkly, vegetarian vampire created a backlash wave that we are still recovering from. Most people agreed vampires needed a little more bite. Daybreakers (2009) and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer (2012) are evidence of this. Daybreakers showed the ethics of widespread vampire existence and shed light on the stupidity of everyone becoming vampires. ALVS went full on beasty.
We thought we were safe. The romantic vampire was gone. Except it wasn’t. Dracula Untold (2014) took us a step back towards the vampire with a heart of gold. The race was generally abhorrent, but we have one step in the romanticism door. That Vlad was definitely supposed to be snog-worthy. It nicely stepped back into the previous romantic Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The circle continues.
Now it’s true that many of the above stories contain elements of both clichés. Many of them have the rules of the vampire set up in a certain trope, but then one character or small group of characters deviates from the trope. So the argument could be made that the cycle extends not only to trends over time, but also to trends within specific components of the larger arc.
Sometimes we like our monsters to be horrific beings who destroy, torture, and detest the general public. However, we also like them to be approachable with moments of clarity and kindness. You see these trends in all monster forms: werewolves, zombies, hybrid monsters like the Frankenstein creature. We have a bipolar attitude towards evil. When the scare stops making our hearts race, we want to be wooed. It’s the cliché love/hate relationship, literally.