With Halloween quickly approaching, we have monsters on our minds. Several creepy creatures have become prevalent in modern culture after evolving from roots in classic literature or ancient indigenous belief. In this Oct. 27-31 series, Movie Monsters in Literature, we feature one of our favorite beastly brutes each day and examine their origins and influence in literature, film, and popular culture.
While Bram Stoker defined and popularized the vampire through his novel, Dracula, he did not conceive of the popular villain. Their origin ties vampires back to Greek mythology, relating the story of Ambrogio, a young adventurer, who falls in love with Selene, a maiden of the sun god, Apollo’s, temple. Apollo, who had grown fond of Selene, curses Ambrogio so that the touch of Apollo’s sunlight burns Ambrogio’s skin. Ambrogio then tries to appease Apollo, win his soul, and thus mortality, back from Hades, and placate Artemis (after attempting to steal her silver arrow) but only acquires more curses. Artemis eventually takes pity on Ambrogio and allows him to disseminate his immortality by drinking and vitiating the blood of others, allowing him to spend eternity with Selene.
The first recorded historical case describing a real person as a vampire, occurred in Istria, now modern Croatia, in 1672. Jure Grando, who reportedly died in 1656, returned from the dead and began killing the townspeople by drinking their blood. This popular tale spread throughout Eastern Europe in the late 17th and 18th centuries and formed the basis of the vampire legend that was eventually embellished upon and popularized in Germany and England.
Stoker’s monster shares many traits with these early vampirical accounts. Additionally, Dracula was specifically based off of a mortal, Vlad the Impaler, who predated the 17th century claims. Vlad, often referred to as Dracula (which means “Son of the Dragon”), ruled his military kingdom of Wallachia — southern Romania — with fear. Determined not to be overthrown, Dracula built a defense around him that resulted in his own paranoia and the impaling of thousands of his subjects who he saw as either traitors, would-be traitors, or enemies to the security of Romania.
Whether they are emulating Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the more ancient vampire narratives, several modern authors have given new life to the venerable demon.
For further reading:
Stephenie Meyer modernized the vampire, and illustrates in her novels-turned-blockbuster-feature-films that even demons can be good or evil and fall in love with a human. While many of the protagonists’ traits are inconsistent with common myth, the story can elevate interest in ancient folklore.
Bloodsucking Fiend is the first book in Christopher Moore’s humorous vampire trilogy that allows mature readers to sympathize with the monsters and their undead plight. Each of Moore’s books relate historical, cultural, or mythological references that cultivate interest in its subject.
The Vampire Diaries
Another book that has been further popularized through additional mediums, The Vampire Diaries is a modern love story that accounts for the ancient idiosyncrasies associated with vampires. The vampires in L.J. Smith’s series are accused of draining the blood of humans and can only be exposed to sunlight if they wear lapis lazuli, a deep blue, semi-precious stone. Mature themes occur in both the books and the television series; audiences who like Twilight and are interested in a slightly more mythologically veracious assimilation will appreciate The Vampire Diaries.
Films Featuring Vampires:
Hotel Transylvania, PG (2012)
Do you have little ones who are interested in the undead? Hotel Transylvania is a Sony Pictures film that keeps children and adults engaged. The film is a fun interpretation of how our favorite monsters interact as they try their best to avoid the limelight unwantingly bestowed on them by humans.
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Dark Shadows, PG-13 (2012)
While the anti-hero of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is immortal, possesses unparalleled strength, and avoids direct sunlight, he became a vampire through a curse bestowed on him by his ex-lover, who was also a witch, rather than a bite. Enjoy Burton’s film, loosely based on the 1960’s soap opera of the same name, while challenging yourself to spot other inconsistencies from commonly accepted vampire myth.
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Interview with the Vampire, R (1994)
Originally a novel by Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire recounts the story of interviewee Louis’ rebirth and incarnation as an immortal demon. While the R rating should deter younger viewers, it should encourage the engagement of more sophisticated viewers as the themes throughout the film are congruent with the ominous stigma associated with vampires throughout folklore and myth.
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Vampires have taken over mainstream media in the United States. While the Twilight series and the plethora of newly minted shows dominating television are currently captivating audiences young and old, our obsession with the creepy creatures of the night has been a long time coming.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been a cult classic since 1997 and showcases the successful slaying of vampires and other demons by a young girl. The show portrays circumstances that many teenagers can relate to while radiating girl power and the overlying theme of good versus evil. The show was so successful that it prompted series spin-offs, video games, and toys.
- The Marvel superhero, Blade, is a vampire hunter who first appeared in comic books before taking over the big screen and starring Wesley Snipes.
- We can’t forget Count Von Count, one of our favorite Sesame Street characters who possesses the compulsive love of counting.
- Vampires are a popular element within Japanese anime and manga, including Vampire Knight, Blood: The Last Vampire, and Hellsing.
Want to find out which movie monster you are? Take our quiz to find out!