Vampires have had a long and interesting history on film. In fact, the vampire movie has gone through a number of distinct stages, where the vampire has played a variety of different roles. In this article, I will discuss the various phases of the movie vampire.
The Tragic Loner
In the film Nosferatu from 1922, the vampire is portrayed as a tragic loner who is miserable and needs to feed on the flesh of other people. This form of the vampire is miserable, ugly and appears barely human. Though this version of the vampire was quickly replaced by the Bela Legosi version, it is, in fact, closer to the mythology of vampires than any other film version.
In the film Dracula from 1931, we see a filmed version of Bram Stoker’s character from the novel of the same name. Like that character, Dracula appears as a ruthless and evil, but wealthy and charismatic gentleman. Unlike the character from Nosferatu, the Dracula of this film is suave and attractive. It is the beginning of vampires as being sexy.
Not everything can last, however. For much of the 1950s and 1960s, vampires were largely used in comedy movies. The combination of intensity and decadence from the early films made ripe pickings for comedies such as Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers.
The rise of exploitation films in the 1960s and 1970s gave two new versions of the film vampire: cannon fodder and naked vampire chick. Exploitation films focused on violence and sex, and vampires could provide a lot of both. Vampire men played some of the same cannon fodder role as zombies do today, while vampire women tended to be both naked and lesbians.
The Bad Boy
In the 1980s, vampire films had something of a renaissance. Rather than retelling old stories, the idea became to make vampires as they would be today. The decision was unanimous: they would be really, really cool. Whatever was cool at the time would be characteristic of vampires. This kind of vampire can be seen in films like The Lost Boys and later in Blade.
Then, of course, there is Anne Rice. The film Interview With a Vampire brought her vision of violent, decadent vampires to the big screen. Since then, the well-dressed, Victorian immortal who is in touch with his feelings has returned to the big screen as a common role for the vampire.
Where will vampires go from here? Currently, vampires are usually “Bad boys”, with some “Dandy” thrown in (sometimes at the same time, like in Twilight). Quentin Tarantino and those inspired by him have tried to revive the cannon fodder version of the vampire. Perhaps we will also see a new version. Nonetheless, the vampire is still alive (well, sort of) and well in cinema.