My top ten favourite vampires…

I’ve started watching True Blood. A bit behind the times I know. One of my friends said it was shameful, but honestly I’m enjoying the series. It’s extremely entertaining low-brow nonsense.

One of the main complaints people make about vampires, fantasy, or any genre writing really, is that it’s always the same old tropes, over and over again. That seems pretty silly and reductive. After all, highbrow literature is just the same old stuff over and over again, and you don’t even get a plot with that. And with vampires, there’s endless possibilities to play with: plot, setting, characterisation and tone provide so much variety. Here are my top ten Vampire themed things. Just don’t mention Tw*l*ght.

Only Lovers Left Alive

This movie was directed by Jim Jarmusch and stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, two tall, thin pale people who look pretty vampiric in real life. They’re Adam and Eve and they’ve been alive for hundreds, or possibly thousands of years, and have spent most of that time noodling about reading, playing music and generally behaving like intellectual teenage goths, until they’re interrupted by Eve’s much more normal vampire sister. They prefer discreet arrangements with blood banks to actually killing people. It’s arch and fey, but humorous and self aware. If you’re going to have a triumph of style over substance, you might as well make it a proper triumph, like this.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The original(ish) and still the best! I’ve written about my love for Dracula before, but it’s well worth revisiting. Dracula has a complex, epistolary style, and has great characters and some incredible scenes. Dracula’s enchantment of asylum inmate Renfield, who feeds on insects, is deeply unsettling. His dramatic arrival in Whitby during a storm, on a ghost ship, is amazing: only the dead captain is left strapped to the helm. Plus, in an unusual gender twist, it is Jonathan Harker, a man, who is trapped in a Transylvanian castle and menaced by sexually predatory female vampires. It doesn’t get any more goth than that.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I watched this series – all 144 episodes – endlessly while I was at university. It was one of those cult things, that spread more slowly before the internet proper. We watched it on VHS! It was a cool postmodern mash-up of American High School drama, romance and horror, at a time when that still felt new. It was also pretty feminist. Cute little Buffy was super strong and beat up endless vampires and saved the world from destruction, with her crew of misfits and their English, tweed-clad librarian ‘watcher,’ more times than I can remember.

Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice

The ultimate in Southern Gothic. This is amazing writing, with complex characters, a strong plot and an eerie eye for detail. It’s not exactly scary, but properly macabre and twisted, with plenty of horrifying elements: the misery of eternal life, the perils of never growing up or old, existential suffering. Vampires have heightened senses and Rice really suggests what that might be like: one long, erotic, psychedelic trip to the dark side.

The Lost Boys

A teenage cult classic from the 80s, The Lost Boys is a comedy horror with an amazing soundtrack – it was probably the first time I ever heard The Doors. It also has some very cool 80s rocker teenage vampires, who live a hedonistic life hiding in a fun fair. Shades of Ray Bradbury, but then I probably hadn’t read anything by him when I first watched this. Definitely one for a nostalgia trip with a bucket of popcorn and a few drinks.

Let the Right One in

A Swedish horror film that’s properly nasty in a creepy, understated Scandinavian way, complete with some real shocks. It features a bullied, isolated young boy who is befriended and protected by a ‘teenage’ vampire girl. So much of what’s horrible about this is the tone and the implications, never spelt out. Our vampire girl is cared for by an adult man, who assists her with her extremely bloody kills – is he a paedophile, or was he once a lonely young boy as well? Who exactly is preying on whom? The Scandinavians just seem better at making things properly grim than other people.

Thirst

Then again, you could do vampires the Korean way. This film is just mad and disturbing. It features a Korean Catholic priest who becomes a vampire after volunteering for a medical experiment somewhere in Africa that gets a bit voodoo. He then begins a tempestuous affair with his friend’s wife, moving into his house and then killing him. The mother in law remains in the house, but is paralysed with shock. As you would be. He soon makes his girlfriend into a vampire too, and the two of them go on some crazy killing sprees and abuse the mother in law for fun. Meanwhile the police are catching up with them, and they have a terrifying love-hate relationship. Everything about this is bonkers and baffling and bloody.

The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)

This book is a much more sedate affair. It’s a cerebral quest for the real Dracula that riffs on Bram Stoker but manages to add much more to vampire lore and the history of Vlad the Impaler. It’s a properly pseudo-Victorian style novel: long, slow-burning, and written in epistolary style. It’s eerie rather than horrifying. It has a lot to say about the nature of history and evil, the conflict between Christianity and Islam, and is as much about the joys of academic research as anything else.

Salem’s Lot (Stephen King)

King’s second novel is very King and very 70’s Americana. A writer returns home to the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot in Maine, only to find that the residents are becoming vampires. The writer and a group of locals, including a priest and a doctor, do battle against the forces of evil. The themes are of social disintegration and the death of the small town, and the carefully-drawn setting, social realism and perfect character development all blend seamlessly with the taut, exciting, scary plot. Nobody does this kind of thing better than King. It’s perfect.

Anno Dracula (Kim Newman)

I’ve reviewed this before, in my 2014 reading list, but I really enjoyed it so here it is again. It’s an alternative steampunk history, in which Queen Victoria has married Dracula and the Jack the Ripper killings are actually vampire slayings. It’s an amazing bit of intertextual postmodernism, or decent fanfiction, with references crammed in to pretty much every other vampire that’s ever been written about or filmed. In style it’s horror-action-thriller, and it would make a really good movie.