I think by now most of us have had our fill of the sparkly, angsty, emo vampires that have dominated the last decade of film and literature. I mean, as a novelty some day walking, heartbroken undead lothario could be entertaining… for a while. But the vampire is a primal hunter, an indiscriminate killer who stalks the night and inspires fear into the hearts of mortal men on the most primitive of levels. The monster itself is prehistoric, its legends and attributes as old as our oral traditions and far more grizzly than we can even fathom these days. I can only imagine early proto-humans huddled inside their caves at night, gathered together by the warmth and safety of a fire afraid of the nocturnal beasts that stalked them lurking outside in the night. They feared the huge creatures that moved like a fog through the darkness with glowing eyes, giant fangs, and an appetite for the very life essence of a man. So, in an age of vegan vampires are there any creatures of the night still have some bite to them? As a matter of fact, there are.
What We Do In the Shadows (2014)
This horror/comedy from New Zealand is possibly the best vampire movie I’ve seen in years. This mockumentary follows a den of vampires living on the outskirts of town trying to break up the monotony of their afterlife. Each of the flat mates are modeled after iconic vampires from folklore and modern stories. Vladislav, an Eastern European royal known in his time as Vladislav the Poker is an obvious parody of Vlad the Impaler better known to horror fans and history buffs as Dracula. Viago is the Dandy from the Age of Enlightenment reminiscent of Anne Rice’s foppish fiends from Interview with a Vampire. Petyr, the eldest of them, is molded from Graf Orlock in Nosferatu and the master vampire in Salem’s Lot while Deacon, the youngest of the band at 139 years old and comes across like a Russian Lost Boy or some stock vampire from almost any movie in the 70’s.
The movie centers on Vlad, Viago and Deacon and their newly minted vampire Millennial Nick as they try to adapt to life in the 21st century. Along the way they encounter werewolves, zombies, and hunters all trying to fit in to the world while not drawing undo attention to themselves. Moving away from the situational comedy of the film, there are some great pieces of European vampire myth that are brought up. During the “dinner party” at the start of the movie where we first encounter the still human Nick, the vampires use telepathic powers to play tricks on the man making him think that his spaghetti is actually a plate of worms and that his penis has become a snake. As he tries to escape the house the vampires fly seamlessly through the halls, crawl out of Nick’s backpack, and in one truly unusual –but absolutely great moment- Vlad becomes a black cat. Unfortunately, he has “trouble with the faces” and his human face is still on the cat’s body in a scene reminiscent of the 70’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The movie is definitely more of a gory comedy than an actual horror flick, but it gives a more honest, traditional view of the vampire than anything else made in the last ten years.
The Strain (2013-Ongoing)
Meanwhile, Guilermo Del Torro is a man who knows his monsters and knows how to take the old and make it new again. He and Chuck Hogan have crafted a novel/comic book/television series that blends elements of Richard Matheson’s vampire disease in I Am Legend with Romero’s zombie apocalypse all while taking the vampire itself back to its horrifyingly undead roots. Now, I’m going to fast forward through the nattering melodrama that is every other character in this series aside from Setrakian, Fet, and the vampires. I mean, honestly, if I wanted to watch a soap opera, I’d watch a soap opera.
Abraham Setrakian is an old man, a Van Helsing surrogate and survivor of the Nazi extermination camps of World War II which would be enough right there to consider this old man a complete badass. But during his time in the camps he was forced to build an elaborate new coffin for The Master who had promised some of the Nazi’s a way out as the war continued to turn against them. As the years rolled on, Setrakian escaped the camps, became a professor and used his time to study the myths and lore of the vampire and to hunt them down on his Captain Ahab like quest to destroy them. In New York at the start of this blood sucker Armageddon, he meets Vassily Fet, an exterminator who becomes his protégé and friend, not to mention another total badass vampire killer.
And speaking of vampires, these guys start out like your normal, unassuming undead monsters. Sallow skin, dead eyes, the whole nine yards. But unlike your zombies or ghouls, they have this predatory mien that makes them absolutely terrifying. They look at you with eyes like a wild animal, hungry, rage filled eyes that stalk you no matter where you run to. Gradually, the parasitic worms responsible for the change cause parts of the body to adapt to their needs. The body becomes an asexual mass with inhuman eyes, hairless skin, pointed ears and, eventually, a hollow cavity where the nose had been. A red waddle forms between the chin and neck that holds the long, barbed tongue that the vampires use to siphon their victims and pass on the parasites.
Watching them climb off the slabs in a morgue, out of hidden warrens in subway tunnels and basements, and climb up along the side of buildings in mobs of a dozen or more is horrifying. More importantly, it goes back to that primal fear of the monster devouring everything that makes us human.
There are lots of great vampires still out there, creatures of the night being written to seduce us and shock us. Anne Rice is in talks with various cable networks to bring her Vampire Chronicles to life again as a series, a move that promises to offer us both the raw, sexual power of the vampire while terrifying us with the horror and bloodlust they’re known for. We’ll have to wait and see, though. As for now, though, the trend is still leaning towards those angsty, emotionally delicate hipster vampires who whine about eating people and sparkle in the sunlight. True horror fans can still find plenty of nocturnal villains waiting for them in the shadows, you just have to be willing to venture into those dark places where few men are willing to tread.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories.