Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Vampire Preservation Society

With Halloween around the corner, I want to return to a particular complaint that I'm sure I've mentioned before, but it needs repeating. What prompted this forthcoming rant was a book by Brandon Massey called "Dark Corner". I read the first chapter, having no prior knowledge of what the book might be about. It began promisingly enough. An African American goes south to live in the home of his now dead famous father. The characters were engaging and whet my appetite. But then...then Massey began Chapter Two with a tall man in black sitting in first class on an airplane, a metrosexual vampire drinking blood through a straw from a juice pack. I threw the book aside and began this rant.

An open letter to would-be horror writers and urban fantasists.

Dear Sir or Madame,

Leave the vampires alone.

I understand that they are alluring and that these manifestations of repressed Victorian sexuality are irrestistable as you attempt to draw in readers by playing upon their own power and repressed sexuality issues. However, in writing about these dark creatures and in giving them all the neurosis of metrosexuals in heat, you rob them of their primal energy. You take away that which has made them fearful, that which has haunted our subconscious and thrilled us and instead left behind a pale, ineffectual doppleganger.

I remember the thrill I had watching "Nightstalker" for the first time. The made for TV film followed a vampire as he hunted prey in Las Vegas. No charming foreigner there, with smoldering good looks and a seductive smile. No. Kolchak's prey was the vampire revealed. The cruel animalistic bloodsuck, drinking our fear along with our blood, chewing through our psyche, devouring it as though chewing through popcorn at a midnight show.

Dan Curtis' Barnabus Collins. I know some will think that he was a fop, a pathetic troll trapped in a daytime drama. However, every so often, Jonathan Frey showed what lay beneath the romanticized version of evil, and it wasn't pretty. Not one bit. Love him all you want, you lovers of "Buffy" (one of the greatest offenders) but when given rein, Barnabus was evil without bottom. He was darkness come solid.

Shall we talk about Simon Clark's creations? What about Dracula as drawn by Bram Stoker, without the baggage given him by Hollywood? Shall we discuss Robert R. McCammon's "They Thirst"? What about F. Paul Wilson's "Midnight Mass"? Or King's "Salem's Lot"?

I won't throw blame though. I won't wail about Anne Rice, nor shall I stake poor Laurell K. Hamilton. I won't even turn a critical eye toward the likes of Mary Janice Davidson and her Queen Betsy series (you really don't want to know). Let me instead just extend my arms in supplication and beg that these writers stop. Go pick on someone else. Leave the vampires alone. Write stories about uncertified car mechanics. That can be terrifying. Write about professional soccer players transplanted to the U.S.. Egads!!!!! Just turn away from the nightstalkers. Stop. Now.

Given time, these creatures of shadow can reclaim their mystique. The word VAMPIRE can regain some of its iconic horror. The mind heals. The culture forgives.

So turn back to the light where you really belong, and leave the darkness to us who know it and love it.

Stewart Sternberg


Lucas Pederson said...

You know, I feel the same way. Vampires are too commercial anymore to be scary, as they once had been. I loved Salem's Lot. It's how vampires should be, I think. But now days that book is nothing more than child's play.
With the new movie "30 Days of Night" out in theaters, my vampire skepticism is at full swing. The movie looks very promising. The graphic novel for which it was based is pretty good. They are starting to adapt the graphic novels into actual novel now, I picked up two the other day. The first one is the film novelization, written by a great writer named Tim Lebbon. I love that guy's work. Anyway, I just finished the film novel and must say it's a pretty good read. The characters are believable, especially the main character. You'll have to check it out.
Anyhoo, I've written my fair share of vampire stories, trying to recapture the horror of the thing. But what usually comes out is a blood bath. A blood bath with a little class, perhaps, or at least I like to think as I store it away in some distant file in my computer. Ah well. Great post fella!

Christina said...

lol, okay, so maybe you won't be picking up my first series Stewart. I must shamelessly admit that I have vampires in my novels, however that was BEFORE I decided to stop writing about vampires, but I do want to finish this series before I do that.

P.S. Thanks for your happy thoughts!!

Mark Rainey said...

I tend to enjoy vampire movies, but I have little interest in vampire fiction -- despite having written a number of vampire stories, and a couple of DARK SHADOWS novels. (Well, money sometimes does have ways of motivating one -- not to mention a deep love of DARK SHADOWS in general.)

Just the other day, I picked up COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE and RETURN OF COUNT YORGA on DVD. I loved those in my younger days, and they're still a real hoot -- a great blend of grotesqueries and humor. If you've not checked them out, I recommend them.


Stewart Sternberg said...

Lucas, maybe the issue isn't commercialism so much as familiarity. And maybe the issue isn't familiarity so much as these stories aren't horror, but romance or something else using vampirism for all the wrong reasons.

Christina, I'll still read them. Just, please, no vampire sex. With condoms.

I love Count Yorga, Mark. So you did a couple of the Dark Shadows novels. I think I read a one or two; the earliest ones. Ah, the days of Willie, Victoria, and Quentin.

William Jones said...

Does this argument/concern carry over into Lovecraftian works?

I wonder if it is possible to retain the legacy of the vampire as we pass through the years. It seems possible that many people grumbled about Stoker's "aristocratic class" vampire -- sucking life from the lower social classes. Is there perhaps a vampire for every age?

Charles Gramlich said...

"They Thirst" is one of my favorite vampire novels. And I don't generally enjoy what I call "fantasy" vampires. However, I don't mind when writers bend the genre a little bit and make the vampire at least somewhat conflicted.

Kate S said...

Goshdarnit, Stu, and here I was going to write a vampire tale for your "It's over and I mean it" assignment.

Franki said...

Did you see "Vampire's Kiss" with Nicholas Cage? Very, very funny.

And I'm still mad that Tom Twatty Cruise played Lestat.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Charles, I agree. Every so often a vampire novel comes along that grabs someone by the throat.

William, I am sure Lovecraft appreciated vampirism as a horror theme. He took it out of the Victorian era and instead focused on the parasitic theme. How's that for intellectualizing?

As for the aristocratic vampire, I think that's one theme, but for me the idea that the vampire is a creature of the night, a manifestation of the inevitability of death, gets me. Sure, the undead have for now held the reaper at bay, but they are corrupted and the cost is damnation.

Kate, write your vampire story. It's okay. I'll just make fun of you.

Franki, I saw that. I enjoyed it. Romero did a strange film you might explore called "MARTIN". It's about a boy obssessed with vampirism until he finally succumbs to it.

Fab said...

I miss the time when I was scared of vampires as a kid - not that I enjoy being scared - but the damn creatures are depicted everywhere, used for anything and are portrayed so stereotypically it's hard withholding laughter. I did enjoy Bram Stocker's but was not that impressed with the movie adaptation (maybe I had to see first and read after to appreciate it).

seventh sister said...

And you should drink Vampire wine while watching the vampire movies. The pinos are very tasty and what else would they call a wine that is made in Translyvania?

Sidney said...

There is a paperback out now that states on the back - "for those who like their vampires evil."

I always get a kick out of humans fighting vampire tales from "Dracula" to "Count Yorga" to "Blacula" to "Salem's Lot" and I am kind of looking forward to "30 Days of Night," if that's indeed what I go see this weekend.

avery said...

You can try and put the vampire back in the darkness, but it will never be the same. Too much has been done to vampires for modern culture to ever see them, say, as the way Romanians saw their Strigoi. Maybe you could turn your frustration to inventing the next fiend of darkness instead of lamenting the irreversible neutering of an overworked stereotype.

SQT said...

I love this post. The latest thing in vampire fiction that I hate the most are the vampires that can walk in daylight. I read some such nonsense in a chic-lit vampire novel and just about chucked the book across the room. Why even call it a vampire?

Walking in daylight, gimme a break.