There is no greater testament to the evolving nature of genre than the Vampire. Once upon a time, the vampire was the poster boy of the gothic romance. He stood for the dark side of the Victorian heart; The swarthy foreigner whose powers of evil and sensuality lured upstanding Victorian women to their fall not through force but through mesmerising gazes and hushed words. The horrifying nature of the Vampire lay in his mastery over the very elements of human nature that Victorian society sought to deny. His was the worst kind of evil. The evil that one wanted to give in to. As society changed and cultural attitudes shifted, the Vampire’s evil seemed to dim. As Horror peeled away from the gothic and what remained sank back down into Romance, the Vampire changed from a dangerous sensual evil into the kind of sensual creature that you would love to date, even if your parents wouldn’t approve : Male Vampires became leather-trouser clad pretty boys with fashionable hair styles and either a fondness for violence or a deep and brooding sense of artistic self-loathing. Female Vampires became invariably bisexual and more or less freaky. The kind of freaky that would scare you but which would also allow you to indulge all of the stuff you see in porn films but would never dare to ask of a real sexual partner. In other words, good freaky.
In the space of a hundred years Vampires have moved from creatures of pure evil to pathetic sexual Mary Sues for frustrated and repressed Westerners. The Vampires themselves haven’t changed. What has changed is our attitude to what the Vampire represents. That which the Victorians feared and denied in themselves, the people of the 21st Century indulge to the point of solipsism.
However, some attempts have been made to keep Vampires true to their role as creatures of Horror. Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) saw in Vampires creatures more in tune with the violent and self-destructive urges that animate humanity as a whole. Creatures for whom the rational mind serves as an organ or self-justification rather than control or repression. Alfredson’s Let The Right One In (2008) presented Vampires as users, creatures who adapt themselves to the demands of the marginalised in order to slowly suck the life out of them. This essay is about a film that returned to one of the first non-romantic presentations of Vampirism.
Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) is a remake of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu : A Symphony of Terror (1922). But while the remake is, at times, almost shot-for-shot, Herzog’s version presents Vampires as creatures that are not only deeply lonely but whose power is entirely dependent upon the Humans whose blood it drinks.