The True American Vampire

The vampire we all know and love today has been created and refined over the years by Hollywood. Movies such as Dracula, The Lost Boys, The Hunger, and Queen of the Damned have continually fed the legend of the vampire as a desirable, beautiful creature of the night.

However, there are no legends, regardless of origin, that paints this picture of the vampire. In a few cases, such as the Dearg-Due of Ireland, the vampire is a beautiful female that uses her beauty to seduce her victims. In most cases though the vampire is a walking corpse. It is not beautiful. It has no intelligence. He is no more than a reanimated corpse that feeds on the blood of the living to sustain his reanimated form.

F.W. Murnau created the first surviving film adaptation of the novel. In his Nosferatu — Eine Symphonie des Grauen, Count Orlock was ugly, with pointy ears, a bald head, and large pointy incisors. The vampire held true to the European myths, at least in physical appearance.

Tod Browning brought a new image to the vampire with his filming of Dracula. Bela Lugosi portrayed the Count as a handsome creature of the night. He was very suave and debonaire, speaking in his Hungarian accent, hypnotizing women with his stare, and moving in a slow, yet smooth manner. Women all over America fell in love with this Count Dracula, men all over America desired to be this Count Dracula.

Hollywood (as well as America’s fiction writers) has, in fact, created a true American Vampire by combining the old myths (staking the vampire, garlic, crosses, sunlight, native soil, …) and the American dream of power, beauty, sexual irresistibility, and immortality. That vampire has become the True American Vampire.

Deeper under the surface, the modern American vampire certainly has not lost its connection with religion, spirituality or God. Truly, as Anne Rice’s vampires exemplify particularly well, the vampires’ struggle with God and their place in the order of life is an integral part of what these creatures have become. In the novel Interview With the Vampire, the title character, Louis de Point du Lac, spends a great deal of time reflecting on his vampiric nature. He labors with the concept of God, not understanding how vampires could be allowed to exist if such a creature were real. In one truly low point, he reasons that

if God doesn’t exist, [vampires] are the creatures of the highest consciousness in the universe. [They] alone understand the passage of time and the value of every minute of human life. And what constitutes evil, real evil, is the taking of a single human life. Whether a man would have died tomorrow or the day after or eventually . . . it doesn’t matter. Because if God does not exist, this life . . . every second of it . . . is all we have. (Interview, p. 238)

The vampire in the modern era has established a unique relationship with religion and spirituality. Instead of being hunted and condemned by it, some vampires are now acting in the role of aggressor. They are searching within themselves and within the culture around them for some level of understanding of God. In the modern era, the vampire has been used to illustrate spirituality in its many forms and thus reflects the religious identity of modern American culture.