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Vampire: A History Through Pop Culture

Updated on September 1, 2019

Since the dawn of time, humans have been obsessed with the lore of the vampire the same way the vampire has been obsessed with the taste of human blood. Nowadays, the public has the same general idea of the vampire resembling something similar to that of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: a highly sexualized, demonic being that drinks human blood and has a lure over bats. But the myth of the vampire goes back much further than the origination of Dracula in 1887. There are clear foundations of the myth in every culture across the planet making it impossible for historians to pinprick exactly where the bloodsucker originated from. However, many historians suggest that the demon was born out of sorcery in ancient Egypt.

The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet - A cat faced being and possibly the first vampire.
The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet - A cat faced being and possibly the first vampire.

The word vampire first appeared in the English language as vampyre in the early 1700s, almost two hundred years before Dracula was published. And in 1819, the being rose into fiction for the first time by John Polidori in The Vampyre. While Polidori’s story brought the vampire into modern fiction and was arguably considered the most influential vampire work of the 19th century, it is Bram Stoker’s Dracula that is given the most credit and has spawned the distinctive vampire culture that is still alive today.

Dracula, Bela Lugosi
Dracula, Bela Lugosi

In 1922, the vampire bit its way on screen in the German silent film directed by F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu. Nosferatu was based on Stoker’s Dracula, but names and part of the storyline had to be changed due to Stoker’s widow not allowing Murnau to the rights of her husband’s masterpiece. But, in 1931, Universal brought the undead to life when the studio released Dracula and then later Dracula’s Daughter in 1936, making the character even more well-known throughout the human world than he was before.

The films hatched a whole new era of vampire-themed horror movies. The vampire became diversified throughout the years as creatives constructed their own idea of what a vampire should be. The 1970s saw the conception of vampire films such as The Vampire Lovers (1970) which dared you to “taste the deadly passion of the Blood-Nymphs” and Blacula (1972) about an African count. June of 1966 aired the first episode of the soon-to-be hugely popular TV Series that would air throughout the 70s: Dark Shadows. The series was soon followed by the book series written by romance author, Marilyn Ross, and then later by the film adaptation directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in 2012. Barnabas Collins, the hero of Dark Shadows, exposed to the world that vampires could be tragic heroes and not just the pure embodiment of evil.

Dark Shadows TV Series (1966-1971)
Dark Shadows TV Series (1966-1971)
Dark Shadows movie adaptation (2012)
Dark Shadows movie adaptation (2012)

In 1992, seventy years after the Hollywood vampire phenomenon began, the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon was released. This time, instead of the story being about the vampire, the movie focused on a valley girl cheerleader who discovered it was her fate to fight and rid the world of the demonic evil. The movie was followed five years later with the TV series of the same name.

The Master, Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV Show (1997)
The Master, Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV Show (1997)

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended in 2003, the world hardly had time to mourn of the loss of what would become a modern classic because in 2005 Stephenie Myer released the controversial Twilight series sending fan-girls everywhere swooning over the books’ main character Edward, the sparkling vampire. The books were immediately followed by the Twilight Saga movies. The Twilight series again changed the world’s viewing of vampires. Myer’s books showed that vampires, while still blood-suckers, were not all evil. Myer's main characters in the book are vampire "vegetarians" who do not drink human blood, only the blood of animals, and who hide from the sun, not because they might combust from the inside out (like in classic lore), but rather because the sun showed their true supernatural nature by making their pale skin sparkle.

Edward Cullen sparkling in the sun, portrayed by Robert Pattinson in the Twilight Saga films.
Edward Cullen sparkling in the sun, portrayed by Robert Pattinson in the Twilight Saga films.

The vampire has clawed its way into the comic book world as well. Graphic novels such as Vampirella (1969), Tomb of Dracula (1972), 30 Days of Night (2002), and Dracula Vs King Arthur (2005) show vampires as both the superheroes and villains. After the ending of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2003, Joss Whedon launched Buffy Season 8: The Long Way Home, in comic book form. After the ending of the Buffy spin-off, Angel, Whedon launched the comic book series Angel Season 6: After the Fall.

Vampirella Comics, created by Forrest J. Ackerman in 1969.
Vampirella Comics, created by Forrest J. Ackerman in 1969.

Stories like Dracula and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have been dubbed classics for a reason. Despite the popularization of zombies and superheroes, the thrill of the vampire is timeless and will likely be a part of pop-culture to scare and entertain for centuries to come.

© 2014 Sckylar Gibby-Brown

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