Bad Undead Boys
Honestly, I didn’t like the movie “The Lost Boys.” Yes, the music and cinematography were both fantastic, but like too many movies then and now the lead character was boring. Since he didn’t involve me, I didn’t care what happened to him. More, the story didn’t feel like a story. More like a series of events. Odd, since a plot was clearly there and one can even analyze it. But such was my visceral reaction.
On the other hand, the movie did almost single-handedly create a Vampire Icon. No small feat.
David (Kiefer Sutherland–whose father ironically enough co-starred in the original “Buffy” movie) was nothing like the vampires that had gone before. Here was no European aristocrat whose decadence had finally strayed into the infernal. Neither suave nor well-dressed, he had rough edges and an attitude that had nothing to do with castles or heraldry going back to the Crusades. Like many that followed in his boot-trod footsteps, he wore leather. Black leather. He did not glide, but swaggered. No coach and wagons for him, but a motorcycle.
And no guilt. David reveled in being a vampire, literally howling at the moon in his glee at a good kill. Live forever. Party forever. Never grow old. Peter Pan crossed with James Dean, but with fangs.
“The Lost Boys” brought forth the whole idea of the Bad Boy Vampire. “Nosferatu” gave us the scuttling walking corpse. “Dracula” introduced us to the cape-draped nobleman with an accent. But after Joel Schumacher’s first vampire film (his second was the little known “Blood Creek”) another type of undead blood-drinker began attracting admirers.
In the third season of “Forever Knight, ” a new vampire character was brought on, Javier Vachon. Whereas Nick had been a crusading knight when turned, Vachon had been a looting conquistador. One of the two male vampires on the show was blond and generally well-groomed. The other was dark and scruffy. Both wore black. The series lead Nick was Reluctant Vampire, guilt-ridden and seeking to atone. Vachon on the other hand spent centuries avoiding responsibility.
Years later, the program “Angel” copied this formula of putting a Reluctant and a Bad Boy Vampire together. Angel, like his predecessor, was a detective seeking redemption for his cruelties. But eventually he was joined by arguably the most famous bad boy vampire yet–Spike. William The Bloody. Slayer of two Slayers. Lover of another. The vampire not cursed with a soul, but one who went on a quest (by motorcycle, natch) to get his back–all for the love of a woman who said she hated him. If ever there was a vampire with rock-n-roll in every drop of his blood, that vampire was Spike. Initially a wimpy poet and mommy’s boy, he was chosen by the strangely prescient Drusilla (half Ophelia, half Hannibal Lecter) to be her vampire child and mate. Except in the end he surpassed her. When introduced in the second season of “Buffy” we’re told he will not stop. Nor does he. When prevented from harming humans by a chip implant, he was ready to kill himself–until the discovery he could indeed hurt other demons. How he gloried in that fact. To use his own words, he was BACK and he was an ANIMAL!
Let us not forget Spike is only one of many of his ilk, albeit one of the most complex (having a storyline stretching across two t.v. series helped). Deacon Frost was another, from the motion picture “Blade,” a ruthless pretender to the throne of all the undead, who calmly plotted the overthrow of many older, more powerful vampires than himself–and tried to recruit Blade himself to the cause. Henry Fitzroy on “Blood Ties” fits the type, albeit his darkness is more mischievous than dangerous–and given his back story he had more than a little of the aristocratic Dracula-archetype in him. Blade himself qualifies as a Bad Boy Vampire, complete with the Harley and long leather jacket. James from “Twilight” fits right in–a hunter in love with the experience of the hunt first, last and always.
Most recently, television has returned to the coupling of a reluctant with the bad boy. “The Vampire Diaries” goes so far as to make them brothers, implacable enemies as well as rivals for not one but two girls (one a vampire, the other a human descendant and hence a lookalike). Damon Salvatore looks like a cat given human form, complete with that tendency to play his food, or to simply strike unexpectedly for the kill. Yet like David his dramatic progenitor, he shows a startling vulnerability. David seemed genuinely hurt that Micheal (the boring lead in “The Lost Boys”) rejected this fantastic gift of eternal youth. Likewise Damon finds himself willing to help a mere mortal girl, then to have his heart-broken by the beautiful vampiress who created him.
Shades of Spike really.
But if Spike was a major milestone in the trope, who else belongs at the top of the list? Almost certainly Lestat, who not only seems to be a rock star but actually becomes one! What about the title character’s father in the British series “Young Dracula”? One can hardly imagine anyone revelling in undeath more. Then there is Mitchell on “Being Human,” who manages the tricky feat of being both a Reluctant Vampire as well as the Bad Boy.
In the end, however, Spike may well share the top slot with only one other Bad Boy equal to his stature. Another blond, as it turns out. Eric Northman on “True Blood” is about as bad as they come, at least in some ways. He betrayed half the people he knows–all in an effort to avenge his parents. He is in rivalry for a beautiful mortal with a Reluctant vampire (hmm–where have we seen this pattern before?), yet does not hesitate to hurt either one of them for his ends. He even tricked the object of his affections into drinking his blood, the expression on his face as Bill found out was too smug for easy description. Vain, he spends the series naked rather a lot of the time. Courageous, but rarely without a trick up his sleeve. The fact that Eric praises his progeny, Pam, for her lack of sentiment says a lot about both of them–as does the fact he wept when his own maker committed suicide.
So why the popularity? Is it just a matter of fashion? Or maybe it lies in the contradictions which make the vampire such a wonderful subject of fiction. The best, most popular Bad Boy Vampires are not totally bad. Spike saved the world, albeit for selfish reasons. Then he fell in love, quite literally driving himself insane to become a man worthy of her. Later, upon learning he was destined for Hell no matter what he did now, he continued the Good Fight (and in the process maybe did earn forgiveness–or so I like to think). Damon is a ruthless killer, but stays his hand more than once. His rage proves fueled by love and loyalty, somewhat to his own surprise. Eric? He was willing to burn himself alive to kill the man who murdered his parents, and in his own way proved patient, even generous in wooing a young woman whose most obvious trait is one he says he despises–humanity. In Jungian terms, perhaps the Bad Boy is the shadow of the Reluctant Vampire, the dark version of the self.
Then again, maybe it is the other way round.