I encountered the Vampire tale first through the movies, staying up late Friday and Saturday nights watching Bela Lugosi, John Carradine and then Christopher Lee portray Dracula. The Count was the epitome of evil, his whole existence on this Earth one purpose, to feed and create more of his kind. Vampirism was like a plague, spreading in a geometric progression as soon as the initial vampire infected a region. One became two, became four, became eight, until even the completely ignorant could see that things were not as they were supposed to be. My next exposure to the Creature of the Night was the Bram Stoker novel, Dracula, told in the form of letters and diary entries, and telling the story of the Count’s invasion of the British Isles. I read the book for the first time when I was nine, and found the lead antagonist to be even more terrifying than he was portrayed in the movies. Immensely strong, able to turn into both a bat and a wolf, as well as a cloud of mist, Dracula could also control animals such as bats, wolves and swarms of rats. His most terrifying power, at least for this young boy, was is ability to actually walk around in the daylight. He slept the morning in his coffin, then was up and about the London streets.
There have been other vampires after Dracula, and variations of the abilities of the most popular undead. Some could turn into bats, some could fly without a change. All had the compulsion to drink blood, killing and changing their victim into something just like them. Count Orloff, Blacula, Salem’s Lot, all portrayed vampires as evil. Evil in the sense that there really was no good in them. They were children of Satan, plain and simple, and were here on Earth to damn the souls of the living into the existence of the undead. They really didn’t have any other purpose. They didn’t sit in board rooms or go clubbing after they made their kill. They rose, they hunted, and they went back to their sleeping arrangements until the sun went down again.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy the vampire tales where the undead do more than just eat and sleep, like some kind of undead relatives in the home for an extended visit. The Lost Boys, Buffy, Blade, Underworld, Dark Shadows, the German film We Are The Night. All portrayed vampires as having a good time, partying the night away. But they still needed to feed, to kill, to continue their lifestyle (or is that undeathstyle). Vampires could even be portrayed as sympathetic creatures at times. Most didn’t ask for this existence, and most could see no way out. Their very instincts betrayed them, their behavior programed for survival at all costs.
Then there are the vampire stories in which they are portrayed as some kind of Flintstones or Jetsons, regular people who just have an eating disorder. Even these can be interesting with interesting characters. Kindred: The Embraced come to mind, where some of the vampires were evil, some were good, but all tried to fit into society in some manner. But to this reader one of the most interesting things about vampires is the evil that dwells within them. It might be an evil that they despise themselves, but it is still the dominant feature of their personality.
When I wrote The Hunger I tried to go back to the roots of the Vampire, or at least my roots in this genre. The protagonist, Lucinda Taylor, is a vampire, and as such she must kill on an almost nightly basis. It is like being addicted to drugs, if she doesn’t get her fix she reverts to the beast. Instead she feeds on the very people who tormented her in life, the pimps, drug dealers and crime bosses. And using the disease model of vampirism, she decapitates her kills so they can’t rise again to become the kind of killer she does not wish to be. There was a term that I remember from some fantasy novel I read back in the 1960s, It takes evil to fight evil. So it all goes back to that, vampires were made to be evil, and should always remain such.