I’ve been itching to do a discussion piece on vampires since seeing Fright Night (discussed here). Now that I have finished Justin Cronin’s The Passage, I think the time is right while that book is still fresh in my mind. This book really got under my skin and I felt so engaged with it.
It is a haunting book: the characters are deep and realistic. it is the bleakness of a post-apocalyptic world. It is a landscape devoid of wildlife giving it a permanent autumn-winter cusp atmosphere. It is well-crafted character of Amy… brilliantly haunting, adult and childlike at the same time, a metaphor of fate and innocence seemingly unaffected by events yet always central to them. Most of all it is the vampires, so unlike anything I’ve encountered before. They are animalistic, hunting in packs and developing attack strategies like wolves. A newly infected person starts to lose their memories and personality before they gain the bloodlust. They are controlled by a mysterious group known as “The Twelve”, specifically “Babcock” who seems to have developed incredibly powerful telepathic skills.
Yet despite this, there are many indicators of infected clinging to their lost humanity. Flickers of recognition when confronting people they were acquainted with before they became a ‘viral’, going through the motions of human life, remembering entrances into places they once knew yet largely driven by instinct to feed on blood.
This is another new concept for vampires and in a fiction world swamped with SEVs (simpering emo vampires) and it’s a refreshing direction.
Modern vampire lore began with Bram Stoker in Dracula. A callous predator and terminal sociopath, Dracula bled London dry quicker than an investment bank. Ultimately his motives and methods were more or less human. When you view Dracula as a metaphor for STIs, this is understandable. Dracula would set the trend for about the next century. Some of the sexual element was lost in the 1970s and 1980s as films and books focused more on the horror element. The last film to have portrayed vampires in this traditional way was the much maligned Van Helsing.
The 1990s saw the beginning of the SEV with Anne Rice’ creation Louis in Interview with a Vampire. He was suicidal when Lestat offered him a choice that he would regret taking him up on. The series for the next few books would centre on Lestat before finally going to pieces.
Now we are in the age of the SEV, the shameless appeal to the teenage girl through a saturation of vampires that just ain’t what they used to be. I’ve not read Twilight but I was forced to watch the first film by my brother and his wife. That was enough, I won’t be exploring the books or films further.
But there are many bastions of the traditional vampire. Recently, 30 Days of Night restored the bloodthirsty concept when a small Alaskan town is attacked by a group of travelling vampires. They are terrifying creatures too, amoral, bloodthirsty and sadistic.
At about the same time, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend was converted to the big screen. The vampires in the film were vastly different from the book. Will Smith battled animal-like creatures, perhaps less intelligent than Cronin’s virals but capable of employing tactics to catch Robert Neville. By contrast, in the book they are very much human… more like the civilised society that we saw in Daybreakers or Blade.
This year saw the remake of cult horror-comedy Fright Night. Colin Farrell very much played the typical vampire – no nonsense, predatory, seductive and dangerous.
I’m not sure that Justin Cronin’s Virals as described above represent another paradigm shift but anything is possible. What it does represent is another concept in the endless ways to portray vampires in fiction.