The changing face of vampires

If someone utters the word “vampire” today, for most of the youngsters it would be taken as a direct reference to Twilight– the popular series of four vampire-themed fantasy romance novels by American author Stephenie Meyer adapted into popular movie series.

Though most people prefer to give these ‘spooky tales’ a miss, they do enjoy a fair share of followers. And ever since the recently deceased Sir Christopher Lee made Dracula immortal, in the real sense of the word, vampires have gotten their own genre in films today. 

From The Vampire Academy to the latest versions of Dracula, Hollywood is really getting caught in this spooky trend churning out movies that aim to play on viewers’ primal fears, focusing on dark, primitive, and revolting traits that simultaneously repel and fascinate us. These films are often unsettling and rely on scaring us. 

But had vampires always been the sensuous characters that they are today? How has vampire cinema evolved over the years? 

The first horror movie, of the silent movie era was Nosferatu, a German film and the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel by Bram Stoker. Later, the film production was sued and the court ordered all the film’s copies to be destroyed.

However, a few copies remained and today, Nosferatu is considered to be a classic.

Shubham Sharma, an aspiring film maker says, “The word ‘vampire’ has a different meaning today. The first film Nosferatu was about a person who was capable of doing things that people today would term as psychopath behaviour.

He murdered and drank blood. His deviant behaviour and his revolting nocturnal activities gave birth to the character we know as ‘vampire’. Over time the popularity of ‘vampires’ has been wrested by Twilight.”

There are many reasons the old vampire movies are considered masterpieces. These films tell us that true horror lies not in technologically advanced scenes, but in the sound of footfalls on a wooden floor, of an approaching figure; a shadow or ghostly figures; or the comparison of the grotesque and the beautiful. 

Examples include movies like Dracula (1931), or Vampyr (1932). Nishant Singh, a student of Indraprastha Univerity, who enjoys watching horror movies says “Technological advancement is good for the creative film industry, because now we can show the world exactly what we imagine, by using VFX, SFX, Chroma etc. But if on one hand the advancement of filmmaking techniques has given us a new vision and opportunities to create exceptional cinema, then on the other, it has decreased the will to be creative because of dependence on technology.”

Speaking of ‘horror genre’ in Indian cinema, vampires seem to have caught the imagination of our fimmakers. Though there have been films like Puraana Mandir (1984), Phir Wahi Raat (1980), Puraani Haveli (1989), we are still progressing on the horror front. Ekta Kapoor had started a television series called Pyaar Ki Ye Ek Kahani. The serial was a hit and its plot was based on the famous series Vampire Diaries, based on the books by author LJ Smith.

“In the past horror films were popular but catered to cheap thrills. However today, artistic filmmakers are dabbling with innovative scenes and storytelling techniques, like Lars Von Treir’s Anti Christ and even Ram Gopal Verma’s ventures. Also, if one looks at the trajectory of horror cinema, one can see the change from folksy monster themes to psychological horror,” says Tehzeeb Fatma, a journalism professor who also studied filmmaking.

“The problem with Indian horror or vampire cinema is promoting ‘stereotypes’,” says Animesh Vishal, a horror movie buff. “Horror doesn’t stand for family entertainment here, plus even the concept of horror is so clichéd that this genre of cinema fails to make an impact. Even the vampire serial of Ekta Kapoor was deeply imbued with masala. We should look at Korean cinema to understand the diversity that this genre can provide.” 

To think about it now, no matter how a vampire is portrayed; whether as the repulsive creatures of Nosferatu and the early Dracula versions, or Selene, the sexy vampire warrior princess of the Underworld series; vampires have always fascinated us.

With increasing interest in this mythical creature, it will definitely be interesting to see what other versions come up in the coming years and the shades of red these blood-thirsty creatures adopt.

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