The Cullen Paradox

[written by author, Louise Morgan]

Edward Cullen has no bed.

Edward Cullen's room, 'Twilight'

It’s a small thing – a plot point, really – and yet if anything sums up the vampires of Twilight, that’s it.

These are nu-vampires. The Lost Boys ride motorbikes, Edward Cullen drives a Volvo; the vampires of Near Dark spend their time in sleazy bars and motels while the Cullens play baseball. So, somehow, regardless of the number of times Edward Cullen warns Bella he could kill her (and that he’s actually having a bit of bother in stopping himself) you can never quite bring yourself to believe him. Mostly because he drives a Volvo.

The thing is, vampires like David and Severen never needed to tell you that they’re dangerous. It’s apparent with every move, every look; to paraphrase Drusilla, they reek of death. In a good way, of course. The Twilight vampires, by comparison, are strangely anaemic.

Let’s get back to Edward’s bed, so to speak. It’s a throwaway point in the film, used to emphasise his otherworldliness: what could be more alien than a man who never sleeps? But it’s not just that, is it? Like the “vegetarianism” of the Cullens, it’s a signal that the two appetites we most associate with vampires – blood and sex – don’t come into play here. Edward, despite his protests, is safe. He behaves as a gentleman who wants to protect Bella from harm, from the world… from himself; whether she likes it or not. Interestingly, the “bad” vampires of Twilight are the only ones who express any real sexuality at all: tracker James is described as Victoria’s “mate” – as though they are feral in all respects, not merely because they feed on humans.

The Cullens, then, are quite the opposite: Carlisle is a doctor – that most respected of small-town professions. They have a large, airy house and project the image of a close-knit family. And they go to school. Remember the wall of graduation caps in the Cullens’ house: when did the Lost Boys’ motto of “sleep all day, party all night” become “never sleep, get good grades”? No wonder Edward is so reluctant to consider Bella becoming a vampire: for all his talk of becoming a monster, he’s clearly more worried about condemning her to an eternity of double maths.

Graduation caps in the Cullen house, 'Twilight'

Like Edward’s missing bed, this lies at the heart of the Cullen paradox: here are a group of vampires who seem to go against everything we associate with that word: no blood, no sex… and far from being the outsiders we expect, they set up home, build lives and cling to them for as long as they can (“The younger we start out in a new place, the longer we can stay there”). No wonder we find them so frustrating.

But are we all treating Twilight too harshly? After all, this is essentially a teen (or “young adult”) phenomenon that has crossed over into the mainstream: can we really expect to judge it by the same criteria as films like Near Dark or The Lost Boys? In the case of the former, perhaps not: but for The Lost Boys – aimed at teens, featuring teenage characters, it seems entirely reasonable… and yet in a side-by-side comparison Twilight comes up wanting. Its vampires are unsatisfying, missing that spark – that mesmerising, seductive something. They’re interesting, but to me, they’re not really vampires: at least, not ones I could easily recognise. I’m not sure they even have fangs.

Regardless of what you or I might think of Stephenie Meyer and her creation, Twilight has sold over 2 million copies… and it’s fairly safe to assume that the Cullens are here to stay. A whole new generation has been introduced to the concept of vampires through these books and films; with new ideas, new rules and new mythologies. Whether they can ever grow to love them remains to be seen.

A Hammer Horror Hat-Trick

[Written by co-conspirator P. G. Bell]

Last week, a bunch of intrepid film fans abandoned the comfort of Vampire Awareness Month‘s official movie list and struck out on an expedition into the gothic vaults of the Hammer archives.

Like many people of my generation, I was born too late to experience Hammer’s films at the cinema but was just in time to catch late night screenings on the BBC. Plague of the Zombies, Taste the Blood of Dracula, To the Devil a Daughter… Years of watching Doctor Who had taught me that I enjoy being scared but these were my first glimpses into the hitherto forbidden pleasures of genuine screen horror.

They shared the same homespun charm as classic Doctor Who, with their fluorescent orange blood, underexposed day-for-night scenes and endlessly recycled sets and props. But they had a darker, harder edge that was impossibly exciting to my impressionable teenage psyche.

So it was with a sense of real anticipation that I settled down to watch a trilogy of films that encompass the entirety of Hammer’s vampire output; Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.

More than anything, I was looking forward to Dracula (1958, Dir. Terence Fisher). This, after all, was the film that redefined the character and cemented Christopher Lee’s and Hammer’s stars in the show business firmament. It’s not much of an exaggeration to call it the Godfather of vampire movies.

And perhaps it was, once, but I’m sorry to say that my first reaction was one of disappointment.

For a start, it suffers from the perennial blight of most classic British cinema; it never feels very cinematic. The theatre-on-screen approach may add to the sense of homely nostalgia but it all too often keeps the audience at arm’s length when we should be standing in the thick of the action, resulting in a film that is rarely tense and never scary. Some of the performances don’t help – John Van Eyssen’s portrayal of Jonathan Harker is so asphyxiatingly straight laced that you begin to wonder if he’s capable of any facial movement whatsoever.

Bram Stoker’s story was getting a little worn even before Hammer picked it up, which probably explains Fisher’s decision to re-wire the plot. While the main beats of the original tale are left intact, he throws in some welcome surprises – dispatching the central hero so ignominiously in the first act is a master stroke although it makes many of the subsequent changes feel superficial by comparison.

Sparkles not included

Thank goodness for the double-whammy of Lee and Cushing. The entire film (and, by extension, the whole gamut of Hammer vampire movies) hangs on their performances and they don’t disappoint. Cushing enjoys the most screen time, of course, and is never less than engaging while Lee uses his fleeting appearances to maximum impact. The film is, ultimately, their show.

The film’s second sequel, Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966, Dir. Terence Fisher) throws off the shackles of Stoker’s text almost entirely and weaves a far more confident, engaging story as a result.

The characters are more immediately arresting, particularly the coarse but warm hearted Father Sandor played by Andrew Keir (the big screen Quatermass) who replaces Peter Cushing on slayer duty. His world weary monk is a good counterpoint to the bickering British travellers who stumble into Castle Dracula. Also of note is Barbara Shelley, who morphs from Victorian prude into femme fatale without resorting to the tawdry excesses of the later Hammer movies.

Christopher Lee takes a bite out of Barbara Shelley. And stares down her cleavage.

Most importantly, the film makes better use of Lee, despite the fact that he doesn’t appear for the first 40 minutes and has absolutely no dialogue. (Lee was so disgusted with Jimmy Sangster’s script that he refused to speak any of his lines, preferring instead to hiss like an angry swan. The fact that this makes no appreciable difference to the plot or the character suggests that he was right to do so).

It’s really a film of two halves though. The first is an exercise in atmosphere, as Fisher steadily (and sometimes mechanically) builds tension – the terrified locals; the ominous warnings; the abandoned castle; the mysterious servant with a sinister agenda… It’s all familiar stuff but it’s handled well and does an admirable job of signposting Dracula’s grand entrance.

Sadly, things fall a bit flat in the second half when, after a disastrous flight from the castle, our surviving heroes take shelter in Father Sandor’s monastery. What could have been a claustrophobic base-under-siege tale is hamstrung by a laconic pace and an over-reliance on tried and tested plot devices, including an entire sequence from Stoker’s novel that was dropped from the first movie.

Terence Fisher

By the 1970s such lack of innovation was costing Hammer dearly, as audiences abandoned the studio in favour of more contemporary horror.  Hammer responded with a slew of updates, most notably bringing the Prince of Darkness into the modern age with Dracula AD 1972.  But they were the same stories re-told in modern dress and didn’t perform well at the box office.

My friends and I were already suffering a similar level of vampire fatigue, so a lot was riding on our third film, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974, Dir. Brian Clemens).  Luckily for all of us, it didn’t disappoint.

Horst Janson as Captain Kronos

Blending the sensibilities of a spaghetti western with the rolling fields of British period drama, Captain Kronos feels light years ahead of its predecessors. Crucially, it plays out as a murder mystery – a shadowy figure is draining the life from buxom young maids with nothing deadlier than a kiss, leaving them as wizened old crones. Who is carrying out the attacks, and why? Steely-eyed war veteran Captain Kronos is summoned to find out. The whodunnit structure is a simple conceit but it keeps things sharp and fresh, as do the periodic bouts of swashbuckling sword play.

Clemens’ stylistic approach is also bang up to date.  Although he’s best known as a writer and producer (his back catalogue includes The Avengers, The Professionals and Bugs, among many others), he proves adept behind the camera.  Despite a modest budget, the film looks infinitely more polished than previous Hammer offerings, with some terrific lighting, beautifully framed shots and notable performances from many of the cast. The weakest link is probably Captain Kronos himself. Leading man Horst Janson makes a decent fist of the sub-Eastwood adventurer, but his good looks makes him pretty rather than handsome, and his stoic reserve is a little too complete at times.

I was lucky enough to hear Clemens discuss the film at last year’s FantasyCon in Nottingham, where he claimed it was a direct influence on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I can’t testify to the truth of that, but his film certainly heralded a bold new direction for Hammer.

Alas, it’s a direction that was never pursued. The prospect of yet another vampire movie failed to excite the public and Captain Kronos struggled at the box office.  The studio never produced another vampire film.

I’m glad Vampire Awareness Month prompted me to dig these titles out. While Dracula may have established a formula that dated very quickly, it’s still been fascinating to watch the evolution of the British vampire story over the course of a generation.  If only changes had been made sooner, we might still be watching the adventures of Captain Kronos (the film was intended to generate a string of sequels, in the manner of James Bond or, er… Dracula).  But with news that Hammer Films has once more risen from the grave[1], I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the vampire genre tastes fresh blood.

Watch this space…


[1]Link: http://www.hammerfilms.com/news/daniel-radcliffe-to-star-in-hammers-the-woman-in-black

'From Dusk till Dawn' Review

[written by writer, Sonia Marcon]

Blood and Guns and Rock’n’Roll

“What’s in Mexico?”

“Mexicans.”

If you, as a viewer, have a penchant for looking at your shelf (or shelves) of DVDs and realising you can’t decide what to watch with dinner (Crime or Horror? Guns or Vampires? Wit or Gore?) then From Dusk till Dawn should satisfy. This film is a perfect example of one that does not hail all audiences because it can be explained with one word – unexpected. It not only relies on the knowledge and understanding of the creators’ tone but also on a love of the genre. From Dusk till Dawn has three creative figures, each recognised by their alternative works. Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Desperado) directs this Robert Kurtzman (noted make-up effects artist) story written by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs). Enough said?

Crime drama, yes?

From Dusk till Dawn is a film for the lovers of snappy Tarantino scripts and good, hard Rodriguez directed action, which is what the film is before the vampires show up. The opening scene is classic Tarantino; it shows banality versus insanity purely through conversation. This is what powers this film pre-vampire. The first moment of horror isn’t completely, if at all, Rodriguez-esque. It’s more akin to anything that could be considered horrific in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, such as the scene with the adrenalin shot to the heart or the scene where Michael Madsen slices the cops’ ear off with a straight razor. Both of these scenes are made effective by what is not seen as opposed to the current love of showing it all. The way you don’t see the ear being cut off, you just hear the screaming, and you don’t see the needle pierce through the chest to the heart, you just hear the force exuded by the loud ‘thump’ as the syringe hits, makes these scenes very effective. The first scene of horror in From Dusk till Dawn is just as effective and well written as either Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs because it is made not by the dead body but by the fact that the dead body is not visually focussed on. All that is present is confusion, discomfort and damn good acting by George Clooney.

We're the good guys, bad guys, good guys...

What is this film about, then? Two criminals, on the run from the law, seek temporary refuge in an establishment populated by vampires. The criminals are Seth (George Clooney) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino) Gecko who take a family hostage in order to hitch a ride to Mexico, home of the movie-lawless. The dwelling of the vampires is a place that is open from dusk till dawn (bingo!) and is where the film shifts seamlessly from Tarantino to Kurtzman while under the canopy of Rodriguez. The vampire-horror element is left to, and celebrated by, Robert Kurtzman who is a noted make-up effects and props artist. Having worked on a diverse range of films such as Misery, Dances With Wolves and Little Nicky, From Dusk till Dawn harnesses Kurtzman’s prowess with make-up which is well known from horror movies such as A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child, Tremors and Army of Darkness. The use of Kurtzman’s talents really keeps these vampires in their own element. These vampires are not glamorous like those in Interview with the Vampire or sparkly and loveable like in Twilight. Before becoming vampires, the women are beautifully desirable and the men are Tarantino cool. As the vampires emerge as ugly and animalistic, surviving on carnage and gore, the film shifts as abruptly. The horror becomes random and almost silly, but this shift is not what makes this film special. What does is the fact that the characters, while remaining quintessentially Tarantino, become aware of what is happening around them in a very post-modern sense. The characters who we assume are fictional in the first part of the film become aware that they are in a completely unbelievable situation when faced with vampires and so react in a very real and believable way. It’s fictional characters within a world of their own fictional characters.

Oh man, you got real ugly!

What makes this film brilliant in my mind is that this hidden depth really doesn’t matter if you just want to watch a good horror movie. If you’re not a Tarantino fan but really enjoy the bizarre horror of Army of Darkness then this film can easily be skipped forward till that part starts. Alternatively, if you prefer the former then completed viewing is not necessary because of the dubious, yet still complimentary, narrative. However, it is suggested that you watch the whole thing in your first viewing otherwise there are classic bits that shouldn’t be missed. The dialogue is as funny as the conversation about quarter-pounders with cheese in Pulp Fiction while the action is as sharp as in Once Upon a Time in Mexico with a story idea that works both by passive observation or critical analysis. From Dusk till Dawn is a definite viewing must for those on a vampire binge.

'30 Days of Night' Review

[K.V. Taylor is an avid reader and writer of urban fantasy and dark speculative fiction. Her first novel, “Scripped”, which stars pseudo-vampiric fae, is coming from Belfire Press in May 2011. For more vampiric nonsense visit kvtaylor.com]

THE MOVIE

“30 Days of Night” is that rare animal: an honest-to-god, gut-wrenching horror flick that goes for emotional involvement. Unlike the anti-hero, or at least sympathetic villain vampire film, this one goes for a post-apocalyptic zombie movie feeling.

The movie takes place in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States. As the catchy title implies, for more than a month every year, Barrow never sees a sunrise. No one comes or goes, and what communication they have with the world is easily cut off. The only real question is why it took the vampires so long to sort this out; the place becomes a month-long all-you-can-eat buffet.

Vampire buffet carnage

That’s really all you ever learn about the vampires in the film, apart from a few tips and tricks (decapitation and sunlight as weaknesses, vampirism as a blood infection, etc.) and their basic desire not to be rediscovered by humanity– who have relegated them to nightmares and fiction. The real story follows Eben (Josh Hartnett), the sheriff of Barrow, and Stella (Melissa George), his estranged ex-wife of a fire marshal, as they try to keep a mismatched handful of survivors alive until the sun finally comes up. This is where the zombie apocalypse part comes in– most of the movie is them scurrying and hiding around town, trying to avoid the violent, bloodthirsty monsters.

Wanna play with me now?

But there’s more to it than that. Beyond the relationship between Stella and Eben– which could easily be overdone, but isn’t– there are some truly interesting character moments. A little girl accidentally turned, a friend used as bait; self-sacrifice, fear, community, and protective instinct all get a workout, creating genuine personal horror beyond the primal “oh god, I’m about to be torn apart and eaten” reaction. The build up and interspersion of these moments makes the drawn-out tension more bearable and sustainable than in most horror films. More obviously, it also lets us know our heroes, so we actually care if they get eaten or not.

It’s a classic set up with a classic ending, nothing unpredictable or visionary about it, perhaps. But it’s a well-executed, intensely human-centric vampire movie. And is not for the weak of stomach.

Stella and Eben: The End

There are some really interesting featurettes on the DVD, not the least of which is talking about creating the vampires, their look, their language, their movements. There’s also some waxing philosophical about how unromantic* their brand of terrifying is, which considering the modern vampire climate is certainly worth noting.

THE MOVIE Vs THE BOOK

“30 Days of Night” was a horror comic by Ben Templesmith (artist) and Steve Niles (writer) first. Niles was involved in the script-writing for the film, which as usual is a good sign– but the two incarnations have as many differences as similarities, in some ways. I like the book, but– and I realize it’s generally blasphemous to say this– I think the movie is better on the whole.

The movie preserves most of the comic’s finer points. It grabs you by the throat and drags you in fast, covers you in blood, and leaves you breathing hard. It even keeps some of the most memorable moments in the book perfectly intact– for example:

I can smell your blood

However, the book gives you zero character involvement. Eben and Stella don’t have a lot of personality (not in the first book, which is the one on which the movie is based), and none of the others are more than a random name dropped here or there. The breakneck pace of the book is great for action but:

1. You hear them talk about as much action as you’re actually shown.

and

2. The lack of character is gaping, to the point where it’s just about blood-splattered snow.

The film also preserves the book’s aesthetic in some ways. This is a point of much argument, as Templesmith’s art is somewhat love it or hate it. The art often reflects the lack of character– the faces are vague in terms of physiognomy, serving more as a palette for emotion than anything else– but what it does, it does well. Slade preserved that gory rawness in the film without the sacrifice, though.

Templesmith's art, Slade's translation

The one thing the book does better is give the vampires motivation, which makes them terrifying in a slightly different way– if not more or less. The intense human focus in the movie makes it unnecessary, but it’s worth reading the book to get the other side; it’s as monstrous and enjoyable as you’d expect. There are also some plot complications meant to set up the sequel, “30 Days of Night: Dark Days”, which stars Stella as a more fully-realized character, that they left out of the movie. But that’s for the best, considering.

As a side-note, my favorite nod to tradition– which appears in both the book and movie– is “The Stranger”. This is the guy the vampires send ahead to take care of communications and generally be creepy before the sun sets. In both book and movie, he orders raw meat and has an affinity for bugs. In the book, they call him a “bug-eater”.

Nice to see you again, Mr. Renfield. And well done, Steve Niles.

*The whole unromantic thing gets blown out of the water by the second book, Dark Days, which is funny since it’s Steve Niles talking about it on the DVD. But it certainly holds for the movie.

The 'Underworld' series – thoughts

[written by writer and Morrigan Books in-house editor, Amanda Pillar]

I tend to be a bit picky when it comes to vampire movies. I don’t really need them to be unique, to show me something new about the vampire or to even be works of art. Mostly, I just want to be entertained with the general myth being adhered to.

Underworld

That’s why I love the Underworld movies. A lot of folks look at me strangely when I say it is one of my favourite – if not favourite – vampire movie series. They talk of poor acting and bad lines, but I like the acting and I thought the lines worked. I’m not after Oscar-award-winning performances.

My favourite part of the trilogy is the sheer thought that has gone into the world-building of the Underworld universe. I think I liked the third movie, Rise of the Lycans, the most, as it tells the story of how the feud came about, of why Lucien hates vampires and why Viktor is so hell-bent on destroying Michael, a vampire/werewolf hybrid.

There is no sleeping in coffins or stakes through the heart – humans generally die if they’re bitten by a vampire – but sunlight is deadly. Humans are noticed about as much as we notice cattle in a field; they’re a curiosity, but not important to a vampire’s daily life.

Rather than summarise each movie, it is perhaps better to look at the mythology of the universe itself, as this is what I love anyway. N.B.: Spoilers do abound.

In this universe, immortality was an accident, a mere genetic fluke. Alexander Corvinus, the first immortal, was the only survivor of a plague that killed everyone it touched. He had three sons, Markus, William, and another. One son was bitten by a bat, one was bitten by wolf and one remained human. Markus and William were the very first vampire and werewolf while the human child carried the immortal gene in a dormant form.

William was uncontrollable; everyone he bit rose as a ‘wolf, but with no control, no ability to turn human again. The werewolf gene was like a curse, unstoppable and uncontrollable. Markus, in order to save his brother, made a deal with a local king, Viktor, who he transformed into a vampire in order to help prevent his brother’s rampages. But Viktor tricked Markus, locking William away and forcing Markus to pretend he wasn’t the first of their kind.

Viktor

Viktor then studied the werewolves created by William, hoping to control them somehow, as he wanted guards that would protect his vampire clan during the daytime. Eventually, a baby was born to a ‘wolf: Lucien. Viktor thought to kill him, but decided to wait, hoping that his werewolf guard was still a possibility. And it was.

Lucien - number one Lycan

Lucien was really the first werewolf, a true Lycan. He could control his transformations and those he bit also were able to return to human form. He was strong – he didn’t need the full moon in order to change form. He was also dominant; the werewolves created by William obeyed Lucien as if he were their true master.

However, Viktor’s plans went awry: he didn’t count on his daughter falling in love with Lucien or the fact that she would fall pregnant with his child. Horrified by the mixing of the lines, Viktor exposed his only child to the sunlight and let her perish in front of Lucien’s eyes.

Daddy's girl?

And so began the war that lasted centuries: werewolves against vampires. This is where the first movie begins, with Selene, a Death Dealer with a striking resemblance to Viktor’s daughter, hunting werewolves who are trailing the human, Michael Corvin. Intrigued as to why a human would be of interest to werewolves, she follows the young doctor.

Only to have the reasons for the war start all over again.

Michael Corvin

The fourth instalment of the Underworld universe is due out next year. I’m rather looking forward to it.

'American Vampire' review

[written by Impossible Podcast reviewer, James Willets]

American Vampire – Scott Snyder, Stephen King (writers), Rafael Albuquerque (Art).

If you’re reading ‘American Vampire’ then chances are you’re only doing so because of the draw of one man’s name – Stephen King. A straight vampire project by Snyder alone would have been unlikely to pick up many readers, but by pairing him with a celebrated (and established) horror writer and a fantastic artist, Vertigo have hit on a winner.

Approaching ‘American Vampire’, King’s first direct foray into comics, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

King is a difficult writer to pin down; his early work is some of the best written ‘pulp horror’ around, his habit of writing scary stories is often parodied but his ear for language and his ability to write convincing characters and dialogue is unmatched in the field. If there has been a drop off in quality recently it is more noticeable in his longer novels than the ever reliable short stories he seems to excel at. Much can be chalked up to the accident he suffered a few years ago which impacted so heavily on his writing, the direct effects most clearly seen in the derailing of the Dark Tower series into a self-pleasing anti-climax.

And yet, I love him. I buy anything he releases. So I went in with high hopes but low expectations.

The comic comes in two parts, the first being a 1920s tale of Pearl, a young waitress/would-be actress who falls prey to the traditional vampires – European aristocrats and big Hollywood – and eventually gets turned by Sweet. Strangely enough it reads exactly like the pilot episode of Angel, if Cordelia had become a vampire and begun a war of vengeance against her sires (but seriously – exactly the same first act plot).

The second part is a familiar King trope; a tale told by an author who passed off fact as fiction and now feels the need to tell the story as it happened. It’s a hokey start to a Wild West action romp spanning years and centring around ‘Skinner Sweet’, the first American Vampire; outlaw, murderer, candy lover and the first of a new breed of vampires who thrive on sunlight and have some tweaked powers.

It’s hard not to heap praise on American Vampire. For a comic whose main attraction was that I own everything else widely published by Stephen King, it’s almost better than it should be. If anything, King’s half is the weaker; Snyder has created a believable and utterly convincing main character in Pearl and the comics are as much about her relationships and friendship as they are the all-important vampires. The period detail and Hollywood setting is a lovely touch.

I stated in my review of Doctor Who: Vampires in Venice that:

“Personally, I don’t care what my Vampires are as long as they suck blood. Make them friendly, let them fly, or walk in daylight, make them mutants, infected, aliens, whatever. Vampires in my book are always cool.”

So the powered by sunlight, lunar connection, giant claws and rattlesnake teeth don’t bother me. Considering that this is an entire comic based on a new and fundamentally different breed of vampire, I can forgive artistic licence.

Then again, when the art is this lovely it’s totally forgivable. Albuquerque is the kind of artist that makes books. What’s most incredible is that he brings to both halves an obviously linked yet subtly different slant.

This is easily one of the best little buys I’ve had. For once the $3.99 price tag is justified, with two halves of a story which are both brilliantly done and a clear resolution in sight this is an easy buy for the curious. What’s most surprising is that I’ll probably still get this when King leaves next issue.

Vampires and Religion: Vampires used as Religious Icons

[written by writer, columnist and reviewer, Bertena Varney]

Introduction

The word “vampire” evokes pictures of reanimated corpses that are covered in dirt and wreak havoc on the living by draining them of blood. They are thought to be condemned to this earth because they are part of the damned; they are the undead, unholy created by Satan. (Melton J. G., 1998, p. 707) The established idea of the vampire is very unchristian. Both the church as well as laymen views the vampire as evil in nature. The vampire has a need of human blood in order to survive and this taboo is spelled out in the Christian Bible.

But popular culture has taken this idea of a vampire and used religious icons to represent society’s search for empowerment, acceptance, and redemption. They have used Lilith, Cain, and Judas the most often.

Lilith (1892) by John Collier in Southport Atkinson Art Gallery

The Story of Lilith and the Search for Empowerment

The first religious icon to be used in vampire lore is Lilith. According to the Talmud and Hebrew lore, Lilith was Adam’s first wife. Adam and Lilith were the first couple made by God as complete equals from dust. One day while having sex Lilith refused to “lie on the bottom” and wanted a more dominant role. When Adam would not allow it, she cursed God and flew from Eden. The story continues with Lilith procreating with demons and multiplying at a rate of 100 children a day. As a result of her populating the world with half demons, God sent three angels to bring Lilith back to Eden. Lilith cursed the angels and refused their requests. As a result the angels began to kill one hundred of Lilith’s children for each day that she refused to return. This angered Lilith that once again she was being forced to submit to men that she refused and began to kill human children by biting and drinking their blood. (Rappaport, 1989) From here the legend of Lilith travelled through the Hebrew oral traditions where she was blamed for miscarriages as well as sudden infant death syndrome. As protection from Lilith, Hebrew mothers would sing lullabies and would hang an amulet over the baby’s crib that pictured the three angels that attempted to return Lilith to the Garden of Eden. (Melton J. , 1999, pp. 421-423) As a result of superstition, she became a tool of fear among women rather than a role model for female empowerment.

However, as time went on, Lilith has been molded into more ancient Jewish mythology that portrayed her in a more positive light. She has been credited as being the famed Queen of Sheba and as one of the two mothers who went to King Solomon to decide which one was the true mother of the surviving baby boy. The legend of Lilith has been found in cultures ranging from Iranian, Babylonian, Arabic, Oriental and Native American legends. Each character became a true icon of female strength and sacrifice that evolved into legends of her being a demon, and succubae. She has even been credited for being the beginning of the vampire blood lines.

Lilith’s choice for independence over male companionship has been a theme that has survived until modern time. Today she has been reborn into many forms that have retold her story. She has been the daughter of Dracula in Marvel Comics, an ancient demon in the Sci Fi Movie, Darklight, and as a strong feminist vampire in The Gardella Vampire Chronicle Series by Colleen Gleason. Lilith’s story in each evolved into female characters that were created by the male counterpart and is evil in nature but in each role became the most powerful creature in their story.  She overcame the negative male belief and took up the fight for empowerment for females. For example, her name and symbol is used by Lilith Fair, a concert of all female performers. This event was in response to the outcry of enraged female performers and fans over radio stations refusing to feature two female artists in a row or to book both in the same tour. The success of the fair in breaking these barriers is felt even today.

Lilith may have began as a night creature with wings and talons that drank babies blood but today she is seen as a symbol of woman’s refusal to be submissive to man not just intimately but in all walks of life. She gives strength to the women in society to choose independence and free thinking over doing what one is told they should do or be. Her popularity in today’s society is shown by the increase of her character being reborn and changed in modern science fiction. Each time her story is told she allows society to see her not just as the angry female who is vengeful but as shown in Darklight as the strong female who has the power to seek empowerment over her past and to lead her male counterparts to the destruction of evil in their world. Lilith has fortified her role as the icon of female empowerment for today’s society but does not end there. Her role continues with her role of assisting Cain to find acceptance in a world that seems to view him as less than acceptable.

Cain the Dark Warrior from White Wolf's Vampire the Masquerade

The Story of Cain and the Search for Acceptance

Cain’s story is one that is more familiar than Lilith’s. Cain was the first son to be born of this new earth. He was the first born son of Adam and Eve and therefore expected to be the continuation of the family line. In early Jewish tradition, the first born was held in highest regard in the family and would be the one to inherit the property as well as the responsibility to carry on the family name. They were regarded with the highest respect.

Cain was the overseer and protector of the fruits and vegetables of the earth. His youngest brother Abel was the overseer of the animals of the earth. As most people know, Cain killed Abel in a fit of jealousy and became the first murderer on this earth. As the first blood of man spilled onto the earth, Yahweh cast him from the land and turned him into a creature of darkness. But as a protection for Cain he placed a mark on him that would keep him from harm from others. This Mark of Cain would protect him from harm and give him strength but at the same time would isolate Cain from acceptance of man. He was left to wander the earth and search for acceptance from others.

What happened to Cain in the darkness is where popular culture has taken liberty with the story. Cain’s largest role in pop culture has been in the role playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. The game has Cain wandering in eternal damnation upon the earth where he eventually came across a lovely creature named Lilith. Lilith helped him to embrace this curse by sharing her life essence that released his power from within. By sharing her blood with Cain he became her son in blood. This blood unleashed his power over darkness and he began wandering the darkness alone and strengthening his power. But as time went on his power was not enough and he needed acceptance from both Yahweh and the people of earth. One evening he came upon a city. There he shared his power with three gentlemen who became known as the second generation. This embrace consisted of exchanging blood and forming his children with whom would accept and love him unconditionally. Cain was happy because he found his acceptance and friendship with these men and forbade them to share their power with anyone else. But these men became greedy and wanted more power over the humans of earth so they shared this great power with hundreds who in turn shared with hundreds more. This third generation ignored Cain’s strict orders not to pass on the power to humans who may not be able to handle it. They then created a fourth generation that turned on the disobedient third generation and slew them. Because of the chaos on earth Yahweh created a great flood that destroyed much of the land and people of the world. After the flood, Cain was once again alone and left to wander around the earth looking for a place where he could belong and be accepted. In legend and in the game the crimson headed Cain can be seen wandering the earth sometimes alone or with another red haired demon rumored to be Lilith.

Gerard Butler as Judas in Dracula 2000

The Story of Judas and the Search for Redemption

Another wandering Jew that has been used as a vampire, is a third crimson haired icon named Judas Iscariot. Judas was a disciple of Christ and the one responsible for His arrest by Pontius Pilate’s guards. He betrayed Christ by a single kiss on the cheek for which his reward was 30 pieces of silver.

Judas’ story as a vampire begins with his hanging. In vampire lore anyone who commits suicide becomes a vampire because the soul is not allowed to enter heaven. That plus the fact that Judas had red hair (which was another sign of vampirism) sealed him as the most popular of all the religious icons that are portrayed as a vampire in pop culture. According to the movie Dracula 2000, Judas is the Dracula that we have come to know throughout history. The story begins in present day with Van Helsing guarding the drained body of Dracula until he can find a way to finally kill the evil creature. In order to stay alive Van Helsing injects Dracula’s blood into him in order to maintain immortality. While married his wife becomes pregnant and a child bearing the blood of Dracula is born. Dracula awakens and searches for this child named Lucy. He finally captures her and is on the rooftop discussing why he is so angry with God. At that time he reveals that he is actually Judas Iscariot, the disciple and betrayer of Jesus Christ. He says that he is angry because God used him as a pawn and would not allow him into heaven while Lucifer saw him as assisting God with His mighty plan and would allow him in hell. Thus he is cursed to roam the earth for eternity. By the end of the movie, Judas asks for redemption and ironically is hung from a sign showing Christ hanging on the cross. The movie ends and allows the viewer to believe that his redemption was finally found and he was allowed to die. This movie was so popular that it continued with a second and third sequel.

Judas’s story in pop culture is responsible for many of the beliefs that we have in vampire lore today. For example, vampires have a repulsion of silver due to the fact that Judas sold his soul for 30 pieces of silver. They fear crucifixes, holy water, and other Christian symbols because it reminds Judas of his betrayal. And the most famous of the lore is that one can kill a vampire with a wooden stake made from the aspen tree, the tree in which the wood was used for Jesus’ crucifixion as well as the tree in which Judas attempted to hang him. All of these items have a central theme, Judas’ repulsion of the symbols of his actions and his search for the answer of whether he acted of free will, of divine intervention, or of possession by Lucifer in regards to his role in the betrayal of Christ.

TNT’s television series The Librarian completed the series with the movie, The Librarian: the Curse of the Judas Chalice. In the series, the original vampire, Vlad the Impaler, is looking for the famed Judas chalice which was used by Judas while consuming Jesus’ “blood” at The Last Supper. The chalice was to heal the drinker and grant power over all other vampires. Flynn Carson, the Librarian goes through the movies spewing random information about vampires, their fear of crucifixes, holy water etc. When he is engaged in the final battle with Vlad he notices the aspen tree and realizes that his weapon is at his disposal. He explains the history of Judas’ search for redemption as he kills Vlad and returns the chalice to the library.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of how vampires have been used as religious icons. As a result of this there has been a small increase in the writing of Christian Vampire Romance. For example, the Christian female character falls for a vampire and wants to be his redeemer and provide him not with eternal life on earth but in heaven with her. Another story tells of the Christian woman as a vampire who falls in love with an agnostic mortal man and after an eternal struggle they both save each other spiritually because overall the power of the cross is restored and Christianity triumphed. If this small increase continues then we may soon explore how vampires made a jump to Christian fiction.

Works Cited

Fox, R. (2008, August 6). The next big thing; Christian vampire romance. Retrieved March 7, 2009, from Publisher’s Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/blog/400000640/post/1360031136.html

Hefner, A. G. (2003, March 9). Lilith. Retrieved February 14, 2009, from The Encyclopedia Mythica: http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/demons/emlilith.htm

Melton, J. (1999). The Vampire Encyclopedia. Farminghills, MI: Visible Ink Press.

Rappaport, A. (1989). Ancient Israel myths and legends. New York: Bonanza Books.