Underworld: Awakening and the great gender swap

I finally caught up with Underworld: Awakening, a movie I'd put off seeing because I liked the first two Underworld films so much. Although technically the fourth in the series, chronologically it follows the second (the third was a totally unnecessary prequel), and picks up the story of Kate Beckinsale's Selene after the events of Underworld: Evolutions. Why, if I'm Read more

Blade Runner: crocodile tears in rain?

I'll say up front: this is totally fanboy rambling.  Take it as such. In Ridley Scott's classic film Blade Runner, evil corporate head Elton Tyrell explains to hero Rick Deckard how the Nexus 6 replicants, the closest the company's come to true human beings, have emotional issues since they're born fully adult and live only four years. Tyrell: We began to Read more

High Hopes: is talent finite?

This weekend, I finally listened to High Hopes, the most recent Bruce Springsteen album. Yes, it came out on January 14, and I bought it then, but I hadn't listened to it. There  were many times when I listened to a new Springsteen album multiple times on its release day, and almost exclusively for days after that. But something's happened to Read more

Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch

  My oldest son and I just finished watching the first season of the original Star Trek series. We watched the episodes in "production order," meaning the order in which they were filmed. That way, we could see the growth of the show, the way the actors find their characters, and how the Enterprise itself is more and more developed. Read more

Writing on demand for MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Every writer has at least one weakness, something they don't do as well as they'd like. They know it, and their readers know it. Raymond Chandler knew he didn't do plots well, which is why the structures of his novels a) don't bear up to scrutiny, and b) are often cribbed from his previous short stories. Of course, what Read more

The loss of the epic vampire

Posted on by Alex in Bram Stoker, Catholic Church, Christopher Lee, Dracula, Elizabeth Miller, fantasy literature, Hammer Studios, Horror Films, Lestat, movies, True Blood, Twilight, vampires, writing, Zginski | 10 Comments

(October, the month of Halloween, conjures one name in our household: Dracula! This is the first of a series of posts on various aspects of Dracula and vampires in general. I’ll be giving away a two-pack of my own vampire novels Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood to one lucky commenter per post, so comment early, comment often!)

Recently I came across an article by Elizabeth Russell Miller, an internationally-known expert on all things Bram Stoker, entitled, “The Church Welcomes Dracula.”

The story of this Dublin church honoring Dracula is fun on its surface, but it got me thinking about vampires and religion, a relationship that has lost almost all its potency in the last forty years. When I was a kid, vampires were terrified of all things religious, specifically Catholic icons. There were occasional riffs on that, most famously the Jewish bloodsucker in The Fearless Vampire Killers. But for the most part it was accepted, and accepted seriously: the athiest hero of the Hammer classic Dracula Has Risen from the Grave must become a believer to defeat Dracula.

But as religion faded from its importance in everyday life, it also faded from vampire lore. Anne Rice’s vampires are indifferent to religious iconography, as are those of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The pantsless vamps of True Blood have no issue with it. And so on. But what has replaced religion in vampire mythology?

Apparently, it’s love.

Love destroys vampires as surely as sunrise, wooden stakes or fire. Where once stood an immortal symbol of the power of the devil, the literal anti-Christ (the vampire’s nightly resurrection mocks Christ’s, for example), we now have tortured, sympathetic heroes. And not even anti-heroes like the magnificently nihilistic Lestat, but actual heroes who try to do good, defeat the bad guys (often more “traditional” vampires) and win the damsel (often without actually biting her). This has culminated in the Twilight, saga, which is all about not doing…well, anything. Once the active hand of the devil on earth, vampires are now horror’s answer to the Amish.

When only the Church (capital “C”) stood between humanity and the vampire, it was understood as a battle for immortal things like souls.  It was an epic battle. Powers as old as the universe contended for the soul of a man or woman, a prize so valuable both God and the Devil wanted it. Now…well, the prize is Bella Swan’s virginity. And losing it doesn’t damn her to hell for all eternity; rather, it elevates her into the nouveau beaute’ pantheon.

Now, I’m not a religious person, but as a writer, I understand the maxim that heroes are judged by the power of their villains. Imagine Batman without the Joker, Superman without Lex Luther, or Sherlock Holmes without Moriarty; their stature would be seriously diminished. Similarly, the classic vampire is scary and significant because, within that mythology, even God himself takes notice and stands against him. That’s a powerful trope, and one that’s proven very hard to replace.

When I wrote my two “vampsloitation” novels, Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood, I deliberately left out religion, intending to use it as an element in the climactic third book. Alas, the first two did not exactly fly off shelves or into e-book readers,* so it may be some time before that final novel, Blood Will Rise Again, sees the light of day. But when it does, I hope to recapture some of that classic epic feel, of the idea that what’s at stake (heh) when a vampire meets a human is more than just hemoglobin and an undead booty call.  I hope to make it…well, cosmic. That’s the playing field vampires should occupy.

*I must say, though, that the fans of these novels are some of my most passionate; for those that “get it,” they really get it, and I appreciate hearing from them.

Interview: Dracula expert Elizabeth Miller

Posted on by Alex in Dracula, Elizabeth Miller, folklore, vampires | Leave a comment


If you watch the History, Discovery or National Geographic channels around Halloween, when all things vampiric and Draculoric are fair game, you’ve probably seen and heard Dr. Elizabeth Miller. She is an expert on Bram Stoker and the novel Dracula, including its history and inspirations. Her many published books include Bram Stoker’s Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, and Dracula: Sense & Nonsense. Professor Miller was kind enough to answer some questions for me regarding vampires in folklore and literature.

Alex: It seems as if the vampire in traditional folklore was seldom a fully conscious, will-directed creature. At what point did they become so in the popular imagination?

Dr. Miller: This started to happen as the vampire migrated from folklore to literature. The 18th-century reports about vampire sightings in central and eastern Europe coincided with (and may have contributed to) a rising interest in Gothic literature, first in Germany and later in the century, in England. The Gothic movement was part of the broader period of Romanticism, with its challenges to rationalism and its shift of philosophical emphasis to subjectivity, emotion, intuition and the imagination. The adoption of the figure of the vampire was inevitable. Appearing first as a type of “demon lover” in German poetry, the vampire made its way to England where it was embraced by the Romantic poets and shapeshifted into a full-blown aristocrat.

Dracula is the gold standard, but not the first “aristo-vampire.” What prompted this shift from peasant revenent to high-born demon?

The first vampire fiction in English literature was The Vampyre. Published in 1819, The Vampyre was written by John William Polidori, who had served as Lord Byron’s personal physician for a time until disputes brought an end to the relationship. Polidori clearly modeled his vampire, Lord Ruthven, on Byron. That, along with the fact that many thought that Byron had written the story, gave it instant popularity. It began what was essentially a “vampire craze” in the theatres of London and Paris during the 1820s. Lord Ruthven is the prototype of the aristocratic vampire.

During the 19th century, interest in the vampire continued, with Polidori’s Ruthven as the model. By the time Bram Stoker started Dracula, a number of literary conventions for the vampire were already in place: the vampire is of an old, aristocratic (and usually foreign) family; the vampire is tall, dark, spectral, and dressed in black; the vampire possesses sharp fangs which leave two bite marks on the victim; the vampire is a creature of unusual physical strength; the vampire has a strong seductive power over women; the victim’s response to the vampire is ambivalent, revealing both attraction and repulsion; and the most effective way to destroy a vampire is to drive a wooden stake through its heart.

In my research folkloric vampires seem to be solitary creatures often linked to their families, yet the film version of In Search of Dracula (based on the landmark book by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu) says vampires meet on St. Andrew’s Eve (November 29). Is this legitimate folklore? If so, why did the vampires meet?

I have no idea of the source of the statement re vampires meeting on St Andrew’s Eve. I know that it is widespread in general folklore that evil is at its strongest on the eve of a saint’s day. Indeed, Stoker encountered such a piece of lore in Transylvanian Superstitions by Emily Gerard (1885). She stated that St George’s Eve was believed to be a time for the gathering of witches. No mention of vampires, however. Stoker uses this in his novel, with reference to “all the evil things in the world”. I suspect the statement in the film was “wishful thinking.”

There are many odd ways to identify and/or repel vampires. What’s the strangest you’ve come across?

There are two that Stoker listed in his notes for Dracula but decided not to use in the novel:

“Painters cannot paint him – their likenesses always like someone else,” and “Insensibility to music”

Vampires are now not just appealing to teenagers, but in the wake of the Twilight series they are teenagers. What do you see as future trends for the popular image of the vampire?

Vampires are likely to become so commonplace that they will lose much of their appeal. The down-side of romanticizing the vampire is that it loses the grip on that part of our imaginations that are attracted to horror.

Thanks to Professor Miller for answering my questions. You can find her newest work, Notes for Dracula, here.