When I was a young Gravedigger, I remember vampires depicted on the screen and in novels as unclean, unholy beings on par with demons. In recent years, vampires have taken on this quirky, sexy appeal where characters in novels, film and television interacting with the vampire are not only unafraid by their unliving associate, but often lustful for their undead friend, so much so that they yearn to be changed. Now again, superstition teaches that vampires were filthy, sick, demonics that stalked the night feeding and killing human beings. Just a few weeks ago, Bulgarian archeologists unearthed centuries-old skeletons with iron rods pinned down through their chests. This technique was performed on deceased who were likely (alcoholics and criminals) to become vampires. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/
Today, vampires in literature, film and television are teenage boys and girls that glitter and gush over their friends in the cafeteria in high school. Vampires are also southern royalty that were not only gifted with immortality, but coincidentally amazing looks. Remember my friends, vampirism was thought to be a sickness that brought one in-line with Satan. Lusting over a vampire in the eyes of a medieval believer, would almost be like a modern day person lusting over a serial killer thought to have cannibalized their victim at every opportunity – not necessarily arousing. Imagine if the characters in the Paranormal Activity series went out of their way to convince their violent demons to go out with them on a date, and then back home for some loving and even transformation? It doesn’t translate well there. So why then, and how then, did vampires become attractive hyper-stylized, over-sexualized beings? When did vampires become soft and fluffy and sexy friends? I don’t know exactly where it happened. We can sit here and trace the literary and cinematic evolution of the vampire for some time, but instead, I would rather discuss some of my favorite modern vampires that exemplified the true terror of vampirism.
In 2011, the Horror Writers Association granted a one-time Vampire Novel of the Century Award to the brilliant Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. (NOTE: Spoiler alert ahead) Written in 1954, the short novel introduces us to the main character Robert Neville. Neville is the only survivor of a pandemic, presumably caused by a nuclear war. The symptoms of the pandemic resemble vampirism. We follow Neville’s day-to-day existence in Los Angeles, in a house fashioned to protect him from vampires that swarm his home at night, throwing rocks and attempting to lure him outside. His past is told through flashbacks giving us the account of his wife and child’s own illness. During Neville’s days he ventures out of his house in search of supplies, while killing whatever vampires he comes upon. Years go by and Neville is desperate for interaction with the living. He comes upon a dog that eventually succumbs to the illness and this, coupled with the years of loneliness motivates him to research the cause of the illness. During one of his daily excursions he sees a woman that does not show any signs of vampirism. After a struggle, he brings Ruth back to his home, asks her questions, but it is evident that she is lying about the circumstances for her surviving so long. We learn that she is indeed a vampire, a living vampire – a person that can live with the illness who is different than the true-dead that have vampirism. The woman tells Neville to flee his home, that there are many others like her and they are mobilizing to create a new society of people that can live with vampirism. They hate him because they see him as a vicious monster for murdering their kind. Neville does not leave, and one night there is a commotion outside of his home. The vampires from the new society are outside and they kill the dead vampires surrounding Neville’s home and enter, taking Neville prisoner. Then, Ruth visits with Neville during his imprisonment and informs him that she is a high ranking member of the new society, that he should have left, and that he is going to be executed. He asks for his end to not be so brutal and she leaves him with two tablets and tells him they will ease the pain. At the momentous conclusion of the novel, Neville makes his way to the window and sees a sea of pale-faced vampires looking at him with horror, for what they see is a superstition, a monster who brutally killed their own kind. He realizes then that he is the last of his kind, and has thus become a legend.
Reading I Am Legend, one is filled with the dread of knowing that Neville is surrounded by darkness, and that ultimately his situation will not end well. This is a study in human loneliness and the anxiety of knowing that terror is a mere few feet away. The post-apocalyptic novel has gone on to influence the zombie genre, with George Romero even citing it as an inspiration for Night of the Living Dead, and the novel has overall inspired the concept of a zombie apocalypse popular in the zombie sub-genre of horror today. It is also one of the earliest novels to give a scientific explanation to vampirism/zombieism – which is again, today fairly commonplace.
Now, the vampires in I Am Legend are not the snuggly-type you find in those young-adult novels about a girl in a love-triangle with supernatural beings. I Am Legend’s vampires are not even the smooth, world-traveled vampires depicted in that vampire series based in the American deep south. The vampires in I Am Legend, the true-dead vampires of I Am Legend, are brutal, violent, vicious animals unable to communicate beyond a basic, quick-glimmer of recollection. They are driven by one motivation and one motivation only – to drain you of your blood so that they may survive.
If you have not yet already read this classic, you must. I typically like to review works that can be found free online, or for a minimal cost. I would recommend visiting your neighborhood used bookstore for a copy. Or, used copies can also be found online at Amazon, as well as in Kindle version as well: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=