Vampire Rules (Part II)

Vampire Rules (Part II)

In 1931 Universal Film Studios was faced with a fairly serious problem.  

They had a decision to make and no matter what that decision was, they were going to lose money on it.  And they had to do it now, they couldn’t put it off any longer. 

Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer (1927) had completely rewritten the rule book. It was a rulebook that was only about 15 years old, but it was out the window now.  The technical problems of synching audio and film had been beaten.  Talkies were here, and they were here to stay.

Some of the biggest stars in Hollywood’s Silent era saw their careers end overnight because they had an unengaging voice.  But that wasn’t the problem the studios were facing.  There was always some wide-eyed innocent anxious to be exploited by the film industry.  

The trouble was in distribution.  American film studios had had zero worries in selling films to foreign markets during the Silent era. You just snipped out the dialog card that was in English and paste in another card in whatever language market you were trying to sell your film in.  Easy.

But for a number of technical reasons, the early Vitaphone process was basically impossible to edit after production.  There was no “fixing it in post.”  For a while, the soundman was more important onset than the director.  If he said, “the take is bad,” you reshot the scene no questions asked.  The dialog you got on set was it, nothing more could be added later. It’s why films from that period have such distinct echoes in the dialog. Dubbing in another language was simply impossible in 1931.  

Which meant that the foreign film market died overnight.  A few people like Charlie Chaplin could get away with working Silent but the audiences had gotten spoiled fast.  They wouldn’t attend silent action or drama films. That market reality was now set in stone.  A number of lucrative foreign language markets would have to be written off. But maybe not all of them.  The second-largest market on the North American continent was Spanish. The decision was taken to simultaneously shoot a Spanish language version of the exact same film using the exact same sets at the same time.  Although with different actors, naturally.  It makes for a very interesting compare and contrast. The Spanish language crew would shoot their scenes after the English crew had shot theirs, so they were able to judge composition camera angle, etc., and make some adjustments. In my opinion, the Spanish language version makes a stronger impression. “Mexican Dracula” clearly had the better leading lady.  Mina Harker was played by Hellen Chandler in the English version and comes across as stiff and a bit wooden.  Mina (Eva) was played by Lupita Tovar in the Spanish version and she delivered a much more engaging performance.  Carefree and vivacious in the early scenes.  Haunted and frightened during the second act.  And in the final act becoming the first Vampire seductress in film history, clearly relishing her unquenchable desire for blood. (click the link you need to see her)

The only place the Spanish version really falls down is Dracula himself. Carlos Villarias was instructed to watch Lugosi’s Dracula and base his performance on that of an actor who had been playing the part on stage for years.  Of course, it was weak.

Regardless, these two versions of the same story finally firmed up rules for Vampirism for the public: 

a. A cross will repel a Vampire.

b. A Vampire cannot cross running water.

c. A Vampire cannot be seen in a mirror or be photographed.  Nor do they cast shadows.

d. A Vampire will be destroyed by sunlight.

e. Vampires can polymorph into bats and wolves.

f. Vampires have some kind of mind control power.

g. Vampires can’t enter someone’s house without the invite.

Various writers and filmmakers started playing with these rules almost as soon as they were established.   In Dracula’s Daughter (1936), the Vampiress is killed with an arrow, thus fulfilling the wood requirement.  In Horror of Dracula (1958), Van Helsing defeats Dracula by crossing two candlesticks together and driving him into sunlight with his field-expedient cross.  And Van Helsing cures himself of Vampirism by use of a branding iron and Holy Water in The Brides of Dracula ((1960) which prominently featured, no Dracula).

Filmmakers and storytellers in general weren’t breaking the rules of Vampirism.  Not at first. Just seeing how far they could bend them.  The Vampire was viewed as an unholy creation in those days. A minion of Hell brought into being by some major arch-duke of the infernal reaches.  Thus, quite vulnerable to Christian totems or iconography.   No other religion’s holy images had power over them.  And that trope held out for quite a while.  

In Love at First Bite (1979), Doctor Jeff Rosenberg confronts Dracula with a Star of David at a dinner party, to which Vlad responds, “You should forget about Cindy and find a nice Jewish girl.” Audiences laughed because everyone knew that only crosses worked on Vampires.  This was accepted lore by the general public.

Then in the early Eighties things started to change in the movies.  

Novelists had been experimenting with Vampire rules for some time but that hadn’t translated to the screen.  In The Hunger, there was definitely a new set of rules.  In fact, the rules were so different, the characters played by Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie only resembled Stoker’s Vampires in that they had to subsist on blood.  Deneuve was immortal and indestructible with none of the weakness that Vampires were supposed to have.

In Life Force, the Vampires… Look, I only included this one because the title of the book it was based on was called the Space Vampires and it shows up on all the Eighties Vampire movie lists.  Life Force is not a vampire movie.  It’s just NOT.

However, a lot of the films from the Eighties did follow the established rules of the genre.  Mostly these were comedies, which isn’t a surprise, horror-comedies were quite the thing in that beloved decade.  However, the more serious films from that period were beginning to become uncomfortable with the idea of only Christian totems and iconography having the power to repel a Vampire.  Even in Fright Night, the dread Vampire… Jerry… sneers to a cross wielding Peter Vincent, “you have to have faith for that to work on me.”  But the film couldn’t bring itself to ask, faith in what?  You get the odd feeling watching those scenes that Peter Vincent was having trouble because he didn’t have a belief in magic rather than the Christian faith.  

Any kind of faith being a shield began to become a more common Vampire trope.  Replacing the power of Christ to repel these princes of the undead. I remember thinking it looked silly as hell to have a Russian soldier drive back a Vampire by holding up Hammer and Sickle sigil in a Doctor Who episode but that was more and more the norm by the end of the Eighties.

As the film industry became more and more comfortable with its anti-Christian prejudices the ability of a cross to ward off a Vampire began to feel archaic to filmmakers. Christianity as a light against the Darkness was taken out of the picture by the end of the 1990s.  And Vampires began to be portrayed as Byronic heroes, like Marie in Innocent Blood.

Or for that matter, Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Stoker was very clear about Dracula being a bad guy, whereas Coppola reinterpreted the author’s work to make Dracula a much sympathetic figure. 

Although there was one big throwback to the old school Vampires with From Dush Til Dawn.   Seth GeckoAnd if there is a hell, and those sons of bitches are from it, then there has got to be a heaven… Jacob, there’s gotta be.*

Interview with the Vampire set the new standard.  Vampires were now completely indifferent to Christianly. I haven’t read the book in decades, but I remember Louis saying something to the effect of, he liked crucifixes.

Various writers had been experimenting with Vampirism as a disease for some time, so this started slipping into the films of the 1990s as well.  And the sex with Vampires was becoming quite a bit more explicit.  Vamps weren’t just penetrating with their fangs anymore. 

“I had a good view of what happened. Bianca’s tongue flashed out, long and pink and sticky, smearing Rachel’s wrist with shining saliva. Rachel shuddered at the touch, her breath coming quicker. Her nipples stiffened beneath the thin fabric of the blouse, and she let her head fall slowly backwards. Her eyes were glazed over with a narcotic languor, like those of a junkie who had just shot up.

Bianca’s fangs extended and slashed open Rachel’s pale, pretty skin. Blood welled. Bianca’s tongue began to flash in and out, faster than could really be seen, lapping the blood up as quickly as it appeared. Her dark eyes were narrowed, distant. Rachel was gasping and moaning in pleasure, her entire body shivering.”** -Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

Vampire romance became a more frequent motif in the 2000s.  And by that, I mean, the standard romance plot of two alpha males pursuing the same mortal woman.

 It was also during this period that film and TV began exploring Vampire societies.  The lone leech was a thing of the past.  They existed in communities now and none of them appeared to be that worried about Vampire hunters anymore. What could those mortals do really?  Wave those silly crosses at them?

The aforementioned Vampire Rules a. b. and c. had been repealed years before.  Rule (d) was still very much in effect, all Vampires will be destroyed by sunlight. And then in 2008, this rule too was repealed in the stupidest way possible.

I didn’t think vampires could go any lower and then I saw Netflix Dracula.  

End of Part II

Next Vampire Rules Part III: Netflix Dracula.

*I felt bad when Sex Machine got turned.

**I told you the Dresden Files was originally inspired by the Anita Blake books.

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Comments (13)

  • doug whiddon Reply

    The thing about Dracula is that most of the tropes are from the play, not the book. In the book there are 7 references to him moving about in the day, and none to sunlight being fatal. It was a rule established in the play and the movies.

    Jim Butcher says that he set his Dresden files in Chicago as a random decision when his teacher told him that if he was going to Step on Anita Blakes toes, he better not set Dresden right in her back yard (he was originally going to have Dresden set in Missouri). JB wanted to write epic fantasy, Dresden was a throw-away character for writing class.

    I absolutely LOVE LIfeforce. And, I will still call it a vampire-ish movie. (Okay, its a horror-scifi movie with some vampire elements, but I still love it)

    I looked up Netflix Dracula, I saw some of it as BBC Dracula, didn’t finish the first episode. Having read the synopsis on Wikipedia, I’m glad I didn’t bother.

    But, vampires have gone way lower. Ever seen “once bitten” (early Jim Carrey) “Rockula” “My Best Friend is a Vampire” and that’s just a few.

    Was Anne Rice the one who started vampire romance, as a genre? Interview came out in ’76. Was there anything before that?

    May 7, 2021 at 2:37 am
  • Brick Hardslab Reply

    Hamilton’s vampires and werewolves are just weird sex fetish crap.

    May 7, 2021 at 3:34 am
    • douglas Whiddon Reply

      I’ve never actually read any of her stuff, but that seems to be the case, from what I’ve heard. I used to read a bunch of urban fantasy but it was mostly just the romance genre with vampires.

      Now, the only urban fantasy stuff I read is either Jim Butcher or Larry Coria.

      May 7, 2021 at 4:18 am
    • Codex Reply

      The best Vampire film story hands down (by which I mean I will willingly watch it multiple times) involves hand-puppets.


      One warning for the series. Episode 1 is quite profane. But for a good cause. Because profanity weakens the mind and cheapens the soul.

      As for Dresden… He’s American Harry Potter raised by Voldie.

      May 10, 2021 at 2:04 am
  • Alan Reply

    I had mostly forgotten anita blake, man those books suck. All the women in my friends group were into then, but they just got so samey. I think one book was entirely written in a limo ride and then a scene in a bar, ie the entire book was one evening. And dont get me started on the sex scenes, written by someone who has heard about but never had sex (my friends assumed she was the archetypal maiden aunt). there was one scene where they used a bar of soap as lubricant (to which all my female friends shuddered in pain).

    Curious to see if you are going to allude to any of the White Wolf Vampire stuff. as a 44 year old my first vampires were lost boys and near dark, but very quickly all my vampire lore came from the masquerade, so its hard to differentiate vampires from the ‘rules’ set out in the game (even though ive not read any of it years).

    May 7, 2021 at 4:26 am
    • Codex Reply

      I got through two chapter of AB and just as with GoT, I thought: Yuck.

      I quite liked Twilight book one. If you are going to have a vampire La Belle et la Bete that was the way to go. The rest… Sucked.

      (I had to read them for work)

      May 10, 2021 at 2:08 am
  • furor kek tonicus Reply

    i read Interview once, about 25 years ago. about the only thing i remember about it, is that it sucked in all the wrong ways. and was painfully long.
    was Rice the first one to get rid of most of the downsides to being undead ( first and foremost, the eternal damnation ). so far as i’m aware, she was the first to portray vampirism as almost entirely upside, power and allure, providing you didn’t get turned before you had reached puberty.

    May 7, 2021 at 12:56 pm
    • Chief_Tuscaloosa Reply

      And so much gay in the Anne Rice vampire books. So, so…so so much gay.

      May 7, 2021 at 3:15 pm
      • Codex Reply

        Well sure. Human mules.

        May 10, 2021 at 2:09 am
  • TroperA Reply

    I think the first attempt to “Science Up” vampires was the 1954 Matheson book “I Am Legend”, which had some famous movie adaptations and even inspired the zombie genre. In “The Last Man,” an adaptation starring Vincent Price, the “vampires” were the victim of a virus, and were repelled by garlic and by seeing their own images in a mirror. Crucifixes didn’t hurt them, but the movie had the end scene taking place in a church, with the main character dying via spear like Jesus. So there were some religious components to the story, even if the vampires themselves were meant to be just a non-supernatural phenomenon. Omage Man also had some religious themes, with the main character being a Jesus figure and the evil vampires acting like a cult.

    I think that Lifeforce WAS meant to be a vampire story, albeit an oddball one – with a gender reversed cast. The head vampire is a woman with a couple of male “brides”, the enthralled victim is a male astronaut, and there’s even a Van Helsing figure who tries to save everyone at the end. The film also took place in London. They try to give the vampire aliens a sciencey explanation, but with things like shape-shifting and soul-absorbtion, it seems more supernatural than sci-fi.

    May 8, 2021 at 12:13 am
  • Zeedub85 Reply

    Joss Whedon went back to some of the old tropes with Buffy. Crosses didn’t always repel but would literally burn, same with holy water. No faith necessary, the objects were enough. Sunlight burned and killed quickly. That rule also technically existed on The Vampire Diaries, but they ignored it by giving all the vampire characters magic rings and than making the original vampires super powerful.

    I feel kind of dirty for watching all that dreck. But we all have our weaknesses.

    I also loved Lifeforce. Soundtrack by Henry Mancini.

    May 8, 2021 at 3:58 am
  • Bonesaw Reply

    You have to address the Vampire the Masquerade role playing games when talking about vampire societies and rules.

    Also, when talking about the old vampire movies you need to give an honourable mention to the 70s era movie The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires.
    It’s a hammer horror martial arts vampire movie starring Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.
    It’s really good fun and deserves to be more well known for its mash up of east and west styles if nothing else.
    Seriously, go watch it if you can.

    May 8, 2021 at 4:37 am
  • WiseSol Reply

    I have no doubt whatsoever that Lifeforce is one of the best films in all of history. All I’ve seen of it is a couple of clips with Mathilda May.

    May 9, 2021 at 1:06 am

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