Dangerous, compelling, sometimes sparkly: vampires are a huge piece of horror and general pop culture. They were a natural choice for the second-to-last Eli Roth’s History of Horror episode.
Jen Moorman, a film scholar, kicks things off with the general, and what is most likely the most popular appeal of the vampire right now, that they collapse sex and violence.
Appropriately, things start with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, who presents a vampire who isn’t traditionally appealing–but intoxicating all the same. He is debonair, but he reeks of death and decay–as Count Orlock in Nosferatu (1922), the first version of Dracula that hit the silver screen.
Author David J. Skal explains the unique nature of Orlock, who represented World War I in this adaptation. The war which had sucked the fresh blood–quite literally, in the form of young able-bodied men–out of Europe. This theme of vampire films and vampires becoming popular recurs throughout this episode: later, it is pointed out that The Lost Boys came right in the midst of the AIDs crisis and there were a glut of vampire movies at that time, True Blood represented both the freedom of sexuality in America and repressive consequences, and Dracula (1931) became a smash during the depression, as money drained away from struggling masses.
Although Dracula (1931) is touched upon briefly–mostly touted for its incredible influence on all following vampire lore, most notably in Bela Lugosi’s accent–Bram Stoker’s Dracula is given the main stage. This movie set the stage for tragic, romantic vampires, the most famous most likely being the homoerotic undead of Interview With the Vampire and the casts of Anne Rice’s other, similarly-themed books.
Of course, this isn’t new to the concept of vampirism. Quentin Tarantino brings up the somewhat obscure Dracula’s Daughter–a film which flirted with lesbianism. And then things lead to True Blood, which pushed all sexual boundaries as far as possible.
Although the segment of vampires being a safe way to explore all kinds of sexuality provided a balanced and focused center to the episode, things moved on quickly from there. The Lost Boys probably got the most time following that segment, for reasons already mentioned above and being “vampires for the MTV generation.”
Although interesting points were made about films like 30 Days of Night, From Dusk Till Dawn, and general pieces of vampire lore (Joe Hill discusses the need for vampires to be invited in), it feels fragmented until we get to Twilight.
Unlike previous vampires discussed, Edward is not a primal monster nor a metaphor for hard times. He was a simple romantic fantasy that certainly found his audience with women of all ages. Like movies in other horror subgenres that have been discussed in past weeks’ episodes, it dealt with a female experience (Bella’s desire is the focus, not Edward’s or Jacob’s) in a frank and serious way that isn’t found in almost any other mainstream Hollywood films–which, of course, does not erase the problematic nature of the Twilight films.
Stephen King laughs this notion of a handsome, romantic vampire off, and 30 Days of Night exists as the final note and antithesis to Edward Cullen.
Although this episode had its moments, there are only a few times when it felt like there was a true focus to segments. Many of my notes for this episode are just lists of films and TV shows, and that’s sort of how this episode felt. Even interesting segments suffered because the relevance of the film itself in the larger context of the subgenre seemed unclear. It also felt strange that topics like vampires as metaphors for disastrous times or as romantic/sexual weren’t grouped together tightly. On one hand, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt by saying all these ideas is a lot to cram into 45 minutes. On the other, I’ve seen similar vampire-themed mini-documentaries of similar types done before and better.
That said, this episode did have great guests, including David J. Skal, an author known for his studies of horror films and lore. Quentin Tarantino and Stephen King also gave great interviews, probably their best of the series so far. There wasn’t really any silly or unnecessary commentary. But everything really could have been tighter to at least serve them better.
The final episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror, “Ghost Stories,” will premier on November 18 at midnight.