Vampires were almost going out of style. Zombies are the new vampires of the horror genre, displacing every vamp from Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘90s throwback Dracula to Twilight pretty boy Edward, who has long since lost his sparkle. Interview With the Vampire and Queen of the Damned (as much as I have a problem with how off-canon it is) had long been lying in a coffin somewhere. Then Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles was picked up as a TV series being developed by none other than American Gods’ Bryan Fuller, and suddenly bloodsuckers are starting to come back to life.
You could argue that Anne Rice reinvented the vampire. Early literary and cinematic vampires emerged from the catacombs as hideous monsters—the warped face of Count Orlok in Nosferatu is pure nightmare fuel. Before vampires ever materialized onscreen, Bram Stoker sought to make the titular count in Dracula a soulless beast that readers could neither sympathize with nor forgive. The repulsive visuals of early vampires on film were reflections of the unmitigated evil they were perceived to be. There is a glimpse of humanity in Bela Lugosi’s Dracula when he confesses his envy for human mortality, but most movie vampires were as black and white as the films they haunted. They later evolved into even more vicious creatures in color with B-movies like The Hunger and The Blood Spattered Bride, showing an insatiable bloodlust that stained the subgenre with a stereotype that wouldn’t die.
If the vampires of the ‘70s and ‘80s weren’t slick with blood, they existed as comedic exaggerations of themselves in mostly forgettable camp horror flicks. Those that fell into neither extreme still needed a hero to exterminate them, as in Joel Schumacher’s iconic film The Lost Boys, which sees vampires face off against an underground band of vampire hunters. Vampire-hunter thriller Blade and its sequel Blade 2 saw them through the lens of Wesley Snipes’ title character as vermin that that must be crumbled to dust by the first rays of dawn. The closest thing to a vampire with human emotions pulsing through his veins was Jesus Gris of Guillermo del Toro’s 1993 breakout film Cronos, but even he became a ghost of himself after succumbing to uncontrollable cravings for human blood. It was a year later that Interview With the Vampire would bring an entirely new species of undead from Rice’s 1976 novel to life.
Lestat, Louis and the other creatures of the night that lurked in the dark mansions and back alleys of Rice’s imagination appeared in theaters not long after the Coppola revival of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that kept to a mostly unsympathetic view of the reclusive count. They merge monster and human to the point that you sometimes forget what they are until they flash a glimpse of fang. Even those who have never read any of the Vampire Chronicles books can appreciate how the onscreen adaptations of these characters are a reflection of the complex and nearly human psychology that runs through the series. These are not vampires who just suck their victims dry and leave a trail of corpses. Humans are not just pretty to these creatures who look human, feel human emotions intensely, and even mingle with humans, at least after dark.
The humanity of Anne Rice’s vampires is an undercurrent in both Interview With the Vampire and Queen of the Damned. They even follow a certain code of ethics, as seen in the flashback when Lestat’s maker Marius teaches his protégé not to be overly greedy and suck the last drop of blood from his victim, or it will draw the vampire in and kill him. The art of the “little drink” (though it is not explicitly referred to as such in the movies, as it is in the books) is something Lestat teaches Louis and Claudia as a mode of survival that allows vampires to feed enough to sustain themselves without taking lives. Rice explains this further in the universe of the books, where it is revealed that vampires should hunt for criminals if they absolutely need to kill, and that those who can never get their fill of victims are looked at unfavorably, even queen of queens Akasha. Fanged actors from the Theatre de Vampires are sent to perish in the sun for their gluttony. Child vampire Claudia is viciously scolded when Lestat discovers the corpse of a woman she killed to gorge on her blood. Louis is so vehement about avoiding human victims, he survives off the rats in his New Orleans mansion in the years after Lestat vanishes.
The beast hasn’t completely vanished from Rice’s vamps. The author was able to infuse a monster with humanity—without losing the monster. We are constantly reminded that they still can prey on humans and are susceptible to losing control, whether by a random flash of fang or an unnatural flash of eyes in the night. Paranormal investigator Jennie (who is eventually turned herself) is acutely aware of the potential predators she is surrounded by when she ventures into the smoke and shadows of a vampire bar, where the smell of human flesh ignites bloodlust in more than one nocturnal patron. No one who was a child of the ‘90s is about to forget that scene when Lestat sweeps the corpse of Claudia’s mother in his arms and dances across the room with it. After reanimated queen Akasha awakes from a sleep of thousands of years, she leaves so much carnage in her wake she could challenge Dracula’s body count.
You can’t possibly discuss the evolution of vampires and influences on the subgenre without mentioning the romantic vampire craze that exploded with Twilight in 2009. The opposite extreme of Dracula and Orlok, who only see humans as prey, emo vampires like Edward Cullen are consumed by bursts of passion that could have come straight from a paperback bodice ripper. It isn’t that Rice’s vampires are incapable of human love and lust. This point of view takes the realism out of vampires by leaving them as saccharine shells of beings that suck blood for effect but are really just your average soap star. As a friend of mine once said, “Vampires eat people. They don’t have epic romances.”
The way themes of lust and romance manifest in Anne Rice’s characters is much more characteristic of a hypothetical vampire. They connect through the psyche and through the blood, something echoed by the conflicted Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more recently by the lovesick and desperate Adam and Eve who grapple for survival in 2014 film Only Lovers Left Alive. Vampire love is its own phenomenon. Lestat may be an accidental sex symbol to legions of human fans in Queen of the Damned, most of whom believe the vampire teeth are no more than part of his Goth act, but he is a recluse. The besotted girls who think they are getting the ultimate VIP treatment after a drug-fueled show (but are actually lured in as dinner by Lestat's manager) are never seen again. The closest any situation gets to a bedroom scene in Twilight is the fling between Lestat and Akasha, where they engage in the ultimate act of intimacy between the undead: drinking from each other.
Anne Rice’s vampires are truly undead. They cannot surrender to the throes of pleasure or produce a hybrid vampire-child like Bella and Edward. They can, however, feel a powerful connection to another of their kind in a way that would be difficult for the humans surrounding them to understand—if the humans were aware of their presence.
So what can you expect from the upcoming Vampire Chronicles series? Lestat should take the flamboyant arrogance of his Tom Cruise iteration and infuse it with Stuart Townsend’s brooding, contemplative bloodsucker. His coven need to temper their vampiric instincts with human compassion if Bryan Fuller intends this to be anything of a tribute to their creator. It is difficult to say how those pages will play out onscreen, and whether or not they will borrow from their movie predecessors. The only sure thing is that they definitely won’t sparkle.