I vant to suck your broccoli: 23 unusual vampire variations
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1. White-trash hillbilly vampires
Having a family of vampires come to town is bad enough for property values, but when the vampire family tools around in a ramshackle RV, talks with deep Southern drawls, and listens to "Naughty, Naughty" on repeat, the locals might as well pull up stakes. Kathryn Bigelow's 1987 flick Near Dark, one of the first modern revisionist vampire tales, features Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton as the leaders of a bloodsucking clan that might as well be spelled with a K. Henriksen's character is an unrepentant secessionist who fought proudly for the Confederacy in the War of Northern Aggression, and when Paxton speaks of having started the Chicago Fire, the tone of triumph in his voice suggests he did it to get back at the Yanks.
2. Bacteriological vampires
The idea that vampirism might be spread like the flu is a popular one in bloodsucker lit, but nowhere is it better realized than in Richard Matheson's classic apocalyptic science-fiction novel I Am Legend. Though film adaptations have tinkered with his story endlessly, Matheson's original conception was that vampirism was a communicable disease of bacteriological origin, and it turned human beings into an intriguing amalgam of vampire and zombie. The book is far superior, and much more original, than any of the movie versions, but it does miss one essential point: the vampire disease is contracted unwillingly. In reality, if there was such a disease, mopey teenagers would be lined up around the block to get infected.
3. "Vegetarian" vampires
The imaginary undead boyfriend of hordes of horny teenagers (and quite a few adults who really should know better), Edward Cullen of the Twilight series of young-adult novels is one of a small coven of vampires who have sworn off the human stuff in favor of a less enticing but more ethical option: animal blood. The Cullens' alternative lifestyle—which they jokingly refer to as "vegetarianism" even though that makes absolutely no sense—makes Edward extra-dreamy in the eyes of the books' protagonist, vampire groupie Bella Swan. As an added weird-vampire bonus, the Twilight bloodsuckers aren't completely sun-averse; rather, their skin goes all glittery in the daylight, because teenage girls love glitter.
4. Black vampires
Made for about $6 in 1972, Blacula was the first-ever black-vampire movie. Produced by exploitation king Samuel Z. Arkoff, it told the story of Mamuwalde, an African prince who gets converted into a vampire by Dracula, who, among his many other faults, is revealed as a pro-slavery racist. Waking up in Los Angeles hundreds of years later, Mamuwalde goes on a rampage that takes the lives of some of the city's most talented interior decorators. The cult hit spawned one sequel (the wonderfully titled Scream, Blacula, Scream) and a million rip-offs. It's also been referenced ad infinitum in popular culture, but nowhere more hilariously than in The Venture Brothers, which posits the existence of one Jefferson Twilight, the world's only Blacula-hunter.
5. Kindly Southern war-hero vampires
On the HBO series True Blood, main vampire Stephen Moyer is trying to "mainstream" (vampires use it as a verb in this crazy alternate reality), which means drinking synthetic people-juice and assimilating with the living. He even makes friends with his girlfriend's kindly grandmother, agreeing to speak about his pre-vamp life to her veterans group. Turns out Moyer was an honorable man in life, which wins over some of the townspeople. And helping out Grandma leads him one step closer to nookie with Sookie (Anna Paquin), which is what any vampire really wants.
6. Underwater vampires
Alan Moore has tinkered with the vampire legend many times in his comics work, but the most effective and chilling was a story called "Still Waters," which ran in Swamp Thing #38. Drawing on a previous Swamp Thing story where the hero saved an Illinois town from a plague of vampires by flooding it, Moore crafted a story where the creatures lived, trapped beneath the non-running water. The eerie images of pale bodies floating in a lake, and the introduction of Charlene, the grotesque vampire queen, fat on blood like a tick, are among the horror comic's most memorable images. (Just to show he didn't take the entire thing too seriously, Moore also gave the world his humor book The Bojeffries Saga, featuring Uncle Festus Zlüdotny, a vegan vampire who roamed the streets of London in search of soy blood.)
7. Reverse vampires
Rumors have circulated for hundreds of years about the existence of the sinister creatures known as reverse vampires. But, as usual, it took the brave souls at The Simpsons to blow the lid off the story. In "Grandpa Vs. Sexual Inadequacy," Springfield's adults, under the sway of Abe Simpson's aphrodisiac tonic, are spending their nights in marital bliss and ignoring their children. A conspiracy-minded Bart suggests it's some sort of UFO plot; to mock him, Lisa suggests that the adults are really reverse vampires who need to get to bed before dark. Naturally, the kids of Springfield, who are no less gullible than their parents, takes her theory seriously, and Milhouse eventually spins the reverse vampires into an elaborate network of evil involving saucer people, the federal government, and the RAND Corporation.
8. Lesbian vampires
The notion of lesbian vampires has a long, lurid history, going all the way back to a French novel called Carmilla, which was written some 25 years before Bram Stoker's Dracula. Europeans in particular have always been gaga over the idea, and in the 1970s, there was a slew of lesbian vampire movies: Vampiros Lesbos, Vampyres, The Vampire Lovers, and Lust For A Vampire, to name but a few. These did better at the box office than Blacula, possibly because American filmgoers were more comfortable with vampirism expressed in the form of hot girls making out with each other than in the form of black people with superpowers. In 1983, Tony Scott filmed The Hunger, featuring Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in a vampiric love scene, leading many heterosexual males to declare it the greatest vampire movie of all time.
9. New-wave vampires
Buffy The Vampire Slayer helped create the massive shift in the way popular culture looked at vampires. No longer were they the brooding, temperamental Eastern European aristocrats of traditional fiction; instead, they were the brooding, temperamental American teenagers of today. This allowed storytellers to liberate the vampire myth and apply it to good-looking young actors and actresses wearing the most contemporary fashions the wardrobe department could afford, and speaking in the kind of hip teen-girl argot only a man in his mid-30s can master. But Joss Whedon wasn't breaking new ground: Joel Schumacher's 1987 horror-comedy The Lost Boys got there first, featuring a bunch of teenage vampires with then-fashionable clothes, daring haircuts, and that kind of self-pitying egomania that can only be called attitude. It even featured a young Kiefer Sutherland rocking a bleached-blond Billy Idol look a good decade before Spike.
10. Space vampires
It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Space vampires. Imagine how many times that combination of words got used in Hollywood pitch meetings: "They're like vampires, see but from SPACE!" Combining as it does two all-time classic geek obsessions, the notion of space vampires nonetheless didn't get much broad play until 1985, when Texas Chain Saw Massacre auteur Tobe Hooper helmed a movie involving constantly nude space vampire Mathilda May infecting London with a plague that turns people into energy-sucking sex fiends. Sounds great, but the studio made a huge miscalculation when they dumped the title of Colin Wilson's original novel—the helpful, direct The Space Vampires—in favor of the uninformative Lifeforce. As The Space Vampires, it probably would have made an extra $10 million or so at the box office.
11. Ambiguous vampires
One of George Romero's best movies is also one of his least-seen. In 1977's Martin, a uncertain, depressive young man comes to stay with his elderly uncle. The old man thinks the boy is a vampire; Martin himself doesn't believe in such legends, but he is plagued by dreams from another time, and he does enjoy slashing women with a razor blade and drinking their blood. The conflict between Old and New World and the generation gap inform all aspects of this terrific, tight little film, which grabs viewers by the throat and never lets go of the deadly ambiguity about what drives Martin's murderous urges.
12. Junkie vampires
Abel Ferrara built his reputation on making movies that start out as fairly conventional genre exercises, then take bizarre turns somewhere along the line, and end with audiences wondering what the hell they just watched. Nowhere is this weirdness more apparent than in his bewildering-yet-appealing 1995 film The Addiction, in which Lili Taylor plays a philosophy grad student who gets turned into a vampire, maybe, after making out with Annabella Sciorra. The whole movie quickly sheds its horror conventions and turns into a deranged meditation on vampirism as addiction, or addiction as vampirism, or something. Onyx's Fredro Starr is there, as is Christopher Walken, who, in what may be the crown jewel of a lifetime of loony characters, plays a vampire who's trying to kick the blood habit and get his life back together. Good luck with that, Chris.
13. Vampire lawmen
In theory, vampires would make ideal cops, detectives, and private investigators: They're immortal, so they have time to learn the area they're working in very, very well. In Forever Knight, they have super-speed; in Angel, they have superhuman strength and the ability to heal up after the occasional nasty wound. And on Moonlight, they have keen senses of smell, which probably come in handy when trying to sniff out criminals. Admittedly, all three of these vampire-law-enforcement shows are less about the cases than they are about the relationships and romances between the vamp protagonists and various subsidiary characters. But that's par for the course for half the cop shows out there anyway.
14. Cartoon duck vampires
Most vampires are depicted as hopelessly cool—which is to be expected of powerful, sexy creatures who only go out at night. By contrast, most duck characters in pop culture are hopelessly, thoroughly uncool: Daffy Duck is an angry, lisping, jealous foil to the ultra-cool Bugs Bunny; Donald Duck's quacking is unintelligible, and he waddles around in a sailor jacket, wearing no pants; and Howard The Duck has been carrying the same duck-size condom in his wallet for years. So what happens when you crossbreed the cool with the uncool? You get Count Duckula, a vegetarian duck vampire and star of the Danger Mouse spin-off cartoon Count Duckula. Even though Duckula isn't interested in anything vampire-related, including killing, blood, and fangs, we're told he comes from a long line of vicious duck vampires. But the bloodline was thinned out with tomato ketchup (literally), and Duckula was left with a hunger for broccoli and showbiz instead of blood. Basically, if Howard The Duck were a cartoon and a vampire, he'd be Count Duckula.
15. Sugary cereal vampires
Far weirder and more ferocious characters than Count Chocula have been used to sell cereal. Still, why would a vampire push kids so hard to "have a monster for breakfast today"? With Frankenberry, it's easier to chalk up the sugary-cereal pushing to simple programming. But a vampire must have his own agenda. Why is Count Chocula so eager to get kids to eat bowl after bowl of sugary marshmallows? Could it be he's trying to sweeten their blood for later harvest? Or does he want to fatten them up so they'll be easier to catch? Only time and General Mills will tell.
16. Half-human vampires
Having all the powers of a relatively cool vampire would be fun; that's the windfall of being a dhampir, a vampire-human crossbreed with all the vampire advantages, and none of their weaknesses. Marvel Comics' hero Blade is a twist on the Balkan folklore; the half-human, half-vampire gained his abilities when his mother was bitten during childbirth. With extensive training in vampire hunting, and the ability to walk around during the daytime, Blade spends his life (elongated by partial vampirism; he was born in the 19th century) doing everything from tracking down Dracula to getting mixed up in the internal politics of the vampire realm. As further exhibited by Wesley Snipes in the film version and its fairly decent sequel, half-human/half-vampires are full badasses. See also the 1985 anime classic Vampire Hunter D, its vivid 2000 remake, and the extensive series of novels that spawned it, all about a broody sword-wielding, vamp-slaying dhampir. In popular culture, dhampirs always seem to be vampire hunters, with the built-in emo mopiness of being tragically alone and having to kill their own kind; that gothy, manly broodiness is apparently just another vampire power they inherit.
17. Alaskan vampires
When the sun goes away for a month in Barrow, Alaska, there are some inconveniences for residents: solar panels don't pull much energy, plants wither, it's hard to get a tan. Oh, also, hordes of vampires show up to feast, uninterrupted by the dawn. In the comic-book series 30 Days Of Night, it's bad enough for the townspeople to have to fight the bitter cold without having to also fight bloodsucking monsters, but at least the subzero temperatures help dull the vampires' abilities, giving potential victims at least half a chance at saving themselves. But while being an Alaskan vampire may seem to have many perks and few drawbacks, it's still impossible to defeat the human quality of self-sacrifice: In the books and the entertaining film of the same name, a selfless sheriff brings the banquet to an end.
18. Hopping vampires
There's nothing inherently scary about a vampire reduced to hopping around as if its legs were tied together, but it's inherently funny, which why the hopping-vampire subgenre of Hong Kong films is so entertaining. In Ricky Lau's Mr. Vampire, these creatures of the night are blind, but they're drawn toward the breath of the living like moths to flame. The vampires can be controlled with Taoist incantations, which are written on enchanted parchments and attached to their foreheads; if the spell wears off, the parchment drops and the blood-suckers are free to hop around in search of their next victim. The only way humans can fake out the vampires is by holding their breath, and even then, they can only hold back these indomitable bunny-rabbits for so long.
19. Jewish vampires
What was clearly intended as a throwaway joke in Roman Polanski's vampire-comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers, Or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck ended up being the film's best-remembered line. When a Jewish landlord is bitten and becomes a vampire, crosses are of no use against him. "Oy, have you got the wrong vampire!" he exclaims.
20. Puppet vampires
The ultimate in kid-friendly felt vampires is, of course, The Count from Sesame Street, with his many songs about counting, some of which have been put to humorous/nefarious purposes on YouTube. But Children's Television Workshop hasn't cornered the market on plush vamps. A late-series, fan-favorite episode of Joss Whedon's Angel called "Smile Time" had the eponymous vampire-with-a-soul running afoul of an evil, demonic children's TV program and getting turned into a Sesame Street-style puppet, complete with Ernie-style detachable nose. And the best part of the 2008 Jason Segal romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall arrives at the end, when Segal's character gets over his mopey, clingy babyishness long enough to stage a puppet Dracula musical, with a suspiciously cute and Count-like Dracula wailing about his immortality in emo fashion and just a few lines later, musically swearing that he's going to murder and mutilate that pesky Van Helsing fellow.
21. Animal vampires
Vampirized animals rarely get to take the spotlight; they're mostly used as guards and servants to their human masters. A rare exception is the star of the laughably bad 1978 vampire-dog movie Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula, in which a simple peasant's pooch is turned to the dark side and stalks the night, supposedly attacking people, though poor fight choreography generally makes him look like he's trying to play. But the ultimate in animal vampires has to be Bunnicula, the little vampire rabbit at the center of James Howe's entertaining series of children's books, in which a nervous cat and a friendly dog try to come to terms with the newest pet in their house. Granted, when a vampire bunny runs amok, the results are generally pallid, juice-drained carrots, but apparently that's frightening to a literal scaredy-cat.
22. Loligoth vampires
Vampire Hunter D didn't corner the market on vampires in anime; on the contrary, it's one of anime's few cases of macho male vamps. (Hellsing features another notable one.) Far more common is the cute-little-girl vampire, who switches back and forth between creepy hellion and adorable, wide-eyed waif as the moment demands. One of the better executions of the idea came in Vampire Princess Miyu, where the eerie titular vampire girl was half protagonist, half access point to a series of supernatural mysteries. The more recent series Moon Phase stars a petulant vampire girl decked out in cutesy lace petticoats and kitty ears. Naturally, she's pretty powerful, until she comes up against a wishy-washy male love interest whom her abilities don't affect. And then there's the sheer weirdness of Chibi Vampire, a series about a sailor-suited vampire teenager who produces so much blood that she has to inject it into other people with her fangs, or she gets nosebleeds. It's a whole different take on the "reverse vampire" thing.
23. Circus vampires
Vampire Circus! Nuff said.