The variations of the legend of the vampire have been around for centuries, so it’s no wonder they have crept into our pop culture in the form of books, movies, comics, role playing games, songs, anime, cartoons, ads and television series. Today vampires on TV are more prominent than ever with the popularity of shows such as Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel.
The first vampires to appear on television were probably from movies, but in 1954, Bela Lugosi performed a scene from Dracula on the live series, You Asked For It. After that there were many made for TV versions of Dracula and other vampire movies. In 1964 ABC premiered the first primetime family of vampire-like characters, The Addams Family. The sit-com lasted 2 seasons and later spawned a short-lived cartoon in 1972/73 and two films. In that same year, CBS ran a similar sit-com against The Addams Family. The Munsters were a family of monsters including two vampires, Lily and Grandpa (Who was later revealed to be, none other than Dracula himself). The Munsters also lasted two seasons and generated a movie, a second made for TV movie, an ABC Saturday morning cartoon and the series Munsters Today that ran from 1988-1991.
In 1996 ABC began running a new daytime soap opera entitled Dark Shadows. The series was set in the Collins family mansion known as Collinswood. When Dark Shadows was on the verge of cancellation, creator Dan Curtis began to add a supernatural element, finally introducing the Vampire Barnabas Collins in Episode 210. The soap opera’s ratings soared and stayed on top of the daytime dramas until it was taken off the air in 1971. (Most likely because the storyline had run its course.) This was not the last of Barnabas Collins, as in 1991 NBC redid Dark Shadows for prime time. It was much darker than the original and only lasted two months.
The early 70’s introduced two vampire characters to small children. In 1970, the Saturday morning cartoon, The Groovie Ghoulies had a vampire cousin, named Drac. Though the show only lasted one season, many of the Ghoulies, including Drac, were reoccurring characters in the animated version of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. October 9th, 1973 marked the first appearance on Sesame Street of the Muppet vampire Count Von Count, better known as The Count. Through the years The Count has introduced us to a couple of his friends, Countess Backwards Von Backwards and Countess Dahling Von Dahling. Today, the Count is still a regular part of the Sesame Street “cast”. The British also had a cartoon vampire in the 80’s. The locals feared Count Duckula, but he actually preferred vegetable juice to blood and had no fangs.
In 1981 actress Cassandra Peterson created the vampire like character, Elvira, based on Morticia Addams, Vampirella and Vampira. Elvira hosted LA’s Saturday afternoon Movie Macabre, which later went into syndication. Elvira made one film and still makes appearances at Halloween festivals.
The late 80’s and on through the 90’s saw the rise of a new breed of vampire, who tried to be more human and fit in with society. Though there were still the “bad-ass” vampires, there were also the kinder, gentler vampires, who blurred the line between good and evil.
In August of 1989, the made for TV movie, Nick Knight, starring Rick Springfield aired. Nick was a 400-year-old vampire, who regretted his past sins and was working to repay society. His ultimate goal was to become mortal. The movie was made into a TV series for CBS’s Crimetime After Primetime as an alternative to late night talk shows. Forever Knight aired on Tuesday nights and in addition to the title change, Nick was 800 years old and played by Geraint Wyn Davies, the setting was moved from LA to Toronto, and the pathologist mortal friend of Nick’s was now female. In 1993 CBS gave in to the late night talk show, when they acquired Late Night With David Letterman, promptly putting an end to Crimetime after Primetime. But this was not the last of Nick Knight and company. After a large fan based letter writing campaign, the series was brought in syndication a year later. In it’s third season, USA Networks, who eventually killed it, bought the series. (ED Op.)
Forever Knight was not the first time Geraint Wyn Davies played a vampire. In 1990 he had a reoccurring role as Klaus Helsing (son of Gustav) in Dracula: The Series. This short- lived (one season) syndicated series was set in present day with Dracula posing as the business tycoon Alexander Lucard (A. Lucard is Dracula backwards). His rival Gustav Helsing works with his niece and two nephews to expose Lucard and bring him down.
On the tail of the cancellation of Forever Knight, in 1996, came a new vampire series, Kindred: The Embrace, based on the White Wolf role playing game, “Vampire: the Masquerade”. The show was unsuccessful and was cancelled before the season was over.
In 1996 the WB introduced the series, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. Buffy was based on the 1992 film with the same name. Producer Joss Whedon, who wrote the original screenplay, revamped (no pun intended) Buffy making it one of the WB’s most successful primetime dramas. Buffy, along with her watcher and friends fight evil on the Hellmouth of Sunnydale, California. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer is now in its fifth season. With the success of Buffy, Whedon created a spin off series using characters from the original; Angel the vampire with a soul; prima-donna, Cordelia Chase, and former watcher turned rogue demon hunter, Wesley Wyndam Price. They have moved to Los Angeles and help the helpless. Angel is now in its second session.
FOX has plans to remake a US production of the British vampire drama, Ultraviolet. There is no word yet when that will air. The program is similar to Buffy, in that there is a team of people fighting evil forces.
Vampires have also played a role in advertising on television. The most famous spokes-vamp has to be Count Chocula for the sweet breakfast cereal of the same name. And of course some of us wish they could eat a Reese Peanut Butter Cup like Dracula. (Peanut butter first.)
There have been many made for TV films featuring Vampires as well. In 1972 Night Stalker aired on ABC. A reporter named Kolchak encountered a vampire in Las Vegas. This film received the highest ratings for a made for TV movie at the time, so it was made into a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Kolchak tracked various creatures of the night including two more episodes that featured vampires. The series ran from 1972 to 1975 and spawned another movie.
Of course this was not the only series to feature vampires as the guest monster of the week. Vampires have made appearances in several anthology series, such as The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Tales from the Crypt (starring George Wendt and Malcolm McDowell), Cliffhangers, Monsters (Starring Wil Wheaton), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Tales From the Darkside. They have also appeared unexpectedly in series such as Starsky and Hutch, Diagnosis Murder, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, Nightman and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
In one of The Simpsons Halloween specials, the entire family, except for Lisa, were vampires. “Tree House of Terror IV-Bart Simpson’s Dracula”, was a clever spoof on the 1992 film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The supernatural, Science Fiction and Fantasy all seem to go hand in hand, so naturally (or should that be unnaturally?) vampires have played a role in many genre series such as Millennium, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Friday the 13th: The Series, Superboy, and even Doctor Who. The Doctor has encountered vampires twice, once in “Curse of Fenric” and again in “State of Decay”.
Xena: Warrior Princess also encountered a band of all female vamps in “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". Sliders slid into a version of San Francisco where they met a rock band of vampires, and Sam leaped into a body he thought might be a vampire in the Quantum Leap episode “Blood Moon”. Buck Rogers encountered a space vampire named Vorvon, who could only be seen by his intended victim in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
There were two vampire episodes on The X-Files. In “3”, Mulder investigates the possibility of vampires in Los Angeles. In the more humorous “Bad Blood”, Mulder and Scully go to Texas to investigate the bloodletting of a bunch of cows. Mulder thinks it is supernatural, but Scully the skeptic says, “Well it’s not a vampire.” “Why not?” “Cause they don’t exist.” Scully was in for a surprise.
It seems that vampires will continue to haunt our airwaves as long as humans have a fascination for the undead and the supernatural.
Sources: The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead by J. Gordon Melton and TV Vampires
Scully: “Well it’s not a vampire.”
Mulder: “Why not?”
Scully: “Because they don’t exist.” The X-Files
Vampire folklore has existed since the dawn of time form India to Mexico to China and most prominently in Easter Europe. The most common aspects of all vampire mythology, from ancient history to the present day are the consuming of blood, coming out at night and rising out of the grave. Blood has been used in many religious rituals, as it is regarded as the essence of life, from Native Americans to Ancient Greeks to the Christian doctrine. Similarly the idea of eternal life can be found in most cultures and religions.
Some precursors to vampires are perhaps leaches and vampire bats. Both are known as blood suckers, but actually the saliva of the vampire bat contains a chemical that can eventually render the victim unconscious.
There have actually been documented cases of what is believed to be vampirism. In 1725 the body of Peter Palgojowoitz was exhumed by a Germany military official stationed in Kisilova; after the locals claimed to have seen the man stalking the village at night, though he had been dead for at least three months. When his body was dug up it had not decomposed at all, his skin, nails and hair were still growing, there was no odor and there was fresh blood in his mouth. When a wooden stake was put through his heart, fresh blood came pouring out, so they burned the body.
In the case of Arnold Paole, he had fallen off a cart five years before in Turkey, but when villagers complained of a vampire; his body was dug up and found undecayed.
These cases can be explained by the soil that the bodies were buried in, but that was never researched. Premature burials were not uncommon and could be another explanation for rising from the grave. The Black Death was also known as vampiric rabies. Recent studies show that some people suffer from porphytia, which is extreme sensitivity to light.
Vampires were believed to be possessed by a demonic condition or the opposite of a saint.
The first appearance of vampires in fiction was a Russian story about the wicked prince Vpir Lichy in 1047, however the most commonly known vampire story is Bram Stoker’s Dracula written in 1897 and based on the life of Vlad Tepes born in 1428. He was better known as Vlad the Impaler from Romania. Most modern day vampire stories have borrowed something from Stokers story.
All fictitious vampires drink blood, but the commonality does not go much beyond that. Most vampires come out at night, and can only be killed by decapitation or a stake through the heart. Some sleep in coffins with their own soil, most have fangs, though the vampires in the film The Hunger, for example, killed using a sharp talisman worn around the neck. Some fly, some have no reflection, some have an aversion to garlic as well as religious symbols. Nick Knight on the TV Series Forever Knight explained that the cross as well as the menorah and even the symbol for Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun, represents the ultimate light and vampires live in ultimate darkness.
Where do vampires come from? That depends on what you are reading or watching. In the Doctor Who episode “Curse of Fenric”, the vampires were believed to have roamed the earth before man; perhaps they were not from earth. Others, such as Anne Rice credit their creation to an ancient curse.
Currently the trend in vampire fiction id the sympathetic vampire, who is not all that bad, such as the family in Elian Bergstom’s novels, Anne Rice’s Vampires, Chelsea Quinn Yarbros' St. Germaine, PN Elrod’s vampire detective Jack Fleming, Forever Knight’s Nick Knight and of course Spike and Angel.
There is also a gothic subculture, with a fascination with death, who believes in drinking blood of life and worshiping vampires.
Vampires have been around since before you were born and they probably will still be here long after you are gone, son in a sense, that would make them truly immortal.
Sources: Vampire History, Dagonbytes, Dracula and Vampires, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead by J. Gordon Melton
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