Traditional Vampires: You’re Looking a Little Pale These Days, My Dear

Let’s talk about the standard Traditional Vampire movie plot. Forget movies, such as Blade or Underworld which are more Action Fantasy than anything else, or Interview With the Vampire or Twilight, which romanticized the undead. Let’s talk the basic, bog standard Traditional Vampire plot. The one that most Horror movies, from Dracula (1931) to Blacula to even Fright Night (1985) follow to one degree or another.

The standard plot goes a little something like this:

One day a stranger comes to town. Maybe a new neighbor moves into a vacant house.  Perhaps an estranged and barely remembered family member pays an unexpected visit. Or maybe it’s just a drifter, noticed for the moment and forgotten. The specifics don’t matter.

What matters is that soon after the stranger appears people start sickening, then dying. What matters is that the newcomer is responsible, knowingly or otherwise.

In time a young person (usually female) takes ill. For the purposes of this essay she will be called the Victim. She might be the first person taken, she might be just the most recent victim, again, it doesn’t matter. The important part is that nothing that her parents and doctors do to save her seems to work.

Then the stately gentleman (or gentlewoman) arrives, and everything change. He knows what’s wrong with the Victim: A Vampire comes to her at night (usually) and drains her of her vitality. He also knows exactly what to do to stop the threat. This is the Vampire Hunter.

And it’s specifically Hunter, not Slayer. While in the movies it’s usually the Vampire Hunter who puts paid to the undead horror, there is an equally good chance that the Victim’s Lover will be the one to take the final strike.

With the arrival of the Vampire Hunter comes a list of rules, covering what the Vampire can or can not do. For instance, a holy item such as a cross will drive it off, perhaps even causing it harm. Daylight weakens or kills it. A wood stake ends its life. Whatever the threat, it reinforces the danger involved facing while at the same time putting the protagonists on a better footing for perhaps defeating the threat.

Sometimes the Victim dies before the protagonists can stop the Vampire. A second Victim will then shortly be provided. Whatever happens to the first, both Victims will display signs of becoming Undead themselves. For it is a rare thing where the lethal kiss of the Vampire doesn’t create more in its wake.

In any case, whether the Victim is the original or another, the Vampire Hunter and whatever other protagonists there are about hunt for the Vampire. As can be expected, there will be a few false leads before at last the monster can hide no more. A confrontation ensues, though not always with the Vampire itself. Sometimes the Vampire has helpers to deal with before the end.

Whatever hoops the protagonist must jump through, in the end the outsider gets repulsed and normalcy resumes. The Victim is Victim no more and all is well.

Until the sequel, of course…

It doesn’t take an attentive reader to notice the generalities in the above synopsis. To coin a phrase, there is more than one way to stake a Vampire. However, this tends to be how events run during the course of the story.

One could make the case that this basic plot outline reflects the fear of the Foreigner, the Different, the guy who isn’t quite like you.  So many early Vampires came from Abroad, from Europe and other localities.  This fear of the Outsider persists to this day and it’s hard to shake it as an underlining reason for the story’s long popularity.  It might also be one of the reasons that more often than not we see in Speculative fiction the Vampire being portrayed in a more favorable light.

The other reasons no doubt appeal to the raw sexuality that Vampires often are given.  Who wouldn’t want a lover with the maturity of the ages, but the body of youth and health?

Thing is, though, if you look at the plot line again, you can see the actual roots of the Traditional Vampire story are with the plague, back in the days of yore when medicine wasn’t what it needed to be.  You have the source of the disease, spreading it through the community.  The healthy become sick.  Then the medical man identifies what’s wrong and “cures” society.  Simple, elegant, and still true even to this day.

All of this is just musings on plot and themes.  It isn’t intended as a standard for judging how successful any Vampire film is. No points will be deducted from straying from the field nor gained for hewing close to it.  The purpose for this essay is as a point of reference.

Which, knowing this site, will be used quite a bit…


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