21st Century Vampires, or, How Twilight Killed the Horror Genre

Remember when we were kids, how every little sound was creepy, and how in horror movies and books, the bad guy really was a bad guy?  Remember the weighted anticipation of seeing the big, scary monster for the first time?  Remember the promise of nightmares and Mom’s threat of “if you watch that, you better not come crying to me in the middle of the night because you’ll deserve it”?

I do.  And oh, how I miss all of it.

Keeping that in mind, I find myself increasingly disturbed by the transition of classic monsters into romantic heroes.  Before I go any further, yes, I am guilty of romanticizing the monster.  Yes, I am guilty of believing in happy-ever-after for a damned soul.

But damn it, I don’t agree with how we got here!

At least my vampire drinks blood and kills people.

Many of you, I know, read horror stories.  You like the creep factor, and you revel in the blood and guts, just like me.  Those of you that enjoy the genre have probably noticed its disappearance from bookstore shelves.  The two major booksellers – Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million, have both integrated horror into other areas, such as moving Stephen King and Anne Rice to General Fiction while taking the paranormal and supernatural and shoving it between the stacks to pad the Sci-Fi/Fantasy rows.

This is the point when I would normally point the finger at the Twilight vampires and blame them entirely for the state of affairs in the horror genre, but I can’t do that.  I have to back up a bit.

Let’s start in 1976.

A book was published that year that many of you will know all too well.  It’s called Interview With the Vampire. That book marked the start of the emo-vampire movement.  As much as I love Anne Rice’s vampire world (I have the complete set of first editions), I have to point the first finger at Louis de Pointe du Lac.  Talk about a whiny little bastard… all he does for several hundred pages is bitch about his lot in life.  Or rather, unlife.

At least Louis, Lestat, and the whole gang burst into flame in the sun and ate people.

However, as the series went along, the vampires became more sympathetic creatures – monsters we as a society could relate to.  Monsters that still, for the most part, suffered from that human condition known as conscience.

After reading that, I was given a copy of Michael Romkey’s I, Vampire, released in 1990. At 15 years old, I absolutely loved this book.  I loved the way he twisted reality to turn popular historical figures in to vampires.  But at the same time, David Parker is a little on the shallow, obnoxious side, and if I were to read the same book now, I would blame this character’s melodramatic, romantic predisposition for a large part of the lapse in real vampire culture.  At least David gets to eat people, even if he is another mopey motherfucker.

Over the next ten years, countless vampire books are released.  Some good, some not so much.  But I don’t have time to get into the extensive list of ups and downs.

In 2001, Charlaine Harris wrote the first of the Sookie Stackhouse books.  And I loved the series. I thought it was going to redeem vampirism…

At first.

I loved how her vampires, while mainstream creatures, were still monsters.  They were perfect predators – attractive and deadly.  I love the lack of conscience with good intentions.

Then came the point where it was painfully obvious that she stopped writing them for herself and started writing for the market.  The vampires became more palatable.  THe other supernatural creatures were less like beasts and more like domestic house-pets.  The books developed Highlander Syndrome (remember how by the end of the Highlander series, EVERYBODY WAS A FREAKING IMMORTAL???).  I’ve read all but the last one, and I just lost interest.  I’m sorry, but making Eric ashamed of his past just did me in.  Who cares what happened to him when he was younger?  It’s part of him.  Don’t freaking hide it.

At least he still gets to eat people.

Now, let’s skip ahead 4 years.

A book with a pretty, yet innocuous cover hits the shelves.  Inside is the beginning of a fad that will span what has become six years and has essentially buried vampires in the mire of romance and sap.

And yeah, I read all four books in the series.  In about a week.  So don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, okay?  I’ve thought a lot about it, and am entitled to my opinion, as follows.

While I have to say that Stephenie Meyer had some good ideas when it came to ways to mask classic vampire mythology, she failed to realize a vital point of the mythos:

Vampires are killers.  The overabundance of conscience murders the image.  Bloodlust and damnation do not romantic characters make.  Vampires are naturally attractive because they are deadly.  Her vampires are not dangerous.  Plus there’s the whole stunted-at-turning concept, which really bugs the hell out of me.  After a hundred years, boyfriend should have matured at least a little bit.

AND VAMPIRES DO NOT FUCKING SPARKLE.

Do you hear me?  I’ll say it again, just in case…

VAMPIRES DO NOT FUCKING SPARKLE.

I respect her attempt at rewriting the mythology.  I also respect the following she has gained and the ease with which she captured the attention of the entire world.  But again, she pulled a Charlaine Harris and had her entire cast come down with Highlander Syndrome.  And these books started a trend in young adult (and adult, for that matter) fiction that saddens me to no end.

At least PC and Kristin Cast completely altered the mythology instead of just bastardizing it.

To all the Twi-hards, I say this:  Go out RIGHT NOW…IMMEDIATELY… and buy two books:  Dracula, by Bram Stoker, and Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King.  Read them both.  Understand that your sparkly, little disco-ball boyfriend is not a real vampire.

I started writing a story awhile back in which my main character is a vampire.  And he’s not a good guy.  He kills people.  He revels in blood.  And he isn’t interested in bedding the chick he’s getting ready to bite.  And after writing this, I have realized something…

This book probably won’t sell.  And it probably won’t sell because my monster is exactly that: A monster.  A heartless, soulless beast intent on destroying whatever he has to in order to eat.  And even if I do sell it, where will it end up?

It’s too “genre” to sit with Stephen King (not that I would EVER fancy myself worthy enough to have my book in his books’ presence), and if it’s relegated to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy shelves it’ll be lost under the stacks of Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilton books.  It will be passed over by the so-called “Vampire Enthusiasts” who would rather have the happy-ever-after with the monster.  It will be ignored in favor of a less gory reality in which the heroine can cozy up with the fanger and not worry about whether or not she’ll have a carotid artery in the morning.

Am I bitter?  Yeah, a little.  But I don’t have any clue what would give that away…

(insert snarky facial expression here)

It isn’t just vampires, either.  Werewolves and shape shifters as a whole have become mainstream good guys…misunderstood monsters.  So what does that leave us horror writers with?

Zombies.

Seriously?  How do you romanticize that?  I mean, come on… shit falls off!  There’s nothing attractive about grave rot.  Forget the zombies, people. I’ll stick with my blood sucking vampires.

At least I don’t have to worry about catching anything.  And if he kills me, then I guess I really won’t have to worry about it anymore, will I?

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One response to “21st Century Vampires, or, How Twilight Killed the Horror Genre

  1. I totally understand what you’re saying. Yeah, I’m one of those who loves the romanticized version, but you always knew that. I’ll avoid horror like the plague (except for the first three seasons of Supernatural because Jensen Ackles is hot). But you’re right about the horror genre. It should be represented as a separate genre so that horror fans can find what they’re looking for.

    I say you should still write the book. You never know. Yours may be the one to turn the tide. Trends change all the time. Don’t let anything discourage you from writing what you love.

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