Arts & CultureHistory

A brief history of vampires in pop culture

When you think of vampires, what thoughts come to mind? Do you think of Dracula or Count von Count from "Sesame Street"? Or maybe you think of more recent books, television series, and movies such as "Twilight,” “True Blood,” and “Blade.” Once known as terrifying beings that would suck the lifeblood from people, these creatures somehow made the shift to become romantic and appealing. So what’s up with our collective fascination with vampires, and why do vampires keep appearing in pop culture?

Vampire origins

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Long before Brad Pitt made vampires look sexy, the creatures had been around for centuries — but they were feared. Vampires have popped up in mythology as far back as the Egyptians. But most historians agree that the vampire as we know it today got its start in Europe sometime during the 17th and 18th centuries. According to scholars, the legendary "Dracula" novel by Bram Stoker was crafted after the real Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes, who lived during the 15th century in Transylvania.

While Romania generally looks fondly on his legacy, he was known to be very cruel to those he conquered, even earning himself the nickname “Vlad the Impaler”. Some stories go so far as to say that he even dined with his dying victims, dipping his bread in their blood. However, even in Asia, the creatures appear in Chinese mythology — only they’re known as “jiangshi” (pronounced chong-shee).

Vampires in literature

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Like we mentioned, one of the best-known works about vampires is the book “Dracula" that was published in 1897. Stoker’s version of a blood-sucking ghoul who preys on innocent people to prolong his life was burned into the collective psyche and kept with the then-popular belief that vampires were dangerous and scary, although there’s a case to be made that the Victorian-era novel is full of innuendo and is, in fact, a heavily sexual piece.

But through this novel, we get several characters who continually pop up in future works by other authors and even television and movie directors. You might be familiar with names like Van Helsing, the vampire slayer who is the central character portrayed by Hugh Jackman in a 2004 action movie, or Mina Murray, a love interest who features prominently in Dracula romance novel spin-offs.

Vampires get a makeover

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It wasn’t until 1931 that the vampire transitioned from being a vicious-looking monster into a handsome rogue who just so happened to also suck people’s blood. You can thank the film “Dracula” that was released that year, and actor Bela Lugosi for playing the titular role in a suave manner. Through the decades, vampires stayed attractive yet fearsome, until "Sesame Street"’s fourth season in 1972.

Best known as the Count von Count who likes to count, the friendly character manages to straddle popular vampire tropes such as wearing a cape, living in a decrepit castle, and laughing dramatically with a Transylvanian accent, while also delighting small children and teaching them how to count their numbers. He’s probably the only friendly vampire that most people can name.

But vampires didn’t take a decidedly sexy turn until the 1970s when Anne Rice began writing her “Vampire Chronicles” novel series that centered around the handsome French vampire Lestat. The most famous book in the series was “Interview With the Vampire,” which in 1993 was turned into movie starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. It’s safe to say that after this movie was released, the interest in vampires in pop culture experienced a rebirth, and there were plenty of people who were open to the idea of literally being bitten by love.

Vampires go mainstream

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Although “Interview With the Vampire” was a racy novel and movie, a more family-friendly version of vampire relations also hit the big screen a year earlier with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The movie centered on a cheerleader who discovers that she’s a vampire hunter. The 1992 movie was later turned into a successful television series that debuted in 1997 and spawned numerous spin-offs and developed a fandom known as the “Buffyverse.” The series proved that vampires were ratings draws and that a strong female lead could be accepted by a diverse audience. Buffy paved the way for television depictions of vampires such as “True Blood” and “The Vampire Diaries,” and the entertainment has never been the same since.