Forget the garlic, the crucifixes, the security of daylight. Nothing is holding the vampires at bay these days. With the wild popularity of movie, TV and literary properties including “Twilight” and HBO’s hit series “True Blood,” the bloodthirsty undead are dominating the pop culture landscape in ways Count Dracula could have never imagined, and the trend seems unlikely to abate any time soon.
“The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” the second film adaptation of the popular series of novels, is set for release in November, with the third installment to follow in June 2010. “True Blood,” drawing some of HBO’s largest audiences since “The Sopranos,” concludes its second season on Sunday. Now, the CW network is taking a stab at the genre with “The Vampire Diaries,” which premieres Thursday.
“Vampires are the bad boys,” says series co-creator Kevin Williamson in trying to explain their popularity. “They’re dangerous, but they’re also just sexy and they can protect you. You can challenge them. There’s so much there -- epic love, epic romance, epic epic! Everyone wants their life to be epic.”
He admits, though, that he was somewhat skeptical at first, well aware that his new show will be compared to “Twilight.” And there are plenty of similarities: Small-town girl meets good-guy vampire, falls head over heels, conflict ensues.
But Williamson said that it’s where the action goes after that point that he found particularly intriguing, and the creative possibilities ultimately convinced him to say yes. Well, that and the fact that vampire stories are just plain cool.
And they appear to be here to stay, at least through 2012. Tim Burton is crafting a “Dark Shadows” movie starring Johnny Depp that is set for release in 2011, and there’s also a talked-about cinematic reboot of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” aimed for the following year.
On the page, director Guillermo del Toro and his writing partner Chuck Hogan will produce the second and third installments in their vampire series -- the first book the pair co-wrote, “The Strain,” was released earlier this year to solid reviews.
Of course, this is not the first time in recent memory vampires have captivated the pop culture consciousness. In the late 1970s and ‘80s, Anne Rice’s novels sparked a resurgence in the popularity of the creatures, playing up the romantic and sexual aspects of the vampire myth more strongly than writers who had come before.
She created a dashing monster. These days, the vampire is almost always depicted as the handsome leading man (or at least the handsome, conflicted villain).
Thomas Garza, a University of Texas professor who has taught a class on the subject, “The Vampire in Slavic Cultures,” for the last 12 years, said the metamorphosis of the vampire from repugnant fiend to alluring Lothario was a natural and necessary update for the modern era.
“You see the devil standing before you looking all hideous and grotesque, you’re not going to walk over and join him,” Garza said. “But if the devil appears to you looking like some romantic character and speaking beautiful British English, you might want to sit down and have a cup of coffee.”
There are exceptions. For “The Strain,” Del Toro and Hogan revisited age-old representations of the monsters as hulking, malevolent creatures driven only by their insatiable desire for blood. “There’s nothing at all erotic about our vampires,” Hogan said.
The versatility of the myth seems to be one of the key reasons it’s endured for centuries, but its longevity also owes to the fact that it offers audiences a unique kind of escapism, according to Matt Reeves, who’s set to direct the remake of last year’s Swedish film “Let the Right One In,” about a pre-adolescent boy who unknowingly befriends a vampire, due out next year. Namely, the genre allows people to safely indulge their darker impulses.
“There have been all kinds of vampire movies and each one indulges a different side of it,” Reeves said. “ ‘True Blood’ is obviously all about sexuality, the soap opera sexuality version of vampirism. ‘Twilight’ has its great romanticism. This one is very much about youth, the pain of that time of life. The interesting thing about the vampire genre is for filmmakers, artists, the audience to be looking into the same basic myth but taking something different from it.”
In terms of the creatures’ dominance in Hollywood right now, though, Melissa Rosenberg, the screenwriter who has penned the adaptations of Meyer’s “Twilight,” “New Moon” and “Eclipse,” chalks it up to one simple factor.
“When one vampire story is successful, everyone else jumps on the bandwagon -- that’s just how studios and networks operate,” Rosenberg said. “It all comes down to money, but it’s born out of very creative writers reinventing a genre and reinventing the mythology. Of course, every time it’s reinvented, you have a whole new generation of people for whom it’s really brand new.”
Whether those new converts, or more specifically, the “Twilight” generation, will embrace “Vampire Diaries” or any of the other projects in the pipeline remains to be seen. Williamson, an admitted “True Blood” fan, realizes that burnout is a distinct possibility.
“Is there enough room for one more vampire show on people’s DVR? I don’t know,” Williamson said. “I have room, but I don’t know how America feels. It will be interesting to see if this show is one too many and tries people’s patience, but I feel like the vampires are still popular.”