The birth of the modern-day vampire

Tanya Gutierrez grew up a bonafide scaredy cat.

Anything horror related — from werewolves to vampires — count her out.

That’s until she met her husband Rick, a horror movie buff who enticed Gutierrez into a sci-fi world filled with subhuman beings, creatures of the night and of course those blood-sucking vampires.

Gutierrez, 24, was bit by a fanaticism for vampires from science-fiction movies like Night Watch, a Russian tale of humans known as “the others” who possess supernatural powers, and later through watching Cronos, a Spanish film by Guillermo del Toro involving creatures who thirst for blood and immortality.

Vampires were often considered part of the first wave of horror movie villains preying upon victims to support their existence. Fans were drawn to those twisted ways and offered a look into the folklore which started long before they hit Tinseltown.

“I like the whole idea of them,” said Gutierrez, from Pharr. “But they sure have come a long way from the black and white pictures.”

Turns out vampires weren’t always as sexy and seductive as Dracula.

Benita Blessing, a history professor at Ohio University, who teaches a popular course called Vampires in Myth and History, says that vampires have existed in myth for centuries, the Associated Press reported. But mostly the creatures preyed on peasants and paupers, and they left the higher reaches of society alone.

According to Blessing, that changed with a tale made famous by association with poet Lord Byron in the 19th century: One night in Switzerland, Lord Byron and his guest Mary Shelly and others were sitting around the fireplace telling ghost stories.

He challenged them all to write a spooky story. From that meeting Shelly produced the famous “Frankenstein.”

A lesser known author named John Polidori penned a poorly written tale about a titular vampire known as Lord Ruthven who was high-class, attractive and smooth in addition to being deadly. His similarities to Byron were striking.

The story was published without an author and people initially thought Byron had written it and was making fun of himself.

Polidori, alas, didn’t garner much fame, but his description of a creature with gray flashing eyes that was attractive to the ladies lived on. A short while later, Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula,” and the myth of the vampire changed forever.

The evolution of the fanged, caped immortal now lies in modern characters found in theaters across the country.

Films like Blade, Underworld and most recently 30 Days of Night introduced horror-movie buffs to a new and slightly improved vampire.

“They’ve become more appealing rather than this creepy thing that was stalking people,” said Gutierrez. “The whole idea is more appealing than a scary thing. People were very fearful of the thought of vampires, but now they’re cool.”

Vampires have come a long way from the days of Nosferatu, a 1920s film considered a loose interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Before there was a twisted sense of romanticism found in this seemingly debonair man who would lure women in the night. The mystery and sensuality — before the vampire would pierce the nape of the neck, that is — was appealing to certain audiences at one time.

Other vampire fans were drawn to the modern-day rebel vampire, widely popularized by the 1987 cult classic, The Lost Boys. Generation X’ers still remember the film’s tagline, “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” Most of all, watching the two Corey’s (Haim and Feldman) in their teenage breakout roles.

“Vampires were immortalized and branded into my brain by (The Lost Boys),” said David Rodriguez of Edinburg. “I was a little kid and all I could think of was, ‘oh my God!'”

From there, Rodriguez’s interest in vampires expanded to legendary authors Bram Stoker and the ubiquitous Anne Rice as well as an interest in the Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. He also became a big fan of Bela Lugosi, mostly known for his role as one of the first Count Dracula’s.

“I really decided to do some digging,” said Rodriguez, also the lead singer for metal/industrial band Driving the Nails. “Everyone has a different take on (vampires). Rice’s characters have a pompous, sexual quality and John Carpenter’s characters are more traditional.

“I’m interested in the fear. Back then, a vampire sucking on the neck was meant to be more sexual and was taboo. But now it’s really not.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday October 29, 2007.
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