Friday, December 17, 2004

Class Warfare for Vampires

[This is my version of "Interview with the Vampire". I dug it out of my old journals for a Halloween post, but the horrors of the election campaign pre-empted it, so it will do for a Christmas ghost story instead.]

Vampires Confront Hollywood Stereotypes

From the earliest days of film-making, the legendary figure of the vampire has haunted movie screens all over the world. Graveyard resurrections, blood feasts, and gruesome impalements are as familiar to movie audiences as romantic kisses, or Western gun battles, or the standard fare regularly offered by any other genre.

Recent years have seen a fresh outpouring of vampire films, with first-class budgets and major stars. But in these politically sensitive times, when Hollywood has learned to tread more carefully in its depiction of ethnic minorities, the roles of women, and even the nature of criminals, the old cape-flapping vampire seems a trifle unreconstructed in appearance. Is his perpetual nocturnal existence on screen as a fiendish blood-gulping villain (or at best, as an anti-hero with a nasty over-bite) a fair or accurate portrayal? How do real vampires react to these sinister images?

The following interview hopes to explore that question. It was arranged through the efforts of numerous individuals and organizations, most of whom choose to remain anonymous. However, we would like to thank the following for their invaluable advice and assistance: the National Geographic Society, the International Red Cross, the World Council of Churches, and any survivors of the Serbian broadcasting industry.

NOTE: It was originally hoped that this interview would extend also to a discussion of vampires in popular literature. This proved impossible, as two out of the three vampires assembled for it proved to be illiterate. Thanks all the same to the Anne Rice Foundation and the folks at

is the only genuine Transylvanian of the group. A farmer in his natural life, he has spent the last two centuries marauding villages in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. Roman hails from the former Soviet Union, operating out of a grave near the border between Russia and the Baltic States. He formerly made his living as a cobbler. Bartholomew, previously a schoolmaster, now divides his nights between England and Scotland.

Julian Richards
has written for the Weekly World News and People magazine, and is a regular contributor to Time-Life Books, Inc. He is also a photographer who has worked which such notable people as Princess Diana, Sean Penn, and Jack Nicholson, to name only a few.


RICHARDS: You've all had the opportunity to attend special screenings of such vampire movies as Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Lost Boys, and Interview with the Vampire. Let me say at the outset that most screenwriters realize that they are drawing on a popular conception of vampires that has little or no basis in fact. Did you find the vampires in these movies to be totally unrecognizable? I mean, did you find yourself asking "Who are these people?"

ROMAN: Not really. I recognized them as being vampires, all right.

JANOS: Me too. They were weird, but they were definitely vampires.

BARTHOLOMEW: They were dead, and they drank blood. What else would they be?

RICHARDS: Are you telling me that you found these portrayals realistic?

JANOS: Hell, no. Did you see the way they were living?

ROMAN: No vampire I ever heard of has clothes like that. Even if you had those kind of clothes before you died, they'd never bury you in them. Grave-robbers would dig you up in nothing flat. And what about those fancy apartments, and what not?

BARTHOLOMEW: Totally unbelievable. Quite ruined it for me, I'm afraid. I could understand that Dracula chap living in the castle, where his crypt was. But vampires buying houses? Living in hotels? Preposterous!

ROMAN: What about those balls they went to? And the carnivals? And people actually inviting them into their homes! Wouldn't that be something?

JANOS: All the vampires in these movies were carrying on like they weren't even dead.

RICHARDS: So you found their lifestyle incredible? What about the class issue? Did it surprise you to see vampires portrayed as aristocrats and upper-middle class types?

JANOS: I don't know why an aristocrat can't be a vampire. What, is it too good for them, or something? Aristocrats die like everybody else does, so why can't they be vampires?

ROMAN: I agree. I suppose a movie about a cobbler who becomes a vampire would be pretty boring. I wouldn't expect them to make a movie about me.

BARTHOLOMEW: Look, a member of the upper class becoming a vampire is one thing. But trying to carry on like the bloody nobility when you're dead is something else. It simply isn't done. A vampire with a busy social calendar is ridiculous.

JANOS: I think that's why they were all so screwed up. They were pampered all their lives, waited on hand and foot, with nothing to do except go to the theater and the opera and so on. Now all of a sudden they're vampires, and they have to work for a living.

RICHARDS: Well, let's get down to specifics. What did you think of the character of Count Dracula?

ROMAN: That count was a complete lunatic.

JANOS: Yeah, what the hell was up with him? At the start of the movie, he had everything a vampire could ever want. He had that castle, all that great country to hunt around in, he had the local folk completely cowed, and what does the fool do? He emigrates! The whole movie was about how he threw away everything he had. I guess it was supposed to be a tragedy. It was a damn shame, that's for sure.

BARTHOLOMEW: It was the woman that did it to him. A vampire has no business falling in love with a woman. What did he intend to do with her, marry her? What on earth for? The fellow who wrote that movie had no idea what it's like to be a vampire.

JANOS: You know, that's it, exactly. All of these movie vampires acted like being a vampire is some kind of picnic.

RICHARDS: You don't like being a vampire?

JANOS: What kind of a stupid question is that? Of course I don't like it. Who would?

RICHARDS: But ... does that mean you long to be released from your undead existence? You don't want immortality?

BARTHOLOMEW: I don't understand all this business about "immortality". I don't expect to live like this forever, and I never heard of a vampire who did.

ROMAN: Of course not. Sooner or later, they're going to get you. Every vampire knows that, just like every man knows he's going to die some day. That's just the way it is. These vampires who rave about immortal life are crazy.

RICHARDS: But if being a vampire is so awful, do you want to be destroyed?

JANOS: Look, being a peasant is not much fun either. That's doesn't mean peasants want somebody to come along and slit their throats. You just have to accept your lot. That's the problem with movie vampires, they can't accept what they are.

RICHARDS: Um ... I hope this isn't a tactless question, but what exactly does destroy you?

ROMAN: Well, if they pound a stake through you, or cut your head off, you're pretty much out of business. Or if they set you on fire.

BARTHOLOMEW: That vampire called Louis, he claimed he wasn't afraid to have a stake pounded through him ...

ROMAN: That was a damn lie.

RICHARDS: You're talking about the vampire protagonist in Interview with the Vampire?

JANOS: That Louis was a bigger lunatic than Dracula was.

ROMAN: The only thing I liked about that vampire was the fact that he wasn't too stuck up to eat rats.

BARTHOLOMEW: I'm afraid I can't find anything good to say about him. Really, he was too much. Constantly starting fires. Did you notice that? What kind of a vampire goes around starting fires? I guess he's wasn't afraid of burning himself up, either.

RICHARDS: So, beheading, burning, pounding in stakes ... what about sunlight?

ROMAN: I've never heard of a vampire dying from sunlight.

BARTHOLOMEW: Totally unscientific. Speaking as a vampire of some small education, I assure you it's quite impossible. After all, if sunlight could destroy you, the light of the stars would do the same, although it might take a little longer. Sunlight, starlight, it's all the same stuff, you know. Of course, that doesn't mean you go walking about in the daytime, like that absurd Dracula did.

JANOS: The fool. What in the world did he think he was doing? Everybody knows you can't hunt in the daytime, when people are awake and sober.

ROMAN: No vampire would last very long doing that. What if somebody recognized you? That's a good way to get yourself dug up in a hurry.

RICHARDS: What about crucifixes? Do they repel you?

BARTHOLOMEW: I happen to have one on my grave. I could hardly get in and out of it if I were repelled.

RICHARDS: So if someone brandished one at you, you wouldn't run away?

BARTHOLOMEW: Of course I'd run away. I'd run away if it was a porridge spoon. I don't fool around with chaps who are brandishing things at me. I would sensibly go away and come back when they're asleep.

RICHARDS: Let's get back to the films. Why do you think film-makers and movie-goers are fascinated by the idea of vampires?

JANOS: People are always stuck on the idea that somebody, somewhere, is having a better time of it than they are. You know, better clothes, more women, nicer furniture ... a big fancy coffin ...

BARTHOLOMEW: And they like to see such people hunted down and impaled on wooden stakes.

JANOS: Even though vampires are actually more wretched and miserable than they are.

BARTHOLOMEW: Yes, but one couldn't put that in a movie, could one? I mean, it would rather ruin it all, wouldn't it? All the jolly great larking about, with chaps getting stabbed and burnt up and sliced in half with garden tools ....

JANOS: Oh, yes! Let's go get the vampires! Hunt them down, dig them up, chop them to pieces! Does the blasted peasantry have nothing better to do these days? When I was alive, I worked for a living. I didn’t have time to be running around in the middle of the night with a pitchfork, slopping drunk …

BARTHOLOMEW: But you have to see why ordinary chaps would like such films. Vampires are like aristocrats that you can kill without getting hanged for it. Dreadful good fun, you know. Perhaps it's a sort of catharsis. Gets it out of their system. They see it in a movie, and it gratifies that urge without anyone really getting hurt ....

JANOS: I disagree. I think these movies give out bad ideas.


JANOS: I think violent movies promote violence against vampires, plain and simple. Puts the idea into people's heads. I can see them going to these movies and getting all riled up ... before you know it they're blundering through the woods with torches and shovels, reeking of beer and applejack and howling like banshees. You can bet that's going to be trouble for somebody.

ROMAN: Which is exactly why they make these films. They exist for the same reason that everything else does ---- because they serve the interests of the ruling class.

RICHARDS: How do they do that?

ROMAN: They re-direct revolutionary urges away from the ruling interests, so that the masses lash out at vampires instead of the feudal masters who oppress them ...

BARTHOLOMEW: You're a bloody Bolshevik!

ROMAN: Why don't you wake up and smell the garlic, school teacher? You're a tool of reaction if you don't realize how vampires are being exploited by capitalism.

BARTHOLOMEW: Now I've bloody heard it all.

ROMAN: The people who make these movies are protecting their imperialist masters by confusing the revolutionary consciousness of the workers. By encouraging the masses to lynch vampires, they hope to prevent the formation of legitimate class struggle. We're their scapegoats. That's why they depict us in these films as being rich, with lots of nice stuff just waiting to be looted.

JANOS: Yes! Get the vampires! The vampires run everything, the vampires own all the banks! Let's get stinking drunk and dig up the graveyard right now!

ROMAN: I found that movie Blade to be a particularly reactionary piece of work. It was all the more offensive for having a so-called "hero" who was a self-hating vampire.

JANOS: And chopping vampires up with swords, pushing them into trains, ripping people's faces off ... don't tell that this trash isn't warping impressionable minds. I mean, they show you how to do it.

RICHARDS: But I wonder if you're seeing the whole picture here. Haven't you noticed how many of these films romanticize vampires, rather than vilifying them? Isn't the vampire a sort of dark but desirable fantasy figure, an outlaw who does as he pleases, eternally young and with all kinds of amazing powers? Isn't the viewer being invited not to hate or fear the vampire, but to identify with him? Desire to be like him?

BARTHOLOMEW: But ... that's just bally silly.

ROMAN: The proletariat will never be taken in by such counter-revolutionary propaganda.

RICHARDS: You don't think so? Were you aware that there are clubs and groups all over the world where people dress up like vampires, steep themselves in vampire literature and vampire films, and even drink blood?

BARTHOLOMEW: You're talking about chaps who are still alive? Drinking blood on purpose?

JANOS: They're drinking blood, when they could be having real wine, or caviar and some nice roast mutton?


JANOS: That's really sick.

ROMAN: Reactionary swine! Traitors to their class, that's what they are!

BARTHOLOMEW: Now that really is disturbing, old boy. Bloody revolting.

JANOS: You humans ... you people really give me the creeps.