At the Guardian, Stuart Heritage complains that vampires, werewolves and zombies just plain aren’t scary anymore and blames Twilight.
The list of complaints are things we’ve all heard a thousand times before. Vampires and werewolves are no longer scary these days because they’re no longer monsters and besides, there’s way too many of them. In short, creatures and tropes that used to be the province of the red-headed stepchild genre horror have been appropriated by the mainstream and hardcore old time fans don’t like what the mainstream has done to their genre.
And who is to blame for this sad state of affairs? Well, of course it’s women. As a matter of fact, the whole Stuart Heritage article – like many of its kind – is dripping with more or less subconscious misogyny. Take this choice quote, for example:
Take True Blood, for example. Although I’ve never really been a fan, I’ve nevertheless tried to watch it whenever I could because other people insist that it’s worthwhile. Admittedly, most of those people have been women who dress their cats up as butlers and have Tumblr sites called things like Elysian Moonquaver, and only watch True Blood because there are topless men in it and it’s marginally less embarrassing than admitting to liking Twilight, but that’s by the by. I stuck with it.
So the only people who like True Blood are women who dress their cats up as butlers (WTF?), have strangely named Tumblr blogs and who are just watching for the shirtless dudes anyway. Never mind that there isn’t a whole lot of shirtlessness in True Blood until Alcide, the werewolf, shows up in season 3. Unless you count Jason Stackhouse, and Jason’s exploits, with or without a shirt, are more of a turn-off than anything.
I wish that the misogyny inherent in those “vampires really suck these days, cause they just aren’t scary anymore” articles would surprise me, but frankly it no longer does. But what does surprise me is the insistence that vampires should be scary and portrayed like proper horror vampires.
First of all, the scary horror vampire still exists. There still are pure “evil vampire” stories such as 30 Days of Night (which IMO treats vampires a lot worse than Twilight, because the vampires in 30 Days of Night are basically zombies that don’t like daylight). What is more, the scary vampire exists alongside the romantic vampire, often the in same story. Every paranormal romance series out there has a struggle between good and bad vampires as a background conflict and sometimes a bad vampire even gets promoted to romance hero as in Kresley Cole’s most recent novel Lothaire. Vampires in Buffy were monsters and both Angel and Spike spent part of the show as villains. In Twilight, pretty much every vampire not named Cullen is a villain. The vampires in Being Human were largely evil, even good guy vampire Mitchell was quite scary at times, until the writers tried to turn him into an outright villain in series 3 by having him eat a whole commuter train including a bloody annoying ex-Eastenders actress, all of which pretty much killed the show for me, so that I’m not even bothering with series 4. As for True Blood, even the good vampires in the Sookie Stackhouse novels and True Blood aren’t all that nice to begin with, both Bill and Eric are pretty damn unpleasant at times. Though humans are not necessarily better.
The defanged, sparkling vampire who does nothing but pine after a pretty girl does not exist outside the imagination of Twilight haters. Angel, Spike, Bill Compton, Eric Northman, John Mitchell, Lothaire, Lestat, even Edward Cullen are all inherently dangerous predators, even if they have chosen not to give in to their darker impulses.
The trend to portray vampires more as troubled humans and less as outright monsters goes back further than Twilight or even Buffy and Anne Rice. In fact, it can be traced back to the 1960s and the paranormal soap opera Dark Shadows. And it goes hand in hand with the gradual humanisation of other former monsters such as werewolves.
I have the theory – to be explained at length in my PhD thesis – that the portrayal of “monsters” such as vampire and werewolves became more human as the othering of marginalized people in the real world became less and less acceptable. This also fits in with my findings that the 1960s were the turning point where the portrayal of former monsters began to change. And of course supernatural beings make excellent metaphors for the marginalized group of the author’s choice.
Viewed in this light, I find complaints that vampires and werewolves just aren’t scary anymore like they used to be and that the only acceptable portrayal of a vampire/werewolf/demon is that of an outright monster deeply troubling. Because if the gradual shift in the portrayal of vampires, werewolves, demons, fallen angels, zombies, etc… from monster to troubled human and potential romantic partner since the 1960s is a reflection of how othering of various minority groups has become increasingly inacceptable in the real world, then what does it say that some people want to return to the pre-1960s status-quo of vampire/werewolf/whatever as monstrous and evil?
Mind you, I’m not saying that those who prefer their vampires scary and monstrous are automatically bad people or prejudiced in real life. Most likely they aren’t. Nor is there anything wrong with the occasional traditionally monstrous vampire or werewolf – it’s a big genre after all. However, horror is an inherently conservative genre with conservative values (the other is evil, sex is bad). And I wonder whether the insistence on the standards of the horror genre in the portrayal of various supernatural creatures does not signify a larger cultural discomfort with a more multicultural world.