Preview of an interview with Armstrong Krause to be incorporated into a story on the popularity of vampires in genre writing by Jason Reed for WQ Magazine, a monthly publication of the Queensland Writers Centre. To be published in a special ‘Genre’ issue for April 2010.
How do you feel about the current popularity of vampire films?
As horror writers, it’s great to see any horror subgenre bringing audiences to cinemas or in front of the television. Unfortunately, it’s a certain selection of types vampire film that tends to get made – either the comic-book/action type (Underworld, Blade) or the romantic/sexy vampire film (Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Diaries et al and ad nauseum). Post-Ann Rice, vampires have become quite effeminate, wimpy, wussy and about as scary as a rainbow-coloured sack of Care Bears. They look like they spend more time in a gym or a hairdressers than a coffin or crypt. There are always exceptions to this of course where filmmakers attempt to restore vampires to their former glory as scary-as-hell demonic corpses who exist purely to drink blood (30 Days of Night, Daybreakers). Or, if they have something to say about a vampire’s relationship to a human, they show how actually tragic, deranged and terrible it actually is (Let The Right One In).
Does this popularity help the genre in any way?
Only in the short term. In the long term, it just encourages a lot of hacks to read the Twilight books, watch Interview with a Vampire and Underworld and catch a couple of eps of True Blood and knock out 120 pages of good looking guys and girls mincing about in trenchcoats and spouting over-the-top melodramatic dialogue and engaging in swordfights and gunfights when they’re not looking sexy or moaning about being lonely. Then a lot of carbon-copy vampire films that have nothing new to say or add to the genre flood the market and people stop going to them and then the industry declares that the subgenre is dead until the next breakout vampire film inevitably comes along when everybody least suspects it and the cycle repeats.
What do you think it is that attracts people to this genre?
Despite any cynicism about the romantic vampire subset, there is undeniably a sexiness to the vampire as a creature. All that penetration and biting and sucking and draining of fluids. It’s a taboo sexuality to boot – a vampire is traditionally, in essence, a corpse possessed by a demon so there’s not only necrophilia involved but a form of congress between a human being and a demon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s no mystery as to why Stephanie Meyer’s Edward Cullen is attractive to her largely female readership – he’s a man who’ll forgo sex to stay up all night just holding you and talking about feelings AND he’s made of diamonds. For us, and for likeminded true traditional vampire fans like us, we’re attracted to the scariness of the genre. As mentioned, the traditional European and Asian vampire is a corpse that has been reanimated by a demon or spirit, lives in a grave or crypt and crawls out of its grave to drink the blood of the living. They’re parasites, vermin, abominations, monsters. We grew up watching Hammer’s version of Dracula plus Nosferatu and Salem’s Lot. There’s still some sexiness to those films but we don’t think anyone would prefer to sleep with any of those vampires rather than run away with their throats intact.
As a writer, is it rewarding when something is popular like this?
It’s rewarding if you’ve got a project in the pipeline before the subgenre hits critical mass in the market. If you’ve got an idea now, you’ve probably missed the boat. Unless of course you’ve got something fresh to say about or add to the genre. If you’ve got a wild, subversive or innovative take on vampires, then it could be the antidote everyone’s looking for. Which is why films like 30 Days of Night, Let The Right One In and Daybreakers still found an audience – they brought a different tone or portrayal of vampires to the playing field.
Do you feel like there is more opportunity when this kind of thing is prevalent or is it more of a hindrance? For example, if you hadn’t written a vampire piece already, would their popularity entice you to do so?
There’s already a murmur of “too many vampire films” coming from the film markets and several producers have said the same. Having said that, a great script is a great script and if there’s enough in it to get someone excited, it’s worth writing. There’s a vampire novella we’d love to adapt – one of our dream projects – and whether vampires are popular or not at the time is irrelevant because we’re attracted to what’s different about it as a vampire story and we’re hoping producers will be as well.
Or more broadly, when the latest ‘hot topic’ floods the market do you stick with your own topic… whether or not that fits in?
It’s utterly irrelevant to us. We write in a broad range of subgenres anyway – creature features, supernatural horror, sci-fi/horror and so on – it’s always the idea that matters to us, not whether it’s flavour of the month or not. In fact, we’d be more likely to steer clear of whatever’s floating most people’s boat horror-wise.
What happens to writers who jump on the vampiric bandwagon?
They get bumped right off. They become part of the problem of flooding the market to make a quick buck. If they were truly a vampire fan with a decent story to tell, they would’ve already told that story prior to there being a mass market demand for it. More often than not, Johnny and Jane Come Latelies usually produce really derivative lowest-common-denominator stuff and they’re not writing from a pure, honest place. Good committed genre writers write because they have a thorough, lifelong knowledge of and fondness of the genre – they know the tropes and formulas and mythos inside and out and so know when to zig where others have zagged and aim to do something different. Bandwagoners usually get exposed and rejected as the insincere, desperate, money-grubbing hacks they are.
How long do you think this popularity will last?
Most people are already tiring of the word “vampire.” As an aside, and as an example of a property where they did something novel, check out the 90s British TV mini-series Ultraviolet – they managed to go a whole series without using the word “vampire” once. It actually sounds trashy when characters say it on screen and they avoided the problem all together. The current flood of vampire films has probably reached critical mass. Having said that, once it dies off and goes into a trough, that’s when someone somewhere will create that fresh new take on the subgenre and take us all by surprise.
Will vampires always be around in writing/film/culture?
More than likely. Vampiric ghosts or creatures have been around in written form since the Gilgamesh epic and existed in verbal legends and stories since the times of Ancient Greeks and Egyptians through the middle ages and have been ever-present since Stoker sent it all into overdrive. Every culture in the world has a form of vampire in its folklore. It’s an almost universal subgenre that’s existed for millennia so there’s not reason it’ll go away any time soon.
Do you feel like vampires have more of a life on film or television or perhaps in books?
They’ve got a life in whatever medium can portray whatever aspect of vampires is attracting a certain market or type of viewer. Movies and television have the added elements of music, sound effects, lighting and special effects to create scares or sensuality but then again, a reader can get pretty terrified by the vampire in the printed form whether it be novels (see Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot or F Paul Wilson’s Midnight Mass) or comics (Steve Niles’ and Ben Templesmiths’ 30 Days of Night). In fact, vampires can be both scary and sexy and erotic in comics as literally illustrated by Marvel’s wildly successful Tomb of Dracula series from the 1970s.