The allure of vampires is as immortal as the undead creatures themselves. But while vampires have always been supernatural icons of sexiness, what that sexiness manifests as, and how it reflects the aspects of human desire commonly left out of mainstream media, has evolved.
We're spending a week diving deep into the stories behind your favorite vampires. Who says we only get to celebrate vampires at Halloween?
In the Victorian era, vampires like Dracula and Carmilla represented the forbidden. Their monstrosities — from lizard-like wall crawling to long, needle-like teeth — were prominent, but at the same time, there was still something about them that the books’ protagonists found physically compelling. A hundred-some years later, during the midst of the Twilight craze, young adult authors sanded off vampires’ more undesirable traits to make them the ultimate object of adoration for teen girls. Sparkly and occasionally played by Robert Pattinson, these vampires represented a type of desire usually left out of mainstream media: namely, the young female gaze.
Now, just a few years after Edward Cullen, the Salvatore brothers, and other YA-friendly creatures of the night mesmerized teenagers, vampires have a totally different appeal. Their darker traits aren’t amplified to be dangerously sexy, nor have they been transformed into something ethereally beautiful.
No, today’s vampires are more “realistic” in how they actually have to deal with real life. To put it bluntly, they are pathetic little shits.
Being a vampire sucks (pun very intended). Forget tortured Byronic figures or beautiful immortal teenagers; life as a regular person who also has a craving for blood, sensitivity to sunlight, garlic allergies, and other vampire-specific complications is rough. As normal people surviving undead life, they’re actually a bit pathetic, which is exactly what makes them so appealing — and sexy? The creators of What We Do in the Shadows get it. Through the mockumentary format, vampiric oddities — both good and bad — are treated like mundane everyday experiences. Need to get somewhere fast? Yell “Bat!” and fly off into the distance. Spending the day at a hotel in Atlantic City? Make sure to bring the dirt of your ancestral homeland, or risk a restless slumber. That’s life.
Nandor, Laszlo, Nadja, and the rest of the What We Do in the Shadows gang are a messy bunch of losers. They struggle to relate to humans and modernity, but that’s just part of their charm. They’re also unabashedly horny; a season 1 episode involves them organizing a vampire orgy, and in the latest season, Nadja helps her possessed doll use her body so she can bang energy vampire Colin Robinson (long story). None of it is cloaked beneath dark capes and bloodsucking metaphors — in fact, being DTF brings them closer to humanity. But true to the legacy of vampire horniness, What We Do in the Shadows is still fundamentally about depicting sexuality as messy, kinda gross, and kinda cringe.
In a media landscape where we’re overwhelmed with beautiful people coupling in an orchestrated corporate manner, where perfectly curated moments adorn social media and hide reality, the modern vampire is the antidote. Even vampires who do seem stereotypically sexy and alluring now have loser moments. Take Astarion, the fan-favorite vampiric elf from Baldur’s Gate 3. He oozes charm, but it’s the moments when he’s not the epitome of idealistic sexual appeal — like when he scolds the player for activating a giant weapon and almost killing him, or when he gets caught trying to drink their blood — that differentiates him from other vampires across media. That less charming and sexy and more obnoxious and pathetic side is the very thing that makes him so appealing and what fans have latched onto.
In this wave of vampiric resetting, fans are looking back and recontextualizing older bloodsuckers, too. Twilight fans have seized control of Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly vampires and imagined them as they truly are: a bunch of weirdos masquerading as teenagers and struggling to keep up with the modern day. Dracula Daily, the newsletter retelling of Dracula, unleashed a whole wave of memes turning the monstrous vampire into an anxious host who wants to appear like just some normal dude.
It’s sexy to see vampires at the height of their powers, be it piercing or sparkling fangs. It’s also sexy to see them being a bit cringe, fumbling at figuring out modern slang, hiding their more monstrous traits, or succumbing to their more silly weaknesses. Adding a more vulnerable and approachable side to crushes has served the traditional romance well for centuries. Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice isn’t a brooding rich hunk; he’s a deeply socially anxious loner who is so smitten with Elizabeth Bennet that he forgets how to speak. To All the Boys’ Peter Kavinsky wasn’t just the hot popular boy; he was also a sweetheart who attentively played the role of boyfriend. Vampire fiction has typically been an antithesis to safer, more standard romance stories. But as the romantic comedy genre continues to be in flux and other genres shy away from the more humanistic side of sexuality and romance, vampires are once again stepping in to remind us of what’s really sexy.
Vampires are more human than ever, and they still represent the parts of humanity that we shrink away from. But in the modern day, that’s not lust for blood or power, or irrepressible carnal desires. It’s the fact that everybody’s a total loser, at least sometimes. That we’re all trying to hide parts of ourselves or fit in where we don’t belong. That we all have desires in some way, shape, or form, be it for blood, food, or sex, and it’s OK if those desires don’t take shape in perfectly choreographed and Instagrammable ways. We’re all cringe. And vampires, as they have done for hundreds of years, help us embrace the sexiness.