Otherwise Known As: Nosferatu, Vrykolakas, Strigoi
Notable Examples: Lady Carmilla, Count Dracula, Count Orlok
Real World Inspirations: Vlad III the Impaler, Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed
Commonly Featured In: Everything & Anything
I’m going to be honest here. I could spend whole reams of pages discussing everything there is to know about vampires and I would only be touching upon the tip of the iceberg. Frankly, there is so much lore, legend, and popularized fiction regarding vampires that Wikipedia has a page devoted to listing the differing appearances, weaknesses, powers, reproduction/feeding, and setting characteristics of every known vampire anything from ancient myths to modern retellings.
By page I mean 98 pages when copied and pasted into a Microsoft Word document.
So yes, this review will be a slight bit different as I will try to focus mostly on the popularized powers, weaknesses, and notable examples of vampires as known here in the Western side of the world. Believe me, there’s quite a few that are interesting examples from the Eastern half but they’re simply not as well known. That being said, let’s get this thing started.
The dictionary definition of a vampire states “a dead person believed to rise each night from the grave and suck the blood from the living for sustenance.” A rather bland definition to be sure but it does its job in stating the obvious. A vampire is a member of the undead variety of monsters though their state of being deceased is… questionable…
A vampire is atypically known from being born via the bite of another vampire but that’s merely a common trope of how a vampire is made and one that often attributes vampires as having a kind of infectious venom in their fangs. In old myths, a simple bite wasn’t enough and two of the more popularized variations of becoming a vampire involved the victim being drained entirely of blood and/or being fed the blood of the vampire who drained them. Heck, there’s quite a number of media that have it that a vampire can be made via a blood transfusion as well.
It is also a somewhat common trope that victims of a vampire who do not become vampires themselves will arise as undead servants of the vampire. These creatures, often named as ghouls or revenants, are every bit the stereotypical undead whose thirst for blood is equal to that of their maker but they are, thankfully, not known for spreading their state of undead to their victims.
The state of the newly arisen vampire’s body is one that has been debated and argued for years and will likely continue on for centuries to come. I say state insomuch that while it isn’t always argued as to whether a vampire of any age is in fact possessing a living body albeit one that ages at an incredibly slow rate, it is debated whether or not vampires can reproduce in a more… mundane… fashion.
These halfbreeds, often named as dhampirs, are an entirely different kettle of fish however so I’ll leave that for another review though I will say that such children often grow up to become demon/vampire hunters more often than not.
Whether or not the vampire’s body is alive or a mobile corpse, there are many means of identifying whether or not a person is a vampire. One of the most recognized methods is via a mirror because a vampire has no reflection. This comes from the old belief that a mirror reflects not just your physical self but also your soul and when you shatter a mirror you break your own soul in the process, which in itself takes seven years to heal, hence the years of bad luck.
Next there is the aversion to sunlight and bright light in general. Ignoring the atrocity of a certain book series, vampires are said to die when exposed to sunlight though how quickly is often a matter of course. Some burn like fresh kindling while others take an extreme length of time. This could be attributed to a vampire’s age and level of power but again it’s mostly a manner of who is telling the story.
The idea of vampires burning in the light of the sun often stems from the fact that the sun, and light in general, is attributed as being holy symbols of life and like most religious icons and items, can kill a vampire when little else in this world can.
To escape the light of day, and as a means of rest for short or extreme periods of time, a vampire is commonly known for residing in their coffins. Again there is a massive debate over the reasons for this but the one that I find to be the most plausible is that it is a place that a vampire would feel safest. There is a longstanding mindset in humanity of “do not disturb the dead” so the chances of someone purposefully open a casket in crypts and other such places are next to nilch.
Though not commonly featured as a weakness, vampires are also said to be averse to such things as silver, garlic, and running water. In the case of silver, it is considered a pure metal that originates from an ancient belief that silver shares its shine with that of the moon and thus can ward off spirits of evil like vampires and werewolves.
Garlic, while sounding extremely silly and oftentimes being stated as a means of deterring vampires due to its smell, has had roots in protection and white magic in Europe for centuries. Garlic has had a longstanding reputation of being a potent preventative medicine and thus limiting the “infection” of vampires.
As to the running water bit, that’s a weakness that is attributed to more than just vampires but it is one that stems from the belief that running water cleanses the body and the soul. The strength of this weakness varies by the telling but it is a common theme that vampires cannot cross running water or they’ll be extremely weakened as a result.
One other inherent weakness of a vampire —popularized by the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer but dating back to Ancient Greece in its origin— is what is known as the threshold protection. Basically, a vampire cannot enter a place of residence unless invited and can then enter the abode whenever they please. There’s a bit of a debate as to the strength and dependability of this protection as it is argued whether a place such as a motel room could count never mind whether one calling their place of residence “home” affects the strength of the protection.
The last weakness that I’ll speak of is one that I found to be rather humorous in its possible implications when combatting a vampire. This weakness is one that is more commonly found in Europe and parts of Asia though there is a very extremely popular example found here in the U.S.
This weakness is known by the scientific name of arithmomania and is a form of mental disorder that is seen as an extreme case of OCD wherein the sufferer has the strong need to count their actions or items in their proximity. Items such as rice or seeds have been used in myth to stop a vampire dead in their tracks as they succumb to the compulsion to count the grains. Don’t believe me? Where do you think the inspiration for the Sesame Street character Count von Count originated from?
As to killing a vampire, there is the effective method of setting them on fire, see the afore-mentioned sunlight and kindling comment, but the one most recognized the world over is a stake to the heart. It was joked in the film Hotel Transylvania that it is not a question of whether or not it could kill a vampire but who wouldn’t it kill. Would you be surprised to note that it wasn’t until popular stories like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or television series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer that made it a one-hit-kill?
In ancient myths, a stake alone wasn’t enough to ensure that a vampire stayed dead. Oh yes, it would kill them but should someone come along and remove the stake, the vampire would be revived almost instantly and with a fresh victim within arm’s reach too. Following the act of staking a vampire, one was to also cut the vampire’s head off and either bury the head far away from the body or burn it and the body separately and toss the ashes into a river.
Frankly, I’m rather surprised at how many modern interpretations of the vampire have it that a vampire instantly turns to ash upon being staked. Of course it can be argued that the older the vampire the quicker it is likely to go poof but there was a film, Daybreakers, that had them spontaneous combust with a force equal to a freaking cherry bomb.
Moving on to a vampire’s strength and powers… Oh boy, where do I start? There’s the daily package of enhanced physical traits such as strength, senses, and speed. Unnatural healing that varies in strength and whether it stems from the consumption of blood or a vampire’s age. Flight via their own power or by turning into a bat or a whole cloud of bats and on the note of shapeshifting, turning into such things as bats, wolves, clouds of mist, hellish monstrosities of the aforementioned creatures, etc.
Psychic powers ranging from such things as telekinesis to pyrokinesis to communication with creatures of the night and the ever popular hypnotic abilities ranging from full out hypnosis to mild compulsions. There’s whole scores of other abilities as well but as I said earlier, if you want to read 98 pages worth of vampire abilities, go right on to the Wikipedia page.
As to the notable examples of vampires in popular culture… Well seeing as everyone knows of Dracula let me instead speak of the inspiration of the character and I don’t mean the prince of Walachia Vlad III the Impaler.
Carmilla, the titular character of the story written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was introduced to the world twenty-six years ahead of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Carmilla herself is a female vampire and one that is the original prototype of female and lesbian vampires as Carmilla fed exclusively on women. She was known to have an unearthly beauty and was able to pass through solid walls. Contrary to Count Dracula, Carmilla’s animal form was that of a monstrous black cat though she too slept in a coffin just as he did.
There are quite a few parallels in both books yet what I find particularly interesting is the parallel to the origin of the titular characters. While not spoken of in serious context, it is a matter of fact that there were quite a few real world people who helped further spread the vampire myth. One such example was Vlad Tepes III the Impaler, prince of Walachia, and Dracula or “Son of the Dragon” by its proper translation. Aside from inspiring the name of the infamous Count, Vlad was famous for his title of Impaler and was hailed as a hero only to his native people but as a monster to all those outside of it because of how he treated anyone he considered an enemy to himself and his people.
Another notable example is the countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed whom, and I kid you not, holds the Guiness World Record for being the most prolific female serial killer to date. Though no exact number has been made and has been a subject for debate ever since, at her trial she was cited of being responsible for the deaths of 650 women between 1585 and 1610 but was convicted of only killing 80. Her victims were brutally tortured to such a degree that I have found most sources as being unwilling to go into any details which is frightening enough when one takes into account that no one knows the reasoning behind Elizabeth Báthory’s killing spree. It wasn’t until after her death that rumors of her drinking the blood of her virginal victims and even bathing in it to keep her youth and beauty began to circulate.
Vampires will forever be a staple of Halloween and horror in general. However, I feel that the manner of what a vampire is one that will never be given a clear-cut definition. Frankly, in the years since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, vampires have changed from being monstrous creatures of the night to being romantic love interests. The constant back and forth of vampires being inhuman creatures to people trying to find redemption for their own inherent evils is… annoying. I adhere to the creed of “to each their own,” especially when it comes to things we do or do not like but can we keep to one theme and stick to it please? Preferably the one that doesn’t involve vampires sparkling like bloodied disco balls?