Although many cultures offer folkloric, bloodsucking demons, the specific history of the European vampire is oddly hard to trace. Here’s a decent stab at a history. And, no surprise, Ambrogio Lorenzetti — the original vampire, not the painter — was plenty frightening.
Then matters stagnate until we get to the great honkin’ pulpwad, Varney the Vampire or The Feast of Blood, a penny dreadful first published in 1847. This starts with a gangbuster first chapter, as eerie and thick with the creeps (if you grant it the melodramatic prose) as anything in vampire fiction. You can read that first chapter here. Unfortunately, Varney immediately decays into a paid-by-the-word mess that goes on forever and I bet no one but specialists has finished it in ages. Anyway, Varney’s not an appealing figure, either:
The next phase, Dracula, should have started out at least as erk-icky as Vlad the Impailer:
Ol’ Bela Lugosi looks even more iconic these days as the original noble-aristocrat-when-he-needs-to-be Dracula (strangely, Bram Stoker’s novel, like Varney, starts strong but piddles away into tedium all too quickly — maybe both narratives need a blood transfusion). And he set the stage for Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire in 1976. I thought the book was plainly misperceived by most reviews and foolishly dismissed. Interview with the Vampire was gonna be a big deal. I expected Anne Rice to have a brilliant career as a horror innovator. But Noooooooooo. The whole Count Courtly Vampire thing became a tedious franchise that kept me from ever trying to explain the context that made the original novel so exciting to me. The one marvelous spin-off from the whole phenomenon was The Lost Boys.
So, enough True Blood cuties already. That’s why I was gratified that Guillermo del Toro went back to the monstrous vampires for The Strain (have never read the comic, btw). And looking at the debut episode, I thought reviews got it right — plenty hokey, but by somebody with a deep flair for hokey who even adds some sizzle to cliches left and right. And who always makes you clench your teeth and wrinkle your forehead a few times when he show-and-tells a story. Game of Thrones and Orphan Black departure does not now mean the end of Sunday nite TV.
UPDATE: Except the second season of The Strain really started to, er, crawl along. How many times can you advance the plot because somebody is a lousy shot? Hanging by a thread of blood. Could join Orphan Black in the “maybe I’ll get around to it sometime” category.
UPDATE UPDATE: I agree with the consensus that the 3rd season seems more alive with action and undate-suspense than before. OboyOboyoboy!!