It is no surprise that vampires have taken hold in our collective psyche and featured in so many books, films and television shows. They represent something that we all want – eternal life and eternal youth – but this gift comes with a heavy cost. Vampires are pushed out of time and out of the world of men, so much so that they cannot walk in the sun. Their immortal gift can only be maintained by taking the lives of others, something they can do as they lose their humanity; or it is an act that robs them of their humanity.
Vampires have played a huge role in culture since the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. While Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a creature of terror, many modern takes on the vampire have romanticized them, as tragic heroes, and objects of lust. But which vampires best embody the terrifying, and tragic, creatures of the original myths?
Note: No vampires that can walk in the sun or do not need to drink human blood to live have been included in this list. That’s just cheating.
10 – Bill Compton played by Stephen Moyer in True Blood (2008-2014)
Bill Compton was a southern gentleman and soldier, turned into a vampire in 1867. In the early seasons of the series Bill appears to be one of the few vampires that has held onto his humanity and sees humans as something more than food. He has a sympathetic back story that evokes more sympathy than fear. However, as seasons pass and secrets are revealed, the apparent motives for all his actions are called into question. We are left to wonder if he is in fact more sadistic than the other vampires represented in the show, and simply playing the long game – which perhaps is not so long if you are immortal. He shows the dangers of being charmed by the face that a vampire lets you see.
9 – The Master played by Mark Metcalfe in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2002)
With the exception of Angel, in the early seasons of Buffy we are not invited to sympathize with vampires. While they carry many of the traits of the people that they were in life, they have been stripped of their souls and are presented as pure evil. There is rarely a moral question over whether they should be killed. More than any other vampire in the Buffy universe, the Master represented this evil. He has lived so long without his soul, and so long in the darkness outside the human world, that he can no longer draw people in with his human face. His is the face of the demon.
8 – Spike played by James Masters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
While Spike may have come to a less than glorious end as the comic relief in Angel (1999-2004), he represents the tragedy of vampirism. While becoming a vampire seemed to offer him an alternative to the 18th century London society into which he could not fit, and he appeared to thrive as a vampire, it quickly becomes clear that, even without a soul, Spike craves the connections of humanity that he lost. He is a pitiable figure when he receives the chip in his head that blocks his vampire nature, but even more pitiable when he tries to find a place for himself in the human world.
7 – Eli from Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Eli looks like a 12 year old girl, but she is no innocent. She kills mercilessly in order to be able to feed and survive. Without blood, Eli smells like the dead thing that she is, and her body starts to decay. She is no romantic youth. Nevertheless, her deep loneliness evokes pity. She seeks a companion to end her solitude, but that will only inflict her curse on another.
6 – Claudia played by Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire (1994)
The scene in the film when Claudia realizes that, despite her maturing mind, she will forever remain a child, is one of the most tragic. While an extreme example, it also warns of the dangers of wishing for something, such as eternal life, only to realize it is a curse once you have received it.
5 – Don Simon Ysidro from Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly
It is Ysidro’s charm that makes him terrifying. Despite his centuries long killing spree, he can draw people into his web with his intelligence and charm. Ysidro tries to control his nature, and on many occasions he proves himself a loyal friend and a man of honor who holds himself to a high standard. But he is not a man, and when his animal instincts take over, all loyalties are lost and he turns into an unapologetic predator.
4 – Blade played by Wesley Snipes in Blade (1998), Blade II (2002) and Blade Trinity (2004)
Technically Blade is only half vampire, which is why he has made it onto the list despite being a day walker. He first appeared in issue 10 of Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula comic in 1973, and featured in a variety of other issues, but was largely reinvented for the big screen. Blade is made when his pregnant mother is attacked and killed by a vampire. This fills him with hatred for vampires, and therefore also hatred for a big part of his own nature. Unlike true vampires, Blade is able to recognize that his existence is a curse.
3 – Lestat from Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
While Lestat may seems slightly comical at times due to his vanity and self absorption, he is a terrifying creature. Not satisfied with living for the rest of time alone, he is constantly recruiting victims to form a pseudo-family to keep him company through his immortality. His tendency to always put himself first makes him unpredictable and dangerous, and embodies the selfishness of vampirism. The decision to take lives of others in order to maintain their own immortality is the ultimate act of egotism.
2 – Graf Orlok played by Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922)
Max Schreck’s performance in the first ever vampire movie is so extraordinary that many contemporaries came to believe that he actually was a vampire. This eventually led to the movie Shadow of the Vampire (2000) which suggests that the movie’s director hired a real vampire to play the part. Schreck embodies the sinister nature of vampires with his body movements alone. While there are many terrifying images throughout the movie, perhaps the most iconic is the final scene when Orlok ascends some stairs, appearing only as a shadow, to find the object of his obsession. There are no loving looks, he is not her nighttime protector. He grasps her heart in his claw-like hand and squeezes as she writhes in agony.
1 – Dracula from Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula appears in so many books, shows and films, sometimes as a terrifying visage, and sometimes as comic and pitiable. But Bram Stoker’s Dracula codified who, and what a vampire was, for better or worse. Many of the things that we think we know about vampires does not come from the original folklore, but rather entered the popular psyche thanks to Bram Stoker. Unlike modern ‘vampire novels’ where we are fed the perspectives of the vampires themselves or the, mostly women, that love them, Dracula is not represented as a sympathetic character. He is seen through the eyes of his adversaries, and he is viewed with fear.