I rewatched Interview with the Vampire last night and it just doesn’t seem dark enough. Maybe that’s a reflection of how my emotional self has darkened after Covid, rapacious politics, and so much social turmoil. But it seems to me that the story, the myth, of the vampire is dangerous because it is Dionysian and feral. It has to be dark. It has to flirt with real evil and suffering.
Interview is too tame, too inhibited. It tries to show evil but it stops at longing for redemption. There has to be heartbroken bitterness (Lestat pretends to be bitter, but he’s just bored and infatuated). And that bitterness has to become so intense that it doubles over into malice. Then we have something. That would be a vampire story fit for 2021.
Anne Rice (who became a super-Christian) thought of the vampire more the way Mary Shelley thought of Frankenstein’s monster: a messianic anti-hero. That’s great. But Rice didn’t come up with the vampire mythos. And when you make a vampire movie, it goes beyond your particular ideas into the greater mythic paradigm that contains all vampire symbolism and stories, especially those of the vampire as a 19th century expression of human suffering and desire, a twisted reaction to the oppressive side of industrial capitalism.
Romance, blood, eternal life, its price, and its consequences only come with the darkening of the world—a rejection of daylight, machines, industry, and Protestant ideas of clean living. The vampire seems like an embodiment of Victorian longing for nature, for Pan, for the Wordsworthian overflow of feelings denied by the western progress narrative and cynical social Darwinism. And so you only get the vampire if you’re willing to accept a certain amount of darkness and violence. It’s why you traditionally have to invite the vampire over your threshold. It has to be your choice to let the darkness in. Of course, you might turn into a rotting corpse or a raving madman like Dracula’s R. M. Renfield. But nothing comes for free in this mythology.
I guess most of us are over messiahs and redemption narratives these days. I think I definitely am. I don’t care about being brought back into the great huddled mass with its dead gods. Maybe I’m looking for a different sort of vampire tale, not one born in the lingering optimism of Anne Rice’s 1990s pre-Christian return. Suffering. Darkness. The Eleusinian Mysteries come around again in a story drenched in blood and derangement. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. That’s where it is for me these days. The vampire archetype still matters, but it goes a lot deeper and gets a lot more disturbing than sexy-but-guilty anti-heroes in velvet, tormented by their otherness, seeking some kind of reintegration into banal conformist culture.