Vampire, A Transgressive Figure?
Vampires in literature date back to the 18th century and the way they have been portrayed over time has changed, not just because of the advances in how they are shown, but also in the evolution of the human psyche, the changes in what the audience now find scary, means that the way that vampires are show, has to change to continue to be an effective selling tool in the film industry.
I’m going to talk about if the vampire is necessarily a transgressive figure or has the vampire changed? , I will do this with reference to two films that relate to vampires Queen of the damned (US. 2002) And 30 days of night (US. 2007), both films relate to vampires, but show different views of vampirism, Queen of the Damned (US. 2002) is shown through the eyes of Lestat de Lioncourt, A vampire who becomes a rock star and wakes the first vampire, while 30 days of night (US. 2007), is shown through the eyes of a human fighting a gang of vampires that have attracted his Alaskan town.
The main difference in the two films, comes for the production and scrip, Queen of the damned is adapted from the Ann Rice novel of the same name and although there are quite big differences between the book and film, you can see that the film has been made as a sequel to the other film adapted from one of her books Interview with a vampire (1994) and although there are changes from the book, the film is still made with more of a literary plot, with the writers to work with, unlike in Blade where the writers had to start from scratch, so they reverted to the stereotypes of vampires, that had developed over time, the films both show vampires in different lights, but as to Whether vampires in the films transgressive figures in these films, all depends on the definition of the transgressive figure and if it applies.
A transgressive figure is someone who passes over or beyond any law, civil or moral or the violation of a law or known principle, so in these films do the vampires transgress or are they different from the previous film that only show vampires as simple-minded blood suckers and deviants, the first film Queen of the damned is based around a group of various vampires, that vary in personality, views and portrayal, the main one is Lestat de Lioncourt, who as the protagonist, leads us through the world portrayed in the film, he like most vampires, has to drink blood from the living to survive, though Lestat, is more learned and worldly in his views, he keeps a journal and writes poetry and also in the film he comes out of hibernation, due to hearing music and decides to become a rock star, openly telling people he was a vampire and giving away vampire secrets, this is different from most films where the vampires stay hidden and keep their identify a secret from the human race, but Lestat embraces his vampirism in an attempt to connect with humans and live partly as one of them, but as D. Punter says ‘the vampire is the ultimate embodiment of transgression’ (Punter. D 2004) and K Celder explains ‘Dracula is a character whose polyphony and ability to circulate freely to traverse national boundaries signify nothing less than his irreducible otherness’ (Celder. K. 2004) and the otheress is the reason for the transgression, the vampire is apart from society, the other, who’s is developed as separate from humanity, due the highly sexualized nature of the vampire and the view of the vampire as passing on disease, through the penetration of the skin, ‘The highly charged sexual aura of the vampire, has been the focus of numerous vampire films and contemporary vampire fiction’ (Celder. K. 2004. P66) and with the vampires set up as highly sexual and carriers of disease, humans are to be scared of the vampires and it’s their ability to be transgressive and get away with it that makes the human fear them, they have to be transgressive to be an effective tool of fear, in the Queen of the damned the main protagonist Lestat wants to be human and like Louis and Armand is ‘Queer, Rice flaunts the gayness of her male vampires; they cohabit together as queer parents, with vampire children’ (Celder. K. P109) though at other points they are more bisexual or sexually polymorphous, this also separates him from the viewer, and ‘Lestat in fact refers to himself as ‘the James Bond of vampires’ (Rice, 1989, 10; 1992,6) due to his Recklessness and lack of concern about killing and varying sexuality, he is not like most main stream protagonist, and ‘characters in Dracula with whom we can readily identify, are scarcely indifferent to his charms’ (R. Humphries, 2002. P10).
The vampire I Believe has to be a transgressive figure to fully scare, this is shown in Queen of the damned where Lestat and his band hold a press conference, openly admitting his vampirism, with a reporter asking ‘I may be wrong, but what I remember about vampires is you generally keep your identity secret’ and Lestat replied ‘Yes. But why hide it in this day and I’ve hidden in the shadows for centuries, it’s time to share myself with the world.’ this was seen as a gimmick and not taken seriously, with Lestat as the protagonist the vampire seems to not be as much of a transgressive figure as a vampire that is Antagonist, this seems to be the difference in if the vampire is transgressive in the film or not, in the 2007 film 30 days of night the vampires return to their role as the antagonist, feeding on the humans and the ones who must be feared, unlike the Nosferatu (1922) or Queen of the Damned the vampires are simple killing machines , that destroy the town that the humans reside.
‘Most often then, the vampire is, like Satan, a ruthless stalker of man, attaining the life-blood of the body through the soul, possessing its lover in all senses of the word… The very nature of the undead state, willed or unwilled violates not only the Christian concepts of life and afterlife but the dispassionate, intellectual notions of love as well’ (A Silver and J Ursini 2007. P55) this is true for Lestat but the vampires of 30 days of night don’t, but both are seen as transgressive, the vampires in 30 days of night are because they kill with no remorse and they destroy the capitalist town and eventually turning the protagonist into one, corrupting his body with their disease, causing him to kill himself, rather than live as a vampire, this showed vampirism as a thing to be feared and destroyed, where as with Lestat vampirism is seen as a gift and something that has a beauty, ‘the physical beauty of Louis and Lestat on-screen, even without the embellishment of make-up and costumes, masks the fact that they are monsters’. (A Silver and J Ursini 2007. P218) and that might be another reason why the beautiful vampires of the vampire chronicles are seen as less of a threat than the physically deformed vampires of 30 days of night and thus excepted by the humans and allowed to become celebrities, so even their killing of humans or disregard for life is tolerated, the glamour of the vampire outweighs the murder, this seems to suggest that the beautiful vampires of Queen of the Damned are not transgressive in the eyes of the viewer, they are accepted as the protagonist, but when the vampires are shown as antagonists, so they can’t get away with being transgressive, so really all vampires are transgressive, but some are allowed to be, it becomes part of their character and makes them more accepted by the public because the people in the film and the viewers of the film, they are attracted to the vampire and wish to become one, due to us being ‘seduced by his charms’ (R Humphries. 2002. 10) and this causes the viewer to almost forget that the character on screen is a vampire, they become part of the world, these characters live and justify the killing of humans to live, just because the character is seductive and the story is shown from their point of view, where as if it were a human that was the protagonist and the vampire the antagonist, the viewer is supposed to see the transgression as a threat to him/her and not accept the vampire, this is interesting because it shows that while all vampires are transgressive figures, due to their killing, immortality and disregard for the human society, they don’t have to be hated by the viewer, their transgendered, just provokes jealousy, rather than fear, but if the film is set up to make the vampire or vampires figures that will cause the end of the capitalist society, or national identity, just like in 30 days of night the vampire targets a small community, on the fringe of the country, invading a border, provoking a fear of invasion, this is especially strong after 9/11 ‘small communities are imagined which are vulnerable to vampires, but which are defended by those who understand and respect folk or popular culture’ thus promoting national pride, but with Queen of the damned this isn’t the case because the vampire isn’t there to invade the country, Lestat embraces the culture and promotes it and the antagonist Akasha is stopped by him and the other elders, due to her wanting to destroy the capitalist way of life, thus defending the American way of life and succeeding to continue it, this makes it possible for the human viewer to connect with Lestat, because they to wish to be a celebrity and also be the hero, his vampirism, becomes something that is accepted as the price he pays for the power and wealth he receives and the reason he receives it, thus making Lestat and the other vampires tools for the promotion of capitalism and the American way of life.
The question, Are vampires necessarily transgressive figures? Can be answered quite easily, yes they do have to be, this is what separates them from the human, it either provokes envy or fear, depending on if the vampire is shown as the hero or the villain, the protagonist or antagonist, this is what makes the film work, because the vampires transgression, either makes the character a focus of envy due to the power he commands and his seductive influence on the viewer, he can seduce males or females and infect them with everlasting life and with every kill he takes something of the person he uses, he receives their knowledge, life and love, these films that use the vampire as a hero, still use the various tools to make the mortal viewer connect with the immortal vampire, in Queen of the damned it is thru the vampire having the same goals as society, to become rich, powerful and loved, thus making the vampirism more of a secondary part of the story, his transgendered is forgiven because he is defending humanity, much like the mortal hero of the other type of vampire film but with a power equal to the thing that he fights against, whereas at the same time a film could have the vampire be the one to fear, bringing the end to the civilisation, an invasion of the nation, corruption of societies way of life going against societies and regions laws, through the simple act of killing and living for ever and the biggest of all the fears is much like the fear of zombies is the fear of the disease that they carry that will eventually kills your body or your mind, this corruption of the world is the fear that makes the vampires in this type of film an affective figure to hate, the transgenderness of them, signifies the unconformity and otherness, that society shows as bad in an attempt to get rid of it, either vampire corrupts humanity causing it to fight back or humanity infects the vampire causing him/her to fight for humanity against the other.