The Vampire Factor: The character archetype that just won’t die
November 16, 2022
One thing is certain in the world of cinema: Vampires will never go out of style. From F.W. Murnau’s 1922 black and white silver screen creature of the night Nosferatu through to the sexy, stylized variations that grace our modern small screens, vampires are as cyclical as the next disaster movie. Though their appearances are becoming more nuanced, their origins more varied, and their personalities more complex.
And why is that? Audiences have “seen it all” by this point. They want more than one-note, good-is-good and evil-is-evil characters, for the most part. Well-detailed characters are key to a good story. Make the audience fall in love—or hate, or any strong emotion, really—and you have a better chance of getting them to go on the ride that is your story. Think of it this way: A strong reaction to a character often indicates that the audience feels the character is “real” in some way; they have characteristics that are relatable, infuriating, admirable, detestable, or all the above. The character therefore is, in other words, complex. And what is more complex than a creature that used to be all those things, and is now also a paranormal god, in a sense? Immortal, but once more, with feeling… Along with powers that include enhanced senses, night vision, strength and speed, along with mind control and conversion.
That’s what they have in common and are somewhat of an archetype in and of themselves because of it. You hear Dracula, and you kinda know what you’re going to get. But thankfully, as writers strive to make their vampires follow more human archetypes that screenwriters will recognize, such as the (reluctant) hero, the villain with a heart of gold, the rebel, the classic villain, and the joker, what we come to expect of vampires now is: They’re all different. While these recognizable archetypes offer a certain amount of familiar character traits that give audiences a touchpoint.
Let’s take a look at some of television’s most memorable vampires, what makes them so archetypical, and how screenwriters can use that to your advantage for underscoring theme, or subverting genre, among other things in your story.
The Hero Vampire
The hero vampire is usually a damned character, and often romantically so. This is the vampire who perhaps started as either a good or a bad person in human form, was transformed into a particularly savage vampire, and is currently making up for the lives they’ve taken by helping others…and brooding a lot. Angel (David Boreanaz) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel epitomizes the romantically damned vampire hero, though Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) comes in a close second on The Vampire Diaries. The UK’s Being Human had John Mitchell (Aiden Turner).
The Wildcard, or anti-hero Vampire
Also known as the rebel, seducer, or even (though these next examples would deny it to their immortal graves: The Villain with a Heart of Gold Vampire). This type of vampire might just be a CW special: Klaus (Joseph Morgan) from The Originals comes to mind, as do Spike (James Marsters) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) from The Vampire Diaries could all be considered villains…who end up “winning the girl” to some degree.
Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) on True Blood also exemplifies this anti-hero with a tortured soul variety, as does Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid) in Interview with the Vampire, sharing some characteristics with the romantically damned. They do help and care for others—but only in self-serving moments. Mostly, they luxuriate in the freedom and power vampirism bestows on them, though they can’t quite help being seduced by a romantic love interest that proves there is still a humanity in them.
The Shadow, or straight-up classic Villain Vampire
Unsurprising that Guillermo del Toro (along with co-creator Chuck Hogan) is responsible for giving audiences vampire mythology without the romance: simply biology in all its horrific, stripped-down truth. The vampires on The Strain are strictly to be feared, not fallen in love with. Meet Thomas Eichorst, a Strigoi. There is no heart of gold, no redeemable characteristic, as some creatures are simply… evil. And even with such a straight-forward character arc, he still has a backstory: A Nazi, no less. Proving that well-rounded characters with a complete history doesn’t mean they have to have a tragic wound to turn them evil, they just are. Right down to their ugly, gruesome core.
Similarly, Lady Gaga’s The Countess on American Horror Story: Hotel is very much an irredeemable villain, even more horrifically based on a true account of Countess Elizabeth Báthory who would torture then kill her 80+ victims. Obsession with beauty & youth—something that vampirism has become synonymous with—being the reason.
Best of the rest vampire archetypes
The warrior: Rose Hathaway (Sisi Stringer) from Vampire Diaries creator Julie Plec’s new Vampire Academy, is a Dhampir. These day walkers are human-vampire hybrids, and in the world of Vampire Academy, protectors of the pure Moroi vampires. It’s that human half that makes Rose and the rest of her Dhampir classmates interesting, but it’s their sense of duty and extreme strength that make them a class of their own.
The joker: Grandpa Munster aka Vladimir Dracula in all of his sarcastic glory while the entirety of What We Do in the Shadows is comedic relief for our darker reality; the irony being these creatures of the night providing light—as well as cautionary tales through humor.
All of the vampires discussed are surrounded by other well-worn archetypes, such as the Threshold Guardian, Herald, and Shapeshifter. And in these worlds where monsters are most often meant to be metaphor, it makes sense we see the Hero’s Journey crystallized. Using these archetypes as the foundation for creating your vampires on the page will help you to not only create complex characters, but ones the audience can connect with on a subconscious level. Complex vampires with soul and bite.
Written by: Karin MaxeyAfter seeing her first big screen movie 007: License to Kill at age six, Karin naturally became obsessed with writing action-infused stories. The next time she’d see Benicio del Toro was in person, at the 68th Cannes Film Festival—he was there for the Sicario red carpet, she was there for her first produced short film in the basement of the Palais…same-same. In between, Karin earned a Creative Writing Degree and landed management at Echo Lake Entertainment. Her scripts have been a Big Break Top 3 finalist, HollyShorts Film Fest Official Selection, and a multi-Screencraft competitions semi-finalist. Karin is also a screenplay editor who delights in the process of polishing writers' work for submission. You can find her at www.writergirlkarin.com.