After the wild days of the eighties, which saw the reinvention of the vampire in the cultural psyche, there seemed to be a general trend toward making them more and more human—and harmless. Vampires no longer feasted on the blood of either the innocent or the guilty, but snacked occasionally on willing donors. They lived in societies with rules and regulations, and didn’t seem to be doing anything with their long lives other than pretending to be just like everyone else.
Eternity had suddenly become the equivalent of a never-ending boardroom meeting.
Enter what I like to call “the Buffy factor.” Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series launched in 1997, and has had a profound impact across all types of media. In creating vampires for Buffy to fight, Whedon did something I found very interesting.
Although he employed some of the tropes of the Dracula-type vamp and the 80’s bad boys, they’re largely a coat of varnish overlaying the original folklore: demons possessing dead bodies. Various episodes make it explicitly clear that once the body is dead, the human soul leaves and the corpse animated by a demon. Memories and the old personality remain in a highly-distorted form: Angelus’s massacre of his own family is straight out of the old stories, where the demon-inhabited corpse starts its murder spree by preying on those closest to the deceased.
Nor does the demon simply vanish, in the cases when the human soul is restored. In the second-season episode “The Dark Age,” a different demon tries to take possession of Angel in the ultimate battle—and is promptly fought and killed by the demon already animating him!
So what’s next for the enduring myth of the vampire? Only time will tell. My take on the myth releases next week with Hunter of Demons, the first of a series of interlinked novellas. Until then, keep your stakes and garlic close at hand.