The rise of vampires

Michelle Bair

Once lurking in the dark shadows of a Transylvanian fortress, vampires have changed from eerie villains, like Count Dracula, to sexy action heroes, like Edward Cullen.

Pop culture has officially diversified the vampire character in movies, film and literature by allowing romance between vampires and humans.

“We have made him attractive, younger, sexier, hotter and more like us,” said instructor Mark Dawidziak during his class about the evolution of vampire entertainment.

Dawidziak has been a television and film critic for 30 years, a vampire-fiction writer, an editor for a collection of works and the course instructor for one of several entertainment courses on campus that students have the option to register for next semester.

Vampires on Film and Television is an upper-division, three credit-hour course offered through the School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Mondays from 5:30 to 8:15 p.m. in Franklin Hall.

“We don’t discuss the blood drinking or cults,” said Dawidziak. “It’s strictly entertainment.”

He explained that each vampire generation “feeds” off the previous political and social issues throughout history. Books and television series often inspire vampire films.

Dawidziak gives the class handouts that highlight and summarize the “vamp” evolution with photos to go with them. He said some weeks the class watches full movies, and other weeks they watch several clips. Each week there is a discussion about the vampire character’s transformation and how it is perceived by society.

Not only does this phenomena fascinate Dawidziak, there is a whole sub genre of supernatural study that goes far beyond “Twilight” and “True Blood.”

Davis Patterson, English professor at the Kent Tuscarawas campus, said she has always been interested in gothic fiction. She has published critical essays on vampires, and even her doctoral dissertation was about the infamous bloodsuckers.

“I use to watch Saturday afternoon Pittsburgh shows with my father, including the old “Godzilla” and “Chilly Billy Cardilly,” said Patterson. “It was happy bonding.”

She said gothic, fantasy and science fiction subject matters have been life-long interests of hers, and she thanks her father for that.

Patterson said she is familiar with the vampire subculture, but she hasn’t witnessed it firsthand.

“The vampire is a rotting corpse back to feed on its family, essentially,” she said. “They hate garlic because it smells worse than a rotting corpse.”

Those traits, Patterson explained, are more common in traditional vampires.

Current trends seize a subculture that lacks “blood drinking and letting,” she said.

Through Patterson’s journey of exploring the vampire sub type and other parts of the supernatural world, she said she found some “interesting trends.”

She concluded, after years of research and observation, male authors tend to write about vampires as monstrous and evil.

“When women write about vampires, there is a sympathetic heart of the storyline and characters you can identify with,” she said.

She mentioned that this trend isn’t true all the time, but she noticed it happening a lot.

Patterson said paranormal romance is huge, but she has not seen or read “Twilight” or “True Blood.”

“The biggest reason I haven’t touched “Twilight” is because I am burnt out from vampire romance,” she said. “The plots are basically the same and there are enough similarities to make me roll my eyes.”

Patterson said she knows a lot more fans of “True Blood,” and some are prominent scholars who are not fans of “Twilight.”

“There is a good deal of criticism,” she said.

Greg Shultz, a junior air traffic control major, said he tried watching both “True Blood” and “Twilight,” but he didn’t like either of them.

“They just don’t interest me at all,” he said. “There are too many vampire-themed movies and shows out right now.”

Although Shultz didn’t take the course, and probably never will, opinions like his are part of what make Dawidziak’s course interesting.

As a writing course, students are required to write a midterm research paper and a final analytical essay. Dawidziak said grades are based on accuracy, grammar, spelling, research, structure, and creativity. Student participation impacts grades as well.

Miranda Reed, a junior electronic media production major, said that she learned a lot about how vampires in fiction started out as men, but in the myths around the world they are all about women.

“My favorite part about the class is the history behind the movies and my least favorite is the length of the class,” she said.

“Mark is amazing,” she added. “He knows so much and is very passionate about what he wants to tell you. I love ‘True Blood,’ ‘Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Twilight.’

“It has been a long road for the ugly villain to turn into the sexy action hero, but it gives people food for thought as to where vampires will pop up next in movies.”

Contact on-campus entertainment reporter Michelle Bair at [email protected].