Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the sheer impact of the Twilight phenomenon.
But the evolution of the vampire from horror to hottie is a surprising development. Sure, mysterious and brooding is always sexy when you’re a teen (or at least that’s what Stephenie Meyer is banking on), but how did we ever get from the bloodthirsty Count Dracula and beastly Nosferatu-style freaks of nature to sexy vamps like Edward Cullen and Bill Compton? On the release of the third installment of the Twilight film series, Eclipse, we explore, in timeline form, how our perception of these creatures of the night went from terrifying to swoon-worthy.
To get your full, bloodlusty fix, check out our gallery below for a look at all the featured vampires in chronological order, brush up on your auxiliary vampire myths via our handy field guide or rock out with our vamp-centric playlist.
Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) (1456)
Prince Vlad III, also known as Dracula (“son of the dragon” or “son of the devil”), comes to power in Wallachia (modern-day Romania). His cruelty earns him the nickname “Vlad the Impaler,” and his legend becomes the framework for the greatest vampire tale of them all, Dracula.
Elizabeth Báthory (1614)
1614 marked the death of Hungarian noblewoman Elizabeth Báthory, a.k.a. “The Bloody Countess” and “Countess Dracula,” who according to legend, tortured and murdered young women so she could bathe in their blood to retain her beauty. Stories that surrounded her life and death, particularly the legends about bathing in blood, provided some background for Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and other vampire stories.
Lord Ruthven (1818)
You could call Lord Ruthven the original “sexy vampire.” The subject of John William Polidori’s The Vampyre, the first modern English-language vampire story, Lord Ruthven is described as being physically captivating, a master of seduction while still, on the inside, a beast out for blood.
Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu’s Gothic novella Carmilla tells the tale of a hauntingly beautiful vampire who falls in love—and bloodlust—with a mortal woman. With a surprising level of erotic passion in the narrative, Le Fanu’s story could be where the love/obsession dynamic in vampire stories began, as Carmilla’s obsessive pleas (“You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever”) sound vaguely Edward Cullen-esque. Carmilla served as an influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (with clear character parallels to the ill-fated Lucy and Van Helsing) and the character has appeared in a number of works the world over, including, most recently, the 2009 British spoof Lesbian Vampire Killers.
Count Dracula (1897)
Irish writer Bram Stoker publishes his opus, Dracula, about the iconic undead Transylvanian nobleman hellbent on world domination. The traits Dracula exhibits in the novel—shapeshifting, aversion to garlic, the swinging pendulum of personas between friendly, cosmopolitan elite and terrifying, homicidal maniac—have become immortal not just in the context of horror fiction, but the world of fiction at large.
Count Orlok (1922)
The first—and many will say the scariest—portrayal of the classic vampire can be found in the demonic, almost reptilian Count Orlok in F. W. Murnau’s silent Dracula adaptation Nosferatu. Despite the film’s critical acclaim and its position of high regard with horror enthusiasts, the “Nosferatu” portrayal of vampires as having grotesque, animalistic and almost rodent-like features quickly went out of vogue in favor of the sleek, aristocratic and more human Bela Lugosi interpretation.
Dracula (Bela Lugosi) (1931)
Bela’s Dracula is the O.G. of vampires. Aristocratic, sophisticated and wholly menacing, dressed to the nines in cape and bow tie and glimmering fangs, the thick Slavic accent: It’s Lugosi’s portrayal that has served ever since the film’s release as the archetype of the Hollywood vampire, the childhood Halloween costume. Bela’s performance is the “Free Bird” guitar solo of vampire portrayals, both the immortal gold standard and the ripe-for-parody cliché.
Actress Maila Nurmi created Vampira after winning a costume contest dressed as a Charles Addams cartoon (who the world would later know as Morticia from The Addams Family). Vampira was the first to combine ‘50s horror-flick kitsch with the genre’s sex appeal and lives forever in the high-camp Ed Wood-helmed sci-fi classic, Plan 9 From Outer Space, along with imitators like ‘80s vamp icon Elvira.
Count Chocula (1971)
The early ‘70s saw an emergence of a kinder, gentler, even kid-friendly vampire. Cereal spokesvamp Count Chocula riffs on Béla Lugosi’s Dracula (in dress and dialect) but without any of the monster’s creepiness or poise. Clearly, this count has no aversion to sunlight or thirst for blood, as he thrives under fluorescent grocery store lights with his fellow not-so-scary monster pals, Frankenberry, Boo-Berry and the (now-defunct) wolf, Fruit Brute.
Count Von Count (1972)
Ever since his introduction on Sesame Street, the beloved purple Muppet has taught generations of children the joys of numbers. The Count’s predisposition towards arithmomania (the obsessive desire to count things) seems like just a pun on the word “count,” but it actually may have deeper roots in vampire folklore. Vamp tales hint at tendencies toward arithmomania, and in old European traditions, the area around the grave of a presumed vampire was covered in grain to keep the vampire occupied with counting all night instead of going out and feeding on the living.
Lestat de Lioncourt (1976)
Before Edward Cullen, Spike and Angel and the brothers Salvatore, there was Lestat de Lioncourt, the brash, bisexual “Brat Prince” protagonist of Anne Rice’s iconic Vampire Chronicles. Lestat’s character resides somewhere between historical romance and rock ‘n’ roll excess (he even fronts a rock band in the series, which he of course names after himself). From description, he is Harlequin-novel-cover beautiful and the descendant of French high society, but he is full of dichotomies: he is a sadistic killer but also a passionate lover, a beast and an existential philosopher, hero and villain and antihero. In the 1994 film adaptation of Interview With the Vampire, then-beloved-starlet Tom Cruise donned the fangs and flowing blond locks and, along with Brad Pitt as his partner Louis de Pointe du Lac, made horror fans swoon.
Dracula (Frank Langella) (1979)
Frank Langella’s take on the Count served as the cinematic turning point of the “sexy vampire.” When he took on the role, Langella was barely over 40 and handsome, a far cry from the grotesque early vampire flicks. Emory University’s Maria Lunk attributes this “re-vamping” (Yeah, we went there.) to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Lunk says there is a “sexual gratification” in vampirisim: “Women are not only controlled by him, because he’s also a psychic vampire, but they fall in love with him.”
Miriam Blaylock (1983)
The 1981 novel and film adaptation of The Hunger, in which ancient vamp Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) feeds on the blood of her ill-fated lovers (David Bowie! Susan Sarandon!), is full of echoes of the panic and fear surrounding the AIDS crisis, which was exploding in the early part of the decade. The ‘80s saw a huge resurgence in the vampire genre, including a swath of iconic generational horror flicks like 1985’s Fright Night and the Kathryn Bigelow-helmed Near Dark. NPR’s Margot Adler attributes the rebirth of the genre to the global anxieties of the decade, including the AIDS epidemic and the final days of the Cold War. As The Hunger author Whitley Strieber puts it in the NPR piece, “It was a period when people were waiting for something to go wrong as the Soviet empire was collapsing. People wondered: Would they push the button in a desperate attempt to survive? And those feelings entered the unconscious.”
The Vamps of Discworld (1983)
In Brit fantasy master Terry Prachett’s Discworld series, there is a return to the echoes of old vampire stories, but with a probing parody twist. One nameless vamp, in Prachett’s Feet of Clay (1997), takes a few particularly dangerous jobs, including working in the holy-water section of a religious supply store. Another, Count Vargo St. Gruet von Vilinus, now known as “John Smith,” tries desperately to assimilate into human life, leading the Prohibition-style “League of Temperance” for vampires who swear off human blood.
The Gang from The Lost Boys (1987)
This ‘80s classic may be best known for bringing The Coreys together, but The Lost Boys also did something pretty rad, in that it combined real ‘80s teen problems (divorced parents, bullying, young love and lust) with a classic take-no-prisoners vampire hunter saga. And, because vampires never really die, rumors of a Lost Boys remake have been circulating. Let’s keep this one in the coffin, folks.
Dracula (Gary Oldman) (1992)
Oldman was only 34 when he donned the cape for Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula adaptation, part of a pattern as Emory’s Maria Lunk discussed, of the role of Dracula getting progressively younger and perhaps even more hip. Oldman is a dapper Drac, clearly aristocratic but without the classic cape or pallor. But what’s key about Oldman’s Dracula is that he does it for love; in the Coppola adaptation, Dracula’s bloodlust stems from his wife’s suicide and his “spell” over Mina leans more toward a romantic dynamic than predator and prey.
Spike and Angel (1997)
The two main vampires in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe are as different as could be, but each brings something essential to Joss Whedon’s beloved creation. Angel’s got the mysterious, tortured-soul (or in this case, tortured by the fact that he has a soul) thing going on, all wrapped in David Boreanaz’s sensitive-dude good looks. Spike is the classic punk, sporting a Sid Vicious-evoking attitude and ferocious across-the-pond wit. Both are welcome evolutions from the days of Drac and Count Orlok, totally contemporary in fashion and mannerism (save for Boreanaz’s terrible Irish accent in flashback scenes), wavering between pure self-interest and ferocious loyalty to the Slayer and the Scooby Gang.
Technically, Blade is only half-vampire, but he’s all badass. The character of Blade has been part of the Marvel comic book universe since 1973, but when Wesley Snipes took on the role of the ass-staking, name-taking vampire hunter, his presence gave a hyper-modern, almost futuristic feel to an old genre. After all, it was Blade that took all the archaic storybook myths and KILLED THEM WITH FIRE, because as Blade reminds us: “Vampire Anatomy 101, crosses and running water don’t do dick, so forget what you’ve seen in the movies.”
Selene (Kate Beckinsale), the protagonist of the Underworld series, is the teenage dude-bro ideal of the “sexy vampire”—a futuristic, sleek femme fatale who can kick some werewolf (sorry, Lycan) ass and take names, and do it all in skin-tight leather outfits.
Edward Cullen (2005)
When Stephenie Meyer debuted the first novel in her Twilight series, no one could have predicted it would be a cultural phenomenon defying borders and generations, or that it would turn a 104-year-old high school virgin vamp into a sex symbol who makes soccer moms swoon. Like Jordan Catalano if he drank blood for sustenance, Edward Cullen (rhymes with “sullen,” natch) sparkles and broods and gets the girl in the end. His auxiliary vampire traits, with the minor exception of the whole blood-drinking thing, are downplayed in favor of his good looks and intricate/charming/creepy/downright abusive (however you choose to define it) relationship with blank-slate heroine Bella Swan.
Vampire Weekend (2008)
In January 2008, Vampire Weekend released its self-titled debut to rampant critical acclaim and excessive overblogging. The vampy name derives from a film frontman Ezra Koenig made in college. Far from the bloodsucking variety, Vampire Weekend’s powers include wearing sweaters, looking adorably preppy and a near-supernatural ability to meld Graceland-esque Afro-pop with precocious lyrics about Lil Jon and Hyannisport. We can see you rolling your eyes, by the way. Stop that.
Bill Compton (2008)
As the monster-movie clichés die out, we have a new generation of vampire characters who are rather conflicted about their vampire status. Case in point, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) on HBO’s True Blood, who has been living as the undead for centuries and is still none too happy about it. Possessing an unusual veneration for human life (having been a human and all), Bill tries to live as a principled vamp and not feed on humans. Like many contemporary vampire works, True Blood focuses on a romantic relationship between a vampire male and human female, and as such, Bill lays on the charm with his goofy, archaic, Southern-gentlemanly ways.
The acclaimed Swedish film Let the Right One In, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the film’s screenplay), is in part a vampire-human love story, but this tale is a far cry from Edward and Bella. Like her monster-flick predecessors, Eli is ghostly pale, bloodthirsty and downright terrifying, but she still has the more contemporary vampire traces of morality—Eli feels enough compassion to protect her human boyfriend, Oskar, from her own impulses. And America will be seeing Eli again real soon, but under the anglicized name Abby, when an adaptation of the film, called Let Me In and set in New Mexico, hits theaters Oct. 1.
Damon and Stefan Salvatore (2009)
Two darkly sexy blood-sucking brothers, Everwood alum Paul Wesley and Lost’s Ian Somerhalder, court the same mortal high school girl in the latest teen-centric vamp-focused franchise. Stefan, like Edward Cullen, is a “vegetarian” (only drinking animal blood), but starts jonesing for human blood as his relationship with his teen paramour grows stronger. The vamps’ gravitation between scary and studly makes sense, considering the show’s executive producer, Kevin Williamson, helped bring both the Scream slasher franchise and the teen melodrama Dawson’s Creek to life.
Dylan and Claire Radcliff (2010)
Cosmopolitan, well-dressed and very suburban, the Radcliffs look as though they’d be more at home on Wisteria Lane than in Transylvania. They, along with their supernaturally-inclined neighbors (including witches and werewolves) on the new ABC drama The Gates, show that the undead could be anyone these days—including that nice-looking couple down the block.