It’s almost hard to remember a time when the vampire genre was dead.
It was before Twilight, of course. Before the film version of Stephenie Meyer’s novel was released in 2008 to the sound of millions of squees, vampire movies were considered somewhat risky investments and TV networks rarely ordered shows starring the undead. Since the conclusion of The WB’s Angel in 2004, there was FX’s Blade: The Series (flop) and CBS’ Moonlight (flop). On the big screen, the genre’s popularity varied from films like Van Helsing and I Am Legend (hits) to Queen of the Damned and 30 Days of Night (flops).
Then it happened. KStew. His hair. Sparkles. Abs.
TV networks, in particular, dove right in — HBO’s True Blood, The CW’s The Vampire Diaries and spin-off The Originals, Syfy’s Lost Girl and Being Human.
After six years, however, there are signs the vampire genre is dying.
First came the parodies. Spoofs act as a death rattle for a genre boom. In the 1970s, Blazing Saddles famously knocked the Western into a long coma and Airplane crashed the disaster film genre. Post-Twilight vamps had their own less-inspired feature-length spoof — Vampires Suck in 2010. Two years later, while not sharply drawn as spoofs, there was Dark Shadows and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Both poisonously mixed comedy and vampires (and both disappointed at the box office).
Next came NBC, finally relenting to the trend with a late-feeling effort — this season’s Dracula starring Jonathan Rhys Myers. The show was fairly enjoyable, if uneven. But Dracula became the first major post-Twilight vamp TV show to truly under-perform in the ratings, despite the network’s considerable promotional prowess.
Another clue: This year’s broadcast pilot season has not one bloodsucker project on the grid. “The genre definitely feels played out right now,” says Terence Carter, head of drama development at Fox, a network that’s historically embraced genre concepts like Sleepy Hollow. “On the heels of several truly inspired takes on the genre — Twilight, True Blood, and Vampire Diaries — we saw a slew of imitators which diluted an already saturated marketplace. If vampire programming is going to succeed again, it will likely take a drastic reinvention.”
Then, last weekend, Vampire Academy opened. It’s based on a well-regarded book series; it has “vampire” in the title; how could it lose? The film made only $4.1 million at the box office. And notice again, this is a title mixing vamps and comedy — more mocking of all those sacred tropes.
Here’s the real secret to slaying vampires, along with werewolves, zombies, demons, and others evil Hollywood creatures: Nothing kills scary monsters like laughter and familiarity.
Of course, it must be said, if only as a disclaimer: Vampires will never really go away. There will always be films, TV shows, books, comics, video games. Whatever the next entertainment medium that’s invented, there will be vampires in it. There’s at least one major title coming soon, in fact — FX has The Strain airing this summer. Its producers (perhaps sensing viewer fatigue) repeatedly emphasize their show has a new kind of vamps, “real vamps,” a more animalistic depiction rather than romanticized. The show actually looks quite good.
But as a large-scale trend, vampires attack pop culture, then hibernate. They slumber, sometimes for decades. And we’ve seen so much neck biting, blood drinking, fang growing, pasty-skinned, sun-avoiding, undead goth immortal mopers these past six years, so many nattering Nosferatus. It’s time for vamps to go back underground, making occasional ventures into Hollywood daylight, until the inevitable time comes when they can entrance and terrify us again. Because right now? Vampires are something far worse than frightening. They’re boring.