Vampires were almost going out of style. Zombies are the new vampires of the horror genre, displacing every vamp from Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘90s throwback Dracula to Twilight pretty boy Edward, who has long since lost his sparkle. Interview With the Vampire and Queen of the Damned (as much as I have a problem with how off-canon it is) had long been lying in a coffin somewhere. Then Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles was picked up as a TV series being developed by none other than American Gods’ Bryan Fuller, and suddenly bloodsuckers are starting to come back to life.
You could argue that Anne Rice reinvented the vampire. Early literary and cinematic vampires emerged from the catacombs as hideous monsters—the warped face of Count Orlok in Nosferatu is pure nightmare fuel. Before vampires ever materialized onscreen, Bram Stoker sought to make the titular count in Dracula a soulless beast that readers could neither sympathize with nor forgive. The repulsive visuals of early vampires on film were reflections of the unmitigated evil they were perceived to be. There is a glimpse of humanity in Bela Lugosi’s Dracula when he confesses his envy for human mortality, but most movie vampires were as black and white as the films they haunted. They later evolved into even more vicious creatures in color with B-movies like The Hunger and The Blood Spattered Bride, showing an insatiable bloodlust that stained the subgenre with a stereotype that wouldn’t die.
If the vampires of the ‘70s and ‘80s weren’t slick with blood, they existed as comedic exaggerations of themselves in mostly forgettable camp horror flicks. Those that fell into neither extreme still needed a hero to exterminate them, as in Joel Schumacher’s iconic film The Lost Boys, which sees vampires face off against an underground band of vampire hunters. Vampire-hunter thriller Blade and its sequel Blade 2 saw them through the lens of Wesley Snipes’ title character as vermin that that must be crumbled to dust by the first rays of dawn. The closest thing to a vampire with human emotions pulsing through his veins was Jesus Gris of Guillermo del Toro’s 1993 breakout film Cronos, but even he became a ghost of himself after succumbing to uncontrollable cravings for human blood. It was a year later that Interview With the Vampire would bring an entirely new species of undead from Rice’s 1976 novel to life.
Lestat, Louis and the other creatures of the night that lurked in the dark mansions and back alleys of Rice’s imagination appeared in theaters not long after the Coppola revival of Bram Stoker’s Draculathat kept to a mostly unsympathetic view of the reclusive count. They merge monster and human to the point that you sometimes forget what they are until they flash a glimpse of fang. Even those who have never read any of the Vampire Chronicles books can appreciate how the onscreen adaptations of these characters are a reflection of the complex and nearly human psychology that runs through the series. These are not vampires who just suck their victims dry and leave a trail of corpses. Humans are not just pretty to these creatures who look human, feel human emotions intensely, and even mingle with humans, at least after dark.