Diving Into Sub-Genres: Vampire Horror

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We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

I have been obsessed with vampires for a very long time. While in childhood I liked vampire stories just fine, it was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in middle and high school that really gelled with me, genre wise. And vampire horror is still a sub-genre that I really love, even if I have VERY picky standards for it. There is so much you can do with vampires, mostly because they are not only iconic in horror, they have so much history in folklore all around the world.

There are so many types of vampire stories to tell. The tried and true Gothic sensibilities with castles and or manors run by monsters. The deeply romantic vampire story with eroticism bubbling over. The feral creatures who are just out to destroy and eat. I’ve read many vampire tales and vetted through the highs and the lows (here’s a tip: if you aren’t into Amish romance, a vampire themed Amish romance isn’t going to do it for you). The books I’ve selected for this list kind of tap into the different themes, and are, to me, stand outs in the genre for various reasons. I could have listed many more but limited myself. Just know these are by no means the only good vampire stories out there! They’re just jumping off points.

Book: “The Vampyre” by John William Polidori

I mean, I’ve mentioned “Dracula” in other book lists, and while “Dracula” is absolutely a great vampire novel (like, the grandfather of the genre, really), I wanted to think outside the box. Instead, let’s talk about “The Vampyre” by John William Polidori, which was one of the influences on “Dracula”. Taken from the short tale that Lord Byron told on that fateful trip with Mary Shelley, Poliodori expanded upon it and created a complete short story that was published (and repeatedly misattributed to Byron, as much as both men tried to correct this misconception). It follows a young man named Aubrey, who travels to London and meets an aristocrat named Lord Ruthvern. They hit it off, and Ruthvern asks Aubrey to travel with him around Europe. As they travel together, people around them start dying in strange ways, namely their throats being torn out. By the time Aubrey has put two and two together regarding his friend, it’s too late. Poliodori was the guy who took the idea of feral creatures of folklore and made them into a predatory, enigmatic, and charming high class man of society who preys upon those around and below him.

Book Series: “The Vampire Chronicles” by Anne Rice

A lot of the sexy and erotic vampire themes we see in today’s vampire stories can be directly traced to the likes of Louis, Lestat, Armand, et al in “The Vampire Chronicles”, Anne Rice’s dreamy, vicious, and subtly steamy vampire series. Starting with a fairly simple “Interview With the Vampire”, in which a vampire named Louis tells his story of becoming a vampire and the way it changed him, and going to stranger realms with “Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis”, we follow a complex mythology and history of a group of vampires and their melancholy, or outlandish, backstories. From 18th Century New Orleans to 1980s America to BCE Egypt, Rice takes her characters to many settings and connects them through time and relationships and blood. Lestat is the clear center of the tale, his vain and over the top personality so much fun follow (seriously. I love Lestat), but with other interesting characters who pop in and out the stories have a lot of influence on today’s vampire mythos. And the simmering sexiness of Lestat and his implied and/or confirmed lovers is PALPABLE. While sexy vampires have always been a thing, Rice tapped into it in ways others had not, and it works. I haven’t read them all (I never went past “Queen of the Damned”), but I wholly intend to keep going. If only because Lestat is such an iconic vampire in literature.

Book: “Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist

If you’re looking for a claustrophobic vampire story involving children, loneliness, friendship(?), and coming of age, “Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist is going to be the one to check out. I read this around the time the film came to America’s arthouse movie theaters, and was immediately pulled in by how it was simultaneously sweet as well as deeply unnerving. Oskar is an isolated twelve year old boy who lives in a Swedish housing complex with his mother. Oskar has no friends at school and is repeatedly bullied, but then a new girl named Eli moves into the building with her father…. Although, he isn’t her father. And Eli isn’t a normal little girl. She’s a vampire who has been around for hundreds of years. Both Oskar and Eli are seeking connections, though their reasons are very different. On the surface this story seems like a lovely tale of friendship found between outsiders, and to some extent it is. But there is also the nagging sensation that Eli has darker motives for wanting a new companion, and taps into the ideas that vampires are, by nature, predatory, and even if they think they can love, they never really can. It hits ya right in the feels.

Book: “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” by Holly Black

I felt a need to have an example of YA vampire fiction on this list, but wasn’t going to highlight “Twilight” (it’s just not my bag, baby). Instead, I turn to Holly Black’s “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown”, a YA vampire story that is less romantic and more thriller and horror driven in its storytelling. Tana is a teenage girl who wakes up at a friend’s house after a raucous party… and finds most of the guests are dead, killed by a vampire. Her ex boyfriend Aidan survived, but looks like he’s been infected by vampirism. And there is a strange vampire boy who claims his innocence, and needs protection. So Tana opts to rescue them all and take them to the nearest Coldtown, a fenced off community where vampires and other creatures can live in sanctuary. But usually when you enter a Coldtown, you can’t leave. So Tana has to figure out how to get around that. This book is fast paced and feels a bit like a YA vampire “Escape from New York”, and Tana is a very enjoyable main character who kicks a lot of ass.

Book: “‘Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King

I’d be remiss if I left my man Stephen King off this list, and “‘Salem’s Lot” is his entry into the vampire zeitgeist. And because it’s King, he brings in not only some good vampire horror, but also some other more ‘elevated’ themes, as elevated as Danny Glick was outside Mark Petrie’s window. Ben Mears returns to the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot, where he spent a good chunk of his childhood, after years of being away. When he arrives, he finds himself in the midst of strange occurrences. Little does he know, at least at first, a new community member named Kurt Barlow is a vampire, and he intends on turning the entire town into a vampire community. So Ben has to team up with other towns people to stop him. So while we have our ‘vampire infiltrating a human community’ story, King also dabbles in the metaphors of homecoming and the darkness and dissipation of small town America.

Book Series: “The Strain Trilogy” by Guillermo del Toro, and Chuck Hogan

And finally, I wanted to tackle a vampire story that has a SUPER unique idea of vampirism and how it comes to pass, and that is “The Strain” Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. While many modern vampire tales stick to the tried and true ‘vampires sire other vampires’ mechanism, del Toro and Hogan ask ‘what if it was like a parasitic disease?’ When a commercial airliner arrives at JFK and comes to a halt halfway down the runway, with all the communication down and no signs of life aboard, the fear is bioterrorism. So when Ephraim Goodweather of the CDC arrives to check out the threat, he thinks he knows what to expect. But then he boards the plane, and finds everyone dead, he’s horrified. What Ephraim doesn’t know, however, is that this isn’t a bioweapon that anyone can conceive of. What it is is a vampire virus that infects people via parasites, and makes them in the thrall of a master who intends to wipe out humanity. The first book, “The Strain”, is pretty darn good. Admittedly the other two didn’t live up to it, but it’s still super unique and fun to see del Toro play with expectations of the genre.

What are some of your favorite vampire books? Let us know in the comments!

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