Part of why I enjoyed Max Brook’s World War Z (the book, not the movie) is that Brooks carefully sets rules for what zombies are, and then he sticks to them. This makes for good times because once you have rules, you have tension. Conversly, no rules equal no tension. Say, for example, Brooks made it so zombies could be cured, and everyone got better. Before you know it the Cubs win the World Series and the IRS makes its money at bake sales. No tension.
“Example?” you ask. I present the festering pile of zombie vomit called 28 Weeks Later. It got mixed reviews among the general populace, but aficionados were near universal in pointing their thumbs earthward. Why? In part because the movie broke every rule of behavior, intelligence, and science that one might think up. The “writers” simply changed whatever rules they wanted in order to make the best highlight reel. “Hey, we have a bunch of people who are 100% infectious here, what should we do with ‘em?” “Put ‘em in the middle of London with healthy people, and then put a perimeter around the whole mess so we can grease the entire population when the disease invariably gets loose.” “Okay dokay, sounds like a solid plan.” Wait… what? I’m cheering for the zombies at that point.Which segues perfectly into the disaster that is modern vampire lore. A happy place where rules of every type are constantly being rewritten for the sake of the perfect scene. Tension, meanwhile, is swirling away like blood down a drain.
You want your vampire to live off groundhog blood? Less tension. You want your vampire to walk around in daylight? Less tension. You want your vampire to be the Pope? Okay, well, that’s kind of a good idea. (“I vant to sving your thurible!) (I have waited three decades to use the word ‘thurible’) But let’s be honest, these days your typical vampire looks like either a GQ model or a playmate (depending on whom is behind the keyboard) and acts like that guy in the office who always smiles, even on Monday mornings. And most importantly, come nighttime they know how to shake the bedposts. Because, you know, we always play with our food before we eat it.
And I’m okay with that. The manifestation of Dracula as a sexual surrogate for whatever fantasy you have is scrumptious as kittens in chocolate as far as I’m concerned. And as for those who have become rich off this formula, I have nothing but praise. I mean that from the absolute bottom of my bloodless heart.
But your vampire is not my vampire. If you meet my vampire in the middle of the night, you don’t end up sharing soft kisses, working a Sudoku or two, and having that nice bottle of blood wine that you’ve been saving all these years. If you meet my vampire in the middle of the night, you are either lucky, or you are dead. Because, like it or not, my vampire has rules. The first three of which are:
Rule One: Vampires feed on people. Not dogs. Not squirrels. Not nematodes. People. And like all predators, they don’t (in general) give a hoot for their prey. When was the last time you saw a lion discussing Shakespeare with a water buffalo? It just isn’t done. The same has to be true of vampires. They’re hungry! Hungry creatures do mean things to their food. Just this morning I put leftover pizza in a microwave and nuked the crap out of it. Is that considerate? Is it nice? Look, if you fall in love with a vampire (which is fine) there has to be some baggage there—some issues you might want to think about. (How, for example, did the bloodless corpse of your mailman end up in the guest bedroom? And (while we’re looking at him) where did he get that nifty thurible tattoo?)
Rule Two: Vampires die in the sun. Period. Why? Because every Achilles must have a heel, or it’s no fun. Vampires who walk around in daylight are nothing more than mass murders with a fetish for dark eyeliner and a predilection for filing their teeth. But things get crazy complex when you have to trust Ms. Vampire not to bleed you dry, and she has to trust you not to install tanning lights in her coffin.
Rule Three: Vampires can’t just make more vampires on command. Why? Because then everyone would be a vampire at eighteen. Sexy vampire walks up to teenage you and says: “Hey, if you become a vampire, we can spend endless nights together!” And with all your teenage wisdom and hormonal control, you reply: “I would, but I have this history test I gotta study for.” Sure. That’s what happens.
You want your vampire to fall in love? Great! I do too. Vampires in love are wicked fun. But with a few rules things are so much more interesting. So much more tense.
And yes, I know: My vampire has no mass appeal in modern times. I accept that. I like her anyway. I have faith that sooner or later she’ll back in fashion. She has bite.