They, too, yearn for a boyfriend just like 100-year-old, but still incredibly good-looking, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), on to whom they can project fantasies of being swept off their feet by a guy who broods like a bad boy but who isn’t really very bad at all.
You wonder, though, if Twilight fans realise that vampires haven’t always been ideal boyfriend material. They used to steal your soul, which in less godless times was considered a fate worse than death. When I was growing up in the Sixties, they were bloodsucking fiends to be feared, even if, like Christopher Lee in Hammer’s Dracula, they could also be dangerously attractive. Not for nothing do so many of the Count’s victims seem to welcome his deadly embrace.
He doesn’t just sink his fangs into women’s necks: he also liberates their libido from the strictures of Victorian-style repression. It’s a marked contrast to Twilight’s Edward, born six months after the end of the Victorian age, but applying a sort of neo-Victorian self-denial to his relationship with Bella.
The traditional vampire as we know it had its origins in the superstitions of peasants alarmed by the grotesque manifestations of disease, death and decomposition; gases within the body, skin slippage or the emission of bloodstained fluids could all give an impression of post-mortem movement, or physical renewal.
Most mythologies include a form of demonic succubus; in some translations, the Jewish mythological figure Lilith, Adam’s first wife, is called a vampire, while real-life historical figures such as the 15th-century Balkan prince Vlad Tepes (known as Vlad the Impaler due to his habit of skewering enemies), Hungarian countess Erzsébet Báthory (who preserved her looks by bathing in virgins’ blood) and Breton knight and child-killer Gilles de Rais have had vampire legends spring up around them.
Stoker wasn’t even the first to write vampire fiction – the first in English was John Polidori’s The Vampyre, published in 1819. But it was Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, that caught the public imagination. The Irishman was best known in his lifetime as personal assistant to Henry Irving, and is said to have incorporated many of the actor’s mannerisms into his creation, as well as drawing on the history of Vlad the Impaler (whose patronymic name was Dracula), and Emily Gerard’s 1885 essay, “Transylvanian Superstitions”.
Film buffs will already have noticed that T R Warszawa’s production shares its title not with Stoker’s novel, but with Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, the 1922 silent film by German Expressionist director F W Murnau (remade in 1979, rather well, by Werner Herzog) and the first film to feature the vampire as we know it. The word “nosferatu” is cited twice in Stoker’s book, both times by Van Helsing as a synonym for vampire, or undead. “I like the sound of Nosferatu,” says Jarzyna. “It’s a little bit more poetic, more Slavonic… like someone coming from the moon.”
Graf von Orlok, as the Dracula character has been renamed in Murnau’s film, is a hideous walking cadaver with bald head, pointy teeth and long fingernails. But ugly as he is, the self-sacrificing heroine still surrenders herself to him with an erotic abandon noticeably lacking from scenes with her human fiancé. From the very beginning, vampire movies were always about sex.
Like most of us, Jarzyna first came to the subject of vampires through the movies – in his case, Todd Browning’s 1931 film Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. As horror gave way to horror comedy in the Forties, Lugosi’s full-blooded approach became the stuff of parody, but it’s largely thanks to his performance that Dracula became a pop culture icon on a par with Sherlock Holmes or James Bond.
The Hungarian-born actor was the incarnation of the menacing yet seductive foreigner in tuxedo and cape, and it’s his Dracula that springs to mind when anyone thinks of dressing up as a vampire at Hallowe’en.
One reason for Dracula becoming such a cultural phenomenon is surely his versatility as a metaphor. You name it, the vampire can symbolise it: religion, capitalist exploitation, death and decay, addictions and sexuality or indeed Twilight-style abstinence. Like all the best monsters, vampires are open to all kinds of reinterpretation, according to the zeitgeist.
And Count Dracula doesn’t look as though he’s going to get a definitive stake through the heart any time soon. He’s already been played more than 300 times on screen, and next year it’s the turn of Jonathan Rhys Meyers in a 10-part series for NBC. Babylon 5 creator J Michael Stracznski is working on another series, Vlad Dracula, while directors Eli Roth and Neil Marshall are each working on films inspired by elements in Stoker’s story. There’s even talk of Tom Cruise playing Van Helsing in yet another spin-off yarn.
“We fear the night, we fear the stranger,” says Jarzyna, “but he’s attractive!” And he hints that the vampire in his version of Nosferatu might not really exist, after all. All his characters “have the vampire inside”, he says. “They behave like vampires. They become the vampires.”
Perhaps this is why Dracula is as popular as ever – he’s not just a symbol of our age, but also strikes a chord within us. Maybe there is something of the vampire in us all.