The rules and expectations within film genres are like a language with evolving rules of grammar; its evolution is a give and take between filmmaker and audience, guided by cultural changes as well as technological advances. For a film genre to survive it must communicate, remain relevant, and in the process of creation and viewing it must engage both filmmaker and audience. A successful film genre must constantly reinvent itself and change with the times.
The vampire film genre has held audiences in its spell almost since the beginning of film history. The 1922 German film "Nosferatu," directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau featured a supernatural vampire, an unlicensed version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (whose estate sued and won), and the Dracula character appeared again in Universal's "Dracula" of 1931 (featuring Bela Lugosi). However, the vampires in both films are quite different. "Nosferatu" presented the hideous creature of European folklore, while Lugosi's vampire was a more alluring character with a sexual appeal. These differing representations of vampires subsequently reappeared throughout the genre's history, presenting many interpretations of the character from mindless zombie to captivating siren.
Changing with the times, vampire films have somewhat left the larger classification of the horror film genre. For the most part, horror films have retained their focus on the victim. Whatever monster might be present is an evil to be avoided and its exploits are the thing to be feared. But in the vampire film genre our monsters have become beings with feelings, sometimes we are sympathetic of their blood-sucking fates and often the vampire has actually become the protagonist in these films. We may feel a passing regret for Freddy Krueger's ("Nightmare on Elm Street") fate, yet he remains the monster. Jason may briefly tug our sympathy strings in "Friday the 13th" but again, he is an evil to be overcome. On the other hand, in Anne Rice's "Interview With the Vampire," the vampire Louis is sensitive and thoughtful.
Louis says, “It was only when I became a vampire that I respected for the first time all of life. I never saw a living, pulsing human being until I was a vampire. I never knew what life was until it ran out in a red gush over my lips, my hands!” He is a Byronic hero who has transcended the demonic vampire of Hollywood and revisited the Romantic movement and 19th century Gothic fiction. Flawed yet enchanting, Louis has the brooding sexuality of Heathcliff from Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights" (1847) and the rough-edged charisma of Rochester from Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" (1847). He is Erik, the Phantom from Gaston Leroux's "Phantom of the Opera" and Claude Frollo from Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Louis' partner and counterpart Lestat de Lioncourt embodies the Byronic spirit as well.
Like the vampire novel, vampire films have become character driven, growing from pulp fiction into literature. These films have created a film language of their own, moving from a fascination with blood and death to an exploration of the soul and life.