Why TV zombies are a dying breed, but vampires are alive and well – Star Tribune

Zombies are a dying breed. As "The Walking Dead" creeps toward its Nov. 20 series finale, an old friend is reclaiming its title as TV's mightiest monster.

"Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire," the first of AMC's adaptations of Rice's novels, premiered Oct. 2 as cable's most popular ad-supported drama of the year. Showtime's "Let the Right One In," in which a father goes to extreme lengths to quench the thirsts of his vampire daughter, and Syfy's "Reginald the Vampire," a more light-hearted take on the mythical creature, also debuted earlier this month.

They join a club whose members already include Peacock's "Vampire Academy," in which its female protagonists share more than a mutual taste for blood, and FX's "What We Do In the Shadows," which recently wrapped up its fourth season and celebration over its second Emmy nomination for best comedy series.

"Interest is up, up, up, up," said Gordon Grice, who teaches classes on classic horror at University of St. Thomas. "Vampires are becoming more and more popular."

Grice believes interest in vampires dates back to the ancient Greeks, centuries before the 1819 publication of John Polidori's "The Vampyre" and 1897's "Dracula" by Bram Stoker.

They made their first significant mark on TV in 1967 when vampire Barnabas Collins joined the weekday soap opera "Dark Shadows," turning the gothic series into a cult classic.

Collins would eventually transform from sinister to sympathetic. But for the most part, early vampires were fairly one-dimensional characters, either giving us hope that recently deceased ones may not have completely left us or tapping into that part of our psyche that loves to be scared silly.

That all changed with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

The series, created by Joss Whedon and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, drew parallels between the mythical creatures and troubled teens, convinced that going to the senior prom was just as traumatic as Dracula spending a sunny afternoon on the beach.

"With 'Buffy' and Rice's novels, vampires became a mode of identification rather than one of projection," said Laurence Rickels, a teacher and author, best known for "The Vampire Lectures."

"Reginald" creator Harley Peyton said his series, in which the title character constantly feels like an outsider, wouldn't have been possible without Whedon's 1997-2003 TV dramedy as a template.

"I mean, you can't make a show like this and not think about 'Buffy,'" he said.

The young vampires in "Buffy," as well as later hits like "True Blood" and "Vampire Diaries," weren't all that different from your coolest and cruelest classmates. That can make them more mortifying than a nameless corpse stumbling after you in the post-apocalypse.

"For me, they are the most human of monsters," said Andrew Hinderaker, who developed the "Let the Right One In" novel for television. "They look like us. They talk like us. They attack us in the most intimate ways. That makes them feel dangerously close. There's something really exciting and thrilling about that."

Sam Reid, who plays Lestat in "Interview," gives Rice a lot of credit for creating the more relatable vampire.

"She really made these complex, beautiful creatures," said Reid, who dressed up as a vampire on Halloween for 12 years while growing up in Australia. "They talk about our own darkest desires, and they're constantly questioning their existence, why they are here, because they are motive-conscious demons who don't really ever get to die."

Even kids feel a connection, a tradition that dates back to learning numbers from the Count on "Sesame Street" and slurping up Count Chocula cereal for breakfast.

"Monster High," which debuted Oct. 6 on Nickelodeon, is based on the fashion-doll franchise aimed at 7- to 14-year-olds.

"There's definitely a similarity between what these monsters go through and very real human experiences," said Nayah Damasen, 17, who plays a singing-and-dancing Draculaura on the series.

Vampires serving an adult audience often have more daunting responsibilities than nailing a musical number. They're often called upon to help us deal with issues ripped straight from the headlines.

"Dracula came out and became a huge hit at the height of syphilis," said Grice, drawing comparisons between neck bites and infections. "Now we're dealing with the COVID virus and monkeypox. Vampire stories can be a great metaphor for those."

AMC's "Interview" differs from the 1994 film version starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt by dealing directly with issues of race and sexual orientation. In this adaptation, Louis de Pointe du Lac is a Black man facing discrimination in 1910 New Orleans. The writers leave no doubt that he and his mentor Lestat are lovers.

"I'm not going to try to compete with Brad Pitt. He was a brilliant De Pointe," said Jacob Anderson, who plays the same role for the series, which has already been picked up for a second season. "But there are things about Louis in this interpretation that are reflective of lots of things from that time and this one. How amazing is that that all these Anne Rice interpretations and books can exist at the same time?"

The new shows may all have different tones but each seem to share the same ambition: Be more than just fright factories.

"I think the foundation of our show is very rooted in real emotional dynamics," said "Reginald" executive producer/director Jeremiah Chechik. "It's based on how we fit in, how we present ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we relate to each other, what's expected of us. The goal of our show is not really to create a horror vampire 'I'll suck your blood' kind of show. It's really about how, when you die, you can become a better person. Or not."

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Why TV zombies are a dying breed, but vampires are alive and well - Star Tribune

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