The myth and reality of vampirism spans through millennia of folklore, appearing - in some form or another - within almost every culture, religion and country. The continuing survival of the vampire legend can generally be put down to the media, the multitudes of vampire movies and of course, Bram Stoker.
Modern Myth of the Vampire
The modern idea of what a vampire is can owe itself to writer Bram Stoker. Dracula was published in 1897 and gave us our first insight into the 'fictional' world of vampirism, using a lot of the mythical ideals as his background.
Stoker's Dracula was Eastern European, a common factor in the history of vampirism; he was also shown as a gothic figure, a guise that has been attributed to many modern day 'real' vampire cults. However, one of the many misconceptions of the book is the existence of clear 'vampire rules' - Stoker only touched on these, and it wasn't until the movie versions of Dracula arrived that the rules were made clear.
However, one rule that is often the source of confusion is that surrounding the creation of a vampire. In some cases this simply involves receiving a bite from another vampire, but purists will argue that a vampire is in fact created by feeding vampire blood to the newly-deceased. A further rule that also sometimes features is that vampires require the blood of the living, with so-called 'dead blood' leading to great illness.
To Kill a Vampire
Although these rules have been extended on, altered and used in differing manners by movie makers, the basic rules have always stayed the same, even with Joss Whedon's vampires.
The main differences have been in the characterisation of the vampire. Stoker's Dracula was a soulless evil demon, and for many years that was how the movies portrayed their vampires. It has only been in the past 10-15 years that film-makers have started to make changes to the ways in which they portrayed vampires, with characters such as Wesley Snipes's Blade and Brad Pitt's Louis2 being portrayed in a more human guise. By the end of the 20th Century, vampires were still seen as soulless demons, but ones which were not necessarily as evil as their forerunners.
Joss Whedon's Vampires
Many Whedon fans would argue that the modern fictional vampire characterisations are as a direct result of Joss's own ideals, as can be seen in the vampires of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. Joss portrayed his vampires in much the same way as Stoker; however, he gave them differing personalities and may even have invented the idea of a vampire having a soul. Joss's vampires were seen as the darker side of the person who had been turned into a vampire, even retaining a lot of the personality of their human self. Joss didn't want to portray the common characteristics of the average vampire. He knew that he would have vampires playing key roles and would have to give them distinct personalities.
Joss introduced the likes of Angel3. As a soulless vampire he was probably the most cruel and vicious of all Joss's vampires. However, when we first see Angel he is actually ensouled and fighting on the side of good. This is enough of a departure from the norm, but Joss takes it a step further and introduces the idea of a vampire in love with a vampire slayer, namely Buffy. These two examples alone are enough evidence to prove how Joss wanted to portray these vampiric characters.
Really Breaking the Mould
However, Joss didn't stop there - he wanted to push these characters further and introduced many differing formats, all steering away from what was considered as the average vampire.
Examples would include female vampires who were as strong and powerful as their male counterparts, seen in the likes of Drusilla and Sunday4. Many feminine vampiric roles of old had been shown as lesser vampires, portrayed as minions of their male master. This also helped to strengthen Joss's driving force behind the show, which was feminine power.
Next, there was the dumb, or 'not so bright', vampire. Again, the vampires portrayed previously had invariably been shown as strong and quite intelligent. Meanwhile, you could also argue that Joss added his own rule to the list of vampire rules, namely that all vampires, even newly risen ones, have an uncanny knowledge of martial arts.
The most important aspect of all was that Joss allowed each of these characters to grow, just in the same way as all of his other characters. The best example of this was Spike, a vampire who had made a name for himself by killing slayers and killing several of his victims by driving railway spikes through their heads. Spike was sent through a roller coaster of emotions and life-changing events, including a rather masochistic relationship with Buffy, all eventually leading to his heroic death while fighting the biggest evil of them all.