Alluring and enigmatic, vampires have conquered literature and the screen for many years. Back in 1819 one of the first pieces of fiction, The Vampyre by John Polidori, was written about the myth of vampires, and from there a wide range of tales were born, including the renowned Dracula by Bram Stoker. Since then, there have been many variations in the portrayal of vampires, but common characterisations depict them as a gothic trope: evil, undead beings that ruthlessly feed on innocent civilians. Why, then, are they still so popular in TV shows?
Like a great number of horror shows, much of the vampire genre is primarily situated in inconspicuous towns where mysterious ‘animal attacks’ begin to surface: perhaps with missing tourists, or campers disappearing in the night. A prime example is The CW’s hit show The Vampire Diaries (or TVD), a loose adaptation of the 1991 novels by L. J. Smith. Premiering in 2009 and running for eight seasons, TVD follows two vampire brothers, Damon and Stefan. The show sees them returning to their birthplace of Mystic Falls, Virginia, where they fall for the same human girl…cue a complex love triangle, diary writing, and the introduction of lots of supernatural beings. Despite concluding four years ago, the series is still increasingly popular amongst its teen audience—is the pandemic culpable for the sudden revival, or is it just the timeless feel of the show?
As expected, the prolonged periods indoors during lockdown have meant that TV has been key in combatting boredom. While some viewers have delved into newer releases, others have revisited comfort shows of the early 21st century and it appears The Vampire Diaries has been an ideal escape from normality, catapulting viewers back to the Tumblr era of the early 2010s. Think Lana’s Ultraviolence, alt music and basically the grunge period of the internet, except now with attractive vampires and constant impending doom. Airing at the peak of this era, Season 5 incorporates many of these influences, and Lorde and The Neighbourhood are just some of the artists reflected in arguably the show’s best soundtrack (besides Season 6). But why would anyone want to relive these awkward years? There is no nostalgic vintage feel of the 80s or 90s. Instead, there is a carefully constructed plot reminding us of all the mishaps and memories adolescence brings (without the blood-sucking aspect of course).
Where vampires are villainised in literature, they are romanticised on screen. Damon, Stefan, Katherine and all the vampires are undeniably attractive. Where you may correlate vampires to being pale and old, our protagonists bask in their eternal youth and make wearing blood look like a fashion statement. Although there isn’t much diversity, it is refreshing to have powerful female characters like Katherine Pierce to idolise in a male-dominated genre. Katherine is a survivor and refuses to show mercy to anyone, especially humans.
Romance (as expected) and relationships are prevalent in the progression of the plot. The on-screen chemistry between all the actors is palpable; while I was certainly invested in the Damon-Stefan-Elena dilemma (team Delena here), the platonic relationships of our female protagonists Caroline, Bonnie, and Elena; the Salvatore brothers, and the Mikaelson family are all endearing to view. It’s hard to believe that the undead could express human emotions like grief and love, but somehow even while on killing sprees these vampire characters can be empathised with. It’s hard not to form an emotional attachment to these characters and their fictional lives while stuck at home with endless hours to binge. Additionally, it is impossible to deny the mark that the franchise has left on pop culture: there are countless edits, fan art, web series and numerous awards associated with the franchise.
Though relationships may seem the primary focus, the town history encompassed in the not-so-quaint Mystic Falls allows for an exploration into the centuries of folklore surrounding the genre. Almost like our protagonists, the plot stays timeless while maintaining a modern image. Flashbacks are one of the most effective narrative techniques used by the directors in allowing the desired ambience to evolve on screen; the roaring 20s, 1700 Louisiana, war-torn 1940s, and 15th century Bulgaria are some of the most memorable moments of the show. Where 2009 is lacking in the fashion department, the 1864 Victorian attire and the 1920s flapper girl dresses revitalise our screens. The cinematography is stunning across the seasons and the world-building is fascinating, making it such a complex show to even begin to digest (no pun intended). With the everlasting popularity of period series’ like Bridgerton emphasised this past year, The Vampire Diaries excels in grandeur and debauchery with elegant masquerade balls and parties and a Miss Mystic Falls Pageant for the young, with no lack of drama unfolding.
Satisfying the ever-changing plot, the myriad of supernatural beings generally originates from folklore and are recognisable, with the inclusion of werewolves, witches, and the enticing sirens. Additionally, there has been a greater exploration into the intriguing variations and sub-versions of vampires, such as the witch-vamp ‘heretics’ and the humanity switch where vampires are able to casually turn off all emotions. For avid supernatural lovers, this has meant darker twists, making it reminiscent of traditional gothic depictions. This is highlighted even more so in the equally successful (or controversially better) TVD spin-off, The Originals, following the ‘original vampires’ aka The Mikaelson family and their venture to reclaim New Orleans as their home. It is a destructive, deadly, and engrossing portrayal of these vindictive killers and their overpowering love for family. ‘Always and Forever’, I suppose.
Perhaps the pandemic is to blame, or maybe it’s Stefan’s charisma and Damon’s humour, but The Vampire Diaries is extremely immersive. The differences in the characterisations—from the ruthless murderer to the friendly soul—has made it accessible to a variety of generations. Its overarching themes of family, love and humanity have left a legacy, and “it’s been a hell of a ride” for all its viewers.
Words by Emilia Butcher-Marroqui
This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.
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