Monday, October 26, 2015

Making Vampires Scary Again

The above trailer, for the 2010 film, Let Me In, is a British-American adaptation of a 2004 Swedish novel entitled Let the Right One In. I'm going to go out on a limb and make what may be a heretical remark: the American film is better than the original Swedish adaptation. I won't get into why, because that's moot for the purposes of this post but feel free to hit me (Jason) up over at my Facebook page or on the TLG forums to discuss.

No, what I want to talk about here is vampires. This film is the first flick in possibly decades to get vampires right. Why? Because the vampire in this film is a brutal, vicious, creepy and unapologetic monster. She's a stone cold killer who uses humans to her own ends and has no qualms about doing so.

She's also a child, and there are few things as freaking disturbing as evil monster children.

This film is brutal, stark, moody, and frankly, a terrifying vampire film. It's one of my all time favorites.

Making Vampires Scary

Vampires are not supposed to be lovable romantic heroes. They're not supposed to be someone we root for. They shouldn't be tragic, though they should, when necessary, be beautiful. They sure as hell shouldn't sparkle in the sunlight. 

Vampires are an abomination. They are hunters who prey on their own. They destroy everything they ever loved in life. They are anathema to life itself. They are ancient, plotting, intelligent, and insidious. The vampire is an allegory for all the darker aspects of humanity. Those things that we don't talk about in the light because they're uncomfortable and traumatic. That's what a vampire is. If you're going to use vampires in your game or fiction, remember that at all times. 

The vampire is a reflection of whatever society's dark face is, in the era in which it is set. Dracula explored the seedy underside of stuffy Victorian England in just about every way. In today's society, a vampire should be an allegory for disease, terrorism and the brutality of mass violence and inequality, of seething quiet hatred, of a society desensitized while simultaneously outraged over the ills of society. They are corporate and political greed, lust and corruption. They are the ghouls that feed on the dregs of society in low-rent districts, and nobody does anything about it. 

Vampires are evil, not tragic. Tragic implies that you sympathize or empathize with a creature. Vampires, even if they were turned against their will, are alien and anathema to life. They have either sold their soul to the Devil, Death, or some nebulous Darkness, or have had their soul ripped from them. Either way, they are not redeemable. They're beasts who view humans as food and prey. They don't love you. They have no capability for love. If they do, it's twisted, unhealthy, abusive, stalker-y love. It's lust and obsession. It's not nice or remorseful. Take the character of Lucy in Dracula. Lucy was victimized. She was brutalized and taken by the vampire, and turned against her will. She didn't beg for death. She didn't have remorse for what she'd become. No...she became the "Bloofer Lady," a bogeyman (or woman) who hunted, stole and murdered children in the streets, then tried to tear the throat out of her own fiancee. 

That's what a vampire is. A creature who has no remorse, no soul, no life of their own, so they have to feed on yours. And they get off on doing it.

Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy or comfortable. Horror never is. 

Using Vampires

I don't have any advice on how to achieve these metaphors. That's for you to determine in the context of your own work or gaming group. I can, however, offer up some concrete ideas for using these baddies in your game. Remember the following:

  1. Vampires are immortal. Even if they're not ancient, they have time to wait for their plots to come to fruition. They might work slowly, insidiously, way behind the scenes. 
  2. Vampires are highly intelligent. Those that aren't, simply don't enjoy a very long un-life. Play the vampire like she's always one step ahead of your players. A vampire uses strategy and tactics. They don't attack their enemies head-on. 
  3. Vampires have resources. Their agents allow them to spy on their enemies. Their connections allow them to cut off resources. In a modern game they can freeze bank accounts, trump up criminal charges or slip poison into drinks. They should seem like they know everything and are everywhere. And the reason for this is...
  4. Vampires use minions. Dracula had his loyal tribe of gypsies (with apologies to any Roma who may be reading this). Other vampires have used werewolves, demons, hell hounds and other servants to carry out their dirty work and protect them during the day. Vampires prefer not to get their hands dirty and will stay far away from the action until the climax of the story.
  5. Vampires are alluring. They are pure, unadulterated evil that is undeniably, near-irresistibly attractive and magnetic. They promise eternal youth and vitality, they promise a world where the rules don't apply to you and where you can do whatever you want to whomever you want. They make a compelling offer. They are seductive. Most of us would like to think our morals would win out, but if someone offered you $100 million, and all you have to do is kill that guy for it...and there's a guarantee you'll never get caught? There are few who wouldn't be at least tempted to consider it. Again, nobody ever said this would be comfortable.
  6. Vampires are not one-off monsters. Don't just throw a vamp at your players as a random encounter or sitting in their crypt waiting for the PCs to arrive. That robs them of their potential for horror--they turn into orcs that you stake and move on. 
  7. Use variant myths. Not every vampire has to be repelled by garlic or find the crucifix anathema. Mix it up. Look to Asian or Native American vampire myths. Combine vampires with demonology or werewolf mythology. Make them powerful and unexpected.
  8. GMs: fudge your damn dice rolls and stats if you need to. Don't ever let that final encounter be anti-climactic. If the players do 60 points of damage in one round and the vampire had 50 points? Guess what? Now that vampire has 150 points. Don't cheat to the point where you're creating a T.P.K. but do whatever you have to do to make that vampire a credible, deadly threat. No matter what the die rolls may be, vampires are never surprised or caught off guard. They're too old and canny for that. 

Further Reading

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!