Prime Time Bloodsuckers
Given the very nature of vampires, specifically their propensities of bloodlust, eroticism, and murder, it's easy to see why creatures of the night have a tough time getting past television mucky-mucks and particularly television censors. In regard to long-term vampiric success, there's no arguing that Dark Shadows has thus far had the longest run. A few other series attempted a rise from the grave with short-lived success, including Dracula: The Series (1990), Kindred: The Embraced (based on the role-playing game Vampire: The Embraced), and more recently, a single season of the 2007 drama Moonlight featuring a vampire private investigator.
But along the way, there have been a few highly “sucksessful” vampire-based series whose characters have television immortality that, for shows like Forever Knight, Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, resulted in serialized novels, comic books, companion books, hugely popular Internet fan sites, fan clubs, societies, and have launched franchises complete with bobbleheads, action figures, magazines, video games, conventions, and all measure of paraphernalia (see Chapter 19).
One of the more successful television vampire series ranks high under the endearment category. In 1989, the CBS made-for-tv movie Nick Knight gave us our first glimpse of one of the more tortured reluctant vampires ever conceived. The film starred musician and former General Hospital heartthrob Rick Springfield as a four-centuries-old vampire working in Los Angeles as a detective solving a host of grisly murders involving victims being drained of blood. In 1992, the pilot was remade into the late-night series Forever Knight, with the affable Welsh-Canadian actor Geraint Wynn Davies assuming the lead role of homicide detective Nicholas Knight. Primarily a Canadian production, the plot differs from the pilot on several accounts in that it was based in Toronto and Nicholas is now 800 years old, a fact that only adds to his extreme derision and angst in attempting to make restitution for his evil past and ultimately rid himself of his vampirism. He's helped in his quest by pathologist and close mortal confidant Natalie Lambert (Catherine Disher), who stands in contrast to Nick's vampiric confidant and former lover Janette (Deborah Duchene).
Complicating matters throughout Forever Knight's three-season run is Nick's maker, the intensely philosophical and wickedly sinister Lucien LaCroix, brilliantly played by Nigel Bennett. A 2,000-year-old former Roman army general made in Pompeii during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, LaCroix's obvious distain for Nick's quest for absolution and humanity beautifully portrays the misuse of vampiric power and its alternate usefulness as a tool for creating a better society. Like many traditional vampires, those in Forever Knight have superhuman strength, hypnotic powers, heightened senses, and the typical aversion to sunlight and staking. They also possess the capacity for flight, moving at great speeds, and tissue regeneration.
It can be said that fans of Forever Knight are as dedicated and fervent as they come. On more than one occasion, it was the show's intense fan base that saved it from cancellation. In 1995, a lobbyist group called the
What has arguably endeared Forever Knight to the hearts of all vampire aficionados, aside from the various love/hate triangles and vampiric antagonists, is the constant interplay between Nick and LaCroix, whose toying with mortals leads him to moonlight as “The Nightcrawler,” a late-night radio host, in which his broadcasts invariably shed light on Nick's all-consuming pathos and fight to control his bloodlust and rage. Indoctrinated into the undead by LaCroix in 1228, Nicholas de Brabant remains one of the more high-profile vampires ever to grace the small screen.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
When it comes to Valley Girls turned vampire hunters there's only one name that comes to mind: Buffy. In 1992, writer Joss Whedon introduced us to the self-obsessed, flitty shopaholic cheerleader Buffy Summers in the feature-length film Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cute and campy, the film stars Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, and Rutger Hauer as the evil Lothos. Though Buffy proved successful at the box office, it was decidedly a flop in Whedon's mind, as his intent was not to create a high school horror romp but an extraordinary character of staunch female embodiment.
Five years later, in 1997, Whedon got his chance as executive producer of the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which premiered on the small WB Network. For seven seasons, the Emmy-winning series gave us an empowered Buffy (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), who kicked all kinds of demonic and vampiric butt in her hometown of Sunnydale, California, and beyond, focusing primarily on the “Hellmouth,” a demonic gateway below Sunny-dale High. At its most base metaphor, one can't help but be amused by the dichotomy of high school being equated to hell.
Amid all the campy comedy, drama, paranormal terror, and martial arts wrapped around scores of vampires and other malfeasants, Buffy came to know Angel, played by the ever-charming David Boreanaz, whose badass vampire rears its ugly head when he and Buffy engage in a night of passion. Tragic and metaphorical in its subtext, this meeting of vampire and vampire slayer proved so successful that it launched a spin-off, simply titled Angel (see Chapter 13).
Premiering in 1999 on the WB, Angel highlights the triumphs and extremely tortured soul of the 200-year-old vampire Angelus, who spends his first millennia killing with reckless abandon but who, courtesy a band of revenge-minded gypsies, has his human soul firmly restored to his vampiric body. An exceptional twist on vampire lore, Angel is tormented by the zeitgeist of his murderous ways and driven to help others as a private investigator in a quest to alleviate his eternal angst and remorse. With Buffy creator Joss Whedon at the helm, David Boreanaz truly shines as a tortured creature, whose somber reckonings, memories, and killings offer up the dichotomy of a reluctant vampire and alternately a vampire unwilling to forfeit his immortality so that he can continue making restitution to humanity.
Darker in its conception than Buffy, Angel has the added benefit of crossover characters including Buffy herself. Told in a serial format like most serial dramas, with self-contained tales that add to a more powerful long-term storyline, Angel in many ways is held to the same standard as other television vampires such as Nick Knight and Moonlight's Mick St. John in that despite being a creature based in evil, his intent is to accomplish good. In the vampire realm, that puts Boreanaz and his angelic alter ego in a class of their own. Running for five seasons, Angel, like Buffy, has achieved television immortality. Upon its cancellation, and prompted by fan outrage, Angel's ambiguous farewell resulted in a 2007 comic book series called Angel: After the Fall.
Though it's not officially listed in Webster's, the word Elvira is by definition a raven-haired, ultracampy cult classic beauty clad in skimpy, tight-fitting, cleavage-enhancing black dresses, who since 1981 has been pushing her vampire schtick with unbelievable fun and immortal aplomb. To Elvira, aka actress Cassandra Peterson, we say this: Honey, you
Though it's only just begun, HBO has high hemoglobic hopes for its new vampire series, True Blood, based on the Sookie Stackhouse series written by author Charlaine Harris (see Chapter 13). With its September 2008 premiere, True Blood introduced the world to the inhabitants of Bon Temps, a fictional town in Louisiana that is home to eccentric, reluctantly telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, played by Oscar winner Anna Paquin, and the man she falls in love with, Bill Compton (played by Stephen Moyer), who just happens to be a 173-year-old vampire. Of course, the fact that Bill is 148 years older than Sookie matters little, considering vampires, courtesy the invention of synthetic blood by Japanese scientists, have now become accepted among society. After the airing of the first two episodes, it was announced that True Blood would return for a second season.