So we return to the age-old question of vampires and werewolves. I’ve previously opined on the question of which one would win in a fight against the other (for those who don’t know, I went with the werewolf… barring certain conditions). Now, I want to look at the question from a human perspective: which one is scarier? One on one, a human is dead either way—or perhaps even cursed from the conflict—but which gives the human being more cause for alarm?
A superficial treatment that examines the creatures in their traditional forms will probably conclude that the werewolf is scarier. The traditional vampire looks basically human; perhaps, he is a little pale, and his teeth are a little overly large, but he can walk among us without provoking a hue and cry or any other extraordinary response. The werewolf, however, in her true form is a terrible beast to behold: claws, fangs, fur, and fury. It is a snarling beast without control or conscience. As such, it will engender the most profound terror in its victims before it kills.
But… does the story end there? Is the mundane appearance of the vampire actually a disadvantage here? The key point with the vampire is that he is a thinking foe. The werewolf, in her true form, is just a savage creature that will rip you to pieces—true this will be terrifying to experience, but only for a moment. The vampire can plot against you; he can seduce you; he can wrap you in the threads of his machinations, like a spider ensnares a fly—slowly, with the horror mounting moment to moment, until you realize there is no escape, and you have lost your humanity and your soul to a creature whose bite will sentence you to hell.
The vampire also has the option of being as scary as the werewolf, or, at least, close to it. The traditional vampire can take the form of a wolf if he wants (which is not necessarily as intimidating as a walking wolf-man, but it can be a bit unnerving nonetheless). He can take the form of mist, so when you are snooping around in the mist-shrouded halls of his castle, you will have every reason to be alarmed. Although there are more ways to kill a vampire than there are a werewolf, the vampire has more abilities. As stated above he can assume the form of wolf or mist (and bat), but he can also mesmerize his human victims and control the weather. True, he has more weaknesses than a werewolf, but those just serve to make him more intriguing.
A vampire has more mobility, as well. The original vampire myths allowed them to move about during the day. Regardless, a vampire is a vampire every day of its existence; a werewolf is only a werewolf on the night of a full moon.
So, if you are looking for cheap terror, then a werewolf is more frightening. But if you are looking for a deep, more profound horror that takes you in its fist and crushes the life from you, ever so slowly—the vampire is the way to go.
Legends of the vampire abound the world over. The myth has morphed from the tales told around a campfire to world-wide box office hits and best-selling books. Throughout, the nature of the vampire has slowly changed, or perhaps been deliberately muddled. In modern times, the vampire is undergoing even more change. In horror movies (as opposed to something like “Twilight”), an emphasis is being placed upon the vampire as monster. Where once the vampire of horror resembled a human being with only a pair of slightly-too-large sharp canine teeth as tell-tale signs of its true nature, it is now being more consistently represented as a hideous monster, or a human-like being that transforms into a hideous monster when it is time to feed. With modern special effects it is relatively easy to make a creature horrific-looking: white-grey skin, finger-nails like claws, and mouths filled with row upon row of vicious, sharp teeth. Add to that a growling, beast-like visage, and the transformation is complete. But is all this “beefing up” of the vampire’s bestial nature necessary?
I would argue no. It works at a superficial level; the visual effect of a horrific vampire, such as the one Colin Farrell played in the re-make of “Fright Night” can be quite disconcerting the first time you see it on the screen. But that’s as far as it goes. To me, the greatest horrific characteristic of the vampire is its human-like intelligence. Here is a monster that feeds on humans, slaying them, transforming them into its own kind, and it is as smart as any of them, often times smarter with centuries of experience on its side. To me, that has the potential of creating a truly terrible monster, yet it is hardly used as well as it could be. To me, the visually horrifying vampire does the myth as a whole a disservice because part of the horror that came with the myth was the notion that the vampire appeared almost completely human—perhaps he was a little pale, and he had those two sharp teeth I mentioned, but beyond that it was easy to mistake him for one of us. A bite from a vampire seen at a distance could easily be mistaken for a kiss. Turning the creature into a hideous monster changes that dynamic in a fundamental way and something is lost when that happens. He becomes a killing machine, a mechanism for cheap thrills and slaughter. I prefer the vampire that plots and schemes, that has a plan. This requires more subtlety in the writing, but I believe it is worth it. A story where one can see and feel the intelligence of this diabolical adversary would be far more effective than simply presenting a brutal killer with supernatural powers.
This seems to be a common theme on a number of web sites I’ve stumbled across. I got nothing else to write about today, so I might as well address it. There are people who, in all seriousness, are asking whether vampires really exist. Take this article, for example. The writer suggests that there is evidence for the existence of real vampires (specifically the similarity in certain vampire-like legends across multiple cultures) and then goes on to argue that since it has not been proven one way or the other, he/she chooses to remain open to the possibility to the extent that he/she takes precautions.
It may be worthwhile to analyze this question objectively. I studied analytical philosophy in college, so I have a better grasp of epistemological concerns than most people. And though the “existence” of a vampire is a metaphysical concern, our knowledge or lack thereof is an epistemological one.
Is it possible that vampires exist? Yes. It is possible. Just… not… bloody… likely! One of the first tenets of rational thinking I learned in philosophy is that you can’t prove a negative. You can’t prove that vampires DON’T exist because the universe is just two vast and varied. Proving they don’t exist would entail somehow being aware of everything happening in all of reality all at once. Human minds are finite. Even when grouped together. There will always be some corner of reality that remains unexplored where the vampire might be hiding. Let me correct myself, though. Some things you can prove don’t exist because they aren’t even thinkable; specifically, contradictions. Contradictions are objects which possess at least two characteristics which effectively negate each other. For example, round squares do not exist. There is no object that is both round and square in the same way at the same time; and no, octagons do not count as a counter-example. Then there is the realm of the silly. Such things might exist if there are no natural bounds on reality and all our scientific “knowledge” is either false or just far too-limited to encompass reality. Traditional vampires, nosferatu, undead, werewolves, fairies, unicorns, and other monsters–they all fall in here. To make it mathematical (although in a somewhat subjective way), we can rank a creatures possibility to exist on a scale where a 0 means the object is known to not exist (a contradiction), and 10 denotes that it most certainly does (your self-awareness), I would put vampires and their like in the region of 1.
So, as I said, vampires may exist, but they just aren’t very likely. You can, of course, play with the definition of the creature. Traditional vampires, also known as nosferatu, are undead. That means they are basically a corpse that has been imbued with a certain echo of life. They were formerly human, transformed into an evil monster by another such creature, and filled with an insatiable lust for human blood. If you stop there, you might be able to find something sort of like that in nature (although I would nix the undead aspect). There are humans who drink blood, some who even think they are vampires, but this is most probably a psychological disorder not a state of being that grants super-cosmic powers. The more powers you add from the traditional myth, the less probable you make finding that creature a reality. Are there creatures who, through innate ability, can control the weather? Probably not. Can transform into mist? Probably not. Can change into a wolf or bat? Probably not. Etc… If there is a common origin to the vampire myth in nature it is unlikely that it resembles our notions of the traditional vampire, except in the most vague, round-a-bout way. With that in mind, I don’t intend to take any precautions against vampires, nosferatu, undead, werewolves, dragons, or any other monster from myth for that matter. Dracula was based on a real man, Vlad Tepes. And though Vlad Tepes was certainly evil, he was just a man, not undead, just a cruel tyrant. Dracula, as vampire, is myth.