It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
No, let’s try this again:
More specifically, the glorious month leading up to Halloween. Those golden weeks when pumpkin spice reigns supreme, seasonal gourds cover every available surface, and we can watch Over the Garden Wall on repeat without feeling guilty about it. (More on that later this month!)
Autumn is, of course, an absolute goldmine for folklore. People tell folk narratives (like ghost stories and urban legends) with renewed vigor and macabre enthusiasm. Customary folklore, like “trick or treating” and divination games, are woven into holiday parties. Seasonal flavors like cinnamon spice, mulled wine, and apple-everything fill our refrigerators and infiltrate our lattes.
And of course, costume and dress take on a whole new dimension, entering the realm of the carnivalesque – or the topsy-turvy, the upside-down, the subversive, and the inverted all woven together in a space that is cordoned off from the everyday. Children can dress like fairies, devils, and anything in between and visit their neighbors’ houses, demanding candy. But college students can attend their classes dressed as dinosaurs and cows (ask us how we know) without their teachers kicking them out of their classrooms for being disruptive.
We might dress up, too. You’re shocked, I’m sure.
To celebrate this magical, liminal time of year, we’ll be posting every week about some aspect of the season that we love. This week, Sara is kicking us off with some recommendations for VAMPIRE media! Though we know and love classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Interview the Vampire, and the exquisite Marceline from Adventure Time, for this post, she’s picked some of her favorite lesser-known stories. So break out your velvet and lace, grab a cup of tea (or a glass of very red wine), and prepare for some truly excellent vampire tales!
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) directed by Jim Jarmusch – This dreamy movie is a delight for the senses. The music, the clothes, and the settings are both lush and edgy. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play a devoted vampire couple with a decidedly fae twist, and I am here for every second of it.
Sunshine (2003) by Robin McKinley – A strange, experimental, and weirdly charming novel that retells Beauty and the Beast with the help of vampires, magic, and lots of baking. The protagonist, Rae, is a grumpy baker with a magical affinity for sunlight and a reluctant partnership with a vampire. This is probably my favorite novel of all time, and it always makes me want to eat cinnamon rolls.
Nosferatu (1922) directed by F.W. Murnau – Many people are familiar with the classic 1931 film Dracula, but Nosferatu is its older, weirder cousin. Also an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel, Nosferatu is an unauthorized retelling – thus Count Dracula becomes Count Orlok, and the other characters and place names morph a little, too. A silent German expressionist film, it is a far cry from contemporary horror, but it has many genuinely creepy moments.
Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) (2007) by Ilona Andrews – Though I’m an avid reader of urban fantasy, I only recently picked up the Kate Daniel series, and it really is a delight. The main character is competent, sword-wielding, and smart-mouthed, and the series boasts an impressive lack of love triangles (a plot device that I positively loathe but is epidemic in this post-Twilight world!) The vampires of this series are much closer to the vampires of folklore – animalistic, leech-like, and deeply unsexy.
Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu – This early vampire novella is a Gothic masterpiece. The friendship/ tension/ romance/ horror going on between the innocent young Laura and the ancient, seductive Carmilla is compelling and creepy.
“Krishna Blue” (2014) by Shveta Thakrar – This intoxicating short story by the wildly talented Shveta Thakrar recasts vampirism as a thirst for color as well as life. Vibrant and intensely visual, the story explores fraught family relationships and the (sometimes competing) desires to belong, to create, and to consume before descending into horror. It’s an incredibly creative take on the vampire story, and it will make you surprisingly hungry.
“The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (1949) by Fritz Leiber – Though this short story was published in 1949, it still feels incredibly modern and timely. A story about beauty, gazes, and hunger, it pushes the limits of what vampirism can mean and offers a chilling critique of capitalism.
Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) created by John Logan – The costumes. The sets. The perfect, perfect expressions on the actors’ faces. Penny Dreadful is probably the goriest item on this list, but it’s also one of the most lush. While one of the major plotlines of Season 1 involves a quest to retrieve Mina (originally from Stoker’s Dracula) from the clutches of the vampires, this Gothic mash-up also features Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein and his Creature(s), an American shapeshifter, and more.
“The Vampyre” (1816) by John Polidori – This short story is largely responsible for our cultural perception of vampires. Before Polidori, vampires were…super gross. In folklore, they were often swollen and bloated, closer to the animal than the urbane. Polidori based his vampire on his employer, the dashing poet Lord Byron, and his aristocratic and, well, Byronic antihero became the model on which future vampire tales were based.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) by Holly Black – Though she’s most famous for her Modern Faerie novels, Holly Black’s lone vampire novel is phenomenal. Her imagining of Coldtown – a quarantined part of the city in which vampires and the desperate people who seek them out live in squalor and splendor – is creatively and vividly rendered. Her vampires are sexy, scary, and surprisingly adept with social media. It’s a delightful romp with a perfect ending.
“Snow, Glass, Apples” (1994) by Neil Gaiman – Brittany and I love to say that sleeping maiden stories are really about vampires (with varying degrees of earnestness and/ or glee), but Neil Gaiman really went for it in this adaptation of Snow White. Here, Snow White is literally cast as a vampire who wields her monstrous beauty and sexuality to achieve her happily ever after. It is DISTURBING but fascinating? Have fun?
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) directed by Ana Lily Amirpour – An Iranian-American vampire Western, this movie is a fabulous reimagining of what a vampire story can be. Wildly creative and unapologetically feminist, it is by turns creepy, funny, romantic, and disturbing. I could barely make it through the film the first time because I was worried something was going to happen to the pet cat, but I am relieved to report that THE CAT IS FINE. So enjoy the show!
Is your favorite vampire tale missing from this list? Please tell us about it in the comments!
P.S. – We’re cooking up something special for Halloween. We’ll be announcing the cap to our Halloween extravaganza very soon…