Mind in the Media: Interview with the Vampire and Our Attraction to the Undead

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Spoiler alert! This article contains major spoilers for the first five episodes of the first season of the AMC series “Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire.”

Of all the supernatural creatures that haunt pop culture, including zombies, werewolves, ghosts, and demons, it’s vampires that never die. It seems no matter what kind of monster is featured in the latest movies, TV shows, books, plays, or more recently, podcasts, vampires are always lurking in the shadows, waiting for their moment to re-take the spotlight.

After a few years of flying under the radar, in 2022, vampires are once again flooding our TV screens, with four shows—Peacock’s Vampire Academy, Syfy’s Reginald the Vampire, Showtime’s Let Me In, and AMC’s Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire – debuting within just two months.

Yet, while we historically think of vampires as creatures of horror, all these shows have one thing in common: the vampires they focus on are sympathetic, not monstrous. Moreover, in the case of Interview With the Vampire, in particular, the main vampire characters Louis (Jacob Anderson) and Lestat (Sam Reid) are romantic figures, even as they hanker for human blood and engage in terrible acts of violence.

In adapting Anne Rice’s 1976 novel, the creative team behind Interview With the Vampire has taken more than a few liberties with the author’s original story. Not only does it start the action in the early 1900s instead of 1791, but it’s also added a potent exploration of race and racism by making both Louis and Claudia (Bailey Bass), the child vampire created by Lestat to appease Louis, Black.

This has made it possible for the show to more explicitly examine the power imbalance between Claudia, Louis, and Lestat, a white French man who also happens to be a vampire hundreds of years Louis and Claudia’s senior.

In addition, much of the book’s subtext is now text in the show. Of most interest (and excitement) to many viewers who are also fans of the novel, the series makes it clear that Louis and Lestat are in a romantic relationship from the very beginning.

While Rice’s novel only hinted that the pair’s relationship was sexual, the show establishes Lestat and Louis as a couple and tracks their affair across the years. But the interviewer of the title, Daniel Malloy (Erica Bogosian) points out that Louis’ relationship with Lestat comes across as downright abusive, even if Louis is unwilling to admit it. Confirming Malloy’s suspicions, and once again making the subtext of the book text, in the show’s fifth episode, Louis suffers a horrific beating at the hands of Lestat.

It’s the first time Lestat has physically abused Louis onscreen or in the pages of Rice’s book. Prior to this, Louis and Claudia always suffered a great deal of psychological and emotional abuse at Lestat’s hands. However, this was always subtle enough that it could be justified.

Physical abuse has no grey area, though, enabling the show to directly question and comment on the way fans tend to romanticize the unequal power dynamics and abusive behavior that are a part of many recent works of romantic vampire fiction, including Interview With the Vampire.

This article will explore how vampires became figures of sympathy and romance and why we continue to be attracted to them. It’ll also investigate whether watching stories featuring romantic representations of vampires could cause fans to become more accepting of abuse in their real-life romances.

The History of the Sympathetic Vampire

Although the details of vampire mythology change, the idea of vampires as immortal beings who must drink blood to survive has had a place in pop culture ever since Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897.

Yet, while Dracula was a figure of horror, even in the 19th century, there were vampire stories that evoked readers’ sympathies, including Lord Ruthven in 1819’s The Vampyre, and the title vampire characters of 1847’s Varney the Vampire and 1872’s Carmilla. While these vampires have to drink blood to stay alive, their natures are a source of both torture and motivation for them, making them more alluring and tragic than frightening.

The same is true of Louis in Interview with the Vampire. While the sympathetic nature of Anne Rice’s character wasn’t new, Louis’ introduction ushered in an era of sympathetic, romantic vampires that continues to this day in everything from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Vampire Diaries, and of course, the TV adaptation of Interview With the Vampire.

Vampires as Desirable and Romantic

As with other romantic vampires, Interview With the Vampire’s Louis and Lestat don’t look monstrous. Instead, they’re attractive, seductive, and misunderstood. This is a point frequently hammered home by the show, which is narrated and told from Louis’ point of view.

For example, when Louis is rejected by his family, the show emphasizes his pain, even though it had previously been shown that his need for blood almost led him to eat his baby nephew. Meanwhile, although Lestat’s murderous tendencies are often touched on, the show also depicts the character as intensely afraid of facing his immortality alone.

The desire to be accepted by family and not to be alone are deeply human concerns, which is one reason vampires are often so attractive. They are the most human of all supernatural creatures.

Not only do they have unique personalities and worries, but they also look like us, and as a result, cross the divide inherent in other works of horror between human and monster. In many cases, due to the way their natures leads them to isolate themselves, vampires become metaphors for rebels or outsiders on the margins of society.

In the TV version of Interview With the Vampire, Louis and Lestat’s status as outsiders isn’t solely the product of their vampirism, even though that may be their most salient feature in viewers’ minds.

However, they’re also a gay interracial couple in the early 20th century and Louis is a Black business owner, positions that further marginalize them while also making them even more sympathetic and attractive.

Self-Realization

Horror scholar Mathias Clasen proposes that vampires like Lestat and Louis fulfill different psychological needs for readers and viewers than vampires who are purely figures of horror.

On the one hand, vampirism is made attractive because it not only confers beauty, strength, and wealth, it also enables the vampire to dedicate themselves to their own self-realization.

This is certainly seen in Interview With the Vampire, as becoming a vampire enables Louis to expand his business in ways he previously never would have imagined. Meanwhile, Lestat is shown to be the originator of at least one famous musical composition. Clearly immortality has its advantages.

Clasen also notes that stories that revolve around attractive vampires and their human girlfriends, such as The Vampire Diaries and Twilight, enable consumers to consider mate choice and the dilemmas of romance, ensuring that while the vampires in these stories may be dangerous bad boys, they aren’t figures of horror (at least not to their romantic interest).

Blood Lust

As Dr. Lee Phillips, psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist, points out, people want to be desired and wanted, and vampires’ need for blood makes their desire for humans a matter of life and death.

This turns romance with a vampire into the ultimate fantasy. “People have fantasies of surrendering to their romantic partners, the same way a person surrenders to a vampire after being charmed and seduced,” Phillips notes. “Letting go, surrendering, and being vulnerable are not especially popular in our culture. However when this occurs with fictional vampires and the people they hunt… it fulfills that fantasy.”

While Interview With the Vampire centers on a relationship between two vampires, this ability to vicariously experiment with mate choice is inherent in the show. Louis’ narration encourages viewers’ identification with him, enabling them to experience his relationship with Lestat through his eyes.

As a result, viewers experience the romanticization of Louis’ relationship with Lestat from Louis’ point of view, which includes the comfort and empowerment that accompanies his embrace of his sexuality as well as the betrayals and psychological manipulation Louis suffers at Lestat’s hands.

At the same time, the journalist Malloy’s observations throughout the show about how problematic Louis’ relationship with Lestat is encourages viewers to see the cracks in it—and that’s even before Lestat beats Louis to a bloody pulp in the climax of the show’s fifth episode.

Does Romanticizing Vampires Lead to Acceptance of Real-Life Abuse?

The romanticization of vampires has led to concern that people, especially adolescent girls, will become more open to the idea of getting into and staying in abusive relationships. However, while it’s easy to compare the behavior of real-life romantic partners to that of fictional vampires, whose actions often includes stalking, manipulation, and abuse, studies indicate we may not have to worry too much.

For example, one study found that people who viewed vampire dramas were as distressed by controlling, threatening, and stalking behaviors as those who did not and that this group was not more likely to experience abuse in their own romantic relationships.

In another study, women who watched movies that romanticized stalking behavior were no more likely than women who watched movies that depicted stalking behavior as scary to support myths about stalking.

However, there were exceptions: women who found the romantic depiction of stalking especially realistic or were especially immersed in the movie were significantly more likely to endorse stalking myths.

These studies indicate that while some people may be more likely to accept abusive behavior in a real-life romance after exposure to romantic vampire narratives, because vampire characters are fantastical and bear little resemblance to real-life romantic partners, it’s probably unlikely.

Vampires as Erotic Escapism

Phillips agrees with this assessment, noting that because vampires are sexy and attractive, the idea of being abused and controlled by them is a fantasy, and romantic vampire fiction is a form of erotic escape.

On the other hand, “People in real-life abusive relationships may not desire their abusive partner sexually. These people want to get out of the arms of an abuser and they feel stuck. They may not necessarily want to get out of the arms of a vampire.”

Interestingly, the sexy escapism represented by romantic vampires may also be the reason some fans are angry following Lestat’s brutal beating of Louis in Interview With the Vampire’s fifth episode. These fans feel that the show has done a disservice by depicting such extreme levels of violence within the pair’s romance.

Other fans, however, believe the scene merely brings the emotional abuse the pair were already inflicting on one another into the realm of the physical, making the toxicity of their relationship more difficult to excuse away or mask.

Yet, the scene also brings a new element of horror into a romantic vampire narrative. The show’s shockingly explicit depiction of domestic violence subverts our expectations of romantic vampires, but it also makes the scary subtext of many of these vampire stories text, forcing viewers to confront some uncomfortable truths about vampires as figures of sympathy and romance.



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