Vampires are a lot like dogs you know.
No. Don’t scoff. They really are if you think about it in just the wrong way (that’s always been the Doctor Strangemind way of course).
Here, let me explain.
So what is the single most noticeable feature of the animal known as dog? That’s right, the seemingly endless plasticity of the species. The fact is humanity has been able to twist and turn and breed dogs into a startling wide array of forms from poodles to corgis to dobermans. If the average Martian visited our planet what are the chances that this visitor from space would guess right off that all dogs are of the same species? Not likely is it? Instead the average Martian would probably decide that dogs make no sense to them. Which is probably why they don’t visit Earth all that often, they find this planet too weird and confusing to be a satisfactory holiday destination.
So what has this to do with vampires I’ve no doubt you’re wondering. Well, the answer to that is to point out how humanity has been able to twist and turn and write vampires into a startling wide array of types and situations, far more than any other supernatural creature. Why this should be has to do with the fact that vampires are essentially humans with supernatural abilities and are thus have human level or above intelligence. Consequently it’s relatively easy to insert them into a wide range of roles of roles and situations. Whereas many other supernatural creatures are trapped within a limited role due to their having little or no ability to think and plan.
To pick the most egregious example, how much variety have you seen in the many zombie films made since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead first shuffled onto the big screen? Off the top of my head I can only think of 28 Days Later as presenting anything like a different take on the idea of the living dead. Even in a comedies like Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead the actual zombies are little more than off-the-rack shamblers. I’m sure that if I more was into zombies flicks I’d be able to nominate more good examples of different approaches but the mere fact that the genre is often divided up on the basis of whether the zombies move fast or slow does suggest to me variety is lacking among the living dead. In short, no brains equals no variety.
The werewolf strikes me as another supernatural creature unable to widen its role. The problem isn’t so much the inevitable changing into beast form and the hunting of humans but the fact that once in that beast form werewolves rarely demonstrate anything more than animal level intelligence. So it is that while I’ve seen the occasional good werewolf film (Dog Soldiers and An American Werewolf in London come to mind) I don’t recall a book or film that explores the possibilities of the form in a different way to those two films. I’ve certainly never read or watched the werewolf equivalent to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, or Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night. Oh, and I’m definitely not counting anything in the Twilight series (or the imitations thereof) as those characters are such angsty teens that anything else about them is merely window dressing. (However, I will recommend to all and sundry a film called Werewolf Cop. It doesn’t entirely break the mold but does shake things up some by having the main character still perform his duties while in beast form. It’s also at least as funny as Shaun of the Dead in my opinion.)
Okay, so if vampires aren’t the supernatural creatures suffering most from plot limitations why am I writing about them? Well, there are two good reasons for me to be considering vampires right here, right now. (Don’t worry. I’ll get back to werewolves. I have some thoughts about them which will blow your minds in due course.) Now my first reason is that too many vampire stories focus on static locations (the previously mentioned Stephen King and Steve Niles works for example) and I don’t think this is still a viable option. The second is because I have an excellent solution to this perceived problem.
The fact is stories like Salem’s Lot and 30 Days of Night highlight the problem vampires have in this modern high-tech world. Because we live in an interconnected society isolated communities that a vampire can prey upon for an extended period of time are increasingly rare. Even if we put the existence of mobile phones and the Internet to one side improved physical communication, in other words private and public transport, ensures no community sits in perfect isolation. Perhaps there was a time when the members of a rural community had no regular contact with people living further than a days walk away but that’s no longer the case (if it ever was). Those days are long gone as now even isolated communities have friends, relatives, and business partners all over, people who are going to want to know what’s going on if suddenly their contact, and the community they live in, suddenly falls silent.
This is why the vampire infestation in Salem’s Lot never seemed convincing to me. Sure, King made a few attempts to explain why the authorities never conducted an investigation of the town but it all seemed half-hearted, as if King knew it would be next to impossible to construct a sequence of events which would convincingly stop the town from being thoroughly searched. King didn’t help matters either by writing a sequel to Salem’s Lot, a short story called One For the Road. In it he reveals that the continuing infestation is an open secret among locals, “Ayup. We all know about the vampires. That’s why nobody much shops there anymore.”
I found the premise Steve Niles used in 30 Days of Night far more convincing. Having the vampires attack a community in temporary isolation due to the extremities of winter was certainly more believable, but still limited in possibility. I can’t see it being an easily repeatable event for starters. Even if the vampires managed to destroy all evidence of their presence (possible, but not easy) the fact remains that a sizable community was wiped out with no explanation and that fact can’t be hidden. There will be considerable scrutiny and precautions will be taken against this happening again. How many times could the vampires attack temporarily isolated towns before their presence is recorded by a multitude of hidden devices? If we assume that a vampire’s best defence is secrecy then the events described in 30 Days of Night have to be a one-off or else discovery is inevitable in a world where sophisticated recording devices are common. And then it’s all over for the vampires because humanity has the numbers, the determination, and the technology to do for them. We’re not a sharing species at the best of times and we’re certainly not going to put up with another species that preys upon us. It will be on until humanity has destroyed every vampire it can find. And given the sort of resources humanity would put into such a project I expect that would be close to a clean sweep.
Well that’s alright you might argue, a whole clan of vampires can comfortably live undetected in a large city for decades so long as they’re careful and Blade doesn’t blow into town. True enough but we’ve seen that option taken so frequently that the vampire nightclub owner; suave in public, predatory in private, has already become something of a cliché. On the other hand I think the mobile vampire is in fact the road less travelled and is thus worthy of serious consideration.
I have in fact seen a couple of films, the titles of which escape me, that featured mobile vampires. In one a group of them were tooling around in a camper van type vehicle while in the other the vampire spent his days concealed in the boot of the car while his minion drove him about. However, while entertaining as films, neither made any effort to combine the mythology of the road with the mythology of the vampire which I thought a great pity. I also thought both films made vampires appear to be fringe dwellers, not a cool outsider sort, but more like dangerous scavengers. To be honest this is probably more realistic depiction than I have in mind but I can’t help it, I want something with a touch of Mad Max to it.
To that end I’d like to steal an idea I encountered in a vampire novel years ago. What the novel is called I don’t remember as it wasn’t a particularly memorable book. However, it did include an interesting twist on the vampiric mythos. As I recall the vampire in this novel owned a yacht. The yacht had a secret compartment located below the water line in which the vampire’s coffin was secreted. This meant the vampire could slip from port to port, ensuring that he didn’t stay long enough in any particular city for evidence of his presence to build up. It also made him extra difficult to attack as fire or sunlight was unlikely to reach him before the yacht was sunk by his minions, and since vampires don’t need air being below however many fathoms of water was hardly going to bother him. All the vampire had to do was stay in his coffin till dark and then exact revenge.
However, while a yacht has a lot to recommend it as a vampire transportation device it just doesn’t excite me (I’ll choose Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome over Waterworld every time). That’s why I like the idea of transferring the hidden compartment idea from boats to trucks.
Yes, it’s true that a compartment built into the undercarriage of a truck doesn’t allow the occupant to drop into the murky depths of the ocean and escape like Aquavamp but that’s easily solved by invoking the right piece of vampiric lore. As I recall in Russian folklore what made the vampires especially difficult to kill was their ability to transmogrify into a hoard of spiders, snakes, etc. According to legend if even one of these creatures escaped the vampire could regenerate itself. How I imagine this would work in a truck is that there would be a tube running from the driver’s cabin down to the secret compartment where the vampire would have it’s lair. Attached to this compartment would be a series of other tubes linking the lair to various other parts of the truck. Thus, even if the secret compartment is in danger of being broken open, or filled with napalm, or whatever the author deems a suitable vampire extermination substance the vampire has a difficult to combat back door. Thus your average fearless vampire hunter would need to locate and seal the exit to ever one of these tubes. Which would be a more than slightly difficult task to complete without being discovered (not entirely a bad thing of course if you want to add tension to the story).
And yes, the whole idea can be seen as some barely warmed over Mad Max: Fury Road style hi-jinks. Especially if the author goes with the idea that there’s a whole community of vampires hauling rig along the highways of where ever. This becomes even more pronounced if the vampires stay in contact with each other and offer each other back-up via the medium of CB radio and ally themselves with gangs of motorcyclists as guards. Since any protagonist hunting vampires will surely take them on somewhere remote so no third parties gets the wrong idea and tries to interfere the Mad Max: Fury Road comparisons are obvious.
But that only need be true of the action scenes (and who would object to scenes such as were featured in Mad Max: Fury Road but with added vampires, not I for one). There are all sorts of tweaks that could be made to turn the story into a unique one.
What if, for example, the vampires were grizzled old loners who didn’t actually like each other and were supremely jealous of the resources they laid claim to. A radio documentary about paddlesteamers that travelled the Murray River (on the NSW/Victoria border in Australia) that I listened to years ago explained that these boats were fueled by locally cut wood and that each captain would arrange for stocks of this wood to be placed at intervals on the river bank so they could refill whenever was convenient. Now you might ask what was to stop a less than scrupulous captain from occasionally stealing a load of wood? Well apparently one steamboat captain ensured this never happened to him by planting sticks of dynamite in some of his logs. The idea was that while he (fingers crossed) knew which sections of log he had doctored nobody else did. Once word of what he had done circulated I doubt any of his fellow captains were game to take wood from his piles. The possibility of what might happen to your boat if the old bloke was telling the truth being too awful to contemplate.
It wouldn’t be difficult at all to depict a bunch of grizzled old loner vampires as being at least that crazy, and probably more so. It makes me shiver to think what such characters might do to keep other vampires off what they consider as their roads and away from their prey.
Another interesting starting point would be to set the story in a post-apocalyptic future where extensive chunks of the planet can no longer be traversed by humanity due to radiation and/or biological agents. In such a world the only way to transport goods from safe area to another might be through the agency of the living dead as neither radiation or biological agents can kill them. That would make for some interesting tensions as both groups would have something the other can provide, but how willingly?
However, regardless of what an author decided to do with the basis idea there is one thing of which I can be certain.
Blood guzzling monsters driving fuel guzzling monsters, it’s a natural.