Since at least Bram Stoker’s Dracula, vampire stories haven’t been about vampires really. Vampires have become romantic figures in many films and fiction, but in folklore they are walking corpses: decaying, dressed in rags and with extremely bad breath. Even in Stoker’s novel, they are pitiful and pitiable. Even when Count Dracula is destroyed, his spirit is heard to sigh in relief because his soul is free.
But no one feels that actual vampires from myth are relevant to our lives. They are useful as metaphors for the drawbacks and advantages of immortality, sexuality, disease (especially sexually transmitted disease) or addiction (which also is a form of disease).
In many films with reluctant vampires, vampirism is something to be resisted, like an alcoholic resiting the bottle, or a heroin addict the syringe. Often the vamp is seeking help, drug addiction treatment, to overcome their malady or curse. Sometimes their family or loved ones even confine them, like in a sanitarium or rehab center, and try to find more socially acceptable substitutes for their addiction to blood.
Here are 10 of my favorites (not necessarily the best), in reverse chronological order.
Van Helsing is arrested for the murder of Dracula (well, the police didn’t know he was a vampire, and his body didn’t turn to dust as in the novel or most other films). But before he can be charged, the Countess Marya Zeleska (Gloria Holden) steals and burns the body, hoping it will end her own curse. When it doesn’t, she seeks the assistance of a psychiatrist (why? She knows it’s not just psychological vampirism because she’s at least 100 years old), who thinks she’s talking about an unspecified addiction. He advises her to face temptation and defeat it. She picks up a homeless girl, claiming to be an artist in search of a model, but can’t resist biting her. She gives up on a cure, and is destroyed in the end.
John Carradine’s second turn as the Count on the big screen has no continuity with his first appearance in House of Frankenstein (where he turned irrevocably to a skeleton after being exposed to sunlight). He wants to be cured of his vampirism, or at least made able to walk in the sunlight unscathed. (Oddly enough, Stoker’s Count already had this gift.) Doctor Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) attempts this cure through blood transfusions, but Drac soon relapses and is more interested in turning one of the doctor’s nurses into a vamp than in the doctor’s help. Drug addiction treatments don’t always succeed the first time, but Drac doesn’t get a second chance.
Dracula (Christopher Lee) is dispatched in the opening minutes of this film, in segment borrowed from the ending of The Horror of Dracula (1958), but Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) continues his battle against vampires. The head vamp this time is the blond and handsome Baron Meinster (David Peel), who was chained up by his mother after he became a vampire. She’s not exactly trying to cure him, but she’s trying to control his blood addiction by confining him and limiting him to the victims she procures for him. He escapes, however, and puts the bite on Van Helsing, who resorts to some radical rehab to ensure he isn’t cursed himself.
Duane Jones (from the original Night of the Living Dead) stars as an accidental vampire, so cursed because he was stabbed with an ancient, cursed African dagger. He attempts to survive on blood stolen from a doctor’s office, but still turns the woman he loves into a vampire. Eventually he chooses death over vampirism. Both a blaxploitation film and a serious meditation on addiction, it suffers from a low budget. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a 2014 remake, directed by Spike Lee.
Before he made his first zombie sequel, Dawn of the Dead, George Romero made a peculiar vampire film. Martin is a vampire with none of the supernatural frills, and may in fact just be a crazy young man who thinks he is a vampire. Unfortunately, his elderly cousin thinks so, too (an enabler). Also unfortunately, crazy or not, he really kills people. Martin drugs women, has sex with them, and then cuts their wrists with a razor blade to drink their blood. The deaths thus look like suicides. Once he begins having an affair, he stops killing and blood-drinking cold turkey. Then she kills herself by cutting her wrists with razor blades, his cousin thinks Martin killed her, and so stakes him. Irony.
An oddball Australian take on vampires and addiction, and almost impossible to find now. Chantal Contouri is kidnapped by the Hyma Brotherhood, a group of non-supernatural blood drinkers who date back to Elizabeth Bathory. Contouri is a direct descendant of the infamous blood countess who bathed in the blood of virgins to stay young, and some of the brotherhood want her to take her rightful place as their leader, but she refuses. David Hemmings is one of her more loyal and patient followers.
David Bowie is a junior bloodsucker to Catherine Deneuve’s queen bee, who starts aging at an accelerated rate. He seeks help, drug addiction treatment, from Susan Sarandon’s doctor, for the aging, if not the vampirism. She fails, and in effect takes his place, but resists drinking blood. She has withdrawal-type symptoms and tries to end her addiction one way or another.
Again, vampirism is unwanted, and resisted, like an addict resisting the urge to relapse. Michael (Jason Patric) and Star (Jami Hertz) both become vampires, but refuse to drink blood and seek help, drug addiction cure: killing the vampire whose blood turned them. It’s suggested that this wouldn’t work if they had bitten anyone. A similar film, Near Dark, released just two months later has cure by transfusion.
Lili Taylor is a philosophy grad student who becomes a vampire. The heavy-handed addiction metaphor includes her injecting blood from a syringe, and receiving advice on her thesis and kicking the habit from a William Burroughs-quoting older vamp (Christopher Walken). She apparently does beat her addiction, but not before turning the entire philosophy department into vampires, too. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112288/
Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films), Tilda Swinton and John Hurt are immortal vampires who don’t have to kill for their blood. They’re like high-functioning addicts. They have lived quietly for centuries, pursuing their obsessions (Hurt is actually Christopher Marlowe, who did survive that night in Deptford and also wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays), drinking carefully procured and screened blood from medical professionals (essentially drug dealers). But when their carefully constructed support system falls apart, they have to choose between accepting their mortality and becoming old-school predators again. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1714915/