When have we not been in the midst of a vampire craze?

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Sept. 23 2009 7:04 AM

The Garlic Years

When have we not been in the midst of a vampire craze?

You could be forgiven for thinking we're in the midst of an unprecedented madness for vampires. "True Blood Season Premiere Looking to Capitalize Off of Vampire Craze," headlined the Associated Press in June. "CW joins vampire trend with 'Diaries'," announced the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. The Hartford Courant asks, "Why Vampires Now?"

A better question might be, why vampires ever? Looking back, it's hard to think of a period when we weren't in the middle of a vampire craze. In the late 1970s, Anne Rice started raking in the money with Interview With the Vampire, and movies like Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre and the comedy Love at First Bite were critical hits. Then came The Lost Boys, Near Dark, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Innocent Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie), four more Anne Rice books, and Interview With the Vampire (the movie)—which could all be lumped into a rage for vampires that lasted clear through from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Vampires were back again in the mid-1990s, with Buffy (the TV show), the Blade movies, Southern Vampire Mysteries (the book series), and From Dusk Till Dawn. And now we've arrived at the highly touted mid- to late-2000s vogue of Underworld, Twilight (books and movies), True Blood (based on Southern Vampire Mysteries), and The Vampire Diaries.

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So perhaps instead of talking about vampire crazes, we should really be talking about vampire droughts. The brief, anomalous periods when few or perhaps even no vampire movies, books, or TV shows are produced at all. The Garlic Years.

To figure out whether there really have been any vampire-free periods, we dug through online compendiums, from Wikipedia to obsessive fan sites like the Vampire Library, and compiled a list of the most important vampire-related books, films, and TV shows of the last half-century. In total, we included 169 movies, 106 books, and 62 seasons' worth of TV.  

It turns out there were indeed a few periods—four, to be precise—where the vampire genre seemed to hit a mini-recession. Here's a rundown of each dry spell and the vampire works that brought the genre back from the dead.

The Garlic Years, 1960-65: Vampires seemed to be enjoying a lot of momentum going into the '60s, after Christopher Lee's classic 1958 portrayal in Horror of Dracula. But that momentum quickly died. The Count wouldn't even make an appearance in the 1960 follow-up Brides of Dracula. There were no notable vampire movies for the next three years—other than the Italian film Black Sabbath,a trio of shorts that included one vampire storyline. Even the exhaustive compendiums of vampire literature list only a handful of obscure books and stories from this period.

… and the resurrection: Lee returned to the cape and fangs for the 1966 sequel Dracula: Prince of Darkness, in which the undead aristocrat is resurrected by his loyal servant Klove. That same year, ABC debuted the spooky soap opera Dark Shadows and quickly brought in a vampire character named Barnabas Collins to boost ratings. After Prince of Darkness, vampires started invading all sorts of genres, from blaxploitation—1972's Blacula—to the TV crime drama Kolchak: The Night Stalker, a short-lived X-Files prototype about a newspaper reporter who investigates supernatural cases. The highlight of this era was inarguably the debut of Count von Count on Sesame Street in 1972.

The Garlic Years, 1975-76: By the middle of the decade, the fad had run out of scream. There were no notable movies in either 1975 or 1976, and Kolchak was canceled after one season when even the lead actor requested a merciful death for the show.

… and the resurrection: Stephen King and Anne Rice to the rescue. The up-and-coming King published Salem's Lot in 1975, and Rice followed with Interview With the Vampire the next year. While these books were published during the Garlic Years, the craze they set off would not pick up until 1977, with the releases of Count Dracula, Rabid, and Martin. Meanwhile, the vampire mega-series became an established form: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro published the first of almost two dozen Saint-Germain novels in 1978. King soon moved on to other subjects, but Rice would stick with vampires for 30 years before switching to Jesus in 2005.

The Garlic Years, 1980-84: Any period that saw the conception, production, and release of a film called Gayracula ("He'll suck you dry!") holds promise. Unfortunately, that was one of only three major vampire films in the early 1980s—the other two being The Monster Club and The Hunger—amid a handful of forgettable novels. Apparently the '80s sucked less than reported.

… and the resurrection: Two works jolted the vampire world out of its Reagan-era funk: Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat in 1985 and Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys in 1987. The former bridged the 18-year gap between the book and movie versions of Interview With the Vampire, while Schumacher's film helped establish the teen-vamp genre that would make Buffy possible. (Without Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, there is no Sarah Michelle Geller.)

The Garlic Year, 1997: In any other decade, this year would have been solid for vamps. But set against the fangtastic '90s, it looks like a slump. Only one vampire movie was released in 1997 (Vampire Journals,no relation to The Vampire Diaries) and only one book was published (Dracula the Undead). Both of these occupy special places on nobody's shelf. The exception to the rule, of course: TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted that March. So even this Garlic Year contained the seed of many bountiful harvests to come.

… and the resurrection: Buffy kicked off the longest vampire surge yet, opening the door to Blade, the Underworld films, John Carpenter's Vampires, Van Helsing, and the multimedia blockbuster Twilight series. By any measure, 2006 was the vampirest year of all time.

So where does this leave us? Let's just say that now may not be the time to bankroll that production of Gayracula 2: Return of the Manpire. If history is any guide, these plush times of vampire mania will soon end with a run of atrocious imitations, followed by a few years of peace and quiet. Don't despair if it happens again. They'll be back.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.

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