There is a blood sucker born every minute on the page. Well, that may not be an actual statistic, but if you are familiar with the ever-swelling ranks of vampire books (of all styles and sub-genres within sub-genres), it sounds accurate, right? While an argument can be made that the zombie is currently the most used supernatural creature in horror fiction, the vampire has appeared in the peaks of commercially successful horror fiction more often than any other monster.
And while there are a great many commercially successful books that have hurt the mystical essence of vampire horror fiction, there are still many books to dive into where the vampires are vicious predators without a romantic bone in their cold corpses.
So I have compiled a quick list of vampire reads that will wash the nasty taste of magical realism and romantic fantasy right out of your mouths! Some of my picks are here because they are lasting classics and some are here because they take the vampire concept in a unique direction. You won’t find Bram Stoker’s Dracula, because quite honestly it is the backbone of the modern vampire tale and in a class all it’s own. So, here are my picks:
I can’t say that I have read everything Anne Rice has written, but this is one book that has stuck with me since its release. What Rice did here was present the vampire as the cold predator who uses seduction merely as a colorful plumage to trap prey. And I also love that the vampire grows more distant from its humanity as it ages. Sure, some might have a spot of remorse here or there, but eventually the monster reconciles with its nature and violence becomes a reflex. Vampires don’t necessarily love; they hunger. And though they may wish for companionship (usually among their own ranks), they are asexual beings of pure impulse. Rice may have had added some sexual synergy to the mythos, but she never let you forget what Lestat and Louis truly were.
Trying to describe the importance of this novel to the vampire and horror genre is like trying to explain the importance of the cordless phone to the phone industry. Besides being a ferociously different take on the vampire novel, I Am Legend was also a huge inspiration to filmmaker George Romero while crafting Night of the Living Dead. George substituted the vampire menace with the zombie, and NOTLD would go on to shape the modern zombie genre. So, in a weird way, without I Am Legend, we might not have The Walking Dead today! Masterson’s tale, written in 1954 and set in 1976, deals with the lone survivor of a plague that has turned the population into blood thirsty vampires. During the night, Robert Neville hides, boarded up in his home turned fortress. During the day, Robert destroys any slumbering bloodsucker he can get his hands on. The twist at the end of this story is monumental and all three film adaptations have failed to properly convey the role-reversal element where the last man on earth has now become the fearsome creature of legend. If you consider yourself a fan of horror and you have not read this book, you should have your membership card taken away and torn up!
I just recently got my hands on a replacement copy of this great anthology from the (then) Horror Writers of America (now the Horror Writers Association). This 1991 shared world collection was edited by the great Robert McCammon and you can definitely find the seeds from which modern vampire fair like True Blood sprouted. The premise of Under the Fang is the terrifying concept of vampires taking over the world. Imagine this as a Gothic take on Planet of the Apes. With an impressive lineup that includes McCammon, Ed Gorman, Richard Laymon, Chet Williamson, Nancy Collins, Chelsea Quinn Yarbo and more, you can bet your ass that the only sparkling that vampires do in this collection is caused by the moonlight on their blood-soaked faces. This has been long out of print, but you can buy used copies which are reasonably priced (I scored mine for a penny and shipping costs) on Amazon. The Horror Writer’s Association recently reissued Freak Show, an anthology that followed this one in 1992, and I am sure a reissue of Under the Fang is forthcoming as well!
Though advertised as a crime novel upon its release in 1956, this book, written in epistolary form (as military files, doctor notes and transcriptions), centered upon a young soldier named George Smith. Some of your Blood takes the notion of the bloodsucker and points a starling light of realism upon vampirism (much like Romero’s obscure vampire classic, Martin). George Smith is a creature who does not morph or hypnotize or prowls only at night. He is as real as you or me; he just happens to enjoy the act of drinking blood. Though not explicitly a horror novel, this book should still be required reading for lovers of vampire tales of all styles.
Okay, now this is straight up my stranded on a desert isle with one vampire book choice. What is great about King’s novel is that he takes superstitions from ages ago to weave horror so thoroughly and deeply researched that those less astute with vampire lore would take it for King’s own set of rules. King took all of the actual myths that the vampire legend was built upon and he created a soulless, hungry creature with no conscience which taps on the foggy windows of friends or family members; looking for easy prey (like most predators). King didn’t create the concept of vampires appearing to their loved ones (neither did Stoker, for that matter). It was common folklore that vampires hunted their own family and they stayed in areas that they were familiar with in life. Among the rich characters that breath in King’s fiction, the vampires spread quietly and in shadows and the horror is dismissed as bad dreams or a flu bug until ‘Salem’s Lot is nearly sucked dry. It is King’s refusal to reinvent the wheel in this book that makes it special. It doesn’t read like a vampire novel; it reads like a King novel that vampires have been randomly dropped in to.