With "The Vampire Diaries" coming to a close after eight seasons, you can't help but wonder whether the vampire trend ushered in by the 2008 release of "Twilight" may be finally fading away. When that movie hit theaters -- the same year "True Blood" debuted on HBO -- vampires rocketed to the top of the pop-cultural zeitgeist.
These weren't your run-of-the-mill bloodsuckers, though. This was the era of the "sexy vampire." While at one point Count Dracula reigned supreme, audiences were far more interested in a brooding Stephen Moyer and Robert Pattinson than any old Romanian wearing a cape.
So what was the key to the success of this crop of vampire shows? We looked at them all -- from "The Vampire Diaries" and spinoff "The Originals" to "Penny Dreadful" and "The Strain" -- to see if we can figure it out.
It turns out the recipe for success is a lot like any other kind of show: The big hits are different, but just different enough. The big-boom standouts of vampire TV ditched a lot of the traditional folklore associated with vampires -- seriously, find one great vampire show of the current era that has someone transforming into a bat -- and instead wrote their own history.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a perfect example: While some of the traditional conventions are there -- stakes through the heart, vamps have to stay out of the sun -- it made its own path. Instead of a small number of vampires wreaking havoc, "Buffy" presented them as a demonic infestation that always kept growing, thanks to the Hellmouth under the titular Slayer's small town.
Likewise, "TVD" and "True Blood" went their own direction by making vampires the heroes of the story, rather than the foes. Syfy's "Being Human," like its British predecessor, imagined a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost as roommates -- while "Penny Dreadful" reimagined and wildly changed many classic monster stories (including Count Dracula, twice) to incorporate into its mashup steampunky world.
Each of these shows found ways of taking an age-old story and making it their own. Without a new approach, why even bother retelling a story everyone's heard a million times before. Yes, we're looking at you, NBC's short-lived "Dracula." Say what you will about the quality of the show -- it wasn't bad -- but to make an impression in a world littered with vampire options, presenting yet another take on the old "Count Dracula" tale just isn't going to cut it.
On the flipside, there's a show like FX's "The Strain." There is nothing sexy or alluring about the vampires on "The Strain." They're merciless, vicious and disgusting monsters. Creators Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan also completely deconstructed the idea of what a vampire is, reimagining them as something far scarier than just about anything else on TV.
On "The Strain," vampirism is treated as more of a viral outbreak than anything else, infecting anyone who comes into physical contact with someone that has already contracted the disease. Meanwhile, traditional elements like fangs have been thrown aside in favor of elephant trunk-like "stingers" used to drain the blood from victims.
In a way, "The Strain" is a return to the traditional idea of a vampire -- and all it took was going extremely outside of the box. While the design of the vampire -- strigoi in this case -- were so different from just about any concept of the monster seen on TV or in film, even "Blade III's" similar concept, they also harken back to the utter brutality of Vlad the Impaler, the historical inspiration for Count Dracula in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel.
That's the key to a good adaptation of something as old as a vampire story: You need some kind of connection to the original tale, the long-standing literary history that made them so popular in the first place, along with a sense of your own time and place. From there, get creative. Whether it's the feminist story of a teenager who hunts them, or a story that turns traditional villains into its heroes, the best vampire shows carved a path all their own, and through a glut of shows within the genre.
The vampire trend may not be on its way out the door. Perhaps fans are just waiting for the next series willing to take a bold step in a different direction with the genre. Hopefully it comes along soon.
After all, we can't let zombies be the only supernatural genre having all the fun, right?