It's in the Blood: The Eternal Popularity of Dracula & Co. Is a Sign of the Recurring Struggles of Us Mortals

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THE UNDEAD KEEP COMING BACK TO LIFE ON CABLE and at the cineplex. Vampire dramas have popped up on the TV schedule: The teen throb Vampire Diaries on the CW is in its second smoldering season, and True Blood, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels of Charlaine Harris, just finished its third bloody season on HBO.

Meanwhile, Eclipse, the third film in the Twilight series (based on Stephenie Meyer's gothic teen romances about a human-vampire-werewolf love triangle) has sucked in millions of fans and tons of cash. The American remake of the 2008 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In has drawn lots of fresh blood at the box office, and Daybreakers, a small Australian horror film about a recovering vampire trying to kick his red-blooded habit, is out on DVD.

The undying popularity of vampire tales is not news. In the century since Bram Stoker smuggled Dracula onto England's shores (hoping perhaps to avenge Britain's invasion and colonization of his beloved Ireland), the undead have been immortal hits. A short list of Dracula's cinematic and fictional progeny includes German filmmaker F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent horror classic Nosferatu, Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi, Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend (made into two films, one with Charlton Heston and the other with Will Smith), Stephen King's 1975 novel Salem's Lot (forged into two miniseries with David Soul and Rob Lowe, respectively), the 1977 Broadway stage and 1979 film version of Frank Langella's Dracula, the 1994 film of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, and, beginning in 1997, the seven seasons of TV's Burly the Vampire Slayer.

STILL, EVEN IF YOU CAN'T KEEP A BAD VAMPIRE down, the current batch of bloodsucking immortals casting their dark shadows across our cinematic and TV screens seems decidedly more angelic or human than their demonic ancestors. In Eclipse vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) is a chivalrous romantic unwilling to spoil his beloved Bella's (Kristen Stewart) virtue--or neck. And even if True Blood's Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) leaves an occasional love bite on sweetheart Sookie (Anna Paquin), this Southern gentleman only drinks animal or synthetic blood.

Even little Eli in Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In turns out to be just the sort of 12-year-old friend you want when schoolyard bullies come after you. Here's a girl who can sink her teeth into a problem.

Instead of being cast as horrifying monsters, these Millennial vampires turn out to be decidedly human creatures, troubled adolescent souls struggling mightily to gain some measure of control over passions and hungers threatening to make a mess of their lives and loved ones. And so the vampires Stoker, Murnau, Browning, and King once used to terrify us have become a reflection of our own very human struggles with sex, power, and death, served up as a reminder of our own capacity to be monstrous.

WITH THEIR BLOODLUST AND IMMORTALITY, vampires mirror adolescent struggles with sexuality and teenagers' reckless denial of their mortality. …