Got blood?

Film-Television-Digital Media class examines vampires in modern culture.

Got blood?

Film-Television-Digital Media class examines vampires in modern culture.

Tricia Jenkins didn’t consider herself a vampire buff, but she did enjoy reading “The Southern Gothic Vampire Mysteries” by Charlaine Harris.

Then HBO turned the novels, which follow telepathic bar maid Sookie Stackhouse through the world of vampire gangs in Louisiana, into the series “True Blood.”

That’s when Jenkins, assistant professor of film, television and digital media (FTDM), really got hooked.

Then she noticed she wasn’t the only one who’d become a bit fang-obsessed.  Stephanie Meyer’s popular series of “Twilight” novels, featuring the mortal heroine Bella and her vampire beau Edward, became movie blockbusters, drawing teenage girls and their moms by the millions.

“I started to notice there’s been this whole resurgence of vampires in the last year or two and I started thinking, what’s the history of this genre? How far does it go back? How can I teach students about the popularity of it? Are there universal themes?  How are those themes explored in different decades?

“I thought this would be a great time to teach this class,” she says.

The class, Topics in Film: Bloodsuckers! Vampires in Film and Television, debuted this semester. The syllabus covers one of the earliest vampire flicks, the 1922 silent film “Nosferatu,” through Bela Lugosi’s classic “Dracula” to the campy ’70s film “Love at First Bite” to “True Blood.”

It has also garnered national and international media attention, with Jenkins discussing the class on Fox News and a radio show in Dublin, Ireland.

Sixteen upper level FTDM students enrolled in the class, though Jenkins said the class could have been much larger if it had been open to non-majors.  She even got calls from local residents eager to enroll after she appeared on the national Fox Network morning show “Fox & Friends.”

The class requires extensive reading, including two textbooks, “Vampire Legends in Contemporary Culture” and “The Vampire in Film: From Nosferatu to Interview With a Vampire” and, of course, Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” credited with kicking off the vampire craze more than a century ago.

Students in the class, including several budding filmmakers, say they see the value of a vampire education.

“As a film class, it’s interesting to study a specific genre,” says Matthew Diehl, a senior FTDM major from Houston.  “Then, twenty years from now if vampire films become big, we’ll have that understanding and have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t work.”
Jenkins says vampires have a timeless appeal because they allow us to confront so many fears and insecurities.

“The vampire genre as a whole explores some timeless issues like the intersection of sex and violence, the quest for immortality, what some of the drawbacks to immortality might be, the quest for eternal youth, love against impossible odds,” she says. “But the vampire text has been able to tackle contemporary issues as well.”

She says it’s interesting how the image of the vampire has morphed through the years —moving from total monster in 1922’s “Nosferatu” to somewhat sexy in Dracula films of the ’50s.

She says that sex appeal is carried through today, adding that vampires are portrayed in modern media as struggling noble creatures trying to overcome their darker impulses.
“Now they’re considered viable boyfriend material,” she adds.

Vampires also continue to resonate with young people, particularly teens, Jenkins says, adding that the class covers the 1987 film “The Lost Boys” about a gang of teen vampires in California as an example of the vampire representing teenage angst.

“The vampire serves as a metaphor for someone who is very different, someone trying to carve out a space for themselves. That resonates with young people,” she says.

Jenkins hopes to teach the class again next spring.

“By then vampires may be passé, but I still think it’s worth offering and exploring,” she says.

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