Vampires often have a grab bag of personality disorders from what psychology calls the ‘Dark Triad’, but above all…they are huge jerks! Here’s why.
Vampires have been depicted in film often as brooding, sexually charged creatures with an air of sophistication and charm, but upon closer examination we can see that they are really just huge jerks!
Although it is hard to pin down what a jerk is in a few words, Eric Schwitzgebel professor of philosophy at University of California describes it best as this: “Jerks see the world through goggles that dim others’ humanity.” This seems particularly fitting for the vampire, one who sees themselves as removed from and above the human condition.
A jerk often has a grab bag of personality disorders from the ‘Dark Triad’ — defined as a set of traits that include the tendency to seek admiration and special treatment (otherwise known as narcissism), to be callous and insensitive (psychopathy) and to manipulate others (Machiavellianism). Having facile social charm, a jerk can simultaneously be arrogant, prone to insulting behavior, and exhibit antisocial and aggressive behavior (a failure to obey social rules despite relatively intact mental and social capacities).
In the film He Never Died (2015), Henry Rollins’ character is a particularly good example of the anti-social type, not having time for the niceties of small talk and capable of mass carnage without blinking an eye:
“Do you have anything aside from being ambiguous and hostile?”
THE THREE STYLES OF JERKDOM
The vampire flavour of jerk-seasoning falls into three primary varieties often depicted in film: the wise guy, the stonewaller, and the gaslighter.
The first of which is hard not to be reminded of with the recent news that the The Lost Boys TV series has been confirmed and with the new FX TV series What We Do in the Shadows recent debut (based on the 2014 vampire mockumentary of the same name from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi). In both films, the vampires use the same technique to spice up their undead lives, which brings us to the first category…
1. The Wise Guy
In the film What We Do in the Shadows, the character Deacon Brücke, in his Eastern European accent riffs off the classic glamour-magic-using-food scene from The Lost Boys where Kiefer Sutherland’s character David tricks Michael into eating rice that appears to be maggots.
How are those maggots?
Why vampires are eating regular “human food” (not to be confused with humans AS food) in the first place seems a mystery, perhaps that’s just the lengths they will go for a joke.
Deacon’s approach however involves spaghetti – or rather – basghetti: ‘So this is my favorite trick, we present our guest with a plate of basghetti, and then I will say ‘Why don’t you eat some basghetti?’”. Thusly creating the illusion that the food is a plate of worms: “I didn’t realize you enjoy eating worms, Nick!”
And, oh… how they laughed!
This classic move of “light-hearted bullying” is just one example of how vampires love to lord their superiority over another. With a flair for mischief and hijinks, these types of mind games can be a particularly fun way to manipulate their intended victim into feeling ostracized and humiliated. Using Machiavellian cunning to exert their influence, the vampire jerk prides themselves on their quick wit and ability to verbally destroy their target.
The wise guy may be part of a clique or operate solo; the goal is the same however, to establish themselves as the alpha figure. Their sense of power, in these cases, is being cultivated through “inside jokes”, shaming, and giving the most devastating side eye.
On top of biting remarks, pranks and gags are often used — especially loved is that old chestnut: the mirror gag.
“I never get tired of that old mirror gag.”
Yes, there have been many depictions of the mirror reveal in film, perhaps the most supercilious version of the mirror gag however is in Roman Polanski’s spoof of Hammer Horror in the 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers (Dance of the Vampires in the UK) about professor Abronsius, a bat researcher, and his assistant Alfred, who go looking for vampires in a remote Transylvanian village. There, they meet Count von Krolock and the Count’s flamboyant gay son, Herbert Von Krolock, who sets his sights on Alfred. He utilizes the mirror reveal coquettishly then proceeds with this marvellous goading:
Herbert: “Who told you there’s going to be a ball tonight?”
Alfred: “Nobody, I’m just guessing. With a great castle like this it’s possible isn’t it?”
Herbert: “…is just guessing… But it’s true! You’ve guessed correctly with your pretty little head. Yes, Alfred, there’s going to be a ball and you will be able to dance. ~lalalalalala~”
Vampires really do love a gag, but the wise guy vampire jerk will also never miss an opportunity for a bad pun, or pop culture reference…
… they will even mess with you until their last dying breath:
“Admit it Buffy, aren’t there times when you just feel ….less than fresh?”
2. The Stonewaller
Vampires are particularly good at the silent treatment. This form of passive aggressive, aloof one-upsmanship is often found in the jerk’s toolbox of tricks. By stonewalling and refusing to talk or cooperate, the vampire jerk flexes their superiority over another, keeping them on tenterhooks. The cold shoulder can be particularly devastating to the vampire’s newly initiated who are grappling with their new undead existence and prone to mistakes. It can also happen when the vampire has just plain had enough of you and decides to store you in the attic for the rest of eternity:
“Lollia…this is John. Comfort him. All of you, all my loves… be kind to him tonight.”
Speaking of the silent treatment, obviously the first vampire films were silent movies, so there jerkiness had to be portrayed without the use of cunning words. The first depiction was the 1896 Le manoir du diable (a.k.a. The House of the Devil), by Georges Méliès which portrays bat shape shifting, devil-vampire version of Mephistopheles who is undone by one of his creations brandishing a crucifix.
And of course there was the iconic unauthorized film adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula — F.W.Murnau’s 1922’s feature-length Nosferatu. Jerk Orlok, in Nosferatu, was played by the offbeat and mysterious Max Schreck (his last name literally means “fright” in German) of whom many legends and myths persist, including that he was an actual vampire in real life.
As a silent movie, there’s not much dialogue to begin with, however, as menacing as Orlok is, he only has 3 lines in the whole film. One of which pretty much get’s straight to the point: “Blood! Your precious blood!” So, not much for small talk, that one.
Another strong but silent type; Christopher Lee’s rendition of Dracula in the Hammer classic Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966) does not speak a single line, apart from a hiss or two. Although it’s debated whether it was an artistic choice or a squabble…
It has been recounted that Christopher Lee claimed that: “I didn’t speak in that picture. The reason was very simple. I read the script and saw the dialogue! I said to Hammer, if you think I’m going to say any of these lines, you’re very much mistaken.”
In his memoir Inside Hammer, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster disputes that, writing “Vampires don’t chat. So I didn’t write him any dialogue.“ His claim was that a decision was made that Dracula would not speak for dramatic reasons.
Any which way you cut it, vampires can use their words selectively, and their silence as a weapon.
3. The Gaslighter
Expert at making humans question their own memory, perception, and sanity – the vampire jerk’s hypnotic gaze can render their target a submissive mess within seconds. One need not even be in close proximity as the vampire’s influence can be effective via mind control techniques, even from afar. This is just the first step in the grooming process meant to cultivate a long-term, co-dependant human companion to serve as their loyal attendant.
The loyal attendant or “The Renfield” has been portrayed in many a vampire film, beyond just the Dracula adaptations. Having a minion who can go out in sunlight, look after your coffin, serve guests, and be a constant source of blood is quite useful, but in order to keep such a person, some tried-and-true gaslighting techniques are needed, including wearing out the victim and using false promises.
“The master will come, and he has promised to make me immortal!”
“The Renfield” can often be exquisitely tormented by the vampire jerk as they are intoxicated by the promise of being made themselves a vampire one day. Leading them on with the tantalizing promise of immortality, from time to time they will offer slivers of compassion and kindness – enough to make “The Renfield” feel special and possibly even loved. Small acts of kindness prompt the otherwise neglected lackey to look upon the vampire with admiration in a pseudo Stockholm Syndrome type of way.
In the film Daughters of Darkness (1971), the Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Bathory has a “secretary” Ilona as her Renfield. The demure Ilona falls jealous when The Countess shows interest in another woman – eventually acting out in ways that lead to her undoing.
“Ah, but you need me. Without me you’d have no life.”
Through these gaslighting and narcissistic techniques, “The Renfield” winds up with no clear understanding of what the relationship is and lacks the ability to do anything else with their lives other than serve their vampire master. The open-endedness of the relationship can drive these servants into madness. Total jerk move.
Well, the Jerk Store called, and they’re not running out of vampires.
Vampires will not hesitate to trample on another’s feelings, generally lacking consideration for the well-being of others. With their bad jokes, aloof tendencies, and propensity for mind games as just some examples – we continue to be drawn to them. And although they display dominant signs of sadism, narcissism, and Machiavellianism, above all they are just huge jerks!
Do you have any more examples of vampires being jerks? Please share them in the comments or as Dracula would say “Comment freely of your own will, and leave some of the happiness you bring….”
What a jerk.