From Twilight to True Blood, it’s blatantly obvious that sexuality (forbidden, deviant or otherwise) is the major symbolic underpinning of the vampire. It isn’t the only thing these bloodsuckers are metaphors for, though. Nosferatu, a most seminal depiction of the monster on film, hasn’t anything sexy about it. The vampire is plague and death, plain and simple. But there's a more intriguing "third option": a subtle, yet pervasive, metaphor equating vampires with a wealthy class that literally feeds off the poor.
Yes, this is another film studies piece that infers class relations into your favorite movies. Relax, though--it honestly fits this time. See, it’s easy to forget the context in which Bram Stoker created Count Dracula, and it's even easier to neglect the significance of this classic villain’s title.
The UK of 1897 really isn’t that far off from contemporary society, and I’m sure the average readers of adventure fiction in that time probably held the same apprehension of an Eastern European aristocrat that we would. We’d all see him as something strange and vestigial in a world that’s long since moved past the institutionalized class systems that presume one man's inherently different from another because some people call him "Count." It’s by no accident, really, that the most famous vampire in all of fiction is an ancient, foreign nobleman; a very literal anachronism.
In the novel, Stoker identifies Dracula as Vlad the Impaler, a Hungarian folk hero who infamously (or famously, depending on where you’re from) defended Christendom from the advance of Ottoman Turks. Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation addressed this in its prologue, adding the twist that Dracula turns into a vampire when he renounces Christianity after his beloved’s suicide and subsequent condemnation. As the centuries move on, his own people eventually people fear him just as foreign invaders once did.
There’s a memorable monologue in Shadow of the Vampire that offers an explicit interpretation for what Vlad III’s gradual transformation into Count Dracula means, metaphorically. The movie fictionalizes the making of Nosferatu and posits that its director, F.W. Murnau, actually found a real vampire, Max Shreck, to be his lead in the name of authenticity. In between set-ups, Shreck’s questioned by Murnau’s crew regarding his thoughts on Dracula, the book they’re adapting without authorization. Shreck tells them the book made him sad, "because Dracula had no servants," and goes on to elaborate…
Dracula hasn't had servants in 400 years and then a man comes to his ancestral home, and he must convince him that he... that he is like the man. He has to feed him, when he himself hasn't eaten food in centuries. Can he even remember how to buy bread? How to select cheese and wine? And then he remembers the rest of it. How to prepare a meal. How to make a bed. He remembers his first glory, his armies, his retainers, and what he is reduced to. The loneliest part of the book comes... when the man accidentally sees Dracula setting his table.
Shreck’s sympathy for Dracula extends beyond vampirism--clearly, he’s a disgraced nobleman, too. Their gradual mutation evidences a decline from past glories that’s not only a personal humiliation, but also a betrayal of a social contract.
You don’t need to bend the symbolism too much to see real world parallels in noble families that earned esteem and respect, long ago, only for spoiled heirs to progressively squander that goodwill. Whatever great victories Dracula achieved are now centuries behind him, and the better part of his existence is defined by preying on commoners. Thus, just as it doesn't take long for the commoner to question why tradition expects him to put such societal leaches on a pedestal, so too does it not take long for vampire movie protagonists to realize these superhuman immortals have their own near-human vulnerabilities.
Part of the reason Blade was successful enough to build a franchise likely lied in how it keyed in on this particular subtext. It updated the aristocratic vampires of the Tomb of Dracula comics into modern yuppies and corporate suits for a social critique that’s maybe only a shade off from American Psycho. It’s telling that Blade has to rip off the Vampire Nation’s “familiars” (code for employees/slaves) to fund his operation because it “ain’t the March of Dimes.” The villain Deacon Frost lounges in a high rise penthouse while Blade toils in an industrial sector warehouse--the symbolism isn't hard to miss.
This is an undercurrent that carries over into the likes of Daybreakers (whose vision of a vampire-ruled future incidentally resembles the original plot for Blade: Trinity) and, while the success of the sexy vampire metaphor has certainly eclipsed that of the social one, I still figure this interpretation offers an intriguing alternative to explain what these flicks are really all about.