Opinion: The world of ‘Morbius’ was born over 9,000 years ago πŸ’₯πŸ’₯πŸ’₯

But where did it all start? Vampires can be found throughout history in different cultures around the world, so how did they come to be thought of as aristocrats in formalwear? And when exactly did these bloodsucking bogeymen become heroes? It’s a story that twins the ancient with the modern and reveals the religious, folkloric and literary history feeding our on-screen obsessions with the undead. And unlike our most iconic modern vampires, the first one was a woman.

Evidence of people fearing the dead rising goes back 9,000 years, but the vampireβ€”a supernatural nocturnal predator that feeds on humansβ€”first took shape in Lilith.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Sumerian cuneiform text dating back to at least 2000 BCE and the world’s oldest known work of literature, tells of the demoness Lilith, a winged spirit of darkness. She’s mentioned in Isaiah 34:14, her name in Hebrew meaning “monster of the night,” and throughout Jewish apocrypha and folklore as a seductress of sleeping men who uses their seed to birth demons, as well as a killer of newborns who steals their souls.
Her myth spread through the ancient world, including to Greece, where her influence is seen in several winged monsters of Greek mythology that prey on children and seduce men at night, like Lamia and Strix. The next step toward the vampire, some of these monsters also drank the blood of their victims.

Lilith became the subject of numerous tales during the Middle Ages, a period rife with demonology and superstition. A figure of iconoclasm and temptation, she — and from her, vampires in general — came to represent the pagan threat to Christianity. In the familiar European lore vampires can be repelled with a crucifix, scalded with holy water or burned by sunlight, a longstanding symbol of providence.

Vampires can be found outside of Europe as well, though like all folklore there are countless variations, so what counts as a vampire is difficult to pin down. Ghoulish revenants prey upon the living everywhere from Australia (yara-ma-yha-who) to West Africa (obayifo, adze and sasabonsam) to South America (soucouyant and peuchen).

Probably the most famous of these is jiangshi, the Chinese hopping vampire (also found in Vietnam, Korea and Japan), a reanimated corpse that feeds on chi. Believed to date back to the Qing Dynasty and usually depicted in period robes, it shares the Western vampire’s fangs and pale skin, except that it stiffly bounces after its prey with outstretched arms. It was popularized globally through Hong Kong cinema.
The idea of the vampire may very well have traveled the Silk Road, and Near East myths likely spread through Ottoman conquest to the Balkans and from there to the rest of Europe. Many of these myths attributed inexplicable illness and death to vampires, so the Black Plague and ailments like rabies, porphyria and catalepsy also likely led to their proliferation (as well as, with so many dead around, postmortem changes like rigor mortis, purge fluid, and receding gums that made teeth appear to grow).

Vampire Panic

The word “vampire” itself comes from vampir, found in several Central and Eastern European languages, usually a general term for various parasitic undead. It entered the Western lexicon in a 1725 Austrian newspaper report on purported Serbian vampire Petar Blagojevic.
Suspected vampire attacks were often blamed on real people, dead or alive, the most famous being Hungarian royal Elizabeth Bathory, known as the Blood Countess. She allegedly kidnapped, tortured and murdered as many as 650 young girls around the turn of the 17th century, making her the most prolific serial killer in history.
Later embellishments had her drinking and bathing in the blood of virgins to retain her youth, becoming part of her legend. She’s often said to have to have influenced Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” though that too is unsupported.
Keanu Reeves and Gary Oldman in 'Dracula' in 1992.
By the early 18th century, Europe was in the grip of the “Great Vampire Epidemic.” For about 30 years, people believed vampires were rising all over the continent. Bodies were exhumed, staked through the heart and decapitated in Eastern Europe, while Western European press regularly reported encounters and medical journals offered analysis. By midcentury, Pope Benedict XIV was forced to declare that vampires were “fallacious fictions of human fantasy.”
America had its own “Great New England Vampire Panic,” paralleling an outbreak of tuberculosis. Anti-vampire rituals lasted into the late 19th century, believed to be in the hundreds.
Vampire hunting parties digging up bodies to cut out and burn their hearts are reported in Romania as late as 2004.

Enter Dracula

From myth and folklore, vampires became a fixture of culture. Countless works featured them, from highbrow fair like Goethe’s 1797 poem “The Bride of Corinth” to salacious penny dreadfuls like 1847’s “Varney the Vampire.”
In 1813 Lord Byron published “The Giaour,” a macabre poem telling of a man cursed to return from the grave as a vampire. In 1819 the novella “The Vampyre” was published under his name, to great success, though it was written by his personal physician and friend John Polidori.
Somewhat based on Byron’s poem and created as part of the same friendly challenge that led Mary Shelley to write “Frankenstein,” it’s considered the first vampire story in fiction.
Polidori’s vampire, Lord Ruthven, is a worldly and charming aristocrat who enjoys seducing young women, widely accepted to be based on Byron himself. He’s something of a satire too, a metaphor for the moral depravity and parasitic nature of the upper class, a theme just as popular today. And although he’s the villain of the story, he is equally frightening and alluring, bestial and erotic, establishing the duality of the modern vampire.
Bela Lugosi creeps up on the sleeping Lucy Weston, played by Frances Dade in 'Dracula', directed by Tod Browning in 1931.
Almost 80 years later, on May 26, 1897, theater manager Abraham “Bram” Stoker published his second novel, “Dracula,” with an initial print run of 3,000 copies. It was heavily indebted to “The Vampyre,” but incorporated real historical, geographical and cultural details. To drum up hype Stoker claimed it was partly based on true events, even trying to publish it as nonfiction.
Famously, he based his title character on the notorious 15th century Transylvanian prince, though in actuality he did little more than borrow the name. “Dracula,” meaning “son of the dragon” in Romanian (later also coming to mean “son of the devil”), was an honorific given to Vlad III, better known as Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes), a nickname he earned for his penchant to skewer his enemies, dead or alive, on large stakes. But though he’d gained infamy for his bloodthirst, it wasn’t literalβ€”he was never accused of being a vampire.

Vampires take to the screen

“Dracula” wasn’t particularly successful commercially, but it was well received, and its legacy would prove to be immense.
With the advent of cinema, it was first adapted in 1922, but as “Nosferatu, a symphony of horror,” an unauthorized, low-budget horror film which has since come to be regarded a masterwork of German Expressionism.
Taking its name from the erroneous assumption that “nosferatu” means vampire in Romanian, which Stoker popularized in “Dracula” (it likely comes from “nesuferit,” which means “insufferable one” and connotes uncleanliness), the movie follows roughly the same plot but features a very different vampire.
German actor Max Schreck (1879 - 1936), as the vampire Count Orlok, being destroyed by sunlight, in a still from F. W. Murnau's expressionist horror film, 'Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens', 1921.

Count Orlok, played by Max Schreck, is reclusive and antisocial, not a courtly debonair. He’s also hideous, hunched and bald with pointed ears and sharp rat teeth. It’s a look that’s become almost as famous as Dracula’s, inspiring future vampires like Kurt Barlow in “Salem’s Lot,” the Master in “Buffy” and Petyr in “What We Do in the Shadows.”

The film made more explicit the subtext of “the Other,” the parasitical, infectious dark foreigner who invades Western land to corrupt its men and prey on its women. It also added new elements to vampire lore, primarily that vampires burn to ash in sunlight. Dracula, for example, is weakened in daytime but still walks around London.

A man of wealth and taste

Two years later, “Dracula” premiered as a British traveling play by playwright and actor Hamilton Deane, eventually settling in London. It was a licensed adaptation, but it took liberties with the material, turning it into a drawing room mystery.
Whereas the novel’s Dracula is sensual but unattractive, described as having a hard face with a beaky nose and pointed mouth and beard, clad in black from head to toe, the stage version, played by Edmund Blake and later Raymond Huntley, was handsome and dapper, dressed in a tuxedo. He was also given a redlined black opera cape with a high collar, which added visual flair, made him look like a bat and hinted at blood, as well as allowing him to disappear into the shadows and through a trapdoor in the stage floor.
The iconography carried over to the 1927 Broadway production, starring Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi in his first major English-speaking role. The play was a hit, and it’s this version, not the novel, that the famed 1931 movie is mostly based on.
Bela Lugosi (1882 - 1956) prepares to bite the neck of an unconscious young woman in a still from director Tod Browning's film, 'Dracula'. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Lugosi reprised the role, his distinct accent becoming associated with the character forever after. “Dracula” was popular with reviewers and audiences alike, becoming a box-office smash, making Dracula a household name and cementing vampires as a lasting genre in entertainment.

A versatile monster

Thousands of vampire films and shows have followed in the century since, several hundred featuring Dracula, with depictions evolving to reflect changing tastes and mores. Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” portrayed them as romantic, tortured souls. In Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” they’re misunderstood and relatable. The “Underworld” series and “Dracula Untold” even turned them into heroes.

The allure of staying young and virile forever and the conflicting fear of eternal loneliness have also made vampires appealing to teenage audiences, from “The Lost Boys” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Twilight.”

Sarah Michelle Gellar in a scene from "Buffy The Vampire Slayer".

They’re even popular with young children, like Count Chocula, “Hotel Transylvania” and Sesame Street’s Count von Count.

Inevitably, vampires found their way into comic books. The public domain Dracula has been everything from a Dell Comics superhero in the 1960s to a successful Marvel horror comic in the 1970s.
The latter introduced the vampire hunter Blade, who went on to receive his own comic and in 1998 his own film, starring Wesley Snipes. It was a surprise hit, lighting the fuse for today’s superhero movie dominance.
“Morbius,” which opened April 1β€”the 203rd anniversary of “The Vampyre“β€”is a Sony Pictures production of a Marvel property, starring Jared Leto as the vampire superhero.

Dr. Michael Morbius is a renowned Greek biochemist who, in a desperate attempt to cure his fatal blood disease, experiments on himself using vampire bat DNA. It works, but it also turns him into a “living vampire” with acute senses, super-strength, flight and bloodlust.

Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in 1971, Morbius started out as a tragic Spider-Man villain, over time becoming more of a brooding antihero. He’s headlined several series since, but none have lasted long.
The movie, already a gambit given the character’s track record and relative obscurity, was originally scheduled for July 10, 2020, but got pushed back six times due to the pandemic. After half a century, it’s time for Morbius to have his moment in the sun. Hopefully he can take it.

Opinion: The world of ‘Morbius’ was born over 9,000 years ago

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