Zombieland topped the box office last weekend with $25 million, a respectable haul for a relatively low-budget horror-comedy whose biggest star (Woody Harrelson) hasn't top-lined a movie in over ten years. By comparison, the first installment in the Twilight series opened a year ago to the tune of $69 million.
It would go on to gross almost $200 million domestically, a total Zombieland won't come within brain-eating distance of. I point this out in order to draw attention to the disparity in the current popularity of bloodsuckers and brain/flesh-eaters, and to explain why this is actually a desirable state of undead affairs.
Vampires have a much richer history, it's true. Ancient cultures like Persia and Rome all have some version of bloodsucking spirit, but the vampire in its current incarnation really became popular in Eastern and Central Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Zombies, by comparison, didn't start showing up on our radar until the mid-1800s. But they were from the Caribbean, which makes them much more hip.
As far as movies and TV shows go, there's really no contest there either. Since 1922's Nosferatu, there have been nearly a thousand vampire movies (over 170 of these dedicated to Dracula alone). Sure, there are lots of zombie flicks as well, but the vast majority of these were released post-NotLD (1968's Night of the Living Dead).
Even so, the two were able to coexist in relative peace for twenty years or so. Zombies and vampires were kindred spirits, if you will, because both were monsters. Vampires were generally a little more savvy in the couture department (e.g. Blacula), and could mask their murderous intentions with good manners and a sexy accent, but -- as with their putrefying counterparts -- they left humans with but one option: swift and brutal extermination.
And then, in the late 70s, that all changed, and as with most other bad things in my life, I blame Anne Rice.
Interview with the Vampire took perfectly serviceable vampyrs and turned them into a clinically depressed pack of pathological whiners, and the damage continues to this day. You can trace a line in the suck all the way from Louis de Pointe du Lac to Angel to Edward Cullen to Bill Compton, and whether petulant Euro-fop or brooding Southern Gothic douchebag, we're now expected to sympathize with the things; to try and understand their existential crises rather than simply pound a stake in their asses and be done with it.
The more salient result of this has been a dramatic divergence in the respective quality of vamp/zombie entertainment. The walking dead have been able to straddle comedy (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland), action (the Resident Evil series) and horror (2004's Dawn of the Dead remake, [REC]) with equal aplomb.
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Meanwhile, vampires have appeared in such quality fare as the aforementioned Twilight, the oversexed True Blood, The Vampire Diaries (AKA Bistriţa-Năsăud 90210 ), and Moonlight (briefly filling the vampire law-enforcement niche left empty by the cancellation of Forever Knight). None of these can be even remotely classified as "horror."
The only decent vamp movie to come out in recent years is last year's Let the Right One In, and we had to get that from the Swedes.
Zombies are never going to be romantic. Decaying, animated corpses aren't exactly boyfriend/girlfriend material (though I've read a few short stories that explore the...possibilities), hence they'll never be trendy with the Stephanie Meyer crowd.
And frankly, that's fine with me. You can keep your tousled-hair dandies with their pouty lips and sparkly skin. Give me shambling hordes with an insatiable hunger for entrails, their brains functioning at the barest minimum to keep them seeking food. Hell, not only are they more horrifying, they're more American.