In her discussion of technoscience, Donna Haraway draws upon the vampire to represent the ‚vectors of infection‘ that infuse current ‚bioscientific constructions of universal humanity‘.[1] The vampire provides the ideal imagery to describe the transgressions, transformations and constant renegotiations of categories that haunt the posthuman existence of the technoscientific age. And indeed, vampires have ‚the power to move between and undo borders otherwise holding identities in place‘. As Erik Butler claims: Their ‚affinity for rupture, change, and mutation‘[2] makes them posthuman creatures in more than one sense. 

Today the posthuman has taken centre-stage in several areas of debate in mainstream culture. As Rosi Braidotti points out, it is inherent in discussions of ‚trans-humanism and techno-transcendence‘, when technological progress questions the essence of human nature by pushing against the ‚boundaries of perfectibility of the body‘.[3] It is present in globalised capitalism, when the ‚commercialisation of planet Earth in all its forms‘ normalises the ‚genetic code of living matter … [as the] main capital‘[4] of posthuman transactions. And it is present in the ’necro-technologies‘ that govern our societies and ‚have altered dramatically our understanding of what counts as the basic frame of reference for the human today‘.[5]

It thus stands to reason that a figure as protean as the vampire would also inhabit this realm of the posthuman. As Jeffrey Weinstock argues, the vampire ‚is invariably an overdetermined body that condenses a constellation of culturally specific anxieties and desires into one super-saturated form‘[6], and one such cultural anxiety is the posthuman.[7] Nina Auerbach, in her study of the cultural changes the vampire represents, has observed that ’no fear is only personal: it must steep itself in its political and ideological ambience, without which our solitary terrors have no contagious resonance‘.[8] Our vampires are becoming posthuman as much as we are becoming posthuman. They are blending into the cultural climate of our times – they are ‚everything we are, while at the same time, they are fearful reminders of the infinite things we are not‘.[9]

As such, these posthuman vampires stand in the tradition of the postmodern, or rather, the posthuman Gothic. As Michael Sean Bolton points out, the postmodern Gothic is concerned with ‚the integrity of human subjectivity‘, the Gothic connecting with ‚the postmodern fear of the disintegration of the human subject‘[10]. This is essentially a posthuman position, understanding life as ‚a process of becoming through new connections and mergers between species, bodies, functions and technologies‘[11], viewing human life as ‚becoming-with‘ – a term appropriated by Pramod K. Nayar, Braidotti, and other critics to describe a posthuman, hybrid, and flexible subject position.[12] Any anxiety about becoming-with, of transgressing the category of the human, is consequently part of the posthuman Gothic, as fear is not externalised but arises from within when humans interact/interface with technology.[13]

In the following, I will analyse cinematic representations of the posthuman vampire that negotiate these issues not just as mere window-dressing but engage in the critical cultural potential of the figure. The vampire, in these films, has become a screen onto which to project posthuman Gothic negotiations of biotechnological transgressions and their disintegrating potential for human nature.

Francis Lawrence’s I am Legend (2007), the third film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, introduces a variant form of vampirism as a consequence of modern medicine and genetic engineering. The new race of Darkseekers represents the posthuman in the dual sense of having been created by technoscientific means, and of being a hybrid species: human life becoming-with the contagion of the Krippin virus. Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II (2002) builds upon the trilogy’s already present genetic explanations for vampirism in order to negotiate the posthuman and its relation to technoscientific progress. The film intervenes in the prevalent discourses of science, technology, and eugenics by enacting a conflict between the pure Vampire Nation and the genetically engineered Reaper subspecies of vampires. And lastly, the Spierig brothers‘ film Daybreakers (2009) conflates vampirism and hyper-consumption to demonstrate the posthuman use of necro-political power in capitalist societies. In the film, due to a scarcity of resources, the genetically devolved Subsiders are excised from society and reduced to a life of bare survival. 

Since all three films have different emphases in their use of the posthuman vampire figure, I will analyse them separately and in sequence. Nonetheless, many aspects and features of the films correlate with each other and I will highlight similarities, if and when appropriate. Furthermore, it is important to note that the posthuman vampire represents a deviation from most other vampires because it is aligned with both the genre of science fiction (sf) and that of horror. As such, posthuman vampires are not cultural representations of the past but of the future – they are not found ‚pining for a lost past in a world that has passed its prime‘ but instead are ‚mediat[ing] between a fictional future and the reader’s present reality‘.[14] In terms of its sf-modality, the monstrous figure of the posthuman vampire lends itself to comment on socio-political shifts and technological changes, revealing a cautious view of technoscience that is usually found in dystopian narratives. In their depiction of the posthuman vampire, the films presented here function as warning calls against technoscientific progress, combining the social dimension of science fiction and the intensive feelings of terror and revulsion connected to posthuman Gothic and horror. 

Animalising the Other: I am Legend

From its earliest moments, Francis Lawrence’s film I am Legend draws upon the dystopian potential of scientific progress, specifically genetic engineering, to shift the vampire figure into the realm of sf. The film opens with images from a news program, introducing a ‚miracle cure‘ for cancer in an interview with scientist Dr Alice Krippin (Emma Thompson). Krippin explains that she has engineered the ‚measles virus … at a genetic level‘ to attack cancerous cells instead of healthy ones, in order to cure cancer. The film then cuts to black before opening onto a sequence of shots depicting the lifeless, abandoned city of New York, overlaying the first shot of a flooded car tunnel with the intertitle ‚Three Years Later‘. The contiguity of the images and the narration verify that humanity has been almost completely wiped out by the cancer cure, which has turned into the deadly Krippin virus (KV). With a ‚90% kill rate‘ and only ‚1% immunity‘ – according to the film’s protagonist, military virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith) – KV triggers the mutation of the remaining 9 per cent of humanity into Darkseekers, a new species that feeds on the surviving humans. The film portrays Neville as the ‚last man on earth‘, fending off and studying the Darkseekers in order to create a vaccine to cure KV and bring humanity back from viral contagion.

In contrast to classical definitions, the vampires of I am Legend are not undead creatures and do not suck the blood of humans, even though they burn when coming into contact with sunlight; indeed, as they feed upon the flesh of humans, some reviewers have read the creatures as zombies. It is important to note, however, that within the film itself, the creatures are only referred to as Darkseekers, mentioning neither ‚vampires‘ nor ‚zombies‘. In contrast, the original novel by Matheson refers to the creatures as vampires, establishing a precedent for the inclusion in this terminology. Weinstock argues that vampires exhibit three different epistemological states, ‚the three branches of the vampire family tree: the natural vampire (separate species or a result of some natural process), the unnatural vampiric psychopath or viral host, and the supernatural vampire monster‘.[15] Darkseekers belong to the unnatural branch, as they are created by a ‚human manipulation of nature‘, which recasts the vampire as a ’naturally occurring or scientifically created pandemic that must be battled through scientific means‘.[16]

It is their creation (and subsequent potential destruction) through science that defines the vampires as posthuman creatures of technoscience. Interestingly though, their hybrid existence is enacted in the theatrical release of the film not as a moment of posthuman becoming-with but instead as devolution towards the inhuman. The Darkseekers are de-humanised and depicted as wild animals, a strategy that similarly applies to the other two films‘ posthuman vampires, Blade II’s Reapers and Daybreakers’ Subsiders. In all three, the posthuman vampire’s skin is translucent, their bodies are muscular, wiry, and predatory; they have (almost) no hair; their mouths or jaws feature promi­nently, emphasising their animalistic, even monstrous urge to feed. When hunting, they snarl, growl, or in the case of the Darkseekers, roar – a shot of the creatures unhinging their jaws to rip them open beyond human capacity is repeatedly shown. All three species of posthuman vampire display animalistic traits such as the Reapers‘ massive, expandable jaws with their tentacle-like stingers that extract blood, or the Subsiders‘ leathery bat-like wings. In the case of the Darkseekers, these animalistic traits are more subtly displayed in an increased speed and range of movement, and a rapid breathing that resembles that of a dog’s panting. As Steffen Hantke notes, this fast-paced rhythm of breath is present even when the Darkseeker is sedated, and thus gives the creature ‚a sense of … barely suppressed aggression‘ that combines with their inhuman movement to characterise them as monstrous: ‚They emanate menace, and their sight causes disgust. They are unambiguously not human‘.[17]

The film further enhances this inhumanity by relying on the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in order to bring the Darkseekers to life. This suggests a cinematic correspondence to their origin in technoscience, as Stacy Abbott points out for Blade II, but which also applies to all of the films: ‚This reconception of the vampires through the language of biological science is enhanced by their visual reinvention through computer-generated effects‘.[18]Darkseekers especially are categorically separate from humanity, being fully computer-generated, not human actors enhanced by CGI (as in Blade II), complicating viewer affect and denying any recognition of humanity in the creatures. 

Made possible by the animalism and CGI-origin of the Darkseekers, Lawrence portrays them as utterly devoid of human social order. The first encounter with a ‚hive‘ of Darkseekers happens during daytime in an abandoned, darkened building. Neville searches for his dog Sam, who has run into the building. The scene begins with the frantic movements of Neville in the dark corridors and spaces, illuminated by his flashlight. The claustrophobic darkness, the fast-paced cuts, and the shaky camera evoke a feeling of threat and suspense. Neville discovers the hive in a flash sweep of the room with his light, immediately averting the beam, leaving a ghostly after-image of the creatures. The creatures stand in the dark, with down-turned heads and seemingly unmoving except for their rapid breathing. The next shot is presented from within the circle of Darkseekers, at a low angle and against the flashlight’s beam, revealing the creatures in silhouette, as if from the perspective of a surrounded victim on the ground. Only after Neville finds Sam are the Darkseekers fully shown. One of the creatures sits on top of an old desk, ready to pounce, and roars before being shot mid-jump. The scene ends, after a fast-paced chase, with Neville jumping onto the sun-lit street. A Darkseeker, caught in the momentum of the chase, also falls into the light, thrashing wildly, hitting its head on the pavement repeatedly, and howling with pain before dying. 

Lawrence’s treatment of the Darkseekers does not allow the audience to sympathise with them – the suspenseful scenery of the closed quarters and the oppressive darkness, the alien behaviour of the group, the shot that positions the audience ‚at the mercy‘ of the creatures, the animal roar of the attack, and the violent reaction to sunlight work together to unsettle the viewer and build up to the increasingly more violent encounters between the Darkseekers and Neville, the hunter/scientist, that are to follow. 

The film supports the diegetic position of Neville, who captures, studies, and eventually slaughters the Darkseekers, believing their ’social de-evolution‘ to be ‚complete‘. Especially revealing is the final attack scene, when the Darkseekers find Neville’s house and charge to attack him and two other survivors (a woman and a young boy), who had rescued Neville shortly before. At the end of this scene, Neville finds himself in the basement, surrounded by Darkseekers relentlessly attacking a glass barrier behind which the three survivors have sheltered. At this moment he realises that he has created the cure, hands it to Anna (Alice Braga), hides her and the boy in an old furnace and kills himself together with the attackers by triggering an explosion. The cinematic presentation of the Darkseekers is in concert with Neville’s view of them as a hive – casting them, as Hantke argues, ‚as an evolutionary form of life even lower than predatory mammals, their numbers come in waves, swarming like insects‘.[19] The Darkseekers know no fear of death, attacking to the last, ignoring any attempt at communication, and in the end deserve to be blown up. The overwhelming mass of Darkseekers attack the house for no apparent reason (other than killing) and are reminiscent of the biblical plague of locusts which descended upon humanity as punishment.

In this reading of the film, which hinges on the ending as presented in the theatrical release, the Darkseekers as posthuman vampires come to represent a reactionary fear of the other, positioning them as the ultimate evil opposite the forces of good (i.e. Neville), and suggesting them to be deserving of eradication. The aesthetics of the Darkseekers, with their tattered clothing, the grey-brownish hues of their dusty skin, and the incomprehensible otherness in behaviour, as well as the ruinous landscape of Manhattan, all evoke images of the attacks of 9/11– the film thus rallying behind the ideology of the Bush administration’s ‘War on Terror’ and its agenda of national defence against a vaguely Middle-Eastern / Muslim threat of terrorism. This fear of the other is central to a conservative reading of the film undertaken on the theatrical release that reworked the original ending intended for the film. The alternate version, comprised of the original ending and two scenes which enable a revised impression of the Darkseekers, is more in line with the novel and suggests a motivation for otherwise incongruent scenes. In this version, Neville slowly realises that the Darkseekers are not de-evolved, but exhibit higher brain functions and social behaviour, going so far as to explain the attack on the house as the alpha male’s search for his captured lover. 

This explains several scenes throughout the film that defied the logic of the theatrical release: When Neville captures a female Darkseeker with an elaborate trap, the alpha male sets up an exact copy of that trap with surrogate-human bait in order to capture Neville. The knowledge of the trap’s mechanics, as well as the psychological value of a specific mannequin as surrogate, are important markers of the cognitive abilities of the Darkseekers, as is the motivation of the alpha male to seek to rescue his lover from torture. In fact, the scenes present Neville and the alpha male as doubles, a notion which is later taken up by the mise-en-scène, as the alpha and Neville mirror the movements of the other through the glass barrier in the final confrontation in which both try to save their own ‚kind‘. Neville announces that he has a cure and, when following the alpha’s gaze, realises the emotional bond, and sets the female free. When the other Darkseekers start to advance, the alpha calls out and they stop, suggesting a social hierarchy. In a direct showdown between Neville and the alpha, an averted line-of-sight-shot from Neville reveals the board of test subjects, hundreds of Darkseekers captured, experimented upon and killed in the process of finding the cure. At this moment Neville feels remorse and surrenders to the creatures, but they retreat. 

This alternate version reveals a critical posthumanist subtext, undermining the obvious ideology of the film as well as its depiction of otherness, and hints at the potential of a posthuman becoming-with. Throughout the film, the Darkseekers are presented as inhuman by the film’s continuous use of Robert Neville as the focaliser, whose perception of the creatures should be read as unreliable due to his prolonged isolation and maniacal need to fix things. His fragile psyche is revealed in his need for companionship and communication. The Darkseekers use this psychological need to trigger a schizophrenic breakdown in Neville. He is portrayed as traumatised by the loss of his family, driven to a single-minded, scientific rationale that allows him to retain the illusion of control. He needs to construct the Darkseekers as inhuman in order to keep experimenting, to stay the course, and fulfil the promise of finding a cure. It is only the appearance of Anna and the boy that forces him to break out of his delusions and to re-evaluate the situation. Anna’s perspective, influence and doubts about the abilities of the Darkseekers (in the two additional scenes) are the catalyst for him to form an alternative hypothesis and once more become a rational, neutral observer. 

In addition to this changed perspective, Neville has never come face to face with a non-sedated Darkseeker before, and has thus never been able to gauge their interactions. The basement scene is resolved through Neville’s realisation of the nature of what the Darkseekers represent. When the alpha tries to break through the glass, Neville recognises his suffering – and thus makes a first step towards acknowledging a need for ethical treatment of the other. As Jacques Derrida has argued for animal rights: ‚[T]he question is not to know whether the animal can think, reason, or talk, something we still pretend to be asking ourselves … The first and decisive question will rather be to know whether animals can suffer‘.[20] The social structure of the Darkseekers, which the film now openly portrays, might be read as a reminder of their residual humanity, but serves mainly to allow the audience to finally sympathise, though be it somewhat shallowly, with the creatures. At no point is a possible cure mentioned again, no attempt at communication or negotiation is made. Instead, the three remaining humans leave New York to the dominion of nature and the posthuman species. 

The theatrical ending buries any chance for change under ideology and thoughtless action. But a critical posthumanist reading allows for a Darkseeker subjectivity as zoe-centric, highlighting the distinction between life as bios (’subjective‘ and purposeful ‚human‘ life) and zoe (raw and ‚objective‘ life of all beings). Here, a posthuman hybridity emerges, a becoming-with of human and virus that has a much stronger claim on the future than the remaining humans. As Aspasia Stephanou claims (about the novel, but relevant here too): ‚While the anomalous multitude germinates potentialities, the novel shows that [posthuman] vampire biopolitics absorbs difference‘.[21] In contrast to Neville’s actions and judgments, the Darkseekers claim no retaliation for their losses; they do not need vengeance, and accept the human’s difference, allowing them to leave. The utopian hope of a future for humanity, threatened in this dystopian vision of technoscience by uncontrolled and hubristic genetic manipulation of life, is found in the potentialities of zoe-centric hybridity of the posthuman vampire and not in the bio-centric reclamation of a pure humanity. 

Visions of the Future: Blade II

In Lawrence’s I am Legend the vampire-like Darkseekers are an accidental by-product of misled science, a mere side effect of humanity’s hubris to harness the powerful tool of genetic engineering. The Blade-series, in contrast, centres entirely on a scientific rationale, thus revealing the depth of both anxieties and fantasies our society has about the potential of scientific enquiry.[22] The film series focuses especially on what Weinstock refers to as the cyborgian nature of the vampire, defining the vampire through technology, in which the films ‚function as referendums on the inadequacies, perils and promises of modern science and technology‘.[23]

Already in the first film, Stephen Norrington’s Blade (1998), the series establishes science as the central discourse with which to read vampirism. In an early scene, vampirism is explained to be a genetically transformative disease which changes the host’s DNA. A cure, therefore, is possible in the form of ‚gene therapy‘, able to ‚rewrite the victim’s DNA with a retrovirus‘. Vampirism, thus, becomes a virus, which in keeping with the scientific rationale of the film, can be detected, analysed, understood and cured. Blade II builds upon this: In a confrontation with overlord Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann), the old vampire refers to vampirism as an ‚arbovirus‘ that ’spreads through the human bloodstream, creating new parasitic organs‘, to which Blade offers the comparison ‚like cancer‘, suggesting possible treatments following from this scientific comparison. 

And indeed, the film series suggests a plethora of scientifically created/enhanced weapons to battle the vampiric cancer – as action movies, the films revolve around the arsenal at the hunter’s disposal. In Blade, aside from a garlic spray and UV lamps, an anti-coagulant is filled into projectiles that lead to vampires exploding. In Blade II, UV light is delivered via bombs, detonating and spreading light as a form of radiation treatment against the vampiric cancer; silver nitrate is fashioned into bullets or injected in concentrated doses via blades as a form of vampiric chemotherapy. In Blade Trinity (2004), the hunters create a genetically engineered bioweapon that targets and destroys vampire DNA. As Weinstock remarks, the Blade-films revel in a ‚technological sublimity of advanced weaponry‘[24], convincing the audience that science will be able to cure or eradicate any disease. Similarly, both I am Legend and Daybreakers focus on science as holding the potential to solve the problems at hand: In I am Legend, the Darkseeker virus is both caused and cured by scientific creation, and in Daybreakers, the main character is a haematologist, searching for a cure for vampirism, setting up clinical trials, and working in a laboratory. All three centralise the idea of science, attaching risk and reward to it, providing a view that revels in the potential of science as a tool (i.e. a weapon to fight vampirism) while simultaneously warning against its abuse (i.e. to play god). 

Blade II, in particular, can be read as a warning of scientific enquiry as a threat due to the ‚Reaper‘ strain, an aggressive mutated form of the vampire virus that is immune to its respective chemotherapy. ‚Like cancer with a purpose‘ is Damaskinos‘ retort to Blade’s insult, perfectly revealing his intentions: The strain is no natural mutation but instead a genetically engineered variant, an experiment that has grown out of control. Damaskinos created it to make vampires more resistant, to boost the species‘ chance of survival, and as such, unlike I am Legend, the Blade-series presents the vampires as not only products of science, but simultaneously as users of science.[25] In the hands of the wrong people (i.e. vampire overlords) with the wrong intentions (i.e. genocide, eugenics), science becomes a weapon turned against humanity.

When confronted with the decline of vampires, Damaskinos engages in experimentation to eliminate any ‚hereditary weaknesses‘, as he claims, resorting to ‚recombining DNA‘ in order to create a ’new, pure race‘ of super-vampires. His choice of words is revealing, as Stephanou points out: ‚Biomedicine and genetic engineering are portrayed … as scientific tools that will sculpt and define human [and vampire] selfhood; in particular, they address questions of blood and science in relation to race‘.[26] Damaskinos‘ attempt at purifying a flawed race is thus strongly reminiscent of the eugenics discourse surrounding genetic engineering and the creation of an enhanced human race. But in a competing environment, the genetically enhanced ‚race‘ (über-vampires) will dominate the unchanged ‚race‘ (normal vampires) and in the end force them into extinction. Underneath Damaskinos‘ wish to create that super-race of vampires, we find a desire to create an everlasting legacy – eternal life, not literally but evolutionary. Science, the film suggests, has the potential to determine the future of a species by allowing the individual with power to eliminate flaws and any genetic divergence deemed unwanted or unnecessary. The fascist overtones of racial purity and eugenics are undeniable.

In my reading, the film projects societal anxieties about science’s role in determining the worth of life, and raises the question of who exactly has power over such decisions. It is important to note how these anxieties are expressed visually. The original script refers to the laboratory as ‚Eugenics Chamber‘: ‚We are in a vast, multitiered, temperature-controlled chamber – equal parts 21st century medical facility and Hammer House of Horror‘.[27] In the film, the room is metallic, with blue-grey lighting, catwalks lining the room, which has glass floors, metallic girders and tubes with red liquid running through. The initial shot shows Blade from above, lying unconscious on the floor, the camera tilting to reveal him in front of a liquid basin, over which towers a contraption with red tubes that feed the basin. The ‚Hammer House of Horror‘-effect is evoked in the scene by the red bubbling liquid in the pool: ‚The operation looks not unlike a small-scale water purification plant, or perhaps a futuristic distillery. Only in this instance, the liquid churning within the cask is HUMAN BLOOD‘.[28]

The connection between science and Gothic, laboratory and torture chamber, is made throughout the film. It is introduced when Blade and his companions enter the Vampire Nation sanctum and meet Damaskinos. The hunters arrive by helicopter, the camera tracking a shot from the air on a building complex with sharp geometrical forms and cold exterior; two massive concrete towers dominate the entrance. The name of the complex, Caliban Industries, evokes the closeness of horror (Caliban, the Shakespearean monstrous half-breed; or a distorted acronym of cannibal, hinting at vampire eating vampire) and science (in its corporatised form of ‚Industries‘). Inside the building, a massive door folds out of the concrete wall like a drawbridge, revealing the overlord’s lair, which contrasts with the exterior by resembling an ancient fortress. Rough stone walls, soft warm light illuminating the room, religious statues and artworks can be seen as decorations. In the background a computer array is visible but Damaskinos is hunched over an ancient hand-written tomb in front of a room-filling astronomical clock. Whatever experiments Damaskinos is working on, the film certainly evokes images of dark magic and alchemy rather than scientific rationality. 

The connotation of magic and Gothic is most present in the ’scientist‘ himself. Damaskinos does not fulfil scientific clichés, but rather evokes the ancient and aristocratic vampire – flowing black robes, white, translucent and marble-like skin with dark blue veins, long fingernails and fangs. His motivation for experimentation is not scientific inquiry but a drive for aristocratic hegemony. He is willing to do anything to remain in power, to shape not only his present but also a future for the vampiric race. 

Here the film clearly demarcates the conflict with his son as one of class struggle, where science becomes a weapon of hegemonic power. Damaskino’s son, Jared Nomak (Luke Goss), is visually associated with the homeless, as this is how we see him in the first scene of the film. He is dressed in rags, layers of dirty clothing concealing his body. His skin looks sickly pale (not shiny and polished like his father’s) and he coughs, while sitting in a blood bank waiting his turn. He travels through the sewer system and feeds upon the homeless. The blood bank scene further emphasises that the Vampire Nation systematically exploits the homeless for food and genetic testing – Nomak resists this, and violently undermines this exploitation by turning everyone at the blood bank into Reapers. 

With a clear connection made between the Reapers, homelessness and drug use (one of the vampires compares Reapers with crack addicts), Ken Gelder has stated that these new vampires are like ‚a hyperbolically conceived, AIDS-era (or post-AIDS) gay plague‘.[29] In contrast, I believe the portrayal of Damaskinos and the Vampire Nation as hegemonic, aristocratic and involved in technoscience and its industrial exploitation hints at another reading. Gelder is correct in assuming that the Reapers are ’seen as equally disposable and exploitable by the vampires and the police‘[30], but he overlooks the economic factor and the film’s insistence on ‚racial purity‘. The Reapers are by-products of a hegemonic design enacted to eugenically shape the aristocratic Vampire ‚Nation‘. Damaskinos is ruler and engaged in biological design, and as Zygmunt Bauman reminds us, ‚[w]here is design, there is waste … When it comes to designing the forms of human togetherness, the waste is human beings. Some human beings who do not fit into the designed form nor can be fitted into it…‘.[31] Bauman describes these wasted beings as those excluded from law and their sovereign nation, later extending this category under capitalism in a consumer society to all those not consuming, those seen as ‚feeding parasitically on the social body‘.[32] This describes the homeless, the sick, the drug addicts, and in the context of the film, the Reapers. Consequently, a critical posthumanist reading sees the Reapers not as threats produced by genetic engineering, but rather as the natural by-product of the industrialisation and corporatisation of science; of an exploitative strain of capitalism that extends its biopolitical hegemony over all life, creating and deciding who is unwanted and superfluous, deciding which life is worthy and which life is wasted. In a sense, through the creation of the Reapers the film makes clear that whoever controls science has the biopolitical power to control life, to categorise it, and declare it expendable.

Capitalism and Vampirism: Daybreakers

Vampire films can be social critiques of possible dystopian futures – but whereas an ancient, out-dated nation statewith an aristocratic ruler is presented as wielding biopower in Blade IIDaybreakers transports the concept to capitalist consumer society. Whereas the Vampire Nation remain at odds with contemporary society, its hybrid of ancien regimerule and modern military-industrial apparatus enacting a generational struggle, Daybreakers’ transnational corporation Bromley Marks – a mixture of international bank and military research facility – is the full-on embodiment of neoliberal capitalism and its necro-power: power not merely over any and all aspects of life but also over the domain of death and dying. 

In the film, the largest part of humanity has become vampires, turning the logic of vampire films upside down, making vampires the dominant species and shifting humans into the category of natural resource, preciously sought after by a growing number of consumers. As Gelder points out, in the film’s vampire society, human blood has become a ‚base commodity, like oil, or water‘[33] and, in fact, the film is explicit in the corporatisation of this commodity. With the posthuman logic of necro-politics, multinational corporations such as Bromley Marks have established a global hegemony through the exploitation of human life and death. Humans are hunted by the company’s paramilitary forces, sporting hardened full-body cover, camouflage gear, and enforced Hummers, and then herded into storage facilities, where their slow death is commodified. Bromley Marks functions as a bank, storing humans in suspended animation, keeping a personal blood supply for their wealthy customers and managing their ‚portfolios‘. At the same time, the company researches the creation of a blood substitute to increase its market and to avert the natural decline in blood production, as without human reproduction there is no new supply. In the conflation of the banking system with biotechnology, capitalist necro-power is laid bare – the corporation is sovereign over life and death. Old capital and new technology merge. The blood bank’s vault, as all other locations inside Bromley Marks, is visually coded as technoscientific: metallic, industrialised and cold, with reflective surfaces and blue lighting. 

The first shot of Bromley Marks shows haematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) entering the building. A cut to Dalton’s perspective reveals elevator doors sliding open on a large picture window behind which indistinguishable human forms hang in large apparatuses. Dalton’s reflection is noticeable in the window, suggesting his closeness to the humans, his deviance from the vampiric capitalist system. The next shot tracks him stepping out of an elevator into a hallway. Behind the picture window, machinery dominates the room evoking a factory floor; thousands of bodies are stacked like merchandise. The camera tracks an eye-line shot, revealing what Dalton sees: machinery loaded with bodies. Then the camera tracks a medium-close up on one apparatus with two bodies – pale skin, blue from the artificial light, their breathing heavy. Another cut shows a close-up of a male chest, heaving noticeably, veins showing under bruised, translucent skin. Then a shot of the man’s head in a metallic frame, holding syringes in place. Finally, an extreme close-up of a syringe penetrating the main artery, tubes allowing for automated ‚withdrawal‘ of blood, a trickle of which runs down from the entry wound. The scene ends with Dalton exhaling loudly, as if he had held his breath while taking in the image. He then turns his head in resignation and walks to his office with slumped shoulders. 

The focal shift from the many to the individual as the scene develops reveals Dalton’s morality and the grotesque treatment of human life. The allegorical connection of human blood to venture capitalism is shocking, but also in keeping with a posthuman necro-politics as described by Braidotti. She argues that the kind of ‚bio-genetic capitalism‘ portrayed here ‚reduces bodies to their informational substrate in terms of energy consumption‘, effectively turning humans into a commodity for the same ‚logic of insatiable consumption‘ that has used animal bodies for sustenance and work power for centuries.[34] Corporations and banks, indeed capitalism itself, are shown to be exploitative of life, becoming not metaphorically but literally ‚dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks‘[35] as the film progresses. The elites in the film literally exist by sucking out the life of the masses – not only the humans, as they are hunted and farmed for their blood, but also those members of vampire society who cannot keep up with the cost of sustenance and are consumed during the escalating crises of the film. 

The film stages neoliberal globalisation as a cycle of privileged consumption, allowing for an extreme escalation of the inequality politics which Bauman warns about. When the blood supply dwindles, the depravation of food results in the mutation of vampires into Subsiders, which the film equates to the homeless and outcasts of capitalist consumer society. In a doubled scene, the fluidity of the boundary between vampire society and Subsiders is illustrated. In the first occurrence of the scene, white-collar workers are standing on a subway platform on their way to work, buying coffee laced with blood. In the scene lies familiarity: the commute, the consumption of coffee-to-go and the mundane behaviour of the commuters (making phone calls, flirting, waiting) all establish normalcy. The only disturbing elementsare their glowing amber eyes in the dark, visible when the train passes – other than that, the vampires are representative of humanity. The camera moves downward to reveal the girder beneath the platform, littered with refuse, wind sweeping through. Two tattered, animal-like creatures with wings, hanging from the ceiling, attack each other with screeching noises – barely visible for a few seconds before the scene cuts to black. In a foreshadowing move, the scene thus reveals where society is headed by providing a glimpse of these ‚wasted lives‘[36], who cannot afford to partake in consumption. 

In its second occurrence, the order of events is switched: The scene starts with a view of Subsiders in a basement, searching for food, growling with hunger, before the camera moves upward onto a view of the city and a train rushing by. The news reports on rising prices due to the global blood crisis, the inability of many citizens to afford the commodity, and the resultant Subsider ‚epidemic‘. The normalcy on the platform has evaporated – instead of boredom, commuters now exhibit anxiety; a man is arrested, a woman is shifting nervously as if experiencing withdrawal. At the coffee-to-go place, a fight breaks out between customers after a mandatory reduction of the blood to coffee ratio. During this fight, a hungry customer assaults the vendor and rips open the blood bag, leading to a feeding frenzy, customers screeching with violence, lapping up blood from the floor, while police troops storm in. The film reveals the consequences of consumer capitalism, when social inequality grows. As Bauman states, everyone that is not able to keep up with the swift and complex changes of consumer society is prone to become human waste: ‚the dividing line has been moved up the social hierarchy … The world, it seems, has made another leap, and yet more of its residents, unable to bear the speed, have fallen off the accelerating vehicle‘.[37] The doubling of the scene emphatically shows how swiftly that dividing line can move. As Stephanou points out, ‚[t]he dystopian vampire society reflects the present financial crisis and ecological disaster, and is a world that is moving towards an extinction event‘.[38]

The scientific solution to vampirism, valorised in the Blade-series, would, in the political allegory of Daybreakers, effectively stand for the end of capitalism. It is no wonder that sovereign Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) openly opposes a cure, and instead pushes further consumption: ‚It’s never been about a cure, it’s about repeat business … and besides, what’s to cure?‘ Not realizing that the blood of re-humanised vampires like Dalton is itself the cure for vampirism, he drinks Dalton’s blood and becomes human again, in turn falling victim to his own troops as a source of blood for vampiric consumption. The show­down of the film stages military units feasting on ‚cured‘ vampires, before being ‚cured‘ themselves, and then falling prey to more vampires: ‚a slo-mo splatterfest of feasting, an eternal cycle of consumption is played out, potentially without end‘.[39] In terms of the diegesis, the cure is rejected by a society in full dissolution. Were it not for the final scene, the film would inadvertently promote the indestructability of consumer capitalism, yet Dalton and two other humans ride off into the sunset in their Firebird. Here, the film clumsily disseminates the message through symbolic representation that a different path is possible. The voice-over consequently addresses the audience and not the diegetic vampire society: ‚[w]e have a cure, we can change you back. It is not too late‘ (emphasis mine). The film uses posthuman vampires to illustrate contemporary society’s predicament. As Stephanou highlights regarding the vampires of the film, and ourselves by extension, ‚[a]s blood is increasingly commodified, desacralized and separated from one’s body, so does the vampire resemble more and more the capitalist and the passive, apolitical and indifferent consumer. Contemporary vampire narratives are reactions against the inhumanity and voracity of postmodern capitalism and against the objectification of humanity‘.[40] Daybreakersunerringly makes this clear: that as a willing part of the cycle of consumption, it is impossible to break free. The Subsiders, however, are a stark reminder, that we all run the risk of standing on the opposite side of the dividing line, of becoming human waste. 

Conclusion: Posthuman Vampires

The posthuman vampires of the presented films are hybrid creatures of technoscience, perched on the boundary of their Gothic past and their science-fictional future. Hadas Elber-Aviram has referred to their narratives as opening up a ’space for „future memory“‚ that allows them to point towards the future without the ‚present misuse of science and technology‘.[41] In their depiction of genetic engineering, eugenics, virology and necro-politics, the films reveal society’s anxieties about biotechnological transgressions of human subjectivity and posthuman development within technoscience. As such, these posthuman Gothic narratives literalise the personal, individualised fears of becoming inhuman or posthuman, combined with the social dimension of racial and class politics. But at the same time, the films suggest the possibility of change. They are warning calls that negotiate all possibilities of technoscientific progress – and they call out to us: ‚It is not too late‘.

[1] Donna Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan©_Meets_ OncoMouseTM (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 214.

[2] Erik Butler, Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film (Rochester: Camden, 2010), p.1.

[3] Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity, 2013), p. 2.

[4] Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 7.

[5] Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 9 and p. 40.

[6] Jeffrey Weinstock, The Vampire Film (New York: Wallflower, 2012), p. 13.

[7] As Braidotti points out, posthuman discourse ranges from transhumanist celebration, through technoscientific neutrality, over careful academic critique, to ‚anxiety … about the possibility of a serious de-centring of „Man“, the former measure of all things‘ (The Posthuman, p. 2). 

[8] Nina Auerbach, Our Vampires, Ourselves (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 3.

[9] Auerbach, Our Vampires, p. 6.

[10] M. S. Bolton, ‚Monstrous Machinery: Defining Posthuman Gothic‘, in Aeternum, 1/1 (2014), 2. 

[11] Pramod K. Nayar, Posthumanism (Cambridge: Polity, 2014), pp. 30–31. 

[12] Understanding the posthuman self as relational, Braidotti proposes a post-anthropocentric view allowing transformations, ‚becoming-animal, becoming-earth and becoming-machine‘, extending the posthuman into categorical enmeshment with animals, environment, and machines, revealing subjectivity as ‚embodied, embedded and in symbiosis‘ (Posthuman, pp. 66–67).

[13] Bolton, ‚Monstrous Machinery‘, 2.

[14] H. Elber-Aviram, ‚Constitutional Amnesia and Future Memory: Science Fiction’s Posthuman Vampire‘, in S. Bacon and K. Bronk (eds), Undead Memory (Oxford: Lang, 2013), p. 110.

[15] Weinstock, Vampire Film, p. 15.

[16] Weinstock, Vampire Film, pp. 60–61. 

[17] S. Hantke, ‚Historicizing the Bush Years: Politics, Horror Film, and Francis Lawrence’s I am Legend‚, in A. Briefel and S. J. Miller (eds), Horror After 9/11 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011), p. 170; see also Weinstock, Vampire Film, p. 65.

[18] S. Abbott, ‚Final Frontiers: Computer-Generated Imagery and the Science Fiction Film‘, Science Fiction Studies,33/1 (2006), 102. For a discussion of the CGI in I am Legend, see Hantke, ‚Historicizing‘, p. 170.

[19] Hantke, ‚Historicizing‘, p. 170.

[20] J. Derrida, ‚The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)‘, Critical Inquiry, 28/2 (2002), 395–96.

[21] A. Stephanou, ‚“The Last of the Old Race“: I am Legend and Bio-Vampire-Politics‘, in C. Mathews and J. V. Haedicke (eds), Reading Richard Matheson (Lanham: Rowman, 2014), p. 17.

[22] A. Mousoutzanis, ‚“Death is Irrelevant“: Gothic Science Fiction and the Biopolitics of Empire‘, in S. Wasson and E. Alder (eds), Gothic Science Fiction 1980–2010 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011).

[23] Weinstock, Vampire Film, p. 15; see also Rob Latham, Consuming Youth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 1–20.

[24] Weinstock, Vampire Film, p. 70.

[25] Abbott, ‚Final Frontiers‘, p. 102.

[26] Aspasia Stephanou, Reading Vampire Gothic Through Blood: Bloodlines (London: Palgrave, 2014), p. 111.

[27] David Goyer, Blade II (film script), (accessed 1 August 2015).

[28] Goyer, Blade II

[29] Ken Gelder, New Vampire Cinema (London: Palgrave, 2012), p. 112.

[30] Gelder, New Vampire Cinema, p. 112.

[31] Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts (Cambridge: Polity, 2004), p. 30.

[32] Bauman, Wasted Lives, p. 41.

[33] Gelder, New Vampire Cinema, p. 131.

[34] Braidotti, Posthuman, pp. 62–63.

[35] Karl Marx, cited in Latham, Consuming Youth, p. 3.

[36] Bauman, Wasted Lives, p. 41.

[37] Bauman, Wasted Lives, p. 14.

[38] Stephanou, Reading Vampire Gothic, p. 136.

[39] Gelder, New Vampire Cinema, p. 132.

[40] Stephanou, Reading Vampire Gothic, p. 137.

[41] Elber-Aviram, ‚Constitutional Amnesia‘, p. 106.

Primary Material:

Blade II. Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. 2002. Blu-ray. Warner Home Video, 2012. 

Daybreakers. Dir. Michael and Peter Spierig. 2009. Blu-Ray. Tiberius Film, 2010.

I am Legend. Dir. Francis Lawrence. 2007. Blu-ray. Warner Home Video, 2008.

Works Cited:

Abbott, Stacey. ‚Final Frontiers: Computer-Generated Imagery and the Science Fiction Film.‘ Science Fiction Studies 33.1 (2006): 89–108. Print.

Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995. Print.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity, 2004. Print.

Bolton, Michael Sean. ‚Monstrous Machinery: Defining Posthuman Gothic‘. Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies 1.1 (2014): 1–15. Print. 

Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity, 2013. Print.

Butler, Erik. Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film: Cultural Transformations in Europe, 1732–1933. Rochester: Camden, 2010. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. ‚The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow).‘ Critical Inquiry 28.2 (2002): 369–418. Print.

Elber-Aviram, Hadas. ‚Constitutional Amnesia and Future Memory: Science Fiction’s Posthuman Vampire.‘ Undead Memory: Vampires and Human Memory in Popular Culture. Eds. Bacon, Simon and Katarzyna Bronk. Oxford: Lang, 2013. 105-28. Print.

Gelder, Ken. New Vampire Cinema. London: Palgrave, 2012. Print.

Goyer, David. Blade II. Film script. Web. Aug 1st, 2015. <>.

Hantke, Steffen. ‚Historicizing the Bush Years: Politics, Horror Film, and Francis Lawrence’s I am Legend.‘ Horror After 9/11: World of Fear, Cinema of Terror. Ed. Aviva Briefel and Sam J. Miller. Austin: U of Texas P, 2011. 165–85. Print.

Haraway, Donna. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_ OncoMouseTM: Feminism and Technoscience. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Latham, Rob. Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs, and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002. Print. 

Mousoutzanis, Aris. ‚“Death is Irrelevant“: Gothic Science Fiction and the Biopolitics of Empire.‘ Gothic Science Fiction 1980–2010. Ed. Sara Wasson and Emily Alder. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2011. 57–72. Print.

Nayar, Pramod. Posthumanism. Cambridge: Polity, 2014. Print.

Stephanou, Aspasia. ‚“The Last of the Old Race“: I am Legend and Bio-Vampire-Politics.‘ Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Study. Ed. Cheyenne Mathews and Janet V. Haedicke. Lanham: Rowman, 2014. 17–30. Print. 

Stephanou, Aspasia. Reading Vampire Gothic Through Blood: Bloodlines. London: Palgrave, 2014. Print.

Weinstock, Jeffrey. The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema. New York: Wallflower, 2012. Print.

Ursprünglich erschienen im Band The Posthuman Gothic.

Schmeink, Lars. „Of Posthuman Vampires: Science, Blood and Becoming-With.“ The Posthuman Gothic. Hg. Anya Heise von der Lippe. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2017. 54-73.