Although Halloween only comes once a year, the thirst for vampire stories never seems to die out. This has helped UVic humanities professor Peter Golz pursue his own passion for studying these stories in film and literature for over 20 years. In doing so, he made Victoria home to one of North America’s most popular college courses on vampires.
“The figure of the vampire allows students to delve into the desires and fears of particular cultures at particular historical times,” says Lisa Surridge, associate dean of the humanities. “Peter Golz has created a masterclass in cultural studies that has stood the test of time.
More than a knowledge librarian
For anyone who’s spoken to Golz, it’s no surprise that his desk is filled with an impressive array of vampire-related paraphernalia – action figures from popular TV shows like dusk and Buffy the vampire slayer; a magnetic poetry kit on the theme of vampires; a Dracula lunch box; a bottle of Dracula brand wine (red, of course); a “little vampire pacifier”, full of blood-tipped fangs, still in its original packaging; with movie posters, DVDs and endless rows of books, books, books.
Even supported by this awe-inspiring cave of memories, Golz’s breadth and depth of knowledge of vampire film, literature, culture and history is endlessly captivating.
The briefest conversation with this humble professor about his passion for the subject resembles an immersive symposium in vampirology. And it’s no wonder: Golz has been teaching one of North America’s most popular vampire courses for 20 years this fall.
When people ask me “what are you teaching?” and I say “vampire studies” they always say “oh that’s so cool! Or ‘no, seriously what are you teaching?’
– Associate professor and vampirologist Peter Golz
A vampire program
The course that Golz created for the Germanic and Slavic Studies department at UVic in 2001, which he has taught annually since – A Cultural History of Vampires in Literature and Film – has captured the imaginations of students, fans and the media over the past two decades.
It has been featured by a wide range of national and regional media including The Globe & Mail, CBC, Times Colonist and CHEK, and appears on countless “best courses” lists and vampire fan sites.
In 2014, Warner Brothers approached Golz to include a short clip of the course as a bonus on a special 20th anniversary BluRay edition of the now classic film. Interview with the vampire, but the filming deadline was two weeks before the start of the course that year.
Attention like this, along with rave reviews from students, helped class enrollment grow from 75 students in its first year to over 300 at its peak. When first offered online last year due to the pandemic, the course attracted students from Asia and Europe, as well as North and South America, despite the lags extreme hours. Some passions never seem to sleep.
A vampire for every generation
In addition to the media attention and buzz generated on campus by word of mouth, Golz attributes the success of his course in part to the topic itself.
“Vampires have become a lot more interesting over the past 20 years because they are no longer portrayed as the stereotypical Other as they once were,” he says. In keeping with their famous shapeshifting powers, vampires have learned to adapt and fit in. “Now vampires are more likely to live among us, like in the TV series. Real blood, the dusk movies or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And we’re more likely to hear them tell their own story, as in Interview with the vampire, which makes them nicer characters.
There is also an ever-increasing diversity in the types of vampires, such as the vampire child of the 1975s. Lot of Salem, the ‘psychic vampire’ of Life force and the “olfactory vampire” of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.
The characteristics of our imaginary vampires change according to our times and circumstances. For example, there is a growing demand for “pandemic vampires,” Golz says, as seen in films like 2007 I’m a legend and in TV series like Strain.
While this trend speaks clearly in our time, the concept behind it has a long history. In the classic German Expressionist silent horror film of 1922, Nosferatu, death indiscriminately follows the vampire protagonist, Count Orlok, when he leaves Transylvania for Germany. Doctors in his town attribute the deaths to an unspecified plague brought by a swarm of rats arriving with Orlok’s ship.
“Nosferatu was filmed in 1921, just after the Spanish flu epidemic, ”says Golz,“ but it took place in the 1830s when there was a big cholera epidemic in Germany, rather than today or in the late 1800s when the novel it was based on [Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula] was put in. I think the director of the film wanted to do something that was really appropriate for his time, which is a concern we often see reflected in vampire stories.
This continual evolution of vampire mythology has helped keep both vampire stories and Golz course content alive over the decades.
Famous vampire scholar Nina Auerbach once said that there is a vampire for every generation, which I think is absolutely correct. I also think there is a vampire for everyone, really. We have vampire westerns, vampire science fiction, vampire romances, vampire parodies…. There is no shortage of vampire subgenres for all audiences.
The future of darkness looks bright
Given the longevity and continued popularity of the course, it’s hard to believe that it took Golz eight long years to develop it and get it approved by the university administrators.
“Some of my colleagues were very opposed to this course, which is part of why I had to have ‘literature’ in the course title – it had to have a literary component to give it credibility,” recalls Golz. “Now there are many courses in Canada and the United States that focus on vampires, zombies and other works based on fantasy and horror. It has become a very popular subject with a very bright future.
Asked about the brightest moments in his own career, Golz can list several: this time Ballet Victoria invited him to present their new Dracula ballet and bring his whole class to one of their performances, or the presentations of half a dozen eminent vampire scholars that Golz brought to UVic as part of the Lansdowne Lecture Series, or the innovative ideas from students who sat in his classroom and shared with him their own passion for the dark underworld of the living dead.
“This course is a lot of fun for me and I work with students who are really interested in the subject and are doing a great job, so as long as I’m here I will continue to teach this course,” Golz says.
“But, I’m obviously not a vampire, so it has to end at some point. But, maybe then he will be reborn. Who knows?”