Vampire stories are, at heart, metaphors about people’s fears of minorities, specifically foreigners, and people with marginalized sexual identities, and it’s also sometimes about addiction. Vampire fiction saw a major surge in popularity during the early decades of the AIDS epidemic, and then again after 9/11. Vampire stories can be great, especially if the stories are self-aware and don’t fall into the trap of Good vs Evil cliches, but the genre needs to rest in a coffin for a decade or so in order to wake up refreshed and ready for new blood.
Zombie stories are, at heart, metaphors about people’s fear of the crowd, and mob mentality, whether that’s the red menace or mindless consumerism. When vampires take over, the world is a dystopia, but it has the veneer of civilization. When zombies take over, the world turns the into a scorched and rotting wilderness. Zombie stories can be great, especially if the stories are self-aware and aren’t just plotless gross-outs, but the genre needs to stay dead for a while so that it doesn’t completely decompose.
Werewolves… Oh come on, for the past few decades they’ve been either afterthoughts, or the persecuted antagonists in vampire stories, with the possible exception of Ginger Snaps, but that was more of an indie darling than a cultural phenomenon, and it came out fourteen years ago.
There’s a theory going around that vampire movies are most popular when the president of the United States is a Democrat, and that zombie movies are most popular when a Republican is in office. As a Canadian, I have to wonder how international audiences fit into that theory, because more often than not, we have a habit of electing the party that is the philosophical opposite to whichever party is in power in the States. We probably do it to be difficult, and to ruin people’s Americentric pop culture theories.
The next big thing should be Mad Scientist stories. They exist, not just metaphorically, but in reality. Their stories can be anything from the purely fantastical to straight-up biography. Mad scientists can’t be passive. A vampire can still be a vampire even if they’re on the 12th step of a Blood-Suckers Anonymous program. A zombie is just mindless hunger in an undead (or sick) body, and remains a zombie even when they don’t have any human flesh to eat. Mad scientists, however, are defined not by their physical traits and instincts, but by their actions. They are about ideas and ambition and problem-solving. Mad scientists are brilliant underdogs. They’re powerful and vulnerable and thoroughly human, whether they want to be or not.
The irony of the mad scientist genre is that the people who write it respect science and are fascinated by it, but the lessons of the stories themselves tend to come across as anti-science: http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/ Still, even when things completely fall apart due to the mad scientist’s discoveries and creations, it can spark in the audience a necessary curiosity about the world, and an enthusiasm for science that we could really use right about now. It’s even better when the mad scientist is a protagonist instead of a villain to be destroyed by the jock hero.
I don’t know whether there is a growing trend or not, but these are some recent (within the past decade) mad scientist tales that I recommend:
Orphan Black, a complex but fun television thriller about human cloning
Fringe, a series about fighting weaponized mad science with even more mad science
The Venture Bros., which is largely a parody of adventure cartoons and pulp novels, but mad scientists are the focus.
Dollhouse: smart hard sci-fi in a brothel.
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: the villainous mad scientist can be more likable than the traditional hero.
Doctor Who: Probably half of the storylines involve guest star mad scientist characters.
Hemlock Grove and Penny Dreadful are both full of other monsters, but their mad scientists are particularly fun to watch.
Jekyll, a modern continuation of the Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde story.
Anything with the Hulk, so long as Bruce Banner is active and not just hiding out and hoping his greener half doesn’t show up.
Let me know what I’ve forgotten to include. I’m sure I’ve probably missed some titles.