I’ve never made my feelings about vampires a secret: they’re horrible and stupid and they suck. They’re only marginally better than zombies, who are the only monster giving them a run for their money in the “speaking to the anxieties of the age” stakes. Werewolves, for me, are far more interesting. But I’m in a definite minority for feeling that way. And why should that be? Put simply, vampires got better publicity at an important historical point.
If you go back to early legends, there’s not a lot of distinction between vampire and werewolf legends. They’re both horrible, ravening undead monsters that kill the innocent because they’re unholy abominations. Over time myths refined to the point that vampires leveled out as bloated, diseased corpses that spread death and contagion through villages and werewolves became more of a satanic figure, frequently a person in league with the Devil or cursed by him. And they were still more or less on equal footing, though it must be said that vampires never quite lost their distinctly Slavic roots while werewolves became a bit Frenchified.
The turning point seems to be around about the Victorian period. The Victorians, unsurprisingly, are to blame for a lot that is horrible in modern culture, and vampires as romantic anti-heroes are no exception. See, amongst the many morbid obsessions that the Victorians had, was death. Your local Hot Topic is filled with people who are, spiritually, Victorians; they think cemeteries are darkly romantic, they revel in melancholia, and they think occult doodads are really nifty. The only significant difference is that gothy emo kids of today don’t have a borderline fascist and overtly racist Empire covering a tenth of the globe. It’s not hard to see why vampires appealed to readers in that environment. You’ve got the death angle. You’ve got the sinister foreigner despoiling the women. And you’ve got a healthy dose of sexual repression, as what vampires do is essentially rape (or sexual deviancy, as with Camilla and all the other sapphic bloodsuckers that come alone), but thanks to Victorian prudery it gets soft-pedaled as seduction. With all that lovely symbolism, how could the Victorians fail to love vampires?
Werewolves, however…they get a bit trickier. It’s been argued that Strange Case of Jeckyl and Hyde is essentially a werewolf story, and it did gain a lot of traction with moralizers of the period who saw in it warnings about giving in to base desires, but I’m not sure I agree with that logic. Hyde as I see it is more a story of backwards evolution, and ties in more with the scientific racism and classism of the age. I think the actual symbolism of real werewolves was something that the Victorians just weren’t interested in. There is a strong suggestion with lycanthropy stories that Man is at heart savage. That there’s an unavoidable primitive core in humanity. Were creatures are just letting that hidden side come to the surface. Lycanthropes also bring up the uncomfortable to many reminder that Man is, when you get right down to it, just an animal.
There’s just not enough meat in those metaphors to appeal to the readers of the age, sadly. A couple of other symbolic elements kept werewolves from gaining popularity in later periods as well. For one, werewolves represent an internal threat. They’re something within us that comes out and threatens the community. Vampires are suitably foreign, an external threat, and for xenophobic and tribalistic modern cultures, that’s a lot easier a concept to deal with. Werewolves have also developed an interesting sideline as a metaphor for sexual awakening. A number of films and books use them as puberty metaphors. Heck, even Teen Wolf is a long, sophomoric joke about teen boys growing hair in weird places. And that animalistic nature invites a number of werewolf films to include raw, uninhibited sex. Westerners, it must be said, are a bit prudish about sex. Vampires, despite the creepy rape as seduction elements that filter through, are all about the foreplay. They’re soft-core. Which is why so many brooding, Byronic bad boy vampire romance figures are wispy, effeminate men. Non-threatening. Safe. A monster you can take home to mother, unlike the guy who’s shedding on the couch and humping her leg.
Of course, the big reason why vamps are more popular is that it’s easier to make an actor look like a half-convincing pale, fanged douche than a half-beast, fanged and clawed killing machine.