On Vampires

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I was reading an interesting article on Collider yesterday on how Twilight killed the vampire movie.  I’ve long since made my personal distaste for that movie franchise be known.  Don’t believe me?  Search this blog for the tag “Twilight Sucks”.  But, it’s not as if I am alone on hatin’ on that pile of garbage.

But has it killed the vampire at the movies?  Well, let’s take a look at vampires for a moment…

Just about every culture on the planet has some sort of vampire story.  The basic concept doesn’t change:  a dead thing that somehow sucks the life out of the living.  Sometimes it’s blood.  Sometimes it’s something else.  The ancient Hebrews, for example, had the legend of Lilith, Adam’s first wife.  She would, shall we say, have her way with men while they slept and then give birth to various monsters.  That’s not quite the vampire as we recognize it today, but it probably has more to do with the monster we recognize today than anything in Twilight.

I wrote once before on how much Bella sucks but Edward sucks just as much if not more for anyone with even a passing interest in vampires and horror.  Actually, if you want to get right down to it, the problem with Edward is he doesn’t suck.  Blood, that is.  He certainly sucks on a metaphorical level.  When audiences meet Edward in the first movie, he insists he’s a dangerous killer and Bella should avoid him because he’s so dangerous.  You know what he never comes across as?  Dangerous.  At least, not in the conventional way.  I mean, he is stalking this girl.  That’s not healthy, but the story plays with this idea like it’s romantic, which again is a whole other pile of problems.

Seriously, does Edward Cullen ever come across as someone who could hurt anyone other than the various evil vampires who show up to menace Bella?  No, he does not.  He’s never seen drinking blood from an unwilling human victim.  The same goes for the rest of his family.  Edward wonders why anyone would want to be cursed like him.  Cursed how?  Live in a large house, have some sporty cars, no apparent money problems, never age, have superpowers…man, it sounds like hell!  Even the idea of vampire hunger seems like something only given lip service.  Sparkling in the sunlight seems to be about the worst thing that can happen to these folks.

Even friendly vampires should give off the idea of being at least a little dangerous.  The HBO series True Blood featured a number of vampire protagonists, many of them benevolent characters that were trying to do their best in a mixed up world.  I said in my linked review there that True Blood could be the R-rated, campy version of Twlight, but for our purposes, every vampire on that show, no matter how “good” or “evil” the character, kills at least one person at some point.  Fangs pop out, vampires zip across the screen, and someone gets turned to paste.  The effect for the audience may be campy, but the world of the show tells you these are dangerous creatures.

Even some of the vampires from Ann Rice’s work are at least morally tortured.  They’re whole purpose seems to be being beautiful, but the better ones find their feeding habits horrifying, and even if they don’t, the audience should.  The montage in the middle of the movie version of Interview with the Vampire showing endless corpses as a result of the vampire family living in New Orleans should be proof of that, such that when Christian Slater asks to become a vampire at the end of the film, the audience alongside Brad Pitt should see that Slater clearly missed the point.

Really, vampires work as characters that often symbolize something, or as the thing that passes for human while pushing humans out of the top of the food chain.  They certainly can be protagonists, of course, but their strange otherness or monstrousness should never be forgotten.  One of the more memorable vampires I’ve encountered recently came when I read the Swedish novel Let The Right One In, which has inspired at least two movies to date.  The story doesn’t really feature anything resembling a likable character.  The town where most of the action takes place is already something of a downer before a bloodsucker even moves in.  The chubby boy without any friends, who in an American movie would just be some poor, lonely kid without any real flaws, here is depicted as kid who commits shoplifting and a few acts of vandalism while wearing padding down his pants for when (not if) he pees himself.  He’s not lonely due to being misunderstood.  He comes across as borderline anti-social.  The closest the book has to a group of vampire hunters comes from a group of middle-aged drunks the vampire picks off one by one.  The lone female of that group actually turns into a vampire and has to resist feeding on her own infant grandson, before trying to make a meal of the neighborhood cat lady.  Said cat lady is saved when her cats decide to attack the woman, who later dies in flames when her boyfriend opens the curtains of her hospital room to let some sunlight in.  The vampire appears as a small girl who hates its own existence, and her Renfield is a disgusting pedophile who gets his jollies being with an unaging child.  When the “happy” ending for the book deals with the boy and the vampire running off together, you probably should question how happy that ending is.

Vampires take all forms.  Are they to represent disease?  Corruption?  Foreign or outsider evil?  Oppressive authority?  Sexual taboos?  How much are they monsters or victims?  A good storyteller needs to answer these sorts of questions before moving on.  Stephenie Meyer had some vague ideas, but seemed more interested in crafting a boring love story than a boring horror story.  But hey, why should she have put more thought into what a vampire should be like than she did what a healthy romance should be like?

I’m sure the big budget vampire movie will return soon.  The vampire as a character is too alluring for writers to pass on forever, but man, we need to get some good stuff out there soon.

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