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Archive for November 26th, 2009

Following my review of The Twilight Saga: New Moon I decided to take a look at its place amongst vampire movies. Undead creatures that drink blood to survive have been part of folklore for as long as people have told stories. The Term vampire probably dates back to the 18th century with the influx of literature on the subject, the most famous but not the firstof these was Dracula by Bram Stoker. Vampires have also appeared in countless films for nearly 100 years. 

Since the Twilight novels have started to be adapted into films, vampires have become hugely fashionable but at what cost to the genre? The vampires in these films are very different to what we are used to seeing, and the films are very different to other vampire films. Twilight has been praised in some quarters for its moral subtext promoting abstinence amongst teenagers (didn’t Britney Spears to do that for a time? worked out well for her!). The films display sexual tension amongst adolescents without being in any way sexual. The  main characters are portrayed as being abstinent despite being deeply in love, it isn’t exactly subtle! It isn’t a problem for a film itself but for a vampire film it doesn’t sit well with me. So what is the problem? To be blunt sex! Vampires have always being portrayed as sexual creatures. The drinking of blood is basically an exchange of bodily fluids and has been sexualised in vampire literature since Victorian times. Look at the classic days of horror, Christopher Lee’s Dracula in the Hammer films very much favoured young buxom females when he was thirsty. During the 70’s there was a plethora of lesbian themed vampire movies such as The Vampire lovers, Twins of Evil, Vampyres and Requiem for a Vampire. Some more overt than others but they tend to follow a theme of  lust and not love. Fast forward to 1983 and The Hunger explores the relationship between a vampire and a mortal lover who ages. This is touched upon in New Moon and in both cases borders on the philosophical point of what it is to be human. The Hunger however retains the sexual nature of vampires. Vampires in other films such as Near Dark, The Lost Boys and Innocent Blood all use sex to attract both companions and food. To love but not lust is a great betrayal of the beast and the complete opposite of what we have come to expect from vampire movies.

The film also has a very poor portrayal of woman, with Bella constantly needing to be rescued my male characters. In the face of supernatural creatures it can easily be argued that Bella’s weakness is directly attributed to her species and not her sex, but it is still sending a message that it is easy to interpret negatively at a time and in a film that would be an ideal opportunity to demonstrate empowerment; Buffy v Bella as role model is an entire blog in itself.  The other criticism is the myth created for the characters; the vampires sparkle in sunlight instead of fry. They are nearly impossible for anyone other than a werewolf or another vampire to kill them. The invulnerability destroys lots of the danger the characters can ever be in therefore reducing any suspense. The glittering in sunlight is actually amusing more than anything as the audience reaction to New Moon is anything to go by! I don’t have a problem with this change in the myth especially when you consider vampires aversion to sunlight was only invented by the movies in 1922 in Nosferatu, I am not aware of any previous reference. It just feels so contrived, I have often wondered if Stephenie Meyer sat down and said to herself, how can I get over the sunlight problem so I can send my vampire to school.

There is also a problem with the Cullen’s, they don’t kill people making them a part of society. But this is against their character; the other vampires of the film are killers. What message are we supposed to draw from this? These people who are different from us are inherently evil killers but some of them try really, really hard to emulate us so they can pretend to be like us and live amongst us, but they are still killers deep down. To make the Cullen’s the exception to the norm of the species creates a different dynamic than if they had been the norm and there where a few rogue killers. This would have made them inclusive and prevented any kind of xenophobic connotations. If you don’t drawn any meaning from the characters and take them as just that characters within a piece of fiction this is fine but the film loses something as a result.   By presenting the vampire as a “good guy” changes the overall focus of the genre. Without a monster to play off against, how heroic can the hero be? That is what reduces the film to a romantic drama. There is nothing wrong with a romantic drama as such, but it really doesn’t need a mythical creature to enhance it, if anything it hinders the films ability to function. To resolve this issue the film must create an adversary, in the first film it was the killer nomadic vampires but in the second film we get a new opponent. Unusually it is in this opponent that the films may find their redemption and justification. The chosen adversaries are werewolves; one of them also acts as the final part of a love triangle. Presenting both the werewolves and the vampires as enemies but both on the side of good makes for an entirely different scenario.   The two groups could be considered to simply misunderstand each other. If they can find some common ground, possibly through Bella the subtext would play out as a story of acceptance. Or I could be reading too much into it and it is just a film about the difficulties of first love!

There are no simple answers but the conclusion I have drawn is that Twilight will do no lasting damage to vampire movies. I suspect as we reach saturation point they will go out of fashion forcing writers and directors to come up with something fresh and original to rejuvenate the genre. It has happened before. Blade moved vampires away from Horror and reinvented it as action. This continued with Underworld and culminated in 30 Days of Night that successfully blended horror and action and benefitted from an ingenious use of location. There will also be other filmmakers who take a different view, Let the Right One In is not one of the best vampire movies of recent years it is one of THE best movies of recent years. Daybreakers due out early next year also promises to have some new and interesting ideas; it certainly has a concept that although not completely original appears to be taken further than ever before. So those people who dislike Twilight or are becoming disillusioned with the genre, don’t worry, the genre is as hard to kill as the creatures it portrays. Vampires will be back as bloody and seductive as ever and they won’t sparkle in sunlight, we just may have to wait a few years!

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