19 May 2009

Vampires- Why Do They Suck Lately?

Let's for the sake of an intro assume that you have never heard of a vampire. A vampire is an undead being who survives by drinking the blood of the living. They're imbued with natural charm and good looks so as to lure in their victims, they're generally pale and have sharp fangs. Vulnerable to religiously symbolic items, sunlight, stakes through the heart, and for some reason, garlic.

Apparently, the most elaborate way of identifying them in the olden days was by sending a virgin boy riding on a virgin horse through a graveyard and watch the horse throw up when it trots by the grave. Not a genius ritual, and given the mess of horse vomit to clean up thereafter, I'd suggest looking for the other symptoms I listed instead. The modern vampire myth was born generally of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula, and there have been countless films, television series and books featuring these creatures of the night ever since.

HOW CAN YOU GO WRONG WITH A PREMISE LIKE THAT?!

I'll tell you how! By generally beating the shit out of the idea over the course of so many years that vampires just aren't cool anymore. Most of these producers that claim to have a visionary new outlook on the vampire myth are talking out of their arse. What's prompted this rant is the particularly frequent shitting upon the idea from a great height recently, and also the over-powering urge to have a rant about one of the biggest afflictions upon teenage culture in the 21st century.

Yes, of course, I refer to Twilight. Or The Twilight Saga, as the probably-not-very-popular-when-she-was-at-high-school Stephanie Meyer and the profiteering Summit Entertainment would have it. Again, for those unfamiliar, here is Bullshit 101. Twilight is the story of a vampire's relationship with a human girl in a small town in America. Said vampire, Edward Cullen, is... well, he's supposed to be a perfect character. Converted at the age of 17, he's going through high school over and over again for no real reason other than to be admired by the female populace from afar, given how he's decided to abstain from drinking human blood. The latter is used as a metaphor for sexual abstinence, which brings some tension to the relationship he starts with Bella Swan (the biggest Mary-Sue in recorded history), who has all the charisma and sympathy value of a baked potato.

There have been four books to date, the first of which, if the film is anything to go by, centres largely around Edward and Bella getting together. Indeed, besides a few mentions of how repressed and lonely Edward's been until he decided he liked the smell of Bella, (not a joke, this is really why he likes her) they don't really play on the vampire angle until the end of the film when some obligatory baddies come in, apparently from nowhere. And teenage girls love this shit. They lap it up.

So yeah, that's a quick summation of my thoughts on the story and general approach, but let's have a look at how Stephanie Meyer has fucked up vampires. First and foremost, vampires stay out of the sunlight for a different reason in this story. Rather than being scorched alive because the sun is emblematic of holiness or whatever, a scene midway through Twilight reveals that the skin of vampires apparently sparkles when exposed to sunlight. Wait, WHAT? That's the lamest thing I've ever heard, and I've heard some DOOZIES in my time. Secondly, Edward is apparently more human on the virtue of his being a "vegetarian". Oh, he and his family still drink blood, but only from animals. Sorry, but that still makes you an undead parasite. Very anthropocentric- I'm at least reassured that the "I'm a vegan and if you're ok with that, I'll argue with you anyway" caste of teenage girls probably don't like that about this series, even though they seem to make up the target audience.

Finally, with Bella being as apparently perfect as Edward- see how she's instantly loved by everyone at her new school, contravening every social convention in existence- I'm still halfway convinced that vampires were just shoehorned into Meyer's masturbatory sub-Mills and Boon story just to make it interesting. Instead, it just made vampires boring. The success of Twilight means it's likely we'll see vampires being characterised the same in future films, because it's a formula that's proven to make big bucks at the box office. And sadly the sequel is due in November this year, and the third in July 2010, having hastily had a "The Twilight Saga" label slapped on as a prefix to their titles to cash in. The cash cow will hopefully be put down in a few years, or perhaps "sucked dry" would be a more appropriate metaphor, because this series does suck.

As much as I've laboured to make a point about the contradictory nature of Edward as a vampire who doesn't feast on humans, it brings me nicely to Being Human, an absolutely brilliant series aired by BBC Three earlier this year about the lives of three housemates in Bristol- a werewolf who's actually quite nerdy and mild-mannered for 27 days of the month, a ghost who's pining after her still-living fiancee and perhaps most importantly to this post, a vampire who's abstaining from blood-drinking. All blood-drinking.

Yes, it wears him down to the level where he's perhaps not as able to do all the usual things that come with super-vampire powers, but he's fine with that. And more importantly, the show always portrays vampires, even our protagonist Mitchell, as parasites. Although Mitchell is possessed of the natural charm and good looks that enable vampires to capture their prey, the weaning off blood is very much a parallel with trying to get off drugs. It's odd how Mitchell's sex life being strangulated due to his fear of relapsing is a far more accurate representation of how a teenager would feel about such abstinence than Edward Cullen is, given how the latter is in fact, teenaged.

Elsewhere, the head of the vampires is Herrick, a pudgy-looking and, on the surface, quite friendly police officer. The first episode finds him doing magic tricks for elderly hospital patients, of all things. But underneath all that, he has that really creepy lord of all darkness thing going on. It's a wonderful use of the mundane being made scary, and that's what makes Herrick so effective as a character- the contrast between someone like that being head vampire, and between someone like Bill Nighy's Victor in the Underworld films. The first series' arc saw Herrick co-ordinating a world vampire revolution, from Bristol of all places, and trying to bring Mitchell back over to the side he's been on for about 90 years. Herrick makes one of the most menacing and brilliant villains on telly in a long time, and he dominates every scene he's in.

I do feel bad for covering Being Human in an blog about vampires because it means I'm naturally going to neglect the representation of werewolves and ghosts, both of which are also done splendidly by writer Toby Whithouse. But if you feel I haven't quite explained what's so good about it, just go and watch it on DVD or Blu-ray! Thank me later! The series is one I would recommend to absolutely any vampire fan seeking an antidote to Twilight, but just to sweeten the deal, there's one other recent film I saw after I had the idea for this blog, but a film that is absolutely essential to mention now that I have seen it.

I refer of course to the Swedish vampire film, Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In). You can forget your Twilight, your Underworld and your Count von Count. This film has one of the best screen vampires I've ever seen and she's a twelve year old girl. This is Eli, the new next door neighbour of a bullied and subdued young boy called Oskar. He's oddly enamoured of this peculiar young girl who he only sees at night, in the play area outside their housing estate, and it's through her that he finds revenge on his tormentors. Behind closed doors however, Håkan, the man who everyone believes to be Eli's father, is actually her very own Renfield- he protects Eli's secret by going out and murdering young men. Draining them of their blood for Eli to drink, he facilitates her survival out of utter devotion to her.

THE NEXT PARAGRAPH FEATURES MAJOR SPOILERS FOR LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

What makes Eli so creepy is not the transformation of the mundane into something more sinister a la Herrick in Being Human, but something far more subliminal. Håkan botches one attempt to gather blood for Eli near the start of the film, and in her subsequent hunger, she goes out hunting herself and kills a local man. Håkan is both worried that she'll be caught and jealous of her burgeoning friendship with Oskar, and so tries again. This time, he's caught in the act, but pours acid on his face- he can't be identified, and thus Eli stays safe.

The most chilling scene of the film soon follows, as Eli scales the wall of the hospital that Håkan is taken to, and he opens the window to let her drink him dry. She then lets him fall to his death, and never so much as mentions him again. What's disturbing is that while the very end of the film has a positive spin, with Oskar and Eli on a train, living free and together, the audience may find it difficult to shake the feeling that Håkan was once like Oskar, aging while the object of his devotion remained young. And thus as much as it's a love story between two young souls (or at least one young soul), Eli remains a parasite, and one of the creepiest order.

END SPOILERS

Creepiness aside, Let the Right One In is in equal measures creepy and thought-provoking, and the prospect of an upcoming Hollywood remake fills me with dread. Not to say that Hollywood is always in the wrong, but I can't imagine it retaining even a trace of the subtlety that Tomas Alfredson's film is so rife with. The idea of a post-Twilight US version of Let the Right One In seems like the stuff of cinematic nightmares, but as far as that goes, whatever happens, happens. The simple fact is that Let the Right One In does vampiric adolescents with a beauty and, though I shudder to use the word, magic that Stephanie Meyer and Summit Entertainment could only dream of matching in Twilight. While Being Human offers both a comedic and dramatic take on these creatures, Let the Right One In does it seriously but without the po-faced nature of Twilight.

Had enough of my Twilight bashing? Well, tough, because incongruous with the title of this blog entry and with my thoughts at the outset of writing, vampires don't suck lately- they're just utilised by sucky writers sometimes. Vampires haven't become any less inherently creepy or frightening through the romanticisation that some films and books have put them through. They're just fine when used right. Though with so much use in the media today, I suspect that they just need to be rested a little. Take them out of the spotlight, because the light will disintegrate them. Not make them fucking sparkle.

Until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch,
Mark

1 comment:

Vedang said...

an extremely well written and highly enjoyable read! also reflects my opinion of twilight, so.. :)