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Entertainment / Fatwah / movies / November 25, 2008

The problem with Twilight isn’t that it’s an embarrassing fantasy for teenage girls—hell, I was a teenage girl myself once, so whatever celluloid dreams get the poor addled kids through seventh grade are okay by me. No, the problem is that Twilight has already made so much money it’s now considered bigger than that. It’s a phenomenon. Movie industry types are making fatuous pronouncements about its significance, as in this CNN report quotiing Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers:

Teen girls rule the earth. If you look back at the ‘Hannah Montana’ movie, how well that did, and now this movie, the teen girl audience will never be ignored again or underestimated. It was always teen boys who were the coveted ones, but someone finally caught on to the idea that girls love movies, too, and if you create something that they’re into, that they’re passionate about, they will come out in big numbers and drive the box office.

This chilling statement tells us we’re in for Twilight sequels and retreads till we beg for mercy.

And it doesn’t help when so many critics get on board and take this laugh-out-loud ridiculous teen swooner as seriously as Jane Eyre. Initial big box-office plus critical respect translates into general audiences getting suckered in: people who aren’t actually fourteen-year-old girls start going to the movie just to see what’s the big deal. And then we get tragic scenarios like the one I witnessed midway through a screening of Twilight, when the thirtyish man sitting a few rows ahead of me suddenly stood up, turned to the woman he was with, and said grimly, “I’ll meet you out front.” There goes that relationship.

But more importantly, there goes any hope of reviving the vampire genre, which has been struggling for years against the Anne Rice impulse to turn every worthwhile horror entity into a soft-porn fantasy date. The final nail in the genre’s coffin is Stephenie Meyer, author of the hugely successful four-book “Twilight Series” currently being rushed through the Hollywood development system. She’s a perky Mormon mom (see her official website for additional laughs) who’s found a way to combine repressed, lovesick Victorian brooding with dogged 1950s-style “wholesomeness.” The results? This insipid surburban tale about a teenage girl named Bella (Kristin Stewart) who moves to a small town in the Pacific Northwest and falls in love with a local hunk named Edward (Robert Pattinson) who turns out to be a vampire. He lusts after her blood but reveres her too much to go for the plasma, so there they are, perpetually mooning around on first base.

Edward’s whole pale-faced vampire family are a bunch of smiley domestic types who eat vegetarian (flavored with animal blood), follow a strict no-human-kill policy, and play baseball for fun. Sex, for vampires like Edward who don’t dare risk getting too bitey, is endless talk and foreplay, with intercourse made so impossible it becomes a morbid fixation. If you’ve ever seen those ‘50s sex comedies with Rock Hudson and Doris Day, or Debbie Reynolds and Frank Sinatra, you know the kind of insane, obsessive drooling that’s generated by supposedly wholesome abstinence. Every scene is about Topic A, will they, won’t they, will they, won’t they, ooh that was close, better come up with another metaphoric way he can show her his “superpowers,” like by running straight up that great big tree, for instance. Or by announcing that he’s going to “reveal himself” to her in the sunlight, which doesn’t kill these tofu-vampires but “shows us as we are.” Finally, I thought; whatever else he’s flashing, at least we’ll get a look at this inner horrifying carnivore he’s been moaning about for an hour. But guess what Edward’s real self consists of? Sparkles. Turns out, these vampires, when revealed, are covered in glitter. Disco vampires, that’s what it’s come to. Be afraid, be very afraid for the fate of the vampire film.

It’s no use sitting through the movie waiting for the inevitable “bad vampires” to show up and provide a frisson of real horror. That helped The Lost Boys, I know. But in Twilight, the orthodox blood-drinking vampires who roam through the surrounding woods actually killing humans are about as frightening as snitty runway models, and are only there to threaten Bella’s maidenly Type O so Edward can rescue her for the seven-hundredth time.

So perhaps this is how the vampire film ends, with a bloodless whimper. But frankly, there was always a danger in overplaying the erotic aspect of vampire stories. All the way back to John Polidori’s “The Vampyre”, they had a tendency toward cheesiness, aptly represented by Bela Lugosi’s vaudevillian cape, accent, fangs. Updated vampires lose the cape and accent, but keep the fangs and the tendency to swank around glowering at women in a self-important manner best suited to comedy.

The type of vampire movies that get no traction now, the ones we might mark down as “Other,” represent the best hope of the genre ever recovering its horror credibility. That rat-faced vampire freak in Nosferatu? Excellent. The erotic implications of getting sucked by that pointy-skulled thing are completely disturbing, as is proper in real horror.

Or how about the old lady vampire in Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr? She has the fixed, affronted stare of a school headmistress, but gosh, she’s unnerving, and good luck dreaming up a standard-issue bedroom scenario with her in the starring role. When a young girl gets “turned” in Vampyr, she doesn’t get cuter, she gets feral, and the impulse she generates is to back away, fast.

Then there’s George Romero’s unsung masterpiece, Martin, which does the best job of addressing the fixation on musty Victorian-era vampire erotica by making it the sad, silly fantasy of a lonely, everyday teen for whom bloodsucking is fraught with difficulties and humiliations.

And an honorable mention goes to Near Dark, the only good film Kathryn Bigelow ever made, with its outlaw band of vampires raiding seedy rural bars when they “go out drinking,” and who don’t care if the neck they’re sucking belongs to a stringy middle-aged waitress or a hairy old biker. The blood’s the thing.

But clearly I’m more or less alone in my resistance to the vampire softcore biz. I’m told that in the world of popular novels, vampire erotica has gotten so big it’s starting to overrun its genre and infiltrate sci-fi/fantasy novels, so that you can hardly find an alternate world to visit that isn’t all cluttered up with sexy vampires, often in rivalries with sexy werewolves. Soft-porn bodice-rippers all, with fangs added. No doubt this turns out to be pretty embarrassing for more traditional sci-fi/fantasy fans, who don’t realize they’re buying books that might just as well have been shelved in the “Romance Novel” section right between Sweet Savage Surrender and A Restless Knight.

Oh well, we still have zombies. There’s no way to turn a zombie into just another hot date or offbeat, misunderstood boyfriend. Is there?

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Add your own

  • 1. John  |  November 26th, 2008 at 3:28 am

    “Zoey is the damn cutest zombie you’ll ever meet… say otherwise and she might eat you… She is a HAND, a dead being brought back to life to act as a servant for anyone wanting a assistance. Despite her brutal abilities, she is a well mannered young who doesn’t want to hurt anyone. At this moment, little is known about her past- her origins are obscure. She most likely died (or was killed?) sometime around the mid 1900s.”

  • 2. Nestor  |  November 26th, 2008 at 5:03 am

    There’s no way to turn a zombie into just another hot date or offbeat, misunderstood boyfriend. Is there?

    Give ’em time.

    It’s already been done with mummies

    (Okay that’s a parody of twilight but it wouldn’t take much)

  • 3. funerary watersports  |  November 26th, 2008 at 10:05 am

    “True Blood” on HBO is another example of this genre, although the vampires are gay rather than mormon.

    Vampires come off as charming deviants, and being bitten is without consequence save disapproving stares from the “intolerant.”

    They call these vampires? At least gays have AIDS to make things interesting.

  • 4. Kilted  |  November 26th, 2008 at 11:33 am

    30 Days of Night? Just plain’ old killin’ vampires.

  • 5. grin  |  November 26th, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Vampires and Romero zombies are close to the same thing. If you go back to Vampire folklore (which I did as a kid) you find out that before Bram Stoker got to them vampires were pretty mindless eating machines.

    Even Stoker’s vampire wasn’t a complex, witty conversationalist. He was a thug, barely able to pass as human… and that was just Dracula, his wives basically couldn’t pass for human.

    On the other hand, if you go back to zombie folklore, they were only slightly creepy. They didn’t eat people. Scary zombie stories ended up being like a 1950’s Vault of Horror Comic in which the naive native, sad for his plantation boss when his beautiful wife dies, resurrects her as a zombie who acts affectionate to her husband even as her flesh sloths off because she’s just a mindless automaton.

    Of course, if you wanted a soap opera monster, you had Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s Monster, who could probably hang out with Anne Rice’s vampires at Angstfest 2008.

  • 6. Delfosse  |  November 26th, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Just try googling “how do i become a vampire”, you’ll find lot of forums where hundreds of kids claim to be actual vampires. And they raise serious subjects like “the government is looking for us”, “should we turn other people without their permission”, etc…
    Basically, I saw it coming.

  • 7. Shaye Horwitz  |  November 26th, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    There’s always Hellsing, for the manga-literate at least.

  • 8. timbo  |  November 26th, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    The vampire genre isn’t dead. Let the right one in is a fantastic film made in Sweden which has a number of awesome elements that would make American audiences uncomfortable.

  • 9. shadowyjuan  |  November 26th, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    This may be the greatest movie review I have ever read! My fangs were protruding with delight the whole time I was reading this!
    You, my dear, have the undyi…er, eternal support of the undead community.

    In a cruel,tragic irony…it would seem that vampires are officially on life-support.

  • 10. Tam  |  November 27th, 2008 at 5:37 am

    The campaign to get the kudos that are due to Romero’s Martin starts here! (and, his other unappreciated film The Crazies, while we’re at it)

  • 11. Arthur  |  November 28th, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    In a professional capacity, I ended up seeing the first and last half hours of this garbage. I thought, “Drain the bitch already.” He had on more makeup than KISS. “Twilight” also has perhaps the gayest fight sequence ever. If it were on UPN, it would get cancelled after 1 season.

  • 12. Useless 2 Society  |  November 29th, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Bram Stoker’s novel was a subtle comment on Syphillis, which was rife in Victorian England.

    Dracula was that handsome, hateful creep (like that French exchange student) thanks to whom you couldn’t get a date. Meanwhile he treated women like shit and gave them the clap. (At that time hated East European refugees were streaming into England)

    Sounds like a good description of this tofu sucker. God, if I had immortality, I can think of lots more interesting places to live than some Midwestern mall-town. And I certainly wouldn’t put myself through high school again, not for anything.

  • 13. Dull  |  December 3rd, 2008 at 2:09 am

    True Blood is the riveting tale of two people exchanging tense stares.

    What the hell kind of movie expert cites Hannah Montana as the prime example of teenage girls deciding what movies get made? Titanic anyone?

  • 14. coffee  |  January 17th, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    i don’t understand what is the appeal of Robert Pattinson (Edward from Twilight), his nose looks funny to me

  • 15. Sharon  |  February 25th, 2009 at 11:49 am

    I’m assuming I’m older than you, but I still love Bela’s Dracula (and Dwight Frye’s Renfield)…they’re creepy.
    Anyway, I just thought I would point out that Bela did not wear fangs. I believe the only one who hasn’t.?

  • 16. JM  |  March 23rd, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    #8 is right – Let the Right One In is one of the best ‘vampire’ movies I’ve ever seen (and one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year). It would also be the appropriate movie for those seventh graders that you say need the type of tripe served out in Twilight. On an emotional level, I think they would find much more of a connection with the loneliness of Oskar and Eli in Let the Right One In.

  • 17. Ingde  |  September 2nd, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Oh, this is the best laugh I’ve had. Disco vampires!

    I read Twilight and at times I felt 15 but for the most part my 40 year old self was waiting for that darker edge that never appeared. Suppose that’s why I read it to the end. Oh, perhaps the best laugh I have had was at the dialogue. The film? Fast forwarded to the end. Lucky I read the book, eh? Looking forward to “Let the Right One in”.

  • 18. Selbine  |  August 28th, 2010 at 2:50 am

    I love twilight.It is my favorute film.:)

  • 19. caitlin wheatley  |  September 12th, 2010 at 5:05 am

    i love twilight

  • 20. peach  |  October 31st, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    what about ‘fido’ the mom seems to have fallen in love with a zombie…that’s more retarded than zombie

  • 21. darakhsha  |  January 28th, 2011 at 1:08 am

    My favorite picture twilight saga moon and bella or edward I love you

  • 22. shailja gupta  |  February 13th, 2011 at 5:43 am

    i like twilight movie v. v much specially the love story between a girl and a vampire . i have seen all the parts of the twilight and waiting for the 4 th part to come .
    i like specially the character of edward cullen & bella . they both are amazing . they both are a perfect match in reality . there both look great together in off screen & on screen . that ‘s all i have to say .

  • 23. anusha  |  March 20th, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    i just love twilight saga all parts and it is my dream to meet robert pattinson and kristean stewert in my real life exept in reel life

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