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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