Twilight Made Me Care About Vampires

8 07 2013

draculaI’ve loved monsters– pretty much all of them– ever since I was a kid. Giant city-stompers, gothic creeps, alien weirdos, mythic creatures, I was a fan of them all. Except for vampires.

I’m not sure why. Probably because they are essentially human beings with little fangs. The thing I liked about monsters was their strangeness. I much preferred the Wolfman or the Creature from the Black Lagoon to Dracula. Even Frankenstein and the Mummy had more alien mystique than Dracula. Honestly, a guy in a tuxedo baring his teeth is pretty dorky.

I was in high school when Anne Rice came along with Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. My friends were big fans, and some of their enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I became interested in the subtext of monsters, the underlying cultural fears that inspired them. But my craving for monsters was never about fear; it was more about escapism. I wanted non-human characters I could identify with. Rice’s books were the beginning of vampires as sympathetic characters, but if anything her vampires were more human than ever. I enjoyed her modern gothic stories, but the vampire remained my least favorite monster. I wanted someone to reinvent the werewolf instead. (No one did, so eventually I started writing my own updated werewolf story. I might even finish it one day.)

The vampires of The Lost Boys were, in my opinion, the coolest yet. Rather than bemoaning their curséd state, they embraced their power and flaunted their outsider status. By the time Bram Stoker’s Dracula came along in 1992, I had taken a college class in gothic fiction, read the original book, and was eager for a full-blooded (ha ha) film interpretation. That movie remains my favorite vampire story,* because it really plays up Dracula’s monstrous qualities. The style and cinematography emphasize unreality. Dracula takes on many bizarre forms; a bat-creature, a wolf-creature, an unnerving count with big brain hair, crazy fingernails, and an independent shadow. Even in his previous life as a medieval warrior he wear armor that looks like a flayed man’s muscular system, with a bestial snout. The tragic romance is perhaps overplayed, but that’s the nature of gothic romance. Also, the music kicks ass. (Unfortunately, there is Keanu Reeves. But on the plus side, Winona Ryder.)

It seems like I’m fully on board with vampires after Gary Oldman. Maybe I am. After college I saw the vampire as an essential member of the monster canon, but I still found almost any other monster to be inherently cooler. (Zombies are less cool. They only have scare value and are impossible to identify with.) I enjoy watching True Blood with Marcie. But, while the vampire drama is good, I’m more interested in every other character, including the humans.

And then….Twilight.

In fairness, I haven’t read any of the books. I have seen the first movie, and I’ve read and heard plenty of commentary on the whole series. In which, vampires shun the daylight because it… makes… them… sparkle.

Before long the awful stew of misplaced wish-fulfillment and Mormon family ideals boils over with harmful, regressive stereotyping. But really, the sparkling says it all. This is a non-vampire vampire. This is a monster stripped of all monstrosity. This is a fairy story masquerading as a vampire story. Now, there’s nothing wrong with fairy stories, but if that’s what you’re telling, then tell a fairy story! Don’t hijack a monster and dress it up in sparkles for millions of readers too young to see what a crime against fiction you are committing!

Thanks to Stephanie Meyers’ libelous novels, I am suddenly up in arms about vampires. Suddenly I’m all about the wide range of erotic/thanatotic subtext, the crucial roles of blood, sunlight, and darkness, the  dramatic potential of a monster that speaks with erudite sophistication.

Like any legend, the vampire is always subject to interpretation, reinvention, even parody. But not betrayal. You cannot betray the essence of the legend. These things are important to some of us. These unique  creatures, powerful in their alienation, wrestling with good and evil impulses, have been a lifeline in hard times for some of us. Their bad side is not something you can jettison for narrative convenience.

I still think the fang-mouth is kinda dorky though.

*Actually, my favorite vampire story is Dexter on Showtime. While not technically a vampire story, it has the blood, and the cursed predator, and does everything I wish vampire stories would.

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