Wednesday, January 20, 2010

De-Romanticising the Vampire

Well, it looks like my jubilation over the Fright Night remake being canned, was a tad redundant.

As recent news from reveals, it looks like it's going full steam ahead. Even if they're only at first draft screenplay level.

However, there's an undercurrent to the article which conveys a backlash against the "romantic vampire" genre. It's even seeped into the current premise of the movie. Producer Mike De Luca elaborates:
You know, what about this idea is relevant to today and what could be done better than it was…maybe not better but different and different in a way that makes it exciting. And with Fright Night, again, going back to the vampire thing, with all the romantic vampire stuff going on with The Vampire Diaries and True Blood and Twilight, the most obvious. We thought it would be interesting if, in this atmosphere of the way the vampire is being portrayed right now as a romantic object, under the wire of all that in the culture the real thing moves in next door. And the real thing is a killer. Just a predator. It’s the shark from Jaws. On the outside it’s a seductive package and it looks like a human being, but it’s just about ripping your throat out and drinking your blood.
There's echoes of this attitude in Blade: Trinity (2004). Think the scene where "Drake" (Dominic Purcell) walks into the goth shop.

The basis of the idea, of course, is to regress the vampire back to its "monster" status. The creature of evil we grew to know and love through Stoker's Dracula (1897) and various other incarnations.

This nostalgia is typified by John Nettles' "Where Have All the (Real) Vampires Gone? (Or, "Bite Me, Lestat!")".

However, there's two factors that these monster buff miss out on: 1) the vampire of history (folklore) wasn't nearly as brutal as they'd like to think 2) even the monsters in fiction are sometimes shown to have a heart.

For a quick example, let's look at Count Dracula.

In the novel, he is depicted as a cunning, cruel being, looking to spread vampirism through the civilised world. Yet, he clearly has a soft side. Let's take this scene, in which the Count rescues Jonathan Harker from the attentions of his "brides":

"How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you'll have to deal with me."

The fair girl, with a laugh of ribald coquetry, turned to answer him. "You yourself never loved. You never love!" On this the other women joined, and such a mirthless, hard, soulless laughter rang through the room that it almost made me faint to hear. It seemed like the pleasure of fiends.

Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively, and said in a soft whisper, "Yes, I too can love. You yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so? Well, now I promise you that when I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will. Now go! Go! I must awaken him, for there is work to be done."

This "emo" side of Dracula is also alluded to in Bela Lugosi's turn as the Count, when he says, "To die, to be really dead, that would be glorious."

When "monsters" are humanised in this manner, especially by giving them a "tragic" elelment, the natural outcome is to explore the emotional dimensions of their situation. What's the mindset of a being that lives for centuries and must subsist on blood for its own survival?

This, of course, lead to the diversion of vampire-as-monster into vampire-as-hero/protagonist. Thus, Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape (1975) sought to tell the story from Dracula's point-of-view. Its subsequent sequels, in turn, recast the Count as a hero.

More famously, Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976) was narrated by Louis de Pointe du Lac, a former resident of 18th century New Orleans, who describes the trials and tribulations he faces as a vampire. Probably the most successful vampire novel of the twentieth century, it was further expanded in Rice's elaborate "Vampire Chronicles".

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Hotel Transylvania (1978) transformed a mysterious historical figure into a vampiric Romantic hero and also spawned another successful series.

These approaches made the vampire much more "accessible" to the public. He was no longer an aristocrat living alone in a dank castle up in the mountains, but a fully developed "personality", one that could be found in an urban environment.

This also meant that the vampire became more of an accessible "fantasy" figure, too.

And so, from this genesis, the vampire romance genre was born. Its most successful incarnation is, of course, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight franchise.

Of course, this means that fans of the vampire genre, who either grew up with - or prefer - the "monster" variants, were stranded in an overcrowded market.

This in turn lead to a new wave of vampire depiction, in which the vampire's monstrosity is re-introduced, if not enhanced. The vampire hunter also resurfaces as a major character. Think
F. Paul Wilson's "Midnight Mass" (1990; 2004), John Steakley's Vampire$ (1991) and David Wellington's "Vampire Series" (2006- ).

Then, there are versions that walk the line, like Laurell K. Hamilton's "Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter" series (1993- ) and Joss Whedon's TV rendition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).

The tug and pull between romanticisation and de-romanticisation will always be present in the vampire genre. There will always be debates and preferences over what vampires are "meant" to be like.

After all, one of the greatest attributes of the vampire in fiction and film, is its adaptability; the same characteristic that's ensured its success and survival in the present age.

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