[20 August 2008]
Growing up in a Catholic household taught me to have a healthy appreciation of rules. No meat on Fridays, go to confession at least before Easter Sunday, Christmas service before opening presents. Even though I did break those, I internalized respect for the inviolability of certain rules. James Bond must have an action sequence before the opening credits, kryptonite is fatal to Superman, Peter Parker is not a clone, always wear sunscreen and never, ever go to the champagne room.
Though rules can be temporarily suspended due to an alternate universe and such, some things must be constant. That’s exactly why the modern treatment of vampires sucks.
Vampires are immortal, super strong, transformative, fanged beings susceptible to sunlight, wooden stakes, garlic, holy water, silver and crucifixes. I know this to be true because I was too young to watch the “late late” vampire movies on Saturday nights, but snuck to the TV anyhow. I know this because Christopher Lee is truly Count Dracula, even when he’s pretending to be Saruman or Count Dooku. I know this because Thomas G. Aylesworth’s 1972 hand-me-down book, “Monsters from the Movies,” and Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” were hallowed texts. I know this because I was a 9-year-old devotee and aspiring member of “The Monster Squad.”
Meanwhile, Stephenie Meyer, author of the more-camp-than-vamp bloodsucker “Twilight” saga, apparently doesn’t know any of this. In the series, which concludes with the recently-released “Breaking Dawn,” is about high-school student Bella and her romance with vampire Edward Cullen. Cullen is part of a tame family of vampires who drink animal blood, and the scariest thing about him is that he sparkles in the sunlight. He doesn’t boil, melt, disintegrate or explode. He sparkles. Don’t even bother asking about wooden stakes or silver bullets.
I’ve known that I disliked this series for a long time, primarily because my 14-year-old niece loves it. And the sexual tension and adult themes in a tween-targeted book gnaw at me a bit.
(Here’s the point where I alert you to those spoilery things I’ve heard so much about.)
I especially drink the haterade, with extra electrolytes, for Meyer’s books because, in “Dawn,” a fresh out of high school Bella marries the 107-year-old Cullen (who looks 17), proceeds to have sex with him, gets pregnant with his vampire baby, and is encouraged by her new hubby to abort it and swap partners with her werewolf friend so she can make a new baby. With the very age-inappropriate storyline, “Breaking Dawn” breaks down and accomplishes the literary feat of jumping the shark (turning the page, perhaps?).
But Meyer’s most egregious offense is in finally making vampires lose their bite. These are supposed to be undead creatures of the night that should, while charming, turn into bats and/or mist to terrify virgins and spar with Van Helsing, not pathos-ridden pretty boys. Unfortunately, Meyer has a lot of company.
Anne Rice, while heavy on the gore, began the trend of making vampires toothless with “Interview With The Vampire.” The book and its sequels introduced the world to homoerotic vampires, and eventually, a movie version with a blonde Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat, and real-life fanged starlet Kirsten Dunst. The movie also made me hate Brad Pitt for a few years.
And while I was a fan of Alan Ball’s “Six Feet Under,” I admit to more than a little trepidation about his upcoming HBO show, “True Blood.” (Anyone that lives in a major metropolitan area has probably seen the show’s viral ad campaign for a fake synthetic blood drink.) The show is about vampires that “come out of the coffin” and face persecution from a suspicious world. Not only does the concept sound like “X-Men-meets-Bram Stoker,” but it seems a bit too touchy-feely when it should be more touchy-bitey.
For instance, “30 Days of Night,” a cool and gory graphic novel about bloodsuckers that invade an Alaskan town, became a mediocre horror flick with Eurotrash vamps. But at least the movie could have successfully gone with the alternate title, “There Will Be Blood.” And as schizophrenic as it was, “From Dusk Till Dawn” was irresistible and scared up some startles, a lot of plasma and even a few gratuitous shots of vampire nudity.
As long as vampires are willing to act nasty and do some bloodletting, I’m all for updates. Even if you take away a few aspects of the classic mythology, it’s acceptable. In order to keep the myth relevant, scary and fun, it must be tweaked. It makes sense that there might be some Hindu vampires out there who aren’t afraid of a crucifix, and I’m willing to roll with an immortal who likes a little garlic sprinkled on his victim. But don’t deny me the pleasure of seeing the biting baddies suffer the stake and sunlight. Adhere to the most important rules, and break all the rest.
Stephenie Meyer’s Edward Cullen is as two-dimensional as the words on the page he appears on, but the greatest pop-culture vampires crafted in the last 20 years (“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” directed by Coppola, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” show, “Blade 2,” “Fray”) are three-dimensional, sometimes erotic but mostly scary, members of the undead. So while Meyer’s saga has reached its twilight, I’m still having a bloody good time with the vampire stories that appreciate the rules.
Entertainment columnist Aaron Sagers writes weekly about all things pop-culture. He can be reached at sagers.aaron AT gmail.com.