Academic journal article Extrapolation

The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema

Academic journal article Extrapolation

The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema

Article excerpt

Fangs on Film. Jeffrey A. Weinstock. The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 144 pp. ISBN 9780231162012. $20 pbk.

Reviewed by Candace R. Bene fiel

The Vampire Film is the forty-eighth entry in Columbia University Press's Short Cuts series, which is meant to provide an introduction to various topics in film studies. Weinstock approaches the vast Gothic space of the vampire film with some trepidation; in fact, he begins by saying "it is a book that I am tempted to say almost does not need to be written" (i). While it is true that the cinematic vampire has been the focus of scholarly attention for decades, the subject is far from exhausted. Weinstock takes the view that the vampire film is often most concerned with itself and, as such, it obviates outside discussion. Despite this initial disclaimer, however, he manages to devote the remainder of the volume to discussions of the vampire film from several angles of incidence.

In a short introduction, he lays out a "handful of principles" that he says govern all vampire films. He explains that the vampire "resistjs] any all-encompassing one-to-one metaphoric interpretation" (13). Within his rubric, it is possible to find a number of the standard Western interpretations of the vampire. Thus he posits as principle #1 that the cinematic vampire is always about sex, particularly in a hyperbolic performance of gender that both enables them to pass as human yet simultaneously provides an almost parodie hypermasculinity (or femininity) underscoring the shortcomings of traditional gender roles. As he puts it, Edward Cullen of the Twilight Saga is "impossibly manly-more manly than any human male" (8). Other principles include that the vampire is more interesting than the vampire slayer, that the vampire always returns, that the vampire is an "overdetermined body condensing what a culture considers 'other'" (13), and that vampire films are always about technology.

Weinstock's penultimate principle bears some examination. He argues that the vampire film genre does not exist, with a corollary to the principle that vampire films are inevitably intertextual (16). The sheer number and diversity of vampires in film militates against a single categorization. This position is not difficult to support, given that vampires may be found in everything from Gothic horror settings to science fiction, including detours along the way through the Western, the romance, the action film, and so on. If, as Weinstock says, the vampire is a creature that spans all genres, defining and colonizing them, it might be that the book is slightly mistitled. Perhaps it should have been "The Vampire in Film"-a narrow distinction, perhaps, but a valid one. He goes on to discuss the intertexuality of the cinematic vampire, which glances back at older interpretations and nods to the created mythology that governs, in some fashion, almost all vampires on screen. Clearly, the model for the film vampire owes its greatest debt to Bram Stoker's seminal novel Dracula (1897), especially in the iconic portrayal of that character by Bela Lugosi. Weinstock borrows from Henry Jenkins to label the viewer of vampire films as "vampire textual nomads" (18) and notes that, in Western culture, anyone exposed to popular culture has absorbed the basics of the cinematic vampire. And it's difficult to argue with that.

After the introduction, the book is divided into three main chapters: "Vampire Sex," "Vampire Technology," and "Vampire Otherness." In "Vampire Sex," Weinstock observes (as have many others) that vampires are the most erotically charged of the standard cinematic monsters. He describes the vampire body as "fluid and transformative" and coursing with "polymorphously perverse sexual energy that refuses to be channeled into respectable heterosexual monogamy" (21). He illustrates this notion by comparing the silent era "vamp," most memorably portrayed by Theda Bara in A Fool There Was (1915), to the contemporary vampire hero of Twilight, Edward Cullen. …

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