Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Vampires, Vampires, Everywhere!

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Vampires, Vampires, Everywhere!

Article excerpt

From the Twilight films to the HBO series True Blood, from the alternative rock band Vampire Weekend to the TV series The Vampire Diaries--indeed, from Count Chocula on cereal boxes to Sesame Street's Count von Count--you would have to live in a coffin not to have your path regularly crossed by vampires.

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In New Orleans, thanks to novelist Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles sagas on the page and on the screen, it seems one can't throw a stone without hitting the undead. New York is vampire ground zero in the 2007 Will Smith-driven movie, I Am Legend, the third adaptation of Richard Matheson's apocalyptic 1954 novel about a world taken over by vampires. California is Nosferatu Central, teenage-style, in The Lost Boys (1987) while vampires take on the Heartland in director Kathryn Bigalow's vampire western, Near Dark (1987). Even Alaska is vulnerable--exceptionally so, given its prolonged winter darkness--in the bloody 2007 cinematic adaptation of writer Steve Niles and illustrator Ben Templesmith's vampire comic book miniseries, 30 Days of Night.

Lest one think vampires are merely a domestic concern, Sweden has a vampire problem in Let the Right One In (2008), which puts an unusual spin on the familiar boy-meets-girl story: The young teenage girl is actually an aged vampire. The 2009 South Korean release, Thirst, creates vampires as a result of medical testing gone awry while the Russian fantasy epics Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) include vampires among a host of supernatural creatures. In any number of modern imaginings, vampires have gone global: In True Blood as well as the Blade, Underworld and Twilight franchises--to adapt Percy Bysshe Shelley's famous phrase--the "unacknowledged legislators of the world" no longer are poets but vampires.

Vampires, vampires, everywhere. Why? What explains their persistence--and appeal? Here are a few possibilities about the strange attraction of the monstrous undead, principles that my forthcoming book, Vampires: Undead Cinema (due out from Wallflower Press in late 2011), develops in much greater depth.

Principle I: Vampire narratives are always about sex

Vampire narratives are always, inevitably, about sex--although what each has to say obviously will vary depending upon time and place. From the "vamps" of the Theda Bara school who populated the silent screen of the early 20th century and "monsterized" aggressive female sexuality to the lesbian vampires of Great Britain's Hammer Studios productions of the 1970s to the leather-clad sexiness of vampire Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld films from the last decade, and from the suave sophistication of Bela Lugosi's Dracula in 1931 to Christopher Lee's animal magnetism in numerous incarnations mostly in the 1960s and '70s to the softer model of contemporary masculine perfection of Robert Pattinson in the movie adaptations of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight novels (Twilight, 2008; New Moon, 2009; Eclipse, 2010), the power and danger of sex have undergirded and energized the vampire cinema. That erotic charge, at least in critic David Pirie's estimation in his Vampire Cinema (1977), constitutes the films' primary appeal. Vampires, in short, are undeniably the sexiest of monsters.

Vampires provide representations of tabooed sexuality to establish and reinforce proper sexual roles. Vampires are, quite simply, very, very naughty. They are seldom decorously heterosexual, monogamous, and respectful partners. Rather, they are polymorphously perverse seducers who, in film scholar Richard Dyer's estimation, evoke the thrill of "forbidden sexuality." Vampires are undisciplined forces of desire outside cultural networks of socialization. Driven by sexualized thirst, they devour the life force of their partners. Vampires are pure id, libidinal energy incarnate, and this makes them both dangerous and dangerously attractive.

Principle II: The vampire is more interesting than those who pursue it

Ironically, the undead are, to borrow from contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek, more alive than we are. …

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