Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Bloody Awful List (i.e. Put a Stake In It!)

Several years ago, I wrote an open letter in poetic form titled "Dearest Dracula", in which I lamented that our culture had marketed and commercialized Dracula and his kind to the point of unrecognizability in movies, books, etc. I told him that humans no longer feared him, but that I still knew the truth: that he's a cold-blooded, cursed, undead monster, who sees us as nothing more than lunch.

Things have not gotten any better in successive years. Case in point: one of my co-workers had the Life & Style section of the Arizona Republic sitting on her desk today, and the whole top section was covered with a photo montage of the latest "vampires" from Twilight, True Blood, and such. The title of the article was "Undead Dreamboats".

There are so many things wrong with that title... I don't even know where to begin.

Those of you who know me well, know that I'm a goth girl deep in my black little heart. (How that reconciles with my Christianity is another blog post for another time.) Those of you who know me especially well, know my interest in all things vampiric. Dearest friends of mine... I'm warning you in advance... make sure you're sitting down and brace yourself, as I hit you with the following revelation...

I'm really sick to death of vampires.

Have you picked yourselves up off the floor? Shocked? I guarantee you that wasn't a typo. Yep, it's true. I think vampires should crawl back into the dark grave they came out of... or at least the so-called "vampires" of our current culture. Vampires started out as monsters. Yes, there is an element of empathetic sadness one can feel for vampires and their plight, but on the whole they are not and should not be considered "dreamboats" or love interests. I'd like to borrow a quote from Berni Wrightson, horror comic book illustrator, who echoes my view so succinctly:

Funny thing about vampires: I don't especially like them. They're too cold, inhuman. I've always favored monsters who didn't want to be monsters. Frankenstein's monster, werewolves - I felt for those guys - but vampires... pfui! All we are to them is dinner. However, every time I sit down to draw one, at first I keep my distance, show them for what they are: filthy, bloodsucking devils. But little by little I find myself empathizing with them. What would it be like to be laid to rest but never resting, losing your taste for ice cream and hamburgers and everything, only to be replaced by a need for blood. Crawling up through the cold, wet mud every night, hunting, clawing back down to a moldy, rotting box before sunrise. It's horrible. Nobody wants to be a vampire!*

But today, everyone wants to be a vampire. I don't get it. Vampires are monsters. Even if they are tortured, sympathetic monsters, they are still monsters. I have always found the vampire/horror genre intriguing, because of the discussions of good and evil that are always contained within them, and how cursed vampires can reflect the dark side of the human condition. But I can't help but admit that I have a deep concern that our culture has blurred those lines so much, that we now find ourselves rooting for the monster, and no one wants to be the good guy. The evil of vampires has been stripped or lessened considerably, and all that's left is a cool sexy aloofness, the promise to live forever, superhuman strength, flight. Sounds great, right? I guess I shouldn't be surpised that our literature and movies reflect the morals (or lack of them) of our generation. We want to have all the carnal fun - sex, violence, whatever - and we strip it of any of the sin-implications so that we don't have to feel guilty and can sleep at night. But I digress...

I humbly suggest that anyone who is enamored with the recent crop of so-called vampires, go back and read Dracula by Bram Stoker. Dracula is what started it all. He is a corrupt, manipulative, unmerciful, unrelenting, diabolical predator. Not someone you'd want to date. Yes, evil can be attractive, but it is a lie wrapped in a pretty, deceptive package.

This blog post was prompted because friends of mine have asked me to comment on the Entertainment Weekly magazine's all-vampire issue that was just recently published and, more specifically, their list of Top 20 Greatest Vampires. I will close this post with a quick critique of that list, but I would hope you already know my stance, from what I just discussed. Read on, if you are curious. Otherwise, feel free to leave me a comment about the vampire genre, your favorite vampire movie, etc.

1. Lestat, Interview With the Vampire
Yes, Lestat is an egotistical, selfish, sometimes frightening and cruel, vampire. Yes, Anne Rice's first three novels were some of my favorites. But he should not be in the number one slot. I might even be tempted to suggest that Claudia should be on this list instead of Lestat, being the first fully-realized child vampire in literature. She was more frightening to me in some ways than Lestat was.

2. Christopher Lee's Dracula (Movies)
Yes, I agree with this one. Not sure I'd rank him at two, but he definitely should be on the list.

3. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (Movies)
Why is he number three? Bram introduced Dracula, but without Lugosi and this film, I'm tempted to say that the vampire genre wouldn't exist in our pop culture.

4. Edward Cullen, Twilight
Any so-called vampire who "sparkles" should not be allowed on this list. That's all I'm going to say. And no, I haven't read these books and I'm not going to, because I don't care for romance novels, let alone young adult romance novels. That's what the books are - romance novels dressed up in a vampire setting. And that's fine for those who enjoy them. I wouldn't presume to take that away from them. But they are not horror novels and they're not for me.

5. Bill and Eric, True Blood
I haven't read the Sookie Stackhouse mystery books that this TV show is based on, so I can't really comment on this one. One of the books has been loaned to me, I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I'm a little more willing to try these ones out, to see what the author does with the genre.

6. Asa Vajda, 1960’s Black Sunday
I concur.

7. Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Meh. See my comment about vampires not being something you would want to date.

8. Mr. Barlow, Salem’s Lot
This one needs to be higher than number eight. Stephen King re-imagined Dracula with bone-chilling success when he wrote Salem's Lot. I had to sleep with the lights on days after reading this book.

9. Schuyler Van Alen, Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series
I've shied away from these books as well, because they also look like young adult romance novels.

10. Gary Oldman’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula)
No. No. No. Don't get me wrong; Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors. But this movie was ridiculously awful. I was so jazzed about seeing this film, I stood in line for hours to get into the midnight premiere... only to find myself wanting to get up and walk out about 20 minutes into the film. Bad acting, bad dialog, just an overall bad interpretation of the book.

11. Klaus Kinski’s Dracula (Nosferatu the Vampire)

12. Zoey Redbird, in P.C. and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series
More vampire romance... set in a vampire finishing school... uh, no. I think I'll pass.

13. Jean-Claude, Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series
Yet still even more vampy romance, only with gratiuitous sex scenes. Whatever. Pass.

14. David, 1987’s The Lost Boys
This movie is near and dear to my heart. Even though this movie might have started the whole "vampires are cool" movement, David was cruel, manipulative and a monster to the end, so he deserves to be on this list. Even he knew there was a downside... "You'll never grow old, Michael, and you'll never die... but you must feed..."

15. Miriam Blaylock and Sarah Roberts, 1983’s The Hunger
Meh. This movie is mostly style and atmosphere. Not sure they are good examples of vampires. I suspect they only made this list because of the raunchy sex scene they have in the movie.

16. Blade, the Blade trilogy
He's technically not a full vampire, but I'll allow this one, because this comic book and series of films have done a lot of fun things with the vampire genre.

17. Eli, 2008’s Let the Right One In
YES! This one needs to be much higher on the list. This film haunted me for days after watching it. And Eli is a perfect portrayal of what it really means to live forever. Her manipulation of mortals is so subtle, so artistic... which makes it all the more sinister.

18. Countess Bathory, 1971’s Daughters of Darkness
Believe it or not, this is one vampire movie I haven't actually seen, so I can't comment on this one.

19. Selene, the Underworld trilogy
No. No. No. Wearing skin-tight black leather does not qualify you as a vampire, and that's pretty much all Selene does. Oh, and her eyes turn blue. The werewolves are much better than the vampires in these films. Even Marcus and Victor are more convincing, scary, intimidating vampires than Selene. She just runs around looking hot, shooting weapons. Whatever.

20. Caleb and Mae, 1987’s Near Dark
I concur.

There are two glaring omissions on this list. One is Max Schrek as the vampire in the 1922 silent film, Nosferatu. That movie still gives me the creeps, even without sound, and it paved the way for Dracula and all the other movies to follow. The other one is Willem Dafoe as Max Schrek in Shadow of the Vampire, the movie that gives a fictionalized account of the making of Nosferatu. Dafoe should have been nominated for an Oscar for his performance.

*Quote taken from "The Stephen King Companion", Edited by George Beahm


D.L. White said...

For those of you who are interested, I've written about this subject before.

Davina's Top 13 Favorite Vampire Movies

And to clarify...depending on what mood I'm in, is how I rank favorites. It changes from year to year. I don't think I'd rank "30 Days of Night" quite as high as I have it here. Also, the 2nd Underworld movie makes the list, mostly for the flying vampire Marcus and despite Kate Beckinsale.

hyacinthinemoon said...

Dark Shadows?

D.L. White said...

How could I forget Dark Shadows?!?!

Oh, and here's two more fellas that should be on the list:

Nick Knight and Lacroix from "Forever Knight"

Two beloved TV shows. How could I forget them!?!?

Laura said...

My first exposure to vampires was at age 11 when I accidentally stumbled on a TV showing of Stephen King's Salems Lot. I still get freaked out just thinking about it, and I've never liked vampire genre since.

chandy said...

I have absolutely zero vampire exposure...I haven't seen any of those movies, and I didn't even watch Buffy in HS. But this post kinda made me want to watch a scary movie...want to let me borrow one? What's a good one for a novice who is kinda a scaredy cat?

hyacinthinemoon said...

I think our pop culture is over saturated in vampire romance right now and it is becoming bit annoying. Why is there this current fascination with it? I don’t understand it. I rather like to think I am attracted to things that are less popular, like if I discover a good book that no one else has read, I enjoy the fact that it is like my own little secret discovery. I am not used to liking things that are popular.

One of the first horror movies I had seen as a child was one of Christopher Lee's and Bella Lugosi’s Dracula movies. I wasn't very scared to tell the truth. I was much more frightened of E.T....yes you read that right. Who can understand the workings of a child's brain? Later on my Mon introduced me to Dark Shadow's, which was doing a re-run of the old soap opera and she told me, "I think you'll like it" and she was right. I adored it.

Around 18, I read the novel "Dracula" (I was into reading classic literature) as well as, "Phantom of the Opera," "Frankenstein" all of which are dark gothic type stores. That year the Francis Ford Copolla's "Dracula" movie came out. It was so bad we laughed out loud in the theater. Of course, it was at the midnight showing.

I got to see "Lost Boy's" at the $1.50 Theater and loved it. It is one of my favorite movies, great lines, funny characters, good story with a twist.

The summer before college, I picked up a copy of "Interview with a Vampire" by Ann Rice at some tiny little books store out of town, because I needed a book to read on a trip. I enjoyed that book and later discovered my friend, D.L. White had read it as well, however I didn't know it was a popular book until several years later when it caught on in the main stream and they made a movie out of it.

In college I also had a fascination with the T.V. show “Forever Knight.” I remember every Friday after the football game; I would run through the dorm and under the secret underground passage to D.L. White’s room so we could watch the show together

I saw a re-run of Salem's Lot around this time and it was a pretty scary movie! I have not read the book yet, but it is on my "to read" list.

I enjoyed watching the "Blade" Trilogy with my husband.

I like vampire stories, and I am not sure why really? I have seen "True Blood" and read some of the books. I have read "Twilight" and "New Moon" but I don't understand why they are popular.

I feel this urge to get back to where it all began: Currently, I have been reading a blog that tells the story of "Dracula" in "real time.” For any of you who haven't read "Dracula", the story is told from different character's point of view by reading their journal entries. This blog is quite fun to follow the story in "real time" fashion.

I am sorry to say I haven't heard of 1/2 the things on this list, so I guess I am behind in my vampire reading and films. I am hardly and expert, but I do share a love of gothic stories and things with D.L. White. Thanks for posting something so fun to read about and discuss.

Anonymous said...

Davines: Good list! I'm so glad I stopped by the blog to read it. I have to agree on the vampire romance bit, OVER IT! But I think you already knew that. Couple of things- Dafoe was nominated for his role. He shoulda won!

I like the consensus on Coppola's Dracula. That movie sucked in all the wrong ways.

Let the Right on In is the best vampire movie to come out in years!

I think you're dead on (pun intended) with your analysis on why vamps are now the heroes in movies and lit nowadays. In a society so uncomfortable with the concept of evil, we can't even call our monsters evil. And, as a corollary to that, we're far more adept at identifying the evil in ourselves than identifying it in others(see the paroxysm of anti-American self-loathing that grips most college campuses).

How we envision vampires is just a reflection of the times. Perhaps the message is, in this relativistic age, we are ALL vampires now. As you say, Meh.

D.L. White said...

@Chandra - (As you know, because I loaned you the DVD) I recommend "Shadow of the Vampire" which is more of a dark comedy/drama and is very adult. Not a slasher blood and gore horror flick. I'll be interested to see what you think.

@Laura - the scene in the book where the boy's dead friend floats up to his window and rakes his claws across the glass... (shudders). It still freaks me out. I think that's one of the things that movie got right.

@Kat - Thanks for your comments. I have such fond memories of watching "Forever Knight" with you, as we sipped our hot tea or cocoa. How cool was it that we lived in a dorm with a secret underground passageway?!?

@Chad - I wondered when you'd show up and chime in on this discussion. And yes, you're right, Dafoe WAS nominated for an Oscar. He totally should have won. The film was also nominated for makeup and won that one. Isn't it interesting that post-modernism and the politically correct movement have hit the horror genre? We can't even call our monsters evil anymore. It might hurt their feelings. Besides, good and evil are relative anyways.