The Vampire Revival: Who’s to Blame?
A few weeks ago I attended a New Yorker Festival panel called The Vampire Revival, with Melissa Rosenberg (writer of all three Twlight screenplays), Matt Reeves (writer and director of the film “Let Me In”), Noël Carroll, (CUNY philosophy of horror professor) and Stephen King. So you can imagine my disappointment, considering the kinds of big shots of modern vampiredom that this panel comprises, that I left an hour and a half later feeling no more enlightened as to the origin of this strange revival than I did before I came. Granted, I did learn a few things…
Melissa Rosenberg, as it turns out, considers herself a committed feminist, which is surprising to consider in light of her task to adapt Stephanie Myers’s conservative and Mormon story into something that everyone can enjoy. Rosenberg professed to the audience that any head on disagreement between Myers and Rosenberg had been avoided, for the most part, thanks to the cardinal rules of script writing. Because of the confines of Hollywood narrative arch, which state that it is any central character’s job to keep the story afloat, Bella’s demure on the page demeanor has, by necessity, benefited from a little added snap. While this character shift is interesting (even if just trying to consider Bella being more of a pawn in the book than she is in the movie), and while it is nice to know that it has spared Myers and Rosenberg from a few head on aesthetic collisions; can we call this character shift from page to screen a revival? Not exactly.
Matt Reeves, director of “Let Me In” continued in the tradition of confessionals when he shared with us that he is just as terrified of horror films as most of the people who don’t watch them. He still responds viscerally to anyone’s even shoddy imitation of the possessed girl in the The Exorcist, and proved it to us by shimmying his shoulders around just thinking about it. Given that this is the director of the biggest vampire film currently out, I was surprised that one of his most sincere comments about his work was that it was much less scary to make horror movies than it was to sit through them. The other, to his credit, was that the inspiration for the movie’s title had to do with breaking down the old myth that a vampire must be invited in order to enter a human’s home. His interest in demystifying this tenant appears in his film when its’ young vampire star, Abby, is in emotional need and enters the room of her young friend without his permission. The humanization of vampires is a steadily occurring theme in the stories of this revival, yet this doesn’t mean that the artists behind these stories have to have a reason. When Reeves was asked by the panelist why he wanted to challenge this rule of vampire lore, and let a little vampire come right in, he shrugged “I mean, why not?”
To the left of Reeves sat Stephen King, infamously referred to as the father of horror, who was the most exciting this about this panel and whose most surprising trait was that he couldn’t keep his hands off a good joke. Reclined in his “American Vampire” t-shirt, his grey hair slicked up to a teenage hair geled twirl, interspersing dead pan one-liners with spot on observations; he possessed the casual charm of a convict. His sole interest appeared to be having a great time. This is always refreshing, but I found it particularly interesting coming from someone who has made a life out of his profound ability to horrify. Considering the very thin thread that connects the world of the hilarious to that of the truly terrifying, one finds that both comedy and horror revolve around situations where we don’t get what we want or we lose what we have. King, with his shifty eyes and side ways grin, is someone who not only understands that, but seems like someone is the strange kid next door; the exact kind of person who loves to show us how rickety that white picket fence really is. This is perhaps why Mr. King has no interest in making vampires “nice” and whose recently released first series of comic books, American Vampire created with Scott Snyder and Raphael Albaquerque is a deliberate throw back to the unbridled grit of the vampire as one creature that you do not want to sleep with. (And is definitely one take on the vampire worth checking out.)
Because these days any vampire can pass for normal if they’re cute enough, a process of discernment and discrimination and dare I say it surveillance is needed in order to root them out. This process, when taken out of context, easily parallels the hilarious and impossible hunt for a “true” American identity, and our faulty efforts at establishing safety. It is this human urge of ours to maintain total control that is of prime interest to King, whose stories are inspired by pinching that nerve right where it hurts. As an artist who has made a life long career out of providing us with graphic visions of vulnerability, King could be considered a renegade in the context of this current revival, where so many vampires just aren’t scaring us. And yet, looking at Stephen King -the master of horror- make funny faces and bad puns all, the thing that I considered is that perhaps our created creatures of the dark really aren’t all that scary, but just a little weird. Perhaps it’s only our obvious fear of them that makes them want to kill us. In this light, it makes sense that one of the main blood hungry villians in American Vampire is an escaped outlaw; one who has rejected and been rejected by mainstream society.
Yet the real question remains: What’s the deal with this revival? Why vampires? Why now? While Mr. King was the closest thing to an answer (and a vampire) I left feeling hungry for a wider lens. We can’t possibly be invaded by these monsters for no reason. Is anyone aware of the danger of this? The impending doom of wide spread inexplicable freakishness? And in that moment of panic I decided to get to the bottom of this phenomenon if it’s the last thing I do. That’s it. I’m tired of fangs glaring down at me from Billboards without knowing what’s going on. This Halloween, I’m going on a vampire hunt. If I make it back alive, I can tell you what’s to blame for this whole revival thing so that we can band together and parade around with stakes and torches and some confidence for a change. I mean, why not?
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