The teenage girls have stolen our vampires. And you know what? I'm fine with that. I wasn't using them anyway.
Thanks to Twilight, vampires aren't screeching bloodsuckers who turn to dust in the sun. They're brooding teen hunks. Many are decrying this new direction, but the fact is that young girls are way more interested in vampires than I am at the moment, so I say let ’em have them. I haven't seen Twilight or read the books because, from the sound of things, they really weren't made for me, and that's fine. The thing is, people of my gender and age group have been catered to for so long that we forget that other people might have different tastes than ours. I'm quite happy to let somebody else be the target market for a while. Most of my friends are into zombies now, anyway.
Look at comic books and comic-book movies. These days they're all dark and gritty, because that's how my demographic prefers it. We grew up with comics, and they matured along with us to keep us happy. Sure, they're still about costumed superheroes, but now they're about complex, richly layered superheroes with mental problems, ethical dilemmas and moments of violent rage. Superhero movies from the past few years have been incredibly high quality; check out The Dark Knight (2008), Iron Man (2008), Hellboy (2004), Spider-Man (2002), and heck, even The Incredible Hulk (2008). But apart from Pixar's amazing PG-rated The Incredibles (2004), none of them are for kids. The days in which a superhero will shake hands with the mayor or foil a plot to kidnap a panda bear from the zoo are long gone. That's great for those of us over the age of 12, but why can't kids watch superheroes anymore? (And in cases like Watchmen and The Dark Knight, they really shouldn't.) I'm not saying stop making these awesome movies that appeal specifically to me and others like me, I'm saying let's share the wealth.
Getting back to vampires, I'm enjoying listening to all the comedians, talk-show hosts and bloggers rag on Twilight for turning the undead into whiny emo bitches. These points are well made and entertaining, and I agree with them. But c’mon, how many traditional vampire stories do we need? Dracula has been told and retold a bajillion times by now. There are plenty of edgy, unromantic vampire flicks out there — enough to fill an entire video store. There have also been offbeat variations, such as transvestite vampires (Draghoula, 1995), vampiric bunny rabbits (Bunnicula, 1982) and even a vampire-staking messiah (Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, 2001). Variation keeps the genre from becoming stale. The currently ascendant variant is the sparkly skinned high school boy, but that won't last forever. Like many aspects of our culture, the vampire genre is on a perpetual cycle, looping back and forth between romanticism and neoclassicism.
Romanticism deals primarily with emotions and ideals. Neoclassicism deals with realism and pragmatism. A romantic vampire movie (like Twilight) is about trust, devotion and promises that last forever. A neoclassic vampire movie (like Blade) is about heartless predators who farm humans for their blood. Romantics see vampire-human relationships as divine; neoclassicists see them as abusive. Both attitudes feed off of one another. After an extended period of too much romantic art, a society will turn to neoclassic art, and vice versa.
If you want a bit of neoclassic vampirism to wash away the taste of Twilight, check out Thirst (1979), a marvelously unromantic Australian film about a secret cabal of modern-day vampires who farm humans for their blood and attempt to brainwash an innocent woman (Chantal Contouri) into joining their cult. Even better, check out Martin (1977), George Romero's best film and quite possibly the least romantic vampire flick ever made. All of the traditional legends and abilities of vampires are eliminated, leaving us with the disturbing tale of a troubled young man (John Amplas) with a pathological compulsion to drink blood. It's well written, exquisitely downbeat and horrifying.
The best way to combat art is with better art. Got an idea for a vampire story that reaffirms their traditional status as monsters? Write it down. Pitch it to a studio. We're going to need those new ideas when public tastes change again.