Friday, April 23, 2010

The Discrete Charm of the Nosferatu

Some names keep popping up. Edward Cullen. Bill Compton. Erik Northman. Mick St. John. Henry Fitzroy. Spike. Angel, formerly Angelus and formerly Liam. Nicholas Knight. Barnabas Collins. The brothers Salvatore. The vampire as love interest has become a cliche, so much so that Guillermo del Toro's The Strain as well as 30 Days of Night have been welcomed as a much-needed relief from an overabundance of saccharine.

Methinks there's something missing from all of this, though. I would posit that for a vampire love interest to succeed, a particular balance is almost always needed. Almost.

Allow me to point to two names in the above list. Henry Fitzroy and Mick St. John, the undead hunks of Blood Ties and Moonlight respectively. Both have their fans, to be sure, but neither lasted overlong. For my own tastes, the former was a damn shame (although in my review of the series I pointed out a few inherent flaws). Honestly, I tired to get into the latter but failed. But watching a few episodes did crystalize something in my own mind that led to this post. Quite simply, Mick St. John was a wimp. Not that he wasn't brave or gallant or generous or good-looking or all that. No, he was a wimp because he agonized all over the place about being a vampire. But look at his life. He doesn't need to kill for blood. His "victims" often seem to enjoy the experience. Sunlight is uncomfortable but hardly debilitating. No holy symbols seem to impact him one way or another. He feels intense guilt over crimes he's never committed, urges he seems to be able to control with no effort, inconveniences that are only that. At no time does he come across as religious. His secret is easily kept, and when his love interest discovers it that really doesn't seem to be much of a problem, not really. So what is with all the angst?

Angst can be fun. Angst is good from a story-telling perspective. But something needs to be at stake. Something real.

Probably the single biggest problem with Blood Ties is that the vampire in and of himself offered very little real threat to the heroine. Henry was a fascinatingly cool guy, and his very existence indicated a whole world of threat Vicky had never even considered. Yet he himself was no threat, even against his will.

Compare that to Angel of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame. Here was a guy possessed by a demon, a demon forever longing to break free and commit unspeakable cruelties. The episode where someone slipped Angel a drug to make him "relax" demonstrated just why Angel is by his very nature a ticking time bomb. More, he was someone only too aware of how dangerous he was. Bill Compton on True Blood spent decades wallowing in darkness, before reaching a point of such despair he preferred death to remaining as he was. He has spent even more decades trying to regain his humanity and let us face facts--he has not been completely successful. Ask Sookie's Uncle. Likewise Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows (scheduled to be remade by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp) ended up wiping out most of his family and the woman he loved due to his undead nature.

Do you see the correlation yet? You can boil it down to a rule of thumb: The more inherently romantic or attractive a vampire, then the more dangerous they should be for the sake of drama. Methinks this helps explain some of the popularity of Twilight. Edward really is in most ways too good to be true. He's dashing, gallant, just emotional enough to be interesting, supremely loyal, handsome as a god, generous beyond words, patient and devoted, courageous and poetic. He's virtually invulnerable (Buffy and Blade and Van Helsing combined would not stand a chance). Edward's bite not only kills but causes torturous agony (no swooning in rapture with his lips at your throat--more like begging for death at the top of your lungs). And he's fighting for self-control all the time (which makes him a rare duck in the vampires of his world--mostly they just devour whoever catches their fancy). Whatever else you may think of the series (both books and films) it captures this dynamic very well.

Barnabas Collins--virtually no control over his hunger at all, with his bite destroying the free will of his victims, turning them into his slaves. Nick Knight--ragged self-control striving against centuries of self-indulgence, with his bite nearly always killing. Eli in Let the Right One In--an eternal child who must kill to survive and who cannot always control herself, being very used to wielding deadly force. Jessica in True Blood--a repressed teenager suddenly given powers and bloodlust, at the same time robbed of almost every pleasure in life save maybe violence (really, how much more dangerous a combination could one ask for?).

Vampires need not be psychopaths to be dangerous. They just need some metaphorical fangs.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Very good post sir... 'tis true they need some fangs at times and I was almost convinced by your Edward description except... well he manages to keep control...

Compare with David from he Lost Boys or Lestat or Spike... all three could be said (at times) to be sociopathic, the first two have stood the test of time as vampire icons (I miss Spike out, to be fair, as he is in reality a facsimile of Lestat in many, many ways, as Angel is almost Louis)

Some of my favourite genre moments say damn attractiveness, bring on the sociopath... you mentioned two modern versions but we should also mention the Caxton series by David Wellington and let us not forget the dysfunctional family from Hell in Near Dark.

My own thought is that vampires are powerful and power corrupts... that was the entire premise of my novel, where every action, political, bloodthirsty or sexual, is a display of power... that is why I liked the character Josef so much more... as I said at the time "I am really sick of vampires who hate their ‘condition’; it has become a tired staple of the genre. Let us examine human nature, and admit that I am a cynic, but power corrupts. It seems less than likely that a person who is given a power – in this case vampirism – is then going to lament it. They are more likely to revel in it. Take Josef Kostan (Jason Dohring), Mick’s vampire friend. He, to me, was a far more interesting character and more true to his nature."

Many thanks for an article with much food for thought and apologies for what feels like an unfocused response.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Coda EDIT... when I mention Josef, I mean the character from Moonlight and I liked him so much more than the Mick St John character.

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

I was going to write a big comment, but Taliesin expressed it all for me.

Anonymous said...

about "The more inherently romantic or attractive a vampire, then the more dangerous they should be for the sake of drama."


Of course, no valid conflict, no vivid story.

This also brings us to the detail in
the 2nd film of the TWILIGHT Saga.

Obviously, Edward doesn't want to "take away his beloved's soul".

But she is all too willing.

And then, I guess it's inevitable that he will conveniently drop his concern and say, "Oh, well. She decides for herself" . . .

We'll see . . .