Can we please put a stake through the heart of the thoughtful, sensitive vampire?
You know, the kind that just needs the love of a nice girl to keep his deathly cold body warm through night? The poetry-reading kind. The sparkly kind.
This is why I am grateful for the whacked-out, Friday-night-at-the-summertime-drive-in vibe of this weekend’s Fright Night remake, which takes the vampire out of the gothic, mist-shrouded castle and plunks him into the middle of suburban life — but unlike Twilight or The Vampire Diaries, or (most recently, unfortunately) True Blood — Colin Farrell’s bloodsucker isn’t here to be a prom date.
For too long, we’ve had to deal with the cuddly kind. I’m making the case for the bad guys …
When I interviewed Farrell a while back about Fright Night, he described his character Jerry (a hilariously vanilla name for a dangerous dude) as “a predator,” and that’s the subtext of this update on the 1980s cult classic. Ever look at your neighborhood on a NY sex offender registry and felt uneasy at the proximity of some of those listings? This is the real fear that fuels the eeriness of this Fright Night. You can’t control who your neighbors are, so what if a real monster moved in next door?
The key is making it a real monster. Vampires don’t want your freakin’ company. They want to rip out your jugular and feast on your baby! They don’t want to be chums; they want to turn you into chum.
Sexy and seductive? Sure, great. That’s part of what makes a vampire so dangerous (and fun for storytelling.) But that mystique, that raw sexuality, it’s all just a charade, a way to bait you into letting down your guard. But the best vampires, even if they are ones struggling to maintain some humanity, are those that are truly just 6-foot-tall humanoid versions of mosquitoes. Disgusting, right? That’s the point.
Bram Stoker certainly gave Dracula appealing qualities, but he never lost sight of his inhumanity. This is the role vampires play in our storytelling tradition — they are the representation of us at our worst: selfish, ruthless, careless, voracious. Maybe it was Anne Rice and Interview With the Vampire that began to inject a more soulful quality into these monsters, and I have no problem with that book or movie, but the success of Twilight has just taken the trend too far. We are in danger of losing one of our most precious natural villains.
I didn’t even mind Twilight so much until it started spawning so many imitators. Stephanie Meyers’ use of the monster as metaphor for kids struggling to stay celibate? Uh, okay not my cup of tea, but a legit concept. I get it. Then she went and made Edward so damned … well, toothless.
Lately I’ve been watching True Blood with apprehension: Eric Northman, the cool and heartless 1,000-year-old Nordic vampire, has had his memory erased by a coven of witches, so a millennium of bad deeds are no longer a part of his psyche. All right, cool … for a while. But he has been mooning over Sookie like a heartsick schoolboy for a couple of episodes now. I breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of him ripping and biting again in a midnight graveyard massacre last week.
Obviously, Dracula is the template for these creatures, Patient Zero if you like, and everything else is just spinning off from that. We all remember Bela Lugosi’s take on it, and God love his widow’s-peaked little head, but for me F.W. Murnau’s silent version of the story, Nosferatu, is by far the creepiest — and the standard to which I wish more vampire stories aspired. Something about that bald, long-fingered, buck-toothed weirdo still gives me the heebie jeebies. Here’s the test: picture seeing this dude at the end of a dimly lit alleyway. Scared? How about if it was Robert Pattinson standing there? Hell, maybe I’d mug him.
Second best Dracula, for my money, was Francis Ford Coppola’s version in 1992. Remember just how strange Gary Oldman seemed the first time you saw him looking very ancient with those two white buns of hair on his head? Then he licked Keanu Reeves’ bloody shaving razor! Gaaah! He was apparently part wolf, could turn into a disgusting heap of bats, and then, all right, yeah, the smooth, sunglasses-wearing count in chic Victorian style. But mostly he was The Weirdest Effing Thing You’ve Ever Seen.
He didn’t sparkle.
I’m not saying we can’t play with the idea that vampires have a shred of humanity left in them that they secretly crave. In the sensitive, charming vampire category we have to look with admiration at Angel, Joss Whedon’s creation for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who much more adeptly traversed the line Twilight often stumbles over. David Boreanaz’s character made girls swoon, but a big part of his storyline on that show (before he got his own) was that he was cursed with a soul. Cursed, as in: being good was painful for him. And when that curse was lifted, hoo boy … Time to kill some people!
Whedon used Angel to represent a very familiar character from real life — the nice guy who turns out to be a total a–hole. Only instead of not calling you back after sleeping with you, this guy maybe preys on your friends and family. Angel was not a good guy. He was a bad guy seeking redemption for an impossibly savage past.
Fright Night‘s Jerry the Vampire isn’t burdened by any crisis of conscience. He’s hungry.
It’s no coincidence that this movie is written by Buffy alum Marti Noxon, who knows how to bring out the worst in these kind of guys. For years I’ve been wondering: When a vampire wants into your house but can’t get in because of that rule dictating they must be invited … why don’t they light the joint on fire? Jerry finally settles that issue.
There’s a lot of awful stuff in the world. We live in a country where the big debate is whether billionaires with corporate jets should be slightly more taxed than the struggling middle class and poor, and for some reason, America seems to be on the side of the selfish, heartless billionaires. When did parasites become our heroes?
I’m grateful for Jerry, because he deserves a stake through the chest, and nobody is confused about that.
The world was a better place when we didn’t romanticize our monsters too much.
Bite back on Twitter: @Breznican