Issue Date: October 25, 2009
Our deep, dark obsession with Vampires
By Brian Truitt
At USA WEEKEND's Who's News Blog, see a sneak peek from The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
Garlic, crosses, daylight and a good decapitation are supposed to be weaknesses for a vampire, but in today's pop culture, the modern bloodsuckers seem unstoppable.
It has been 112 years since Irish novelist Bram Stoker's classic, "Dracula," first swooped into European bookshops, a literary amalgam of the history of Vlad III Dracula, Prince of Wallachia (aka Vlad the Impaler), with a dash of Romanian folklore. That iconic character has given rise to many interpretations, from Bela Lugosi's and Christopher Lee's cinematic takes on "Dracula," to the vamps on the TV cult hits "Dark Shadows" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and even the Count on "Sesame Street" and Count Chocula of breakfast cereal fame.
These days, though, vampires are swarming like bats out of you-know-where, especially the mega-popular book-to-screen vamps of "Twilight," "True Blood" and "The Vampire Diaries." With more than 70 million books sold, Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series is a full-fledged phenomenon, particularly among teens. The first "Twilight" movie adaptation grossed nearly $200 million in theaters last fall, which bodes well for next month's sequel, "New Moon." "True Blood," based on Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels, completed its second season in September and is HBO's second-most-watched series ever, behind The Sopranos. And more people watched the debut episode of CW's "The Vampire Diaries" than any premiere in the network's history.
Here's the thing about today's vampires: Instead of coming out of the grave with hunks of flesh hanging off them, now they're just hunks.
The stage and screen triggered these changes, according to Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker and author of the "Dracula" sequel, "Dracula: The Un-Dead," with vampire expert Ian Holt. "The original Dracula character was not your flashy, debonair, Eastern European guy with the sexy accent and the hair pulled back," he says. "He was kind of an ugly old man with hair on the back of his hands. But once it needed to have more sex appeal, that's when [Hollywood] started creating these dashing guys who could wink at the ladies and have some magnetism."
One reason for the intense teenage interest in newer stories, especially Anne Rice's "The Vampire Chronicles," "Twilight" and "The Vampire Diaries," is the sense that the vampires are outsiders among us. In "True Blood," they're simply trying to fit into society. Often, they're also seen as more vulnerable and less predatory, says Karen Sternheimer, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. "Vampires look like us, but they're different, and those areexperiences that a lot of young people can relate to," she says, "especially dealing with not just the physical aspects of relationships when you're young but also the emotional aspects, the danger vs. the draw of that so-called 'forbidden love' that really resonates with a lot ofyoung women."
But it's the vampire's eternal life -- barring an unforeseen stake to the heart, of course -- that older generations of fans notice. "Vampires never have to go on Social Security, they never have to have a hip replacement, they're never going to need bifocals," says author Harris, who has 10 million Sookie Stackhouse novels in print and recently released the short-story compilation "A Touch of Dead." "They just won't have the problems of aging that humans face, and that's very appealing, especially perhaps to Americans."
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Exclusive interview with "Twilight"'s Robert Pattinson
Biting off more than he can chew?
Bela Lugosi never had to deal with hordes of screaming teenage girls like Robert Pattinson does.
But that's just the appeal of Edward Cullen, the brooding vampire Pattinson plays onscreen and the love interest in Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" book series. Last fall's "Twilight" movie began the love affair between Edward and the shy human girl Bella (Kristen Stewart); the sequel, "New Moon," out Nov. 20, finds Edward banishing himself from Bella's life.
To get a modern image of a vampire, Pattinson initially watched movies such as "Interview With the Vampire" and "Blade." But he really discovered who Edward was by researching outcast roles not involving the undead. "Rebel Without a Cause was a big influence on the first ["Twilight" film] -- it influenced the hairdo and stuff," Pattinson says, laughing. "In lots of ways, it has a very similar character arc: An everyday girl brings this relatively strange individual out of his slump."
A James Dean type -- that is, Pattinson -- always attracts teenage girls in flocks. "It's like The Birds, with teenage girls," says "New Moon" director Chris Weitz. "You turn around, and there would be a line of girls standing there."
Pattinson, 23, a native of London, takes all the swooning over his lanky, 6-foot-tall frame and wildly styled hair in stride. "I'm not entirely sure what it is," he says. "I'll probably realize afterward how I could have controlled it a little bit more. But I am still like a deer in headlights."
And there's the fact that many haven't yet separated Pattinson the actor from Edward the vampire. "Right at the beginning, everyone just called me Edward," he says. "I don't really mind either way. There's something about that character that, for some reason, has sparked an interest in massive degrees in so many different people.
"If you want to compete with your own character, you have to really fight. I don't know if I could be bothered to fight," he says, chuckling again. "I just let it go by."
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From scary to sexy
We gathered our favorite classic vampires for a Halloween timeline.
1922 Max Schreck set the creepy standard in the silent film "Nosferatu."
1931 Bela Lugosi created the most classic of all vamps in "Dracula."
1968 Christopher Lee gave real bite to 12 "Dracula" movies from 1958-76.
Late '60s Barnabas Collins: Jonathan Frid's fang-tastic icon from "Dark Shadows."
1970s With Count Chocula and Count Von Count, the cereal aisle and "Sesame Street" were never the same again.
1987 In "The Lost Boys," Kiefer Sutherland made teen vampires cool.
1994 Tom Cruise turned on the undead charisma in "Interview With the Vampire."
2009 On TV's "True Blood," seductive creatures sex up small-town Louisiana.