When Catherine Hardwicke's "Twilight" was released in November, the film based on Stephenie Meyer's young-adult novels was taken very seriously at the box office -- $372 million worldwide from its adherents known as Twi-hards -- less so by observers who sniffed that the film defanged the vampire movie by making it a teen fantasy about a gallant specimen of the undead who does not want to turn the girl he loves into a beast like him. Unusual for a vampire film, Edward (played with humor by Robert Pattinson), is abstinent. Evidently, The critics of "Twilight" didn't get their bloodlust slaked. (If you haven't already seen it, the DVD is being released tonight at midnight.)
The vampire is a shape-shifting metaphor. Usually the creature is one of society's outsiders with an insatiable appetites for crime or sex.or violence. Or all three. In Louis Feuillade's fantastic serial "Les Vampires" (1915), the vampire known as Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire) is a villainess and seductress, ringleader of a Parisian gang of thieves. In F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" (1924), the vampire is an accursed and feral creature living on the fringes of society, a bat-eared man who cannot control his thirst for blood. The genius of "Twilight," which is about the erotics of chastity, is how it inverts the story by presenting a vampire who not only can control himself, but is reluctant to initiate his beloved. Whether a teenager, monster, aristocrat or hillbilly, the vampire generally represents what society most fears.
Now, I would put "Twilight" in my top five. That would be: Todd Browning's "Dracula" (1931) with Bela Lugosi, caped, coffin-creaking and suave; Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark" (1987), teen bloodsuckers from the wrong side of the tracks; Tony Scott's "The Hunger" (1983), with Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve as elegant lesbian vampires; and. of course, "Nosferatu," with the eerie Max Schreck. As Roger Ebert said sbout it, "To see Nosferatu is to see the vampire movie before it had really seen itself." I also have some affection for Roman Polanski's "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and "Andy Warhol's Dracula" (1974), in which the bloodthirsty Udo Kier insists, "I must have the blood of wirgins." That's right, virgins with a W.
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