Teen fangtasy stakes up

2011-11-18 10:14

Twilight is billed as a love story, but really it’s a horror story.

If you are over 25, just stop for a minute and remember the gem you dated when you were 18. Now imagine marrying him and having to put up with him – not until death do you part, but until someone puts a stake in his heart, or a werewolf mercifully rips it out.

To quote another fellow who discovered the flip side of paradise, Apocalypse Now’s Kurtz: “The horror! the horror!”

The fourth film in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn – Part 1, has just started filling cinemas globally. Can you hear the thudding of teenage hearts as they swoon over sullen Edward Cullen and his supersulky girlfriend, Bella Swan?

This film, which marks the beginning of the end, takes the love story to its Mills & Boon conclusion – marriage and a baby carriage.

It’s the baby bit that makes this film in equal turns hilariously funny and downright creepy.

On the upside though, there is likely to be a dramatic drop in the rate of teen pregnancy once teens get a load of Bella’s plight.

It’ll also go some way towards discouraging body dysmorphic disorder, so perhaps author Stephenie Meyer has made up for her big blunder – creating a female character so disempowered you can imagine her waiting at the door with a pair of slippers and a glass of nice warm O+.

But the love story of a mortal girl and an immortal monster goes way back to Bram Stoker’s definitive 1897 novel, Dracula, in which Count Dracula sails across the oceans to seduce Mina Harker. She though is far ahead of her time and doesn’t fall for his vampiric charms.

Instead, she helps to put a stake in his heart – a much more satisfying ending.

Stoker – who cashed in on the many European legends of bloodsuckers to write a bestseller – and those who made the first vampire films based on his work knew that while Dracula did have animal magnetism, he was essentially a monster.

The first films reflected that.

Max Schreck’s classic 1922 Nosferatu sported long talons, fangs dripping blood and pointy ears reminiscent of a goblin to mark him as a monster rather than a man.

In 1931 Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula introduced the tuxedo, and his long black cloak allowed him to lurk and vanish with equal ease.

He was still a monster, but with the semblance of civility when necessary.

By the time Christopher Lee had slung on the cloak and played Count Dracula 10 times between 1968 and 1976, he was master of the horror genre.

He fed on the blood of maidens, leading trusting young women to their doom – or worse, to a life as one of his brides.

It was Anne Rice’s epic novels that moved the bloodsuckers closer to becoming sex symbols.
Her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, published in 1976, was made into a wildly successful movie in 1994 by Neil Jordan starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

With those two headlining, the vampire became that much sexier, especially as Lestat and Louis tried intermittently to control their predatory urges.

In 2002, Rice’s best novel by far, The Vampire Lestat, was made into a movie starring Stuart Townsend as Lestat, a rock ‘n’ roll star with a bloodlust. The transformation was almost complete even if the movie, Queen of the Damned, was a flop.

It was Meyer’s Edward Cullen, created in 2005, who took the next logical step in making the vampire into the image of a man with a condition rather than a monster with good table manners when required.

That step was giving up human blood. This self-control of his most basic urge marks the final evolutionary step in the vampire’s move from creature to person.

Meyer also literally brings the vampire out of the shadows, letting the Cullens walk in the sun – and instead of burning up in agony, they sparkle.

So they show their difference, but it is devoid of any overt threat. What she has done really is make the vampire PG entertainment.

Horror fans may roll their eyes at what Meyer has done to the Transylvanian count – in effect defanging him – but I suppose Twilight fans would argue that Edward shouldn’t be defined by his one flaw and should be entitled to happiness too.

It’s just a great shame that while Meyer was remaking a monster in the image of a man she didn’t take as much time to give her female lead complexity. She might have removed the fangs, but the prey remains, well, prey. The only thing that has changed is that the predator isn’t predisposed to feast on her any more.

Bella seems to only exist to moon about after Edward, with a little wolfish confusion thrown in as Taylor Lautner bares his underage pecs as werewolf Jacob Black.

On her website, Meyer admits to being in love with Edward and perhaps this is why he feels like the central character even if the novels are billed as Bella’s story to reel in the female fans.

While I was denouncing the conservative Meyer for flogging the unattainable happily-ever-after scenario to teenage girls, a much younger male colleague pointed out that Edward is, in fact, the perfect boyfriend in many ways.

Prior to Breaking Dawn – Part 1, where the two consummate their marriage, he never lays a lustful hand on Bella. In fact, she is the one who comes on to him. He’s right. Bella is the only teenage girl in the world who isn’t fending off the sweaty, hormonal advances of teenage boys – perhaps this is the attraction Edward holds.

It might also be why parents of teenagers have, until this film, shown little resistance – at least there’s no sex in the first three films. And in the latest it is only after marriage – and the consequences are pretty dire by anyone’s standards.

While those over 25 might call the Twilight effect much ado about nothing, the truth is these films are critic proof and parent proof, and teenage fans will continue to swoon over Edward and wish
to be Bella.

The proof is in the numbers. The first three films have made a gobsmacking R6.4 billion worldwide. In South Africa, 340 000 people saw Twilight, 850 000 bought a ticket for New Moon and by the time Eclipse had finished its run almost 1 million South Africans had seen it.

No wonder the makers have chopped the last instalment into two and stretched the story to its limits. This is a love story that sells, no matter how improbable and irritating.

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