By Tal Brooke
On the outer edges of your perception you sense you are being watched by what few people believe even exists an ancient race of predators hidden within the population. They resemble humans but aren’t. You feel like prey. Once the sun sets they roam the darkened world of night freely and shrink away into the darkness when dawn returns. They are extremely cunning and endowed with superhuman powers. What makes them feared is that they drink from the arteries of the living, leaving the drained carcasses behind like empty wine caskets. Only a small percentage of their victims are chosen to join their ranks. They have no moral constraints as they gaze at the human cattle before them. Some have amassed great fortunes over the centuries, even accruing
titles of nobility, estates, castles, antiques and fine art. They are hidden in the world’s great cities, freely commuting between centers of commerce and culture including Paris, Rome, Budapest, London, New York, Vienna, Tokyo and beyond. They are without human sentiment, and, apart from their own kind, regard all others as insignificant, to be used and appropriated. Theirs is a veiled evil, a darkness outward- ly cloaked. They are parasites that act as lures, constantly tempting, seducing, then trapping their victims. They are unmoved by and estranged from nature itself and its vast beauty. They hold no loyalty to the nations in which they reside and detest all that is good, virtuous and holy, despising the very mention of God or the sight of the cross. These are vampires, and they have taken hold of the public imagination in twenty-first century America and England through such blockbusters as the book, then the movie, Twilight.
Twilight: The Hidden World of Vampires
Bella Swan-the 21st century counterpart to Maria of West Side Story-in the motion picture Twilight, crosses a vast cultural divide and becomes a doorway into the strange, baffling and remote world of vampires through the backdrop of a high school romance. The vampires are mysterious, intriguing and fully other as we enter their world through her eyes. As the highest grossing vampire movie of all time at 200 million dollars and counting, Twilight com- bines the drawing power of the supernatural with a powerful and unusual romance, a huge draw for the primary target audience of girl teens, twenty-somethings and young couples. Twilight has been an all-woman production conceived and written by Stephenie Meyer, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, with the screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, in all, creating a powerful magnet for girls in particular. Twilight also sets the standard for the newly emerging genre of vampire-human couples, as we will explore later. Now to the story.
Bella has just landed in Forks, a small, remote town in a perpetually overcast region of Washington State with boundless forests and a low population density. She has just left her long-time single mom in Arizona, who has just remarried, the new husband now living in the house.
The husband’s presence, a total stranger to Bella, has robbed her of a familiar, sacrosanct sense of privacy, changing the household dynamic. So she joins her dad in Washington, the local police chief, who, like Bella, hopes to rebuild an undernourished relationship.
We see Bella on her first day at the local high school, the prettiest girl there by far, vulnerable yet poised and the target of endless curiosity. She is cautious about who she befriends. For Bella – as a large part of the secondary audience well remembers – high school can be rough navigating when identities are being formed, especially for new people arriving amidst already established social groups and cliques, stressing their boundaries. It is a time of “us and them,” when so many feel alienated,
pulled between loyalties to family versus peers. Jealousies and rivalries are rife in a never ending popularity contest, which is hardest on the insecure. Bella is seeing all these forces at work when she enters the cafeteria.
Some always stand out. The self-assured, who are indifferent to what others think, remain aloof, refusing to be defined by school peer dynamics. It is to one of the outsiders, Edward Cullen, to whom Bella is drawn. He is head and shoulders above the rest, far superior to the home-bred nerds and goofballs constantly bouncing off Bella in their desperation to have her as a date or just be seen with her. She is diplomatic, but firm, as they shamelessly do all sorts of things to get her attention. None of it works.
Edward is reserved, tall, intelligent and handsome, carrying a haunted look about him reminiscent of James Dean, pioneer of the anti-hero genre in a high school alienation film from a much earlier era entitled, Rebel Without a Cause. Edward projects an inner darkness and melancholy. He stays aloof from the school riff-raff, choosing to join the others of his clan, the Cullens, most noticeably at the cafeteria table exclusive to them. They are pale looking, cliquish and have a very different feel compared to all the others. Edward has disdained the overtures of the prettiest girls at school, we learn from girl-gossip, so getting his attention is seen as a major score among the girls who are watching Edward looking at Bella. He has been watching Bella from a distance ever since she arrived, looking away self-consciously whenever her eyes stray his way.
The spark that ignites the relationship takes place when Bella is assigned to sit in biology lab next to the remote and mysterious Edward, who is distant, almost hostile at first. Edward can read minds, except for hers, and it baffles him. Soon he goes back and forth between talking to her and ignoring her, sometimes skipping school for days at a time. His inner conflict escalates and he appears desperate at times. His expressions occasionally convey an inner battle: that he loathes his almost irresistible attraction to Bella and just wishes she’d go away. He is fighting to be free of her and losing the battle. She too can’t hide her attraction to him and is almost too forward in making small talk when she is sitting next to him in lab or confronting him in the hallway.
The impasse is brief. Edward’s protectiveness for Bella comes out into the open when he’s forced to save her life. One of the more desperate high school flirts, who can’t seem to understand the word “no,” almost kills Bella in the parking lot. Trying to impress her with a controlled spin, his careening van is speeding right at Bella. Edward suddenly appears by her side and blocks the van from sliding into Bella, which would have killed her. She’s stunned. She goes over it mentally because there’s something wrong with the picture, something doesn’t fit.
She is sure that Edward was all the way across the parking lot before he appeared next to her, requiring superhuman speed. He stopped the car with one hand as the metal bent, requiring superhuman strength. Bella knows something’s different about him, that he’s hiding something. She confronts him in the hallway of the hospital where she’s been exam- ined by Doctor Cullen. Edward denies that what he did was anything beyond an adrenaline rush. She’s not convinced.
Edward knows that once Bella discovers who and what he really is, it could result in his family being forced to move, as they have done repeatedly in the past. The Cullens could even be hunted down and killed by terrified locals, all because he has broken the sacrosanct rules of vampire secrecy, compromising their community invisibility.
Bella hitches a ride to Port Angeles with some of the girls looking for gowns for the prom. She breaks from them and goes to a local bookstore-cafe and buys a book about local vampire legends. Bella begins reading it alone, zeroing in on local Quileute legends, seeing the critical pattern – that these creatures evidence superhuman strength, are pale and cold to the touch. She’s files it away. It is soon dark so she leaves to rejoin the girls and is ambushed. Edward appears again out of nowhere to rescue her a second time as local riff-raff surround her in the dark, taunting her. He stands them off and they leave scared. Yes, he shadowed her, confessing his protectivess for her. He drives her back to meet the girls heading back from Port Angeles. In front of them he invites Bella for dinner there in town. The girls smile know- ingly and leave. As Bella eats (he’s on a special diet so can’t eat) Edward lays more cards on the table: “I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore.”
A day later, near school, she walks by him as a signal and he follows her into the woods. She brings up the fact that she knows he is a vam- pire. It comes as a relief to him. She has just learned the truth yet it has not changed her attraction to him, not at all.
It is time for full disclosure. He hoists Bella on his back, runs her up the hill at superhuman speed, and shows her aspects of his world, then confesses, “I am the most dangerous predator in the world . . .” Honesty and intimacy escalate on a set course as he assures Bella, “You don’t know how long I have been waiting for you.”
Edward now must bring her into his world. He is risking himself and the others of his clan. The others, like him, have all been turned into vampires by the vampire who acts as the head of the clan, a man who has fit into the community as the chief doctor at the local hospital, the handsome, youthful Doctor Cullen. He is very good at what he does and is one of the outstanding citizens in the community.
Edward drives her to his house in the remote forest. Bella is welcomed cautiously into their expansive, stunning ultra modern home where Edward gives her a tour announcing, “This is the one place we don’t need to hide.” In the house she sees a wall-sized collage made from the tassels and mortar boards of the endless graduations through high school of Edward and the others, part of the ritual of moving into a new community. In his room he plays classical piano to Bella, revealing yet more layers of himself. No bed. He does not sleep, ever. He reads and has a huge private library. He and the others can handle low levels of daylight. If it is too sunny, they stay indoors. The other Cullens are still reluctant to accept the unproven human in their midst and her presence puts them on edge. At dinner the other vampires, cautious but trying hard, have tried to cook Bella an Italian meal. They don’t eat. Yet Edward’s commitment to her is like iron, he will not yield. He is certain that she is trustworthy.
He takes her outside where there are miles and miles of forest surrounding the remote home. He mounts her on his back and scales a giant tree effortlessly at the speed of an express elevator going hundreds of feet per second. Far up this very tall tree, they peer down on the world. It is a magical moment. Yes, Edward is different, very different.
Doctor Cullen, a vampire with conscience, has chosen for his clan to feed on animal blood instead of human blood. If they had to kill people for blood, especially in a small community, it would risk exposing them as the death toll mounted. Yet this sacrifice is now being undermined by a new threat.
There have been a number of brutal deaths in the area of late and the Cullen clan know who it is: a free-ranging gang of predatory vampires who are utterly without boundaries, savage, mocking, sadistic creatures who have found open feeding grounds. They don’t plan to fit into the community. They come up quietly on their victims and savage them. A man sitting in a docked boat has his head picked off like a grape. The Cullens hope that the community still attributes the recent horrible deaths to wild bears, as Doctor Cullen has hypothesized in his talks with the police chief, Bella’s dad. But time is running out.
After the meal, the weather is right – thunder and lightning – for the Cullen clan to take Bella with them to a remote open field to play baseball at superhuman speeds and distances and we get another object lesson on what they are capable of. Balls are hit vast distances as those on the outfield outrun a Ferrari to retrieve the balls. It’s fun for a while as Bella demurs, no match for the female Cullens.
Suddenly the three renegade vampires appear out of the mist. The game breaks up as they approach mockingly, a retrieved baseball in-hand, asking to play. They smell out Bella who is standing in close quarters with the rest. One in particular is unreserved about wanting her. Edward hisses back. They won’t take on the Cullens at the moment but are snarling underneath as they leave. It’s not over and Bella’s life is in danger.
The Cullens speed home from the baseball game, pack and leave immediately, taking Bella out of harm’s way. They break up and take several routes with different cars. The purpose is to keep her in hiding from the renegade vampires by going on a long trip and staying at various motels. As one car is speeding down the highway, the blonde black-eyed vampire from the renegade group has been running parallel in the woods at seventy to eighty miles an hour. He figures out where Bella is, calls her unlisted cell when she’s alone in the motel room and sets the trap, playing back part of an old family video that sounds like an intercepted voice message from Bella’s mom. Bella slips away and goes to meet him in an old dance hall thinking that the vampire has kidnapped her mother who will be killed if Bella does not show up alone. The blonde black-eyed vampire, a furnace of raging passions, homicidal and otherwise, is about to suck her dry, after throwing Bella about like a rag-doll. Her mom isn’t there, just an old family video playing on a TV/video player. As she is being mangled, several of the Cullens arrive, having figured out what is going on. They surround him and overpower him. Then one of them stands up and rips his head off, the only way to kill him. Bella, meanwhile, is taken to the hospital where Edward sits by her bed, guarding her.
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Twilight fades from view with Edward taking Bella to the Prom and dancing with her, leg cast and all, in the outdoor gazebo as another sinister presence looks on, foreshadowing another sequel to Twilight due November of 2009.
So far Edward and Bella have been through a virtual war together and it has cemented them even closer. We have also peered into the world of vampires, opening the occult dimension to the masses like a digital Pandora’s Box. There is also something else unprecedented in this tale. For the first time ever, we are seeing a true cross-over bridge between their world and ours, breaking a previously insurmountable barrier. There may be a dark intelligence operating behind this inspiration, using some of the greatest of human vulnerabilities-such as the need for love, the belief in love for love’s sake, no matter where it leads-and this is true spiritual seduction. Steve Wohlberg, in his article on Twilight, will provide some background that is very revealing. But you need the basic drama to appreciate what he has to say.
My Early Contact With The Supernatural
When we lived in London not far from Harrods during my boyhood years, sometimes I thought I detected them in the shadows of Hyde Park nearby – sinister forms in hiding. As a member of a rootless unchurched atheistic family living overseas, my occult curiosity was growing by the day, starting with horror comics before age nine, then a ouija board at age ten and then out-of-the-body experiences by age eleven (written up in far more detail in several of my books). On Saturdays I would take the red, double-decker bus along Cromwell Road to the Hammersmith Odeon to watch the youth matinee featuring ghouls, zombies and vampires along with serialized sci- i films such as The Trollenberg Terror. I found it all fascinating.
Hidden dramas often accompanied my walk home from my English school to Knightsbridge when it was already getting dark by 4 PM in the English winter. Our house, number 9 cottage place, was off Brompton road, diagonally across from Holy Trinity Brompton. It was owned by an earl and layered with history and secret corridors, a perfect place for boyish intrigue. Sometimes the neighbors might glimpse a young boy scaling the rear walls while wearing a cape, burnt cork for dark ghoulish eyes. Other times they would spot me racing off on my bike toward the nearby museums or Hyde Park.
One of the attractions that the realm of vampires, ghosts and the supernatural held for me as a boy was that it was a welcome alternative to the bleak and boring materialistic naturalism of my parents and their sophisticated, worldly peers-enlightened people did not need the “God myth.” I found that the drama of the supernatural seemed to offer something beyond “this world.”
We never went to church and rarely spoke of God. If we entered some church occasionally, it was all about history and architecture, never religion. The majesty of Saint Paul’s or Westminster Abbey in London was limited to their rich history, nothing more. To show there was a rational system of ethics untainted by religion, my dad would quote Immanuel Kant, page and verse. To this day I have a photograph of my father walking down the streets of London with Lord Bertrand Russell, the famed Cambridge philosopher, mathematician, Fabian socialist and atheist. Among his many books was Why I am Not a Christian. The Fabian Society’s liberal agenda was to secularize and de-Christianize Britain. What was good for the intelligencia was good for the plebeians.
The prospect of late night horrors and strange occurrences I found preferable to the Formica thin alternative of a soulless and flat world devoid of mystery. No doubt the fascination I felt was very much what today’s estranged youth feel in their attraction to the alternative world of Harry Potter. Surely there is more than this. State run public school has left generations bankrupt, with depleted knowledge and nothing to believe in.
My early interest in the supernatural also illustrates an observation made by GK Chesterton regarding the deep inner void left by atheism: when people cease believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, rather, they will believe in anything. Sociologist Rodney Stark, a Berkeley graduate, elaborated on this insight by saying that skeptical unbelief in fact spawns irrational superstition, not the opposite. Stark noted that Christianity alone is the anti- dote that keeps the chaotic forces of the occult at bay, and not atheism, which, he observed, opens doors to the irrational.
By thirteen, I was reading Bram Stoker’s classic, Dracula, and could not put it down. By then we had just moved from London to Beirut and the vampire reruns had followed me to Beirut’s downtown movie houses with Christopher Lee playing Dracula in such films as The Horror of Dracula. Over six feet five, Christopher Lee, towered over his whimpering victims. He might rapidly scale the outside walls of the castle, fly off as a bat, shape-shifting to human form, then hover outside some window requesting to be let in. If the window was opened, his fangs appeared and he quickly went to work drinking some woman’s blood as she went into a trance. If anything interrupted or opposed him, evidencing the “strength of twenty men,” the Count would bear his fangs drip- ping with blood, his bloodshot eyes wild with fury. At the appearance of a cross, he would withdraw in horror. Other times the Count was busy charming his victims before revealing his hunger as they quickly fell under the spell of his will. With just a silent gaze, the women victims were held in a trance, their natural resistance easily overcome. The sexual dimension was visible but underplayed. The digital age would change all this.
By 1992 the sexual dimension came fully out into the open in the #4 top grossing film. Famed Godfather director Francis Ford Coppula’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a costly remake with digital effects not possible in earlier films, using such recognizable stars as Anthony Hopkins, Wynona Rider, Keanu Reeves and Gary Oldman playing Dracula.
Coppola’s subtle hues and blends made evil more enticing and the sexual dimension far more blatant, if not overpowering, than earlier versions. The great vampire could morph into countless physical forms, his range of powers were extended and his seductions more varied. We first saw Coppola’s Dracula looking old, even grotesque, in his remote Transylvania cas- tle. In an especially lurid scene in London he becomes a bestial humanoid having nighttime coitus with a semi-nude woman in an estate gar- den. It’s an X-rated moment (but nothing com- pared to erotic scenes in the TV hit series True Blood to come 16 years later). In another scene he wanders London as a young man emulating Carnaby street fashion, wearing a top hat and 60’s half-moon tinted glasses. He’s all charm Gary Oldman style. In yet another scene Dracula is a nine foot humanoid bat hissing at the intruders walking in on him. By then he has levitated, turned into a bat, a rat, a wolf, the list goes on. Dracula is even afforded by the famed director a new dimension of sympathetic understanding as one betrayed by the church and God in his dim beginnings as the once human Vlad Tepes, the impaler, from the previous millennium.
In the early fall of 2006, I was walking across Times Square in Manhattan in the late afternoon and saw a giant billboard advertising a new TV series about to launch called Moonlight. It was clear that a major TV network, CBS, was putting big money behind this upcoming vampire series, plowing the ground of public interest for other series to follow. An unusually handsome face eclipsed a brilliant enlarged moon on the billboard.
The Rules of Seduction and Attraction
The Times Square billboard was making a clear point. Vampires can be devilishly handsome. Enhancing their seductive powers, they can range from GQ good looks to decadent rock star. In the early 1990s Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt – who transcend mere GQ levels of good looks – teamed up in the second highest grossing vampire film before Twilight, appearing in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Other vampires have embodied the dark, decadent, sensual, Euro-rock star look wearing all black, with pale hungry faces surrounded by a shock of full-bodied hair, as in the Vampire Journals, filmed in Romania. In the TV series Blood Ties, Kyle Schmid as the vampire Henry Fitzroy, falls between GQ looks and rock star.
Alex O’Loughlin, playing the vampire detective Mick Saint John in Moonlight on CBS, (re-playing on the Sci Fi channel) is radiantly handsome in a GQ sort of way. Angel (1999-2004) played by David Boreanaz, is good look- ing in an all-American Sports Illustrated way. The lead vampire in HBO’s True Blood, Bill Compton, is more out of Gone With the Wind, embodying the southern gentleman’s charm.
Fright Night, a hit vampire movie from the mid-1980’s, features an urbane, sophisticated and extremely handsome vampire played by Chris Sarandon (Susan Sarandon’s first husband), the sort of debonair man that Desperate Housewives (the popular TV hit) target. He offers a lesson in seduction. After introducing himself, he’s got the single mom next door in the palm of his hand in seconds, to her son’s horror. The son has been looking through his upstairs bedroom window into the vampire’s house, and seen the bodies hauled out, to his mother’s disbelief.
She is horrified at her son’s accusations right in front of their new neighbor and sides with the vampire, apologizing and dis- missing her son. Now that he has been invited into the house he has permanent access, by vampire rules. He comes back in the early morning hours to threaten the son.
Her son’s high school girlfriend is the next target of seduction and an easy conquest for the handsome vampire. She had accompanied her boyfriend (who nobody believes) to follow the vampire. But the teen wilts under the power of a single gaze as he apprehends her at a nightclub, soon dancing with her. The vampire’s smile barely conceals his mocking contempt as he spins her around the dance room floor. She more than obliges as we see her darker side opening up – a facet of seduction. The boyfriend looks on as they dance, his mouth agape, seeing a side to her he had never seen before. The vampire takes her home and turns her that night, adding her to his lair. But the vampire has been foolhardy by breaking the code of secrecy numerous times, a code usually enforced by the self-policing communities of vampires. In Moonlight, sloppy vampires are tracked down then taken out quickly. By becoming visible, they are threatening the whole vampire community with public exposure. In Los Angeles, Mick Saint John’s territory, exposure cannot be allowed. Sometimes Mick officiates the dirty deed. To quote from Bram Stoker, “The strength of the vampire is that no one believes in him.” By the end of Fright Night, almost everybody believes in vampires, but this is not helpful to their cause. However, in a feel-good moment, the boy next door prevails thanks to sunlight and over-confidence of the vampire, adding to the movie’s cult classic status.
Female vampires are almost always alluring and sensual, starting with Kate Beckinsale, the British model and lead vampire in the Underworld movie series. Their ageless good looks is part of the seductive package and Hollywood abounds in the young and beautiful waiting for their big break.
But there are some brutal exceptions to the rule of good looks and seduction. 30 Days of Night is one of them, released in October of 2007. As the long darkness descends, a group of vampires appear in a remote town in Alaska near the arctic circle where they know it will be as dark as night for thirty days. That’s how long they’ve got to ravage the community – 30 Days of Night.
The vampires are out in the open and these creatures don’t hide anything. They are savage and brutal from the start. They are organized predators who abhor humans and trap them on the streets, any time, anywhere. If someone is driving through town, they will tear into the car or throw it like a tin can, pull the person out, rip open his throat and drain him on the spot. Or they will fling a severed head into the darkness. They have no restraint, resembling sharks in a feeding frenzy.
They are ugly in a fierce and grotesque sort of way. They are also superhumanly strong and can move as fast as the eye can see, sometimes faster. Most people don’t have a chance against them. No one in town has enough food to stay indoors thirty days and there is no daytime protection to get supplies – a set-up much like Nile crocodiles at the rivers’ edge during a drought, waiting for thirsty herds of gazelle or caribou to come down to drink. In 30 Days of Night the casualties are high. Josh Hartnett stars as the local sheriff leading the opposition. By the end, the Sheriff becomes one of them for the pur- pose of killing the leader, which he does. As in most of the vampire accounts, once someone ingests vampire blood-in this case through injection-he starts to turn. At the first dawn in 30 days, his girlfriend holds Harntnett while he burns away, turning to ash as the sun’s rays fall on him. The result is a compelling film that is number 12 on the top 40 list of vampire movies. It succeeds in being scary, with fast-paced dramatic action, and has become something of a cult classic, often playing on Comcast.
Vampires on the Western Frontier
If vampires can appear in Alaska, they can certainly appear in cowboy country against a western backdrop. In some ways the setting is ideal for a particular genre-one dimensional vampires and non-stop action. Vampires in the 1980-90s cult classics Near Dark (1987), From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (1996, with Harvey Keitel, George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino), Bordello of Blood (1996) and John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) are not as frightening or other-worldly as those in 30 Days of Night, but they bring a raunchy Western flair as they enter cowboy country. Saloons and motels become the backdrop of predictable action akin to a video game. With the exception of Near Dark, there is no substance to these vampires, they are simply out for blood and the contest between them and humans forms the action.
On the other hand, Near Dark, a cult movie with a devoted following, follows a small group of vampires living on the fringes of society as they move about in an RV looking for victims. We see numerous set-ups to trap victims. One is when Adrian Pasdar (the older brother and politico in the hit TV series Heroes) playing a young man named Caleb in a small Oklahoma town tries to pick up an attractive vampire girl who is waiting for exactly that. It’s too easy. They drive off together as he tries to seduce her. This is perfect for her to turn him that night and he enters the “family.” She (Mae played by Jenny Wright) happens to truly like him, an unusual twist. More drama stems from the fact Caleb can’t bring himself to kill for blood and is quickly revealed as a misfit in his new family. Mae has to get blood for him, as the others look on in disgust. A young Bill Paxton (the president in Independence Day), a hostile and violent 20-something vampire, is a member of the family and wants to kill the new member right off. The stabilizing leader is played by Lance Henriksen. Testing their new member, the group enters a saloon to wreak havoc. Paxton aggravates the clientele by trying to start countless fights. But Caleb doesn’t go along with it and refuses to attack strangers in the saloon, reaping more scorn from the others. Inevitably he becomes the object of a final hunt by them for refusing to play by their rules. At the end, we witness a rare case where the vampire turns back to human and gets his girlfriend to turn back after the others are consumed in flames in another feel good moment
Needless to say, vampires entering cowboy country have devolved into cultural low-lifes compared to Bram Stoker’s aristocratic Dracula in Edwardian England. Written in the late- 1800s, Bram Stoker offers a strong Christian worldview. Evil is repugnant and that which is holy provides the only escape. If there are these kinds of evil forces at work, surely there must be a God. But vampires in cowboy country have moved into a moral gray zone, blurring the once clear contrast between good and evil. A merger looks to be in the works somewhere down the road between vampire and human, maybe a new hybrid species.
Changing With the Times
Three years after I walked past the Moonlight billboard above Times Square, on a single night in mid-August of 2009, three vampire movies and two popular vampire TV series were playing at the same time on cable television. The latest hot new TV series, True Blood, on HBO, was now in its second season with a record-breaking audience. Being Human was just starting up on the BBC channel, filmed in England, due to end at summer’s end. The local Shattuck theater in downtown Berkeley was playing Thirst, a Korean vampire movie, with more major releases anticipated in the fall, espe- cially the sequel to Twilight. Blood was in the air. Knowing that I had to revisit a familiar theme from my own occult-laden past in order to write this article, I watched one of the vampire movies that night, a remake of Perfect Creature. With today’s digital effects, almost anything is possible for this “evolving” genre, almost without boundaries.
But vampires are also changing with the times. Or, perhaps better put, vampires are in fact changing the times by influencing their vast audiences, just as the media has done for decades. Vampires, as embodied darkness, are a perfect foil for boundary pushing as we get to know and accept them. The desensitized audience are the frogs sitting in the slowly heating kettle. The envelope of moral boundaries is constantly being pushed, with hardly a pause, and this has been happening since early days of black and white TVs with their rabbit-ear antennas. Whether we like it or not, media is a change agent, earning vast sums and influencing populations. If a twenty second advertisement can be opinion-shaping, an hour-long program more so.
It has become clear that twenty-first century producers are neither respecters of morals nor vampire lore as they change the rules to fit the times. They clone, mix and match. The crucifix is becoming inconsequential along with holy water, removing the power of Christianity from the equation. In the season finale of Britain’s Being Human, it is the Star of David that makes the vampire shrink back, held out by the Jewish werewolf. Some vampires can now emerge into low levels of daylight, as we saw in Twilight. They are more sensual and culturally attuned, like Mick Saint John, the handsome vampire private investigator in Moonlight. Mick is among the new trend of “vampires with con- science.” Thus Mick is detoxing from the traditional hungers of his ancient species by reverting to stored hospital grade blood packaged for transfusions and kept in his refrigerator. In truth, he is a sympathetic figure almost all around and the public can’t help but root for him. See, vampires aren’t so bad after all.
Among other sympathetic figures, the BBC’s summer 2009 series, Being Human, features a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf living together and depicted as 20-something youth no different than Britain’s contemporary youth culture under the mandates of diversity. They have a growing bond in just trying to survive in an “us against them world.”
As their mutual loy- alty deepens, they become ever more sympathetic to the audience. After all, they are hip, they are bothered and they have their challenges, just like the rest of youth culture. They also don’t really like who and what they are. Go to Earl’s Court and you will find English youth exactly like them sharing an apartment. In fact, they are more humane than the humans, the latter often portrayed unsympathetically as small- minded, dishonest, prejudiced and gossips, especially the neighbors. The vampire is a reluctant vampire; the pretty, endearing female ghost was murdered by her boyfriend, and the werewolf is also trying to blend in with the rest of society as a nerd trying to keep a low profile. The vampire is trying to wean himself from live attacks and, as a hospital orderly, has turned to stored blood just like Mick Saint John of Moonlight. The werewolf is a borderline hysteric who, in reaction to stress, will begin sentences normally then speed up his words to a kind of high pitched howl that is grimly humor- ous. I can see this catching on in Britain. We will see where it goes. But the bottom line in Being Human is sympathy for the vampire (and the werewolf and the ghost), with humans as the real monsters.
Blood has taken the concept of stored blood a step further with bottled synthetic blood – supposedly a breakthrough from Japan – as the centerpiece of the series. Vampires can now walk into taverns and restaurants and order a newly trademarked bottle of True Blood. They can come out of hiding and enter society as the latest minority seeking acceptance. And this has touched on another old southern theme as the walls of segregation come down again in Bon Temps, Louisiana. The accents of prejudice are the same but the most recent underclass are no longer blacks but vampires now in the process of gaining acceptance. Diversity and multiculturalism fit perfectly within this new vampire genre as directors blend themes within the medium.
There is another rule change: the appearance of human-vampire couples as the walls of prejudice fall. Miscegenation now goes beyond racial lines. The gold standard for vampire-human couples was definitively set in the hit movie Twilight, as we saw. But TV series have also started such innovations. We first saw Mick Saint John in Moonlight involved in an affair with an extremely pretty human girlfriend, Beth, whom he refused to turn into a vampire. Had the series continued it’s likely that they would have married.
True Blood has taken on the hybrid couple theme where Moonlight left off. Based on Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire novels, blond Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic barmaid, has her life turned upside down when vampire Bill Compton enters the tavern where she works. It’s two years after vampires have ‘come out of the coffin.’ He orders a bottle of True Blood as though it were a Budweiser.
Sookie soon falls for Bill, played by Stephen Moyer the British actor, who we learn is an eternally youthful Civil War soldier. Like Mick Saint John of Moonlight, Bill has a conscience. But he also has a surprising depraved side that makes him less predictable. This adds to the excitement, which builds into the new motif we are seeing in the more recent vampires as the unwilling victims who were set up and deceived. Now Bill’s vampire and human nature are at odds in a Jekyll and Hyde way. The sympathy meter is high in the case of Bill Compton of True Blood. We revisit him as an exhausted and hungry soldier on leave from the Civil War front and heading home to his wife and kids in rural Louisiana. He never makes it. He’s a starving soldier invited for a festive dinner with all the trimmings by what appears to be a needy, attractive and lonely widow living alone in a small southern town. Down come the curtains as Bill eats rapaciously, fully distracted. The gracious hostess is a vampire and Bill is turned that night and is never the same. He emerges as a reluctant vampire with a conscience, still trying to hold on to elements of his former self, and Sookie sees this.
Compared to the riff-raff in Sookie’s backwoods Louisiana town of Bon Temps, filled with unenlightened beer swilling rednecks who fill the tavern, it’s been slim pickings for Sookie. Bill’s manners and civility show that he is clearly a cut above the rest. Sookie can’t resist him, a misfit herself. The relationship begins, human and vampire, and the audience learns to become more open-minded.
Like Mick Saint John of Moonlight, Bill Compton in True Blood is trying to redeem his life and hang on to his human sensitivities and conscience. Neither of them asked to be vampires, so they step beyond accepted social code within their self-regulating species with private cabals and hidden courts. This creates conflict between them and the vampire community.
The vampire hierarchy is an ancient hidden order ruled by a master vampire who can be ruthless, fearless, aggressive and often cruel. Dracula is the classic model of the master vampire from whom, spanning across centuries, large numbers of vampires have been his progeny, spreading their “undead” contagion from him and branching out. The rule is if you kill the master vampire, it frees those under him and they can change back or die an ordinary death. For this reason, some are on a mission of wiping out their own blood line, the main mission of the vampire in Blood Ties, Henry Fitzroy, as well as the “hero” vampire in Vampire Journal, who kills the master vampire heading the regional clan. True Blood’s master vampire is a tall, powerful, athletic blond male a thousand years old, outwardly in the prime of life and distinctly menacing. Bill Compton is like a younger brother, diminished in capacity compared to him.
In a compelling scene near the end of the first season in True Blood, Bill Compton is put on trial because he protected Sookie from an attack in the vampire-owned nightclub. Bill, who has refused to turn her, certainly won’t let some rabid stranger put his fangs into Sookie’s neck. Sookie had come with Bill there as a favor. The nightclub is a place where vampires don’t need to be on guard, as they would in public. Evil and depravity is in the air like a strong stench. They are completely out in the open in voicing their opinion that humans are virtual farm animals, insignificant and can be disposed of at will. PC police are nowhere to be found. Bill’s violation of code was that he pro- tected a human, Sookie, in the nightclub, from being attacked. This calls for a secret trial. It doesn’t matter that another vampire initiated the attack, challenging Bill to stop him. Fairness is not in their code.
The vampire trial, late in the night, takes place in a remote area. We witness a virtual community-wide dictatorship and those who don’t follow the rules face stiff penalties. Bill Compton is sentenced to time in a coffin and excommunicated during that time. They could have cut off his head and destroyed him. There is no leniency, rather a cruel severity seen in the vampire judge and the tall blond sheriff who is head of the local vampire community, overlooking the nightclub from his throne and now present to testify at the court.
Bill can lessen the sentence if he turns a victim whom the court chooses. A naive human girl is dragged out and Bill is command- ed to turn her, which he does reluctantly. This, in place of Sookie being turned by a particular- ly malicious vampire in the nightclub. Compton accepts the sentence stoically. Sookie, of course, wonders if Bill has left town and abandoned her. Again, we see that a double standard exists between the public depiction of vampires and their privately guarded views of humans.
To the public, vampires are depicted as a misunderstood persecuted minority who must claim their civil rights, while churches are portrayed as intolerant, prejudiced and backward. The church service in True Blood is about as unsympathetic a portrait of Christians as any Hollywood director could hope for. It fits the carefully developed caricature of hooting ignoramuses – simple minded idiots calling out for more blood, fire and brimstone than their vampire counterparts. The public does not miss it, storing away the image.
In a double-minded gambit, the audience knows vampires are evil and yet is compelled to support vampire “rights” as the latest underclass. Killing vampires is seen as a hate crime driven by bigoted intolerance. Yet they have seen the dark side of vampires in which mortals are despised, slaughtered and drained at whim. Like a co-dependent mother constantly making up excuses for her serial-killer son and immune to reality, the audience has been enlisted to see them in a permissive and apologetic manner – a backdoor covenant with evil and Orwell’s Double-Think in action.
Perhaps True blood will take the next step and enact hate crime legislation in the upcoming series to make it illegal and punishable by jailtime or death to speak ill of vampires. Pastors would be forever silenced and the few courageous ones who spoke out would be made public examples, perhaps executed on TV. Hate crime protection would be the ideal set-up for vampires to have carte blanche freedom of movement within society, ever free of consequences as a protected minority. The public, predictably unable to connect the dots and ever believing the best about its political leaders, would go along placidly. There may even come a law for them not to resist if attacked by vampires, but for the higher good, submit to a little blood loss. Vampires are a powerful, seductive theme for a perplexed and bewildered generation that has drifted far from its once dominant biblical moorings. Beyond that, evils that horrified earlier generations are now embraced by open minded audiences as new avenues of liberation. If you don’t believe this, check some of the blogs of the fans of True Blood.
The Retinal Circus: Getting Images of Depravity into the Mind
Corruption takes place when images of depravity enter the mind-the younger the mind, the more depraved the images, the more powerful is the impact. In the case of a young child, an innocent mind can be corrupted readily. A range of common laws are based on this simple truth. That’s why we have “adult” movie channels and “adult” bookstores – at least for now. But new laws may strike down the present legal barriers as groups like NAMBLA (The National Man Boy Love Association) use organizations like the ACLU to fight for their “rights.”
Yet even now there are wide open doors to corrupt the young. Picture a family checking into a seedy motel with all kinds of adult channels on cable. The parents go out to the pool to spend time alone while the kids are watching the Family Channel. Soon bored, the kids scroll through the channels.
As they land on the bondage channel they see a fully nude man wearing a leather mask, holding a whip and tying up a naked woman. It is up close and graphic. They feel defiled and dirty so they switch channels. On yet another sex channel there is a range of sexually deviant options, unthinkable in previous eras, but now available in the twenty-first century. The parents walk in to find their kids imitating what they’ve seen on the bondage channel. A scene similar to this plays on True Blood. More on this in a moment.
Some well known serial killers have gone down some very dark roads, their inner depravity gathering momentum as they go beyond the boundaries of what makes us human. They become monsters. Charles Manson’s mother was a prostitute and he saw strange men have sex with his mom hundreds of times at all hours of the night. Manson was immersed in depravity and it bent him irrecoverably. In the case of famed serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who had been initially influenced by homosexual pornography, the result was dead body parts in his freezer of boys he had kidnapped, sodomized, murdered then cannibalized. The average person cannot take this in, so most people, in an act of self defense, shut it out. But that does not negate the fact that these things are real.
If I am a Hollywood director and I want to do a little culture changing, I have to figure out how to deliver a certain image that enters through something that I call “the retinal circus.” The transitions in a movie to deliver a certain image must be strategically justified. But in the mind, the image can take on a life of its own and last a lifetime.
Vampires by definition can be darker and more depraved than human serial killers. They are the undead. This allows directors free-reign to explore and justify depravity in new ways in this “evolving genre.” In True Blood, we have another creative innovation beyond bottled True Blood. Vampire blood taken a few drops at a time on a blotter is an overwhelming aphrodisiac that puts Viagra and Cialis to shame (as kids sing along Viva Viagra when they see the commercial with its catchy tune).
Sookie’s brother has discovered that vampire blood makes him a sexual super-star. But it is also taking him down a long road of destruction as he changes partners constantly in a search that defies satisfaction, like the Mick Jagger song. He is weakening and diminishing by the day. He also keeps ending up in scenes with dead women by his side.
A new girlfriend, who he meets at the vampire nightclub in his search for this powerful stuff, is a distributor and supplies him with vampire blood. They connect quickly and soon have prolonged sex till the magical aphrodisiac runs out. Desperate for more vampire blood, they kidnap a gay vampire (the secret source of a gay dealer who trades sex for blood), keep him bound in the basement as a blood source, and continue their ongoing orgy unashamedly, in clear view. They can be seen through the basement window. As word of the vampire’s disappearance goes out, they kill, cut up and bury the vampire – or rather she does as Sookie’s brother has twinges of conscience and is sickened by the whole thing. The next morning Sookie’s brother wakes up to find that his pretty new girlfriend is lying lifeless by his side. She’s been strangled and this time the cops jail him. It’s one death too many and his excuses to the cops are hollow. The real serial killer has left a long gruesome trail, including his and Sookie’s sweet old grandma – a picture of decency, wholesomeness and a stabilizing influence on Sookie – who was cut open and left to bleed to death on the floor, devastating Sookie the day she returned from work to find her beloved grandma in a pool of blood. Sookie’s brother knows he didn’t kill his grandma and is outraged at the accusation. The all-American former high school football star may have his problems, but he is not a killer.
The real serial killer – who so perfectly blends in with the road crew of good old boys among the tavern regulars – finally slips up. He has recently married one of the waitresses at the tavern who has two small children. As Sookie’s brother is languishing in jail, buried in guilt and confessing to almost anything, things take an unexpected turn. While the road crew is out working, the recently remarried waitress who works nights walks in on her kids who have discovered a secret stash of DVD recordings hidden by their new stepdad. On the large LCD screen is live footage of a bizarre sex scene of a local woman recently murdered. Her fetish was to leave the recorder on, hidden from view. This means the new husband must have stolen the missing tapes – alleged to exist but that mysteriously disappeared – as a souvenir after he killed the girl and even the vampire (We later learn he has been shadowing Sookie’s brother and this explains all the dead bodies around him.). In the tradition of serial killers who target prostitutes, the serial killer has targeted women who have had dealings with vampires. The newly wed waitress is devastated.
Now back to the retinal circus and the logic used to justify a certain scene.
In True Blood, the kids are on the couch in the living room and we see in detail what they are watching – a scene we saw earlier in the series before the tape went missing after the girl was murdered. Sookie’s brother had also had sex with the woman and found the tape after finding her dead body. Then the tape disappeared. He was looking for it with the cops to vindicate himself. Back to the living room: Standing with arms and legs pulled apart by ropes, like someone glued to a spider web, the woman is being forcibly sodomized by a local vampire who is snarling with his fangs exposed. He performs this bizarre act many times faster than normal, resembling a spider doing rapid pushup motions on a web. The kids are mesmerized and in shock at this new world that has opened up before them. They can’t look away while they are spellbound. There is lag-time before they come to their senses. The mother screams when she walks in on them, horrified at what her kids are watching and the implications of who her new husband really is after the kids confess to finding the stash hidden away among his belongings.
The producers of True Blood have delivered an image directly to the retinal circus of millions of viewers including their kids who happen to walk in and ask, “Can we have more popcorn?” before they freeze at the image on the TV screen. That’s all it takes and it will stay with them for life.
The theological concept of “total depravity,” is that there is an abyss of potential corruption in all fallen men, and in the right circumstances, we are all capable of just about anything. Redemption, through this lens, becomes a huge act of grace through the mystery of the cross-boundless and incomprehensible to the mortal mind. The naive view that there are “nice” people out there who just need just a little fine tuning to enter into God’s Holy Presence does not begin to grasp the real situation.
We see in the vampire an embodiment of the mystery of iniquity, when the will chooses evil over good. It is a dark mirror reflecting back the interior components of human depravity and its vulnerability and propensity toward sin. In that sense, vampires are us. The power of seduction takes place when an outside influence penetrates down to the inner layers of the soul and spirit to bring about corruption – for which there is already an interior component.
Potential depravity becomes realized and emerges out into the open. Evil spreads and infects, causing irreversible damage. Like a cancer, it can spread through individuals into com- munities. At some point a culture can become corrupt. Those cultures that imploded were in the throes of moral depravity; consider ancient Rome or Sodom. Consider what was happening to bring on Noah’s flood.
Now enhance the above examples of moral contagion with the powers of digital telecommunications and you can see how the virus of corruption can ride into any living room at whim. Today’s lax acceptance of evil is a byproduct of the cultural mandates of tolerance and non-judgmentalism.This is a real door-opener. Go back to the beginning of TV then leap forward a decade at a time and what had been taboo at one point becomes accepted with new open-mindedness. This has happened with sex before marriage and homosexuality along with countless other examples. In Europe, the door is opening for tolerance of bestiality. Numbing, then defiling the public conscience can have radical consequences. Strange hungers can emerge, then like a cancer, destroy – call it the spiritual equivalent of an AIDS pandemic. It happens incrementally, like the frog in the kettle, so people adapt to change rather than resist it.
It seems my boyhood dilemma has expanded over ever widening circles within the culture-at-large. Atheism is the governing worldview of a secularized America and you can go to jail as a teacher for leading prayer in public school class, breaking a commonly held freedom for over two centuries. You can lose your job for evangelizing at work. Wake up, the culture has changed! It has grown anti-Christian. And Christians who have been tolerated will find the masses turning against them as they shrink into the crevices. Secularism has marched forward, consigning the once dominant Christian foundation of our culture to the shadows. Vampires (I now use this as a metaphor) and the supernatural are entering through a vacuum left by the retreating Christian presence, now almost culturally irrelevant. The Postmodern church is filled with those who prefer blend in as chameleons than face costly ostracism and it is a church without backbone that cannot possibly resist the coming invasion of darkness. Of course people can wake up when things get intense. That’s been my hope. I think there could be a new wave of converts coming out of this dark terrain, which was the case in my own life when, broken and reduced to nothing in a South Indian hotel room, at the end of a long sojourn throught the occult wilderness, I gazed up at the light and truth of Christ and it changed my life. I was ready and only this could have gotten through to me. A strong-willed rebel by nature, I needed a shock wave, and it happened. There must be those, robbed by the darkness, who will emerge into the light.
Then spake Jesus again unto them, say- ing, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.-John 8:12
Tal Brooke is the President & Chairman of SCP. He has authored nine books and his work has been recognized in Marquis Who’s Who in the World and Who’s Who in America. He has won three first place EPA awards in the nationwide contest. A graduate of the University of Virginia and Princeton, he has spoken at Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton, Sorbonne, Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and the University of Edinburgh. Tal Brooke was converted in India. His latest book, “Return of the Giants” is a crossover thriller for which he is looking for a publisher.
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