Thursday, January 06, 2011

Celluloid Vampires: Life After Death in the Modern World – review

Author: Stacey Abbott

First Published: 2007

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: In 1896, French magician and filmmaker George Melies brought forth the first celluloid vampire in his film "Le manoir du diable". The vampire continues to be one of film's most popular gothic monsters and in fact, today more people become acquainted with the vampire through film than through literature, such as Bram Stoker's classic "Dracula". How has this long legacy of celluloid vampires affected our understanding of vampire mythology? And how has the vampire morphed from its folkloric and literary origins?

In this entertaining and absorbing work, Stacey Abbott challenges the conventional interpretation of vampire mythology and argues that the medium of film has completely reinvented the vampire archetype. Rather than representing the primitive and folkloric, the vampire has come to embody the very experience of modernity. No longer in a cape and coffin, today's vampire resides in major cities, listens to punk music, embraces technology, and adapts to any situation. Sometimes she's even female.

With case studies of vampire classics such as "Nosferatu", "Martin", "Blade", and "Habit", the author traces the evolution of the American vampire film, arguing that vampires are more than just blood-drinking monsters; they reflect the cultural and social climate of the societies that produce them, especially during times of intense change and modernization.

Abbott also explores how independent filmmaking techniques, special effects makeup, and the stunning and ultramodern computer-generated effects of recent films have affected the representation of the vampire in film.

The Review: This was a fascinating look into the changing face of the vampire within cinema and, as such, tread a similar ground to Tim Kane’s The Changing Vampire of Film and Cinema. When I reviewed that book I criticised the choice of films as they were picked to support Kane’s theorems and obvious films were ignored.

This, of course, is always going to be the case in any such academic study – especially as the genre is so wide. However, Abbott’s field of study was narrowed – she looked at American films specifically, with a nod to the direction the genre took in Europe and whilst there are examples of vampire films not covered, which perhaps sit without her theorems, her scope seemed better designed. She looks at the Dracula phenomena, Hollywood Gothic, the changing face of horror through the sixties and seventies, body image in the eighties and then concentrates on specific sub-genres such as the vampire Western and road movie, New York vampire films and LA vampire films.

This narrow focus makes her choice of film fit better. There are case studies involved – the most exacting being of Martin, which is a must read if you are a fan of the film.

I didn’t agree with all her thoughts, the easiest example to cite is her classing of Le Manoir du Diable as a vampire film. My own conclusion is that the film might excite our genre senses due to our post-Stoker sensibilities but it was not, truthfully, a vampire film. However, even if I disagreed with an analysis I respected it as I could recognise why a specific element was analysed that way. A definite must read for students of the  media vampire.

8 out of 10.


RoseOfTransylvania said...

"A definite must read for students of the media vampire." And to mere fans like me, too! D

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I'd say you were much more than a mere fan :)