A vampire should not glisten like a mirror ball in sunlight. He should burn to a crisp like bacon in a pan. This is just one of the reasons I despise the character of Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire at the center of the TWILIGHT franchise. And it’s one of the many arguments for my declaration that TWILIGHT is the worst thing to happen to horror movies in the last decade.
I trekked on down to Chicago’s AMC River East 21 theater back in 2008 when the first TWILIGHT movie was released and I wasn’t naïve; I knew what I was in for. The audience for TWILIGHT was teenage girls, not me, but I have enjoyed all kinds of movies not targeted at yours truly. And I knew going in that this movie would surely favor romance over scares. So I sat down, tried to remain open-minded as a dozen chatty girls texted around me, and waited for the film to begin. What I saw on the big screen horrified me, and not in the way it should have. What was really scary was just how sloppy and stupid the film was, with no respect for vampire lore and even less regard for good storytelling.
Now it’s true that many movies before have bent the rules of the vampire world. In 1979’s tepid version of DRACULA, an insult to its Broadway source material, the count played by Frank Langella is hoisted up a ship’s mast in the bright daylight and yet he still manages to turn into a bat and fly away. (The likely reason was to enable a sequel that mercifully never happened.) And in FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) the vampire Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) has no trouble grabbing crosses that are supposed to terrify such nightcrawlers. And many films have toyed with the rules of how many bites it takes to turn one into a vampire. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994) makes the case for one bite while BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) lobbies for a couple of vicious attacks upon the neck. But there is bending the rules and then there is breaking the rules. And TWILIGHT author Stephenie Meyer breaks them so flagrantly, so egregiously, to me, it’s unforgivable.
Horror fans, did you know that vampires can actually survive and even thrive in the sunlight? In the world of TWILIGHT they can. Did you know that vampires don’t need human blood to exist? Sure, it’s preferable, but a vampire can exist off the blood of animals in TWILIGHT land. It’s sort of like their version of vegetarianism. And did you know that the vampires of TWILIGHT all laugh at such rules? They sure do. When Bella, the heroine of the series, asks Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) about how he’s able to break all those vampire rules, he smugly informs her that they’re all just myths. No they are not, Mr. Cullen. Them’s the rules. Rules you should be following. And the reason they’ve been altered for your franchise is because your author was too afraid to honor them.
What Stephenie Meyer’s timidity resulted in is a vampire world far more palatable to her and her teenage girl target. She wanted her audience to swoon, not sweat. Their hearts must race because of endorphins, not dread. If vampires can only exist off of human blood then gosh darn it, that would make them murderers. Well, we can’t have that. Susceptible seventh grade virgins like bad boys, but murder is a bit too much. And if vampires can only go out at night, well, that kind of puts a kibosh on the whole high school angle now doesn’t it? Somehow Edward Cullen wouldn’t be as dreamy schlepping through night school.
But the snubbing of vampire tradition isn’t the only place where Meyer let Edward Cullen and his ilk damage the horror genre. It’s harmed by her ludicrous plot points, like Edward’s continued enrollment in high school. He was a teenager when he was turned and proudly shows Bella the dozens of high school graduation tassels he’s earned over the decades. So, he’s old enough to pass for eighteen, but he chooses to repeat high school, day after day, year after year? I liked high school but believe me, four years was plenty. Why not enroll in college where you can at least stay up all night and party and fool around? No, according to Meyer, Cullen is the kind of dreamboat who would rather replicate high school algebra for eternity. What’s the point of living forever if that’s what you chose to do?
The series botches the character of Bella too. She is a complete zero; at least in the way actress Kristen Stewart plays her. Her name may mean beauty but Bella is nothing more than a morose, hunch-shouldered, nail biter with bland taste in clothes, a meek voice, dead black eyes and no discernible sense of humor. She also lies to everyone and jerks both her suitors around like a cat playing with a mouse toy. She just can’t seem to commit to either Edward or Jacob, her classmate who also happens to be a werewolf. All the beasts simply love Bella but I don’t see why. Unless she smells like a Cinnabon I wouldn’t go near her.
And with that, I’ve hit my core problem with this franchise. As stated earlier I know I’m not the target audience, teen girls are, but are they really so shallow that vampire rules and good storytelling get tossed out the window in order to cater to their insecurities? Are they so unsure of themselves that they can only relate to Bella and her inability to make any decision, about boys, about being bitten, about sex? She hems and haws about going to bed with Edward and even he feels conflicted about it because he doesn’t want to dial up his lust for fear it will drive him to bite her and drink her blood. So all this is really about abstinence, isn’t it? That’s about horror, but not about the horror genre. The horror it caters to are those feelings of a scared mother who fears her children are growing up too fast. (Right, Mrs. Meyer?) I find that kind of wishy-washy, cornball moralizing ridiculously at odds with the vampire genre. Isn’t the whole reason for their existence due to their uncontrollable lust? That’s what makes vampires so exciting, dangerous, unstoppable. The heart wants what the heart wants, even if it technically isn’t beating anymore. But TWILIGHT spits in the face of all kinds of tradition and the core of the lore. Thus, I loathe TWILIGHT.
On every other level too, TWILIGHT wimps out. The adults are all boobs, clueless to what their kids are up to and unable to see that the vampire folks in their midst all have yellow irises. The villainous vampires in the stories are all vanilla one-notes with their only real interest being in eating Bella. There’s a whole nation out there to feast on but they all need to rip off a piece of that Emo girl. And most of the plotting is plodding and repetitious. Edward gives up Bella, but then he comes back. Edward leaves town so he won’t bite her, but then he returns. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. When does boy eat girl?
At the end of the day that vampires here can prance around in, TWILIGHT is not complex and it’s not scary. It’s chaste and conservative and dull. If you’re twelve perhaps it’s the bomb. For anyone who loves horror, like me, it’s a bust. It’s a horror franchise that insults the genre and makes horror seem silly. And yet greater insults still remain. The last of the four books has been turned into a two-part movie, just like the last large book in the HARRY POTTER series. And the last two TWILIGHT movies are going to be released a year apart, in the last months of 2011 and 2012. I doubt that they deserve that kind of epic release. J.K. Rowlings’ masterwork deserves it, but not TWILIGHT. Thank God the new season of TRUE BLOOD starts this Sunday night, June 26th (8 PM Chicago time, on HBO). It’s a great vampire saga. And hopefully it will wash the taste of Bella’s Cinnabon out of my mouth.