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This week, in honor of the holiday, we’re looking at a subject you can really sink your teeth into…
It’s Halloween, so let’s talk about monster movies. The problem with most classic feature creatures is their limited interpretability. Frankenstein’s monster, the werewolf, even the zombie — they can bear the burden of only so much metaphorical meaning before they spring back into their (un)natural shapes, resisting further mythic weight. (The mummy, in particular, remains so stubbornly itself — it’s not designed to stand for anything, it’s always and forever a mummy — that the concept resists reinvention; even the Brendan Fraser movies, for all their oodles of CGI, constituted an expensive homage, right down to the 1930s setting.)
The vampire, though, remains nigh-infinitely malleable. This monster can be used to explore anxieties about mortality, infection, deviant sexuality, appetite, parasitism, addiction, class warfare, bad romance… If the metaphor has limits, we have yet to glimpse them.
This protean aspect makes the vampire myth irresistible to filmmakers, all eager to put their stamp on the genre. It has proven equally alluring to academics looking to track and explicate the myriad permutations of the bloodsucker’s polymorphous perversity.
Now the grand-daddy of these pop-academic studies has arisen from its unholy slumber to wreak havoc on Netflix queues the nation over. For before there was Vampire Forensics (2010) by Mark Collins Jenkins, before there was Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves (1995), there was The Vampire Film, the pathbreaking critical survey by Alain Silver and James Ursini, first published in 1976 and reissued periodically in revised and expanded editions. The fourth edition — subtitled “From Nosferatu to True Blood” — was unleashed on an unsuspecting world last month. And it is a delight, even for the casual horror fan.