This article was first published in The Big Issue Magazine.
True Blood (1.87 MB)
I awake with a gasp, breathe in deeply and look around. Removing the tangled sheets from my legs, I focus on the last remnants of my dream. A vampire bends over and feeds from my thigh, where the blood flows rich. Finished, he wipes his mouth. To get my strength back, he bites his wrist and let’s the ruby liquid drip into my mouth. My senses go into overload. The room becomes vivid with colour and smell. Everything is intense. There are pools of blood on the ground…
This is what watching the box-set, all 12 episodes, of the cult American TV hit True Blood over five days will do to you. Bloody, lustful and oh so thrilling dreams. My Buddhist teacher would not be impressed.
What is it with vampires? In the last 40 years alone, there have been nearly 200 shows made about them for film or television. That’s an average of five a year. Some, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) were massive hits; others, such as BloodRayne (2006), based on a video game weren’t so popular. True Blood, which premiered last year, is the latest in a long, long line. The second season is now showing on Australian pay-TV.
Through both marketing and hearsay, True Blood has been hailed as a top-shelf vampire show. In the US, it out-rated Sex and the City and won awards. So I watched it, and fell hard. It is a high-velocity romp of horror, comedy, graphic sex, blood feeding and delicious one-liners.
The series follows a telepathic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse (played by Oscar winner Anna Paquin), who lives in Bon Temps, Louisiana. At the local bar she serves all types, including vampires, who are now out in the open and part of the community. Bill Compton, a vampire, walks in and orders a bottle of synthetic O Negative blood. It is, of course, a match made in heaven (or wherever the undead reside). The gospel-loving area is up in arms about the vamps, and the plot is rich with thoroughly engaging, authentic white trash characters and southern gallantry.
Meanwhile, someone is killing all the town’s fangbangers (lovely girls that sleep with vampires). Of course, being a minority group, like gays or immigrants before them, the bloodsuckers are prime suspects. The other suspect is Jason Stackhouse, Sookie’s hapless, sex-addicted brother. Played by Australian actor Ryan Kwanten, Jason spends most of his time naked in all kinds of places – quite a change from his Home and Away days. And if things weren’t twisted enough, while the vampires are feeding on blood, humans are chasing their own bloody elixir of life, V juice (vampire blood). The series races along at a killer pace and is likely to find favour with fans of Twilight, another story of love between a human and vampire. The Twilight series has been hugely successful. Stephenie Meyer’s four novels have so far spawned one hit movie; a second, New Moon, will be out in November and is third is planned for next year.
So why is there this seemingly endless fascination with vampires? Whether or not you are a believer, they are deeply embedded in the collective psyche and have been for centuries. During the 1700s in Europe, groups went around staking people suspected of being vampires. There are also accounts of people cutting the knee tendons of corpses, so that if they became vampires they wouldn’t be able to rise up. And vampire-like theories weren’t contained to Europe. In China, it was believed that a corpse could become a vampire if an animal jumped over it – best to get it in the ground quickly. There are also references to vampires in texts from the times of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
Perhaps vampires appeal to the dormant animal in us all, tapping into the thrill of the hunt and the bloodlust of battle. After all, humans have been eating meat and killing each other for thousands of years. Don’t let the mobile phones and nice clothes fool you. Anyone who has ever been in a corporate board meeting knows that. We are all capable of violence.
Do vampires fascinate people because, deep down, we subscribe to the idea that we could become a vampire ourselves? Unlike Superman and Spiderman, who are one-offs, we all have the potential to become bloodsuckers – all it takes is one well-executed bite. After this happens, you’ll be living wild with enormous powers, outside the restrictions of society, having escaped from the drudgery of life. Doesn’t that sound attractive, in a grass-is-greener kind of way? After all, as Henry David Thoreau observed long ago, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. Which is a fancier way of stating something that Bella says in Twilight: “Death is peaceful. Easy. Life is harder.”
Another theory: do vampires represent a chance to escape the confines of mortality? In the grand scheme of things, our lives barely register in the world’s long history: they are flames of a match that flare, then die. Our egos do not like to accept this; they would have us believe we are all powerful. We strive to be richer, more beautiful and successful, even though we leave the world the way we came into it, with nothing. How angry must that make the poor ego? All that work for nothing. But the chance to become one of the undead changes that. Now you are immortal. The ego wins.
Even the word often associated with vampires, ‘undead’, gives us hope. It suggests not just living forever, but unable to become dead, the opposite of death. That’s what vampires represent, unless you’re not discreet enough, in which case you may get a stake through the heart.
Vampires have found the elixir of life:blood. And it’s flowing through us all. Immortality is yours for the taking. So, what are you waiting for?
Monique Hohnberg is a film journalist, whose works encompasses all aspects of the film industry. She is also writing a book on how to overcome tragedy.
First published in The Big Issue Magazine.