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Bloody critics

“What do vampires think of the Twilight franchise?”

As a child I once went to a Halloween party dressed as a vampire, and took some pride in my choice of costume. I had a cape and a set of fangs and was liberally spattered with fake blood which I tracked all over the host’s beige carpet; I kept pretending to bite people and a couple times actually did. This, however, was a good few years before an American author by the name of Stephenie Meyer awoke from a dream with a concept for a novel that would birth the Twilight series – 4 books which combined have sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Nowadays any boy who wants to go as a vampire to his friend’s Halloween party probably has all the box sets of ‘Glee’ and wears meggings to his school’s non-uniform day.

I cannot think of any feared mythological figure whose identity has been so battered by popular culture than that of the vampire. In my youth vampires were construed of as all genuinely nasty exocannibalistic maniacs, the paradigm of which was the star of Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’. The vampiric protagonist, Count Dracula, was based on Vlad the Impaler, an indisputably unpleasant man. His favoured activities, as documented in visceral Tsarist pamphlets, included:

roast[ing] children, whom he fed to their mothers. And (he) cut off the breasts of women, and forced their husbands to eat them. After that, he had them all impaled.

Compare this to the behaviour of the Twilight generation’s archetypal vampire, Edward Cullen, prone to staring wistfully out of slightly misted windows with eyes deep wells of infatuation and woe, and you have a sense of how tepid and effete this new Hollywoodized vampire model is. The vampires I grew up with didn’t want to find true love, they didn’t want to be “understood”, they wanted to bust your jugular vein open and mess, you, up.

This new strain of vampire that’s more likely to be broody than bloody has arisen because Twilight, at its core, is really just a tale of troubled and forbidden love for teenage girls to pine over; the fact that one half of this fanciful relationship is vampiric is really just happenstance to prevent the story being too banal. Seeing as it wouldn’t work out between seventeen-year-old Bella Swan and the slavering, murdering blood-fetishists that vampires used to be, we now have sensitive, caring introverts with exquisite cheekbones who sparkle in the sun. This identity has leaked into other examples of, to quote a legitimate genre, “vampiric chick-lit”, such as ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘The Southern Vampire Mysteries’ on which the TV series ‘True Blood’ is based.

This crippling of the traditional vampire concept, just to maximize revenue through the conduit of fanatic teenage girls, doesn’t sit right with me. Vampires should be the embodiment of pure evil; real people have actually been publicly executed due to vampiric suspicions, particularly during a period of hysteria in Eastern Europe known as “The 18th-Century Vampire Controversy”. As little as 10 years ago, Malawi governor Eric Chiwaya was stoned by a mob of citizens accusing the government of colluding with vampires. Vampires should be feared, not coveted.

But who am I, a mortal norm, to judge how vampires should be portrayed? How do actual vampires feel about this shift in public opinion? Are they bitter and embarrassed at how Twilight has represented them, or pleased to have this new image that makes them the desire of girls the world over? Naturally, I would have to ask them.

You may question my ability to interview supernatural beings, but there do exist many popular groups of people who call themselves vampires and occasionally amass to discuss all things vampirical. One such example is the “London Vampire Meetup Group”, which assembles on the first Thursday of every month. Clearly to find some answers to this query I would have to attend one such meeting, under the guise of a new member.

So on a fiercely hot Thursday evening I pulled on my blackest, densest clothes – I didn’t know the dress code but I couldn’t imagine I’d blend in wearing tie-dyed shorts – and set off to Camden to find this bar. I’d been able to find very little information about this group online, so had only the vaguest idea of what I might be walking into. I kept neurotically imagining the opening scene to the movie ‘Blade’, where a witless human stumbles into a club of vampires and is soaked in blood that pours from the sprinkler system, undead revellers around him whipped into a savage frenzy, fangs bared.

The place looked reasonably normal from the outside, at least:

Inside it was quite a baroque environment, a little darker than the average pub but aside from that the aesthetics revealed little about the nature of its patrons. My prediction about the dress code was accurate, with everyone in black apart from one guy boasting a bright red mohawk, wearing a blood-red sweater vest with “LUTHER IS OUR GOD NOW?” written in permanent marker on the back.

I ordered a beer and looked around. A few people had prosthetic fangs, there was a lot of esoteric gothic clothing and a couple crossdressers stood about. Annoyingly everyone seemed to know each other, which I suppose was inevitable from their monthly meet-ups, but it did mean as the newcomer I felt about as alienated as is humanly possible. I propped up the bar and tried to get drunk enough to socialize with these members of the occult.

After a couple pints I managed to strike up conversation with a DJ called Mark, who had an interest in vampires but was mainly here to accompany his extremely vampiric girlfriend. I awkwardly broached the topic of Twilight, to which he made a disgusted face and shook his head, dismissing the franchise as “shit”. However I gathered from our subsequent conversation about Stanley Kubrick that he was something of a film buff, and disliked Twilight more due to its watery, prosaic plot and jaded directing rather than its reflection of the vampire world. For a more trustworthy consensus, I’d have to ask one of the group’s regulars.

A further two pints later I found myself speaking with a woman named Carla, whose devotion to the vampire clan was clear both from her funereal garb as well as her explanation of how she’d spent the last six months of her life.
“I’ve been trying to enter a coven, y’know, a community of witches,” she told me cheerily. “I’m studying Wicca at the moment to hopefully be ordained into its second tier. I just hope I can please my High Priest!” I smiled blankly at her and continued pounding back lager.

Eventually I managed to steer discourse towards Twilight and was faced with the same repulsed mien Mark had exhibited. She included True Blood and The Vampire Diaries in her all-encompassing condemnation of how pitiful modern-day vampires were. It was clear she was a fan of vampires’ dark, barbaric side, as she spoke excitedly of how the media should really portray them as bloated corpses with their skin rotting off, the polar opposite of the beautiful, chiseled Cullen family served up by Twilight.

It seemed pretty evident that this group, united by a fandom of classical, menacing vampire folklore, would obviously be averse to anything which trashed the traditional idea of Dracula in such a way. This group had been around since long before Twilight’s conception, meeting monthly under their organizer who goes by the name of ‘Thunder’. I managed to snap a shot of him early on in the evening whilst pretending to take an innocuous photo of my Budweiser.

After speaking with Carla he appeared alongside me at the bar. “Are you the one they call Thunder?” I asked him, sneaking onto the list of Top 10 strangest introductory sentences of my life thus far.

Thunder was a very pleasant and strikingly normal man who explained about the group to me whilst nursing a Guinness. He apologized for the small turnout, even though at around 50 vampires present it was busier than I expected it to be, and also apologized for forgetting his fangs. “It’s very remiss of me,” he said, with genuine shame.

It was an interesting and enjoyable chat, but I was here to speak about Twilight. I managed to work it into conversation and Thunder palpably winced. “When Twilight first came out,” he explained, “we were swamped with 16 year old girls who all wanted to join. Not only is this an 18+ group, but their idea of a vampire is a bit different to ours – that was fairly annoying. I don’t think you’ll find any Twilight fans here.”

I thought that statement would comprehensively settle this question – I wanted to find out whether vampires liked Twilight, and the leader of a vampire association unequivocally said that no, they do not. However, he then went on to say “as a group we’re not really vampires as such, we’re just huge fans of vampiric culture and literature. We don’t engage in any blood drinking, that’s for ‘sanguine vampires’.”

It was indeed niggling me that the group, for all their black clothing, arcane appearance and insane beliefs did seem very happy and gregarious, not really how I imagined vampires to be. And if they didn’t actually drink blood, could they even be considered vampires at all?

I returned home from The Elixir Bar a little drunk and did some research into the sanguine vampires, or ‘sanguinarians’, that Thunder mentioned. These are real people who actively drink blood, believing it’s necessary to maintain their physical and mental health. They don’t just binge on rare steaks and black pudding, they actually have personal blood donors who donate whatever blood they can spare for sanguinarians to glug back in order to stay fit and healthy. The forum Black Swan Haven (black swans being vampiric lingo for a non-vampire that sympathises with vampires) is an online community where sanguinarians can find donors in their area and prospective donors can offer up their blood for anyone who would like a sip.

Having scoured the forums and with my wits still cloudy with Budweiser I rattled off an e-mail to a vamp who stated he was looking for a donor, asking if we could meet up and hesitantly offering a slurp from my veins should that be a requisite to us meeting. He declined the blood I proposed, saying he was after a long-term donor rather than just a one-off sample, however he did agree to meet me. So a few days later I headed to Kent, to meet up with someone I’d met on the Internet, on a blood-drinking message board.

His name was Bryce, a tall, quite nasally vampire who met me from Kent station one evening; it had to be evening of course, as Bryce is strictly nocturnal. We headed to a pub, more specifically the sort of venerable old tavern occupied solely by elderly men, where the only female was the barmaid and even she laboured beneath the following sign:

Bryce began to tell me about his life as a vampire. He’d been drinking blood for the past 4 years, beginning with animal blood which allegedly tastes disgusting and moving onto humans’. His usual dietary requirements were 250ml of blood a month, so sort of like a period in reverse, but if possible he’d like to drink a lot more. Thankfully when I met him he’d fed 2 weeks ago so his cravings were minimal, if not I imagine I’d have been a lot more on edge throughout our meeting, terrified I’d get a papercut and he’d misconstrue that as me serving up a liquid lunch.

His claims became more and more outrageous as the evening continued. He told me he also associates with a vampire called Amy, some psi-vamp pranic energy leech who can make you pass out with just a stare, and a charismatic guy named Oliver who seems determined to fulfill all the Dracula stereotypes, even down to his having a crippling allergy to garlic. Bryce declared he could smell people’s blood from a distance away and from that determine whether they had any illnesses; I proffered my wrists and he gave me the all-clear, the first medical checkup I’ve had in years. On occasion him, Amy and Oliver will go to a Brighton club that caters to vampires to try to scope out the freshest morsel on the dancefloor, getting drunk on tumblers of whiskey mixed with human blood.

If I’m honest it was quite a lot to take in, particularly as apparently him being a vampire meant his alcohol tolerance was exceptionally high and admittedly it was quite difficult keeping up with his drinking rate. I was knocking back a seemingly endless amount of ale, aware that I had to get a train home at some stage as I wasn’t overly keen on being stranded in a county where the only person I knew considered me a canapé. You can see my eyes are tinged with slight drunken concern in the photo I took of the two of us:

Thankfully I was still lucid enough to remember my purpose for being there, and eventually succeeded in bringing Twilight into the conversation. Bryce if possible was even more hostile to the franchise than the London vampires. “Oh I cannot stand it!” he decried, “it’s absolutely detestable.” When I argued that surely the series had made him incredibly popular with the girls he riposted that Twilight’s representation of vampires is unrealistic. ‘Real’ vampires don’t glitter in the sun, they blister and develop hives, and vampirism does not necessarily make you an automatic touchstone for brooding chivalry.

Bryce even reported that since Twilight several people had asked him to ‘convert’ them, much like Bella requested from Edward, as having been romanticized by the media a vampiric life is now viewed as extremely attractive. But not only is that impossible, it’s an incredibly deluded and stupid wish – if you’re a teenage girl and you can’t find a boyfriend, there’s a whole host of possible explanations more likely than the root of the problem being that you’re not a vampire. You could be emotionally stunted, or a deeply unpleasant person, or just plain hideous.

The vampirism Bryce exhibits is almost certainly just an acute form of anemia, with the odd blood supplement boosting his iron levels and providing an autonomic endorphin release that makes him feel alive again, combined with a dash of light sensitivity and a huge side serving of psychosomatic confusion and general madness. True vampiric life then, as seen from my trips to Camden and Kent, consists largely of either dressing up or being ill, none of the intense lust and bewitching enigma Twilight insists upon. The vampires I’ve met seem to be largely quite introverted, there’s the odd outgoing one like Oliver or Thunder but overall I suspect they want to be left alone and try to have a fairly normal life, not put on a podium and forced to live up to the infamy of the incredibly sensitive hypersexualized vampires everyone knows from Stephenie Meyer.

This pushing of vampires into the public limelight can actually be a danger to them. They are at heart just a bunch of goths and anemics, not undead monsters or revenant killers or corporeal evil, and yet there are some people so delusional they actually see it as their mission in life to hunt and kill these ‘vampires’. I always thought the profession of vampire hunter was just a fictitious one to base a film or TV show around; from Buffy to Blade, vampire hunters are always hugely watchable and celebrated protagonists because they’re ridding the world of sin with puns and gratuitous violence, and also because they’re either a hot blonde or really cool black guy. So imagine my surprise at finding out vampire hunters actually exist, and you could enroll their services of vampire disposal from their base in North London.

The “only vampire elimination specialist in London” states on their site they “have first hand knowledge of dealing with these blood sucking vermin.” Their services include vampire disposal, vampire deterrents, and post attack counselling.

The world is completely fucking mad, and you can never leave.

I was eager to get in touch with John Michaelson, the site owner and original London vampire hunter, curious as to his opinion of Twilight. It’s surely a sign that business isn’t great that the only contact information available on the company’s website is a link to John’s MySpace, so to try to converse with him I had to make an account. I didn’t feel he’d be likely to reply to a cheery, bright-eyed figure in a Hawaiian shirt so instead I created a profile for my emo alter-ego Matthias Grumhorn.

MySpace is now so redundant it’s no longer even possible to send messages to anyone, and hence sadly I was never able to touch base with John. If I had to make a prediction, as a man who makes a living slaying vampires and actually writes the words “vampire hunter” on his income tax form, I very much doubt Twilight would be one of his favourite films. It seems that whether we be human or vampire, blood-guzzler or superstitious naysayer, whatever our differences we are united by our one common belief that Twilight, be it in novel or film format, simply isn’t very good.


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