Monday, December 17, 2012

When vampires were scary



I am addicted to the paranormal genre. It is not a new affliction. 

The shadow of Nosferatu (Count Orlok) climbing up a staircase. From wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosferatu









My teens were defined by the paranormal/supernatural movies and books. Twin Peaks was a big one. So was Alien (which technically is sci-fi horror but I'm still going to count it here because I can). I must have been in Year 9 when I used to watch From Dusk Till Dawn every day after school until the VHS tape withered and died. There were also An American Werewolf in London, Salem’s Lot, Richard Donner's Omen, Subspecies, Bram Stocker’s Dracula and Interview with the Vampire. All of that happened mostly during the Russian ‘valiant’ 90s when it was still illegal to own and watch US-made movies at home and when only a handful of fearless local 'businessmen' flourished running the underground movie rentals out of their dodgy dimly-lit apartments protected by a code word that changed every day in case Russian cops came-a-calling.

And then there were books. I remember The Keep particularly well, probably because it made me stay awake and anxious for weeks following reading it. 

The very idea of a sentient beast that had the capacity to do good but chose or was bound to do evil by its very nature is fascinating. Similarly, the idea of someone loving a monster is an intriguing one; hence the readers and movie-goers’ unwavering interest in the human-monster romance, a relationship doomed to end badly because the beast will always prevail, wrestle control from its human side (if there was ever a human side to speak of), endanger its beloved and suffer from the bonecrushing, blood-chilling guilt…

My point here being, back then, vampires and other things that went bump in the night were still scary and tragic. I liked them that way.

What happened to the scary monsters since then?   

Twilight happened.

I’m not going to rant here about the sparkly saga and the era of faux-tragic paranormal romance - the army of faceless imitations that it spawned. It’s been done before, again, and again.

What I want to do rant about is the way the representation of a ‘monster’ has taken a 180 degrees turn post-Twilight, going far, far away from that torn, conflicted, misunderstood and naturally terrifying creature from the Interview with Vampire or the plain scary ghouls from the Salem’s Lot.

Nowadays, it seems that fictional monsters enjoy only the cool benefits of their monstrosity (immortality, eternal youth, meta-strength, perfect sparkly skin… (*sighs and hangs her head*)) without any significant side-effects and drawbacks. In other words, the dilemma of a monster is gone. Vanished.

Every time I pick up a new paranormal-genre book, be it a YA or not, I have this naïve, persistent tendency to metaphorically hold my breath, thinking that maybe this time it’s going to be different, maybe this time ‘the monster’ will truly be monstrous. But unfortunately it just doesn’t happen. It seems that majority of contemporary paranormal book primarily focus on the unique monsters (that is, finding a monster that hasn’t been done to death already). But these neo-monsters’ uniqueness is linearly defined by what they are, not what troubles them.

Of course there were some truly awesome books out there in paranormal literary flood in the recent years (which I’m yet to review and rave about because of how great those books are): KendareBlake’s Anna Dressed in Blood, or our own Australian author Paula Weston’s debut with Shadows (the Book 1 of The Rephaim), or Jennifer L. Armentout’s Lux series, or Lia Habel’s Dearly Departed, to name a few. I’ve heard a lot about Gennifer Albin’s Crewel with Goodreads reviews ranging from the ‘breakthrough of the year’ to a ‘book so bad it must be genius…’ 



However, putting aside the great entertaining value of all the aforementioned reads, I’m yet to find a monster that has some real problems. I know s/he is out there somewhere, still haunting some clueless writer’s head or already dwelling in a slush pile on some editor’s desk. I just hope, I don’t have to wait too long.   

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