Mark Metcalf

Take it from a former vampire …

By - Apr 16th, 2009 12:01 am
Get a daily rundown of the top stories on Urban Milwaukee



I’m not a vampire, but I played one on TV … bah, dum, bum … rim shot.

Old joke …

I did play a vampire though, throughout the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a turn of the (20th) century Warner Brothers Television show that was a pretty big hit and to some a cult classic.  It is credited with bringing vampiriana back from the dead. But the truth is vampires never die, and as an icon of popular literature they have always been around.  Sometimes they seem to be everywhere; sometimes they must be asleep in their coffins.

I played “The Master,” the oldest, the original, and the baddest vampire around.  He lived underground in an old church that had been buried in a California earthquake.  For reasons I don’t remember he couldn’t go up on to the surface of the earth until a certain moment in time.  There was a lot of pre-destination in this particular vampire tale and it all was “written” in a book that only scholars could decipher. Luckily that book happened to reside in the library of the high school in Sunnyvale, the small California town where my church was buried, and the librarian of that high school library just happened to be an Englishman whose special obsession was vampires and the occult.  Very convenient.  The series lasted for seven or so seasons, so it is way more complicated than I can remember, and I have probably already annoyed devout fans, of which there are many.

To prepare for the part, I studied as many of the vampires of our cultural history that I could, revisiting Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the first vampire film, Nosferatu, a true classic made in 1922 by F.W. Murnau, starring the phenomenal Max Schrenk, as well as the 1979 Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog, starring the great Klaus Kinski.  There is a wealth of literature about vampires and werewolves, and it evolves as the times require.  The rules change.

Joss Whedon, who created Buffy The Vampire Slayer in movie form and then for television, once said that the fun thing about writing about vampires is that you get to make up the rules as you go along. Someone before you made up the previous rules, so essentially there are no rules, as long as you can justify the behavior of your particular undead creature by making up a rule. In television, you can even change the rules you made up in the first season when they become inconvenient in the fifth season.

metcalf-twilightThere are some rules, though, that I think are inviolate.Twilight breaks one of the oldest and most established vampire rules: they die if touched by the sun.  They hedge their bets by setting it in the Pacific Northwest on the Olympic Peninsula where the sun seldom shines, but it is still a major re-write of the rules. When the lead vampire walks deliberately into the sun, he sparkles as though his skin was encrusted with diamonds.  These vampires are also self-proclaimed “vegetarians.” They eat only wild game, attempting to live with humans in peace.  They are trying to be good vampires and “good vampires” seems like an oxymoron to me.  But I guess I’m old school.

The only difference between these vampires and the humans living around them is that the vampires look like they were styled by the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, and they have poorly equipped kitchens. They also live in a very nice house, since the father figure amongst them is the town doctor.  By the time they have re-written all the rules and assimilated themselves into small town society, you are left with not much more than especially pale and heavily made-up tortured teenagers.  And, boy, is the lead actor tortured.  I can see why every young woman in America wants to run up and take him in her arms and comfort him.

The teen angst that he suffers seems to be about the fact that he will never be normal: a normal boy, with a normal girlfriend, going to the prom.  That’s all he asks, and after a lot of hanging his head and looking mournfully at her while biting his lower lip, chasing away a bad vampire (yes, there are bad vampires, more up my alley), and glaring resentfully at the local werewolves (yes, there are werewolves, but more of them in the sequel) he finally gets to go to the prom.  He’s not elected prom king, but maybe they’re saving that for the sequel.

There will be a sequel.  I’m told there are four books, so perhaps we have a whole lot to look forward to.  This is one of those films that seems to have been made only to promote the sequel.  Nothing really happens, except the mournful looks, a fairly violent fight in a ballet studio, and Prom. The werewolves that also live near the town are Native Americans. They live on the reservation and seem like affable guys for the most part. But the vampires and the werewolves are nursing some old grudge which is only hinted at with a serious promise that we will see it come to fruition if we plunk down $10 for the sequel.  There is an interesting twist on the werewolf legend because in this story they are wolves because it is part of their tribe’s creation mythology.

They also leave the bad vampires alone, except to advertise the sequel by showing us the vengeful look of the one that remains alive.  All in all the film is a diagram of movie as marketing device.  They are selling us something from the beginning – and it turns out that what they are selling is more of the same.

Categories: Movies, VITAL

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us