Fangs for the memories– How the concept of the vampire has shifted in the media

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After the sad passing of Christopher Lee I wanted to think of a way to commemorate his life and what better way than talking about a role he played for almost 20 years; Dracula. Its late posting after the sad news was due to wanting to make the article as informative and structured as possible to give Lee the respect he deserves.

So I would like to dedicate this article to Christopher Lee; the man whose performance of the bloodsucker remains as a cultural icon of the vampire to this day.

It is no coincidence that vampires are called the living dead; the legend of the bloodsuckers never seems to die down.  However, where the legend begins is not easy to pinpoint; most cultures appear to have had their own versions of vampiric entities long before Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819 or Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Vampires have permeated out of myth and into popular culture making them real in some sense but with each portrayal of the vampire, what they are used to represent becomes something completely different.

Perhaps thought to be the key text when discussing vampires, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was used to revive the Gothic genre. Count Dracula was the epitome of everything the Victorian Britain wasn’t. The vampire was used to take advantage of contemporary issues of the day, one such issue was the fear surrounding the foreign Other, the vampire myth itself added to this fear as Britain was unaware of the Eastern European legends until then. By doing so, xenophobia was interlinked with the fear of the unknown.  However, it is sexuality that sums up Broker’s vampires fully by depicting and interpreting human instinct that the sexually repressed British male ignored. Vampires were used as the physical portrayal of a sexual liberation thought to be highly dangerous at that time. However, the female vampire; Lucy is not viewed as threatening as Dracula. She remains passive in her hunt for blood by feeding on children without killing them, something that the 1960’s and 1970’s soon changed. The Hammer House of Horror Studios added to Stoker’s portrayal of the vampire by making female bloodsuckers an even bigger sexual threat than Dracula was. They were regularly presented as being busty female seductresses who would ultimately ensnare men with their bodies and looks. With a predominately male audience, it was a means to reinforce the heterosexual ideology of the time by sexualising women but also to suggest that sexually active women were dangerous.

During the 1980’s, a new form of vampire manifested itself through Anne Rice’s  Interview with a Vampire, heterosexuality was replaced with homosexuality, with male vampires feeding on men instead of the traditional female in distress. Additionally, discussing homosexuality in correlation with death ran parallel with the AIDs epidemic making vampirism the epitomising example of the HIV carrier in the 1980’s. Moreover, Rice writes Louis de Pointe du Lac as a sympathetic character rather than the monstrosities that were portrayed before it allowing readers to empathise with the man who had been ‘infected’ with this curse. In doing so, HIV carriers were perhaps viewed a little more sympathetically. On the other hand, they may have been viewed as something less than human. In the 1990’s Joss Whedon attempted to also change how a certain minority was viewed; women. Buffy the Vampire Slayer challenged gender norms with a female lead that fought off the bloodsucking undead while fighting every day high school issues at the same time. Not only did this mean that everything vampire was now not completely focussed towards a male audience but it also started to mean people began to discuss gender stereotypes rather than reinforcing them within the horror genre. Nonetheless, it can be argued that despite Buffy challenging gender norms unlike other vampire platforms did before, women were still viewed as threatening (something that Whedon challenged later on within Buffy with her boyfriend Riley who felt emasculated by her ability to protect herself).

In 2005 Stephanie Meyer brought to the world another form of the vampire, similar to Rice’s portrayal, the main vampire presented was one that audiences could feel sorry for. Edward Cullen was a pessimistic vampire who was troubled by the fact that he has fallen in love with a human but does not want to condemn her to a life of vampirism to be with her. This is the same form of vampire that Harris used in her True Blood series with Bill Compton. These vampires represent a form of forbidden love that ultimately is a form of sexual fantasy where although humans shouldn’t be with vampires, can’t help but do so. Although, the vampire still follows the theme of sexuality, this form seems to struggle with the sexual liberation of Stoker’s and removes vampires as being a sexual threat all together.  In fact, True Blood reverses the roles of man and monster by portraying vampires as those sought out by humans for sex instead. Additionally, it ironically twists which are the sexual threat when people are found killed by other humans for fornicating with vampires.

Most recently, the vampire has once more transformed itself, however unlike the others it seems to be paying homage to one of its original roots, Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Characters such as Adventure Time’s Marceline the Vampire Queen as well as the Canadian web series’ Carmilla (based on the Le Fanu’s original text) both present female vampires in a lesbian manner as Le Fanu did. However, both programmes have altered its reasoning to do so, unlike the 1871 Gothic novella, both contemporary series attempt to normalise lesbianism although the latter does so more explicitly than the former. This ultimately shows the changing societal opinions as lesbianism has come to be seen as an accepted sexual orientation whereas before it was seen as a monstrous act.

Perhaps most interestingly, vampires have also become used in order to define some people’s identity. With the option to be vampires in videogames such as The Sims series and Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, players can ultimately live the life of a bloodsucker.  Additionally it was only a little less than a decade ago that everyone had a Facebook app that allowed you to ‘convert’ your friends into your own vampire coven online. However, some have taken vampirism as an identity outside of the virtual world and into reality itself. Fan clubs as well as communities for “real vampires” have been set up for those that relate to the creatures of the night.

It is evident to believe then that, throughout history, vampires have been appropriated for multiple reasons other than its original purpose; to explain the unknown. It is perhaps due to vampires being uncanny in the full sense of the word; a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar that is experienced as being peculiar. Since people can ultimately relate to the vampire as something similarly human, they are perfect characters to imprint with; allowing subtle critiquing or reinforcement of societal norms of the time such as sexuality or gender. However, no matter when or where vampires are portrayed, one thing remains certain – through becoming part of not only Britain but the world’s cultural capital, the vampire myth, similar to the notorious monster itself, shall live on.

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Movie Review: ‘Pride

8/10

Pride is a British ‘dramedy’ written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus. It depicts the true story of a group of lesbian and gay activists from London calling themselves L.G.S.M (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) who helped raise money for the families affected by the miners’ strike in 1984 during the reign of Thatcher’s government. Due to the National Union of Mineworkers’ worry of being associated with homosexuality L.G.S.M decide to go straight to the source and offer their donations to a random mining village in Wales; the Dulais Valley. With no idea how the locals will react in such a small, isolated village, L.G.S.M are invited to its town hall which results in an unlikely alliance between two oppressed groups during Thatcher’s time in power.

In honesty, I was hesitant to watch the socio-political and historical feel good film due to the fact that a number of similar films share a depressing tone focussing heavily on the negative circumstances surrounding homosexuality such as the homophobic brutality that took place in the streets. However, I was glad and very relieved to discover that Pride concentrates largely on the positivity of how two minorities can work together to attempt to oppose the government’s regressive actions. Although, it did contain some emotional scenes which aided in presenting the spectrum of public opinion at the time, it did so without losing its uplifting vibe. Similar to many of its peers though, the film is based on a part of history that very few people are aware of to do with the mining strikes of 1984 (my parents are both Welsh and come from the same area and had no idea about L.G.S.M’s influence on the area). However, what makes Pride such a must-see film is that it does not simply stop at informing the public of a group of forgotten heroes but attempts to change the public perception that is held over a very dark decade of British history as well.

I must make clear that the film is not only for homosexuals (or the Welsh); it is a film that can be enjoyed by straight people as well. It delves deeper than merely a movie about homosexuality; it explores several themes such as acceptance, community and struggle. Obviously it is these three themes give the L.G.S.M and the small Welsh village its similarities which help them accept each other.

With a plethora of celebrity actors merging with a number of lesser known actors such as Bill Nighy and Andrew Scott, Pride is not entirely a roar with laughter film but the audience will find themselves beaming from ear to ear throughout with, as the name suggests, pride.

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Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

8/10

You would think that Marvel would be struggling to think up new ideas after the plethora of films they have released lately but you would be wrong. Their latest addition, Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, rids any thoughts that Marvel might be putting less effort into their film franchise relying on their already established audience who would avidly watch anything they distribute; like a heroin addict to their next fix (myself included). The movie consists of a good plot that integrates into Marvel’s overall cinematic universe as well as opens up opportunities to expand it through other superheroes involving aliens other than Thor whom have yet to be portrayed such as Miss Marvel and Nova.

A human thief, a green assassin,  an alien, revenge-driven murderer, a gun-toting racoon and a living, walking tree, joining forces in order to prevent a genocide determined leader from destroying an entire planet may sound a little farfetched at first but its beauty relies in making the unbelievable believable. In typical Marvel style, the movie concentrates quite heavily on how the main characters interrelate with one another which, in turn, gives these characters a sense of realism; each protagonist has their own reason for being with the others but that doesn’t mean they have to get along. It is the subtle change from selfish wants to working as a team which gives Guardians of the Galaxy as well as other Marvel films (e.g. Avengers Assemble) its out of this world experience.

Marvel’s summer blockbuster also breaks the mould from the rest of their franchise as it requires more from its special effects department, as not only do entire planets need to be created but also entire spaceship chase scenes and two of the main characters; Rocket the Racoon and Groot, the tree-like being. All of this makes Guardians of the Galaxy an action-packed, unique movie with a number of imaginative, spectacular and colourful views. Although some jokes are specifically suited for an adult audience they are not explicit so will give parents and teenagers something to laugh at while children remain oblivious allowing Gunn’s film to be enjoyed by people of every age.

The cast also makes this film a must-see movie with stars such as Glen Close and Karen Gillan both taking rather important roles in the movie. However, what makes the cast choice excellent is that each protagonist appears to have had the correct actor to play them. Chris Pratt’s personality fits well with Starlord’s talkative and cheeky nature whereas Bautista’s wrestling career suits perfectly for his part as the brutish Drax the Destroyer. Perhaps most talked about though is Bradley Cooper who voices Rocket the Racoon. Although only voiced, Cooper seems apt for the role; Rocket is portrayed as a frequently angry racoon with a sense of humour which matches well with Cooper’s charming yet wily trademark. Although not the best film for people to ogle over their celebrity crushes; with very few scenes of bare chested men (other than Bautista) but perhaps some (although not too overtly) sexual allure towards Saldana’s character Gamora through her skin tight clothing, the audience will be able to enjoy the film for what it is; an adventure about conflicting personalities that just so happens to take place on a number of other planets.

Through some great character development, humour, awkward dancing and a classic 80’s soundtrack; Gunn’s film Guardians of the Galaxy seems to have it all. The only question unanswered now is how will the Guardians of the Galaxy integrate into other Marvel films?

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Movie Review: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

8/10

Having not initially been interested in the newest reboot of Boulle’s novel Planet of the Apes due to the adamant belief I would not enjoy them, I was introduced under duress by my partner to Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes a few days before seeing Reeve’s sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and I am glad that I did see both.

With 10 years having passed since the Ape Rebellion, Caesar and his genetically enhanced ‘family’ are thriving, they have created their own community and secluded themselves within the redwoods of Muir Woods Park whereas human life is struggling to exist, slowly declining in numbers due to the Simian flu (a virus created from the same chemical that gave Caesar his increased intellect). With some survivors of the virus having based themselves in San Francisco, they are desperate for electricity and the only source is a hydroelectric dam in the forest within the ape colony’s territory. Only one family believe Caesar can be negotiated to allow them access to the dam rather than going to war, however, Caesar’s compassion and trust for humanity causes conflict between him and one of his own kind; Koba who suffered years of abuse by the hands of humans. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes presents Caesar’s struggles, as ruler of the apes, to prevent a war between the ape colony and the humans.

A great sense of detail is portrayed within the movie which makes the characters that much more believable; something that is difficult to accomplish when dealing with science fiction as a whole. Furthermore, the appearance of a dishevelled and forest-strewn San Francisco creates a dark yet spectacular apocalyptic feel to the film. Andy Serkis’ return as Ceasar is as strong and as powerful as before; it is easy to forget that Caesar is a chimpanzee as his movements and attitude create a form of juxtaposition between animal and man. Although some actors such as James Franco do not return in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes other famous names have been brought in such as Gary Oldman who plays Dreyfus the community’s authority figure; a similar character to his role as Commissioner Gordon in Nolan’s Batman Trilogy.

Unlike its preceding film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes explores themes of trust and loyalty as well as adding to the relationship between man and ape by complicating the difference between the two. Rather than suggest that humanity is entirely to blame for the inevitable war between the humans and the apes, the film begins to question whether war is purely a human concept as both sides have characters that want to go to war and those that are attempting to prevent it. With this in mind, Reeve’s sci-fi struggle for supremacy movie adds to Rise of the Planet of the Apes by including themes that were barely touched upon in its prequel as well as continuing themes such as family. It therefore should be seen as a continuation of ideas and themes in which the next in the franchise will hopefully deliver.

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Movie review: ‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’

9/10

The newest film in the X-Men franchise has arrived, linking the original trilogy and its prelude, X-Men: First Class, together in an attempt to combine some of the audience’s favourite characters. With stars such as Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman and Ellen Page reprising their super-powered roles, the film features a narrative where mutants are near extinct, in a future reminiscent of Nazi Germany, due to the actions of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

In order to change the future, the small number of mutants left attempt to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) newly-discovered and somewhat unexplained ability of merging one’s consciousness into a younger version of themselves in the past. In this sense, X-Men: Days Of Future Past vaguely follows the 1981 comic book of the same name, in which Kitty sends her own mind back in time to prevent an apocalyptic future. It is also refreshing to see an X-Men film which does not entirely focus on Wolverine but on the relationship between Professor X (James McAvoy/Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender/Ian McKellen).

Much to the excitement of comic book fans everywhere, the infamous sentinels are portrayed as the main threat to the X-Men in this film. Those who are unsure of these villains should be aware that they are robots created by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) to police mutants and detain them. However, they work too effectively and are eventually used to kill anyone who is a mutant and those who attempt to help them.

What makes these villains so significant however is how they allow both Xavier’s X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood Of Mutants to work together in order to determine their own survival, as presented wonderfully in the film through the breathtaking portrayal of the unstoppable sentinels in the future.

X-Men:Days Of Future Past takes a rather more gritty approach than the former films, with a number of onscreen deaths in the post-apocalyptic future. With that in mind, the action scenes are excellently rendered and, despite its tendency to switch between past and future quickly, the story is fairly easy to follow. The colours added in post-production differentiate the contrasting time periods; scenes set during the 1970s are vibrant and colourful, whereas the scenes set in the future are tinted darker, giving the impression that the future had no hope for mutantkind, and giving a nostalgic feeling to the past.

Days Of Future Past makes up for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s last X-Men appearance, The Last Stand, which was seen to ruin the franchise for a number of people. X-Men: Days Of Future Past uses time-travel as a means to whitewash over the events that had occurred in previous films.

It should be mentioned that if you are unaware of any of the previous X-Men films, this movie may not be the best to watch first; it relies heavily on knowledge of the preceding films. With that in mind, X-Men: Days Of Future Past neatly packages the entire franchise together to allow for the announced film X-Men: Apocalypse, as hinted by the appearance of the super mutant in the post-credit scene.

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Movie review: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

8/10

After the events of Avengers Assemble, Captain America (Chris Evans) has returned to the big screen with a new threat to fight. But this time, it appears to be much closer to home than alien invaders: the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D) appears to be under threat from an organization from Captain America’s past.

After Head of S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is violently attacked, and Captain America (AKA Steve Rogers) is brought in as the last person Nick saw. As a result the hero becomes a wanted fugitive for holding valuable information on the attack on Fury’s life, thereby asking the question: who can you trust when you are dealing with a secret organization?

The Winter Soldier does not simply follow the patriotic superhero, but also centres around Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and newly introduced superhero Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Similar to most Marvel films, the movie focuses heavily on how the characters associate with one another. This is seen through how Captain America must learn to trust Black Widow, who has her own questionable morality and ‘secret agent’ status to follow in order to discover who is behind the infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D.

So, where does the Winter Soldier come into play in this story? The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is an elusive Soviet Agent with a metal arm, who is thought by most to be a ghost story due to his ability to remain off the radar and keep his identity hidden altogether. However, this threat is very much alive and extremely dangerous, having already crossed paths with Black Widow and outmatching her once before. With his super strength, skilled fighting skills and expertise with any weapon, the Winter Soldier is just as powerful as Steve Rogers and has been ordered to kill both him and his allies.

It must be acknowledged that although parts contained oversimplified explanations in order to keep the most idle audience following the plot. Hayley Atwell’s portrayal of Captain America’s elderly love interest Agent Carter was excellent; without explicitly stating so, it was evident that she suffered from some form of short term memory loss, which was both moving and treated with respect.

Moreover, the film balances action, emotion and humour fairly well without ruining the overall espionage theme that is similar to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In this sense, Captain America: The Winter Soldier differs from the other Marvel films that have recently been released, as it attempts to take more of a realistic approach to the story.

Although this film may not fit into Marvel’s original paradigm, this movie is worth seeing if you are interested in unfolding ‘Phase 2’ of Marvel’s cinematic universe, since much happens that will be of importance in the future. Additionally, this film allows those unfamiliar with/uninterested in the superhero genre to find something of interest through its spy-thriller register.

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Movie review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′

6/10

The wise-cracking webhead returns in the next instalment of the latest adaptation of the Marvel comic classic, with Andrew Garfield continuing his role as the young, fun-loving superhero. This time round, director Marc Webb, seems to have taken a different approach to the web-slinger and has focused heavily on his alter-ego Peter Parker’s social life, most importantly his on again/off again relationship with Gwen Stacy (in spite of a promise he made to her late father to keep her safely distant from his vigilante deeds).

Unlike its prequel, which centred around Spider-Man’s origin story and Dr Curt Connors/The Lizard,The Amazing Spider-Man 2 focuses mostly on the origin of the super-charged Electro. Jamie Foxx’s electrifying performance as Electro (AKA Maxwell Dillon) brought to life a clever depiction of the super villain with an obsessive disposition that had yet to be seen in the Spider-Man canon.

Despite this, the film suffers from the same curse that struck Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 as it recklessly forces the Green Goblin, a complex criminal genius worthy of his own movie, in towards the final fight scene. In doing so, there was no time to give one of Spider-Man’s favourite antagonists the screen time they deserved. Additionally, Rhino is unworthy of being mentioned as one of the key villains, disappointingly used as a simple cameo despite the theatrical trailers portraying his appearance as one of the major fight scenes.

As if to rub additional salt into the wound, the film’s post-credit scene, as is expected from all Marvel films, seemed less to do with adding to an overall Marvel story in a clever teaser-like-manner. It had blatantly inserted a trailer for X-Men: Days Of Future Past instead. This left one feeling cheated having already watched a vast portion of the overall credits, after a series of disappointments, for a simple theatrical trailer that added very little excitement for the upcoming film.

For the fans, the movie seemed to fall short of expectation, leaving them wanting more, especially with the action one expected. However, for those who want to see a film that will entertain for a few hours and who don’t officially follow the Spider-Man canon, then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does its job. It must be said that although the film seemed unfulfilling, it was simply because the trailers promised more than it actually gave which became more evident as the film continued.

It is suggested that if you go to see the film, then you should forget what the trailer asserts and expect a decent, well-acted and entertaining film which attempts to move away from the typical superhero blockbuster film, replacing the emphasis of action for how being Spider-Man affects Peter Parker’s relationships with others, both socially and romantically.

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