Stacey Abbott's Celluloid Vampires: Life after Death in the Modern World
The author immediately discusses the centrality of the gothic fiction to the vampire figure and then proceeds to explore its presence within cinema. Abbott then defines what she means by modernity (referring to Baudelaire, Simmel and Berman) and then draws on the common perceptions of the vampire icon and its every changing role in popular culture. She then states that it is her intention within her book to highlight the how the "celluloid vampire" has consistently embodied modernity. The first chapter discusses the essential function of modernity in Bram Stoker's Dracula and how the vampire embodied modernity. The second chapter focuses more specifically on Max Schreck's vampire in Nosferatu (1922) and how the vampire begins to embody the technological developments of the early twentieth Century and the cinematic medium itself. The movement and fluidity of the vampire was in many ways attributed to the manipulation and the mastery of the medium within this film. Chapter three discusses Hammer Horror and how the vampire of the 60s era were tremendously nostalgic for the gothic and how the vampires were commonly situated in the modern world but were nonetheless vehemently gothic in nature. The fourth chapter of the book marks the commencement of the second part of the book entitled: The Birth of the Modern American Vampire and deals with the iconic monster in the American context of the 1970s and 1980s.
The Birth of the Modern American Vampire:
"The vampire became directly engaged with the reinvention of modernity. Filmmakers accomplished this by embroiling the vampire in the transition from industrialism to post industrialism, a shift that had a profound effect upon the definition and iconography of American modernity." (75)
The transition is proven by the author firstly by defining and explaining the shift from industrialism to post industrialism and then emphasizing the impact that this had on Hollywood. The horror genre was in a state of transition and critics such as Wood and Auerbach stated that monsters became "shadows" of crisis. The shift of course was profoundly articulated by the vampire figure in films of this era such as The Night Stalker (1979), Blackula (1972) and Deathdream (1974). Each of these films articulated a transition from past and present and a move to the urban landscape.
Chapter Five: George Romero's Martin: An American Vampire.
"America is not Vampireized, but rather the vampire is Americanized." (89)
This chapter specifically focuses on George Romero's Martin (1976) and how the film was revolutionary in its approach to the vampire. The author draws a great deal from the works of Robin Wood and discusses how the film is a reaction to the many crisis that were occurring in urban American. This in depth reflection on the film explores many insightful points about this classic such as the gritty aesthetic, the importance of the urban American setting, voyeurism within the film and an overlap of the past and the present. Martin is fascinating in how it represents the renewal of American modernity.
Chapter Six: Walking Corpses and Independent Filmmaking Techniques.
The connection between the walking dead and the vampire is expanded on throughout this chapter and the impact of The Night of the Living Dead (1968) is similarly emphasized and explained. The brutal violence portrayed in Night would change the clean cut and sexual nature of vampire feeding and would spawn a more graphic and brutal vampire.
Chapter Seven: Special Makeup Effects and Exploding Vampires.
"The vampire body became the site upon which our concerns and anxieties about the body in the 1980s were projected. They become physical, despiritualized, out of control, and when they die, they explode in an excess of all that we expel" (124).
Within this chapter films such as The Exorcist (1973) and An American Werewolf in London (1980) are used to demonstrate how horror cinema changed, becoming more obsessed with the body, violence and gore. The prominence of metamorphosis, violation of the body and physical helplessness are the primary ways in which the genres obsessed over the body. Films such as Fight Night (1985) and Lost Boys (1985) are emphasized as films that demonstrate this fact and portrayed the vampire in a new light. This chapter concludes this section of the book and concludes the authors reflection on how the vampire in the 1970s was a symbol of the move from industrial America to post-industrial America, championing the reinvention of the horror genre.
Part Three: Reconfiguring the Urban Vampire.
Chapter Eight: New York and the Vampire Flâneuse.
Films in the 1980s in contrast to the 1970s stand out as more independent and fragmented. The films that are reflected on all take place in very different settings and all articulate the vampire tradition in very different ways. The one thing that these films do have in common though is that the vampire is portrayed as an "urban creature". These vampires largely represent their respective cities and it is for this reason that Abbott elaborates on New York focusing on Nadja (1994), The Addiction (1995) and Habit (1995). The author borrows from Mikhail Bakhtin and focuses on the centrality of the city in each of these films and how each demonstrates how the city is carnivalesque in nature. This fact makes the female vampires Flâneuse because they embrace the carnival city and reject the past.
Chapter Nine: Vampire Road Movies: From Modernity to Postmodernity.
In the 1980s the film industry seemed to turn to the hybrid genre to reinvent the vampire film. The author argues within this chapter that the clash between the conventions of the vampire icon and the iconography of the road movie/western genre (the car, the frontier and the road) signal the move from modern to post modern. The author reflects on films such as From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Near Dark (1987) and John Carpenter's Vampires (1998) throughout the chapter and states that these films are not simply hybrid genre flicks but rather signal the move from modern to a postmodern world. The author goes to great length discussing key conventions of the western in correlation to these vampire films.
Chapter Ten: Los Angeles: Fangs, Gangs, and Vampireland.
The author argues within this chapter that Los Angeles is an innately postmodern city and that unlike New York this city is marked by disunity, fragmentation and alienation. Drawing from urban theorists the author states that the city is born on lies, fragmentation and falsity and continues by reflecting on Baudrillard and Jameson's definition of postmodernism and simulation. Within this chapter Fright Night, The Lost Boys and Blade (1998) are used to demonstrate, "the fragmentation of the urban space by emphasizing the superficiality of the space, its association with artificiality and stratification of the theme park, and the fragmentation of identity as a result of the city's decentralized structure" (194). The author discusses how these films challenge the conventions of the genre, while remaining prodigiously self-reflexive.
Part Four: Redefining Boundaries.
In the final part of the book the author reflects on how the vampire has been redefined through technological innovations. The vampires and those that hunt them are said to be cyborgs in that technology and scientific reasoning is central to the narrative. The vampires within these films come to embody this technology not only within the narrative but also aesthetically. The technological advances in computer generated images have allowed the vampire defy the limitations of the body to truly become a cyborg. The final chapter reflects on the vampire as an international figure that has been unleashed on a world without borders.