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'Vampires are about sex, they push buttons'


James V Hart is a noted American screenwriter, producer and author. Hart shot to the Hollywood A-list of screenwriting in the 1990s with screenplays for Francis Ford Coppola's 'Dracula' (1992), Steven Spielberg's 'Hook' (1991), 'Contact' (1997) and his work on 'Frankenstein' (1994). In New Delhi recently, Hart sat down with TOI-Crest to discuss the current vampire craze. Some excerpts:

Why does the horror genre hold such fantastic appeal?

It was the 1950s and the early '60s that brought horror and the fantastic into the mainstream in a major way in America. That was an explosion of the horror film genre that I don't think has ever waned since. If anything, the horror film has continued to probably be the most stable genre the movies have seen, at least in our culture;and the genre has in fact only continued to prove its longevity over time, and also spread, in terms of cinema. There have been great Japanese horror films, some superb Korean ones. Then there's a very different conception of the supernatural and horror in India, from what I'm seeing, so yeah, the horror genre in the movies is pretty much international and doing new things but keeping many others in common. Because it's best to extend a genre, not reinvent it. That's why it has longevity, because you need to know what people expect. And that's really because we all have the same primal fears. One of the things that comes out of horror writing sessions I hold, is that it's not dying that many people are afraid of, rather it's how you die that's scarier. So it's the aspect of the primal that helps the genre perpetuate itself, not the flash. In fact all the special effects and technology that are now used so well still can't substitute a good story and a good scare.

Which may come from being afraid of what we don't know much about? Or better yet, from
what's not shown on screen?

Yeah, anticipation is a major element of horror, especially good horror. We all worry about what's in the dark, don't we? Besides, the horror genre is only going to get bigger when we consider reality. The more traumatised the world is, the more horrible things that are seen out there in reality, the more we're going to look to fiction to thrill us more. I mean that's also where the vampire metaphor offers something special to us, a pretty interesting contract in fact - the guarantee of immortality, right here and now. You don't have to die to find out if you're going to come back reincarnated, or go to heaven or hell, whatever it may be based on your beliefs;with vampires you just have to turn down your collar, offer up your carotid artery and there you have it, this ultimate gift. And it doesn't require faith, doesn't require you to believe in something you can't see. It's pretty seductive.

But haven't vampires always been about sex? Even if as a violent metaphor for it, either placed front and centre or implied, like with the current 'Twilight' phenomenon?

Yeah, Twilight has a lot to do with chastity. With vampires and this craze, their resurgence started with Anne Rice and then Francis Ford Coppola did Dracula in 1992 that made a huge impact too. Well, if you remember, in that film what he did was make it into a fever dream and play into the erotic, and the psychological attraction vampires have, based on what Bram Stoker wrote in the 1890s. There is no substitute, vampires are about sex. It's primal again. Being able to time yourself to someone else's heartbeat, to imagine the feeling of that blood on your palette, the rush, the adrenaline, it's very sexual, it's what makes them what they are in popular culture. I mean no one wants to grow up and be a zombie, you run from zombies but are pulled to vampires. They're the new evil because they're beautiful not because they are horrible, like other movie monsters. Vampires are almost always shown as charismatic and cool. That pushes the buttons for most people. It's a sort of everlasting pull.

Seductive even in the early depictions? 'Nosferatu', the iconic Bela Lugosi take, the Hammer films?

Yeah, I guess Bela was sexy, but I never figured that out. But more than Bela, it's the character really - a cool guy in a tuxedo, who led a nation, fought various forces, including the Turks, a charismatic hero who's spurned Christianity, all that's from Stoker. And this was important when we looked to redo Dracula for the '90s. We went back to the book. People hadn't done that for a long time, because of Bela I guess. I mean the Hammer films with (Christopher) Lee and (Peter) Cushing were great but, well, they weren't David Lean movies, were they? So the goal of what Francis (Coppola) did in 1992 was to show Dracula in a way that he'd never been portrayed - with more depth and a lot more eroticism. 'Dying' in a sexually charged passionate clutch of ecstasy is a great way to go;it's better than being ripped apart by a monster or werewolf or a zombie. So there's much to be said of the vampire craze. Sure immortality has its downsides too, you better be well off, for instance, but it all comes out pretty good in the allure department.

So if you look at HBO's True Blood, I think they've taken vampires into an almost pornographic blood porn kind of thing in a way. And hey, I'm from Louisiana, and as my relatives keep asking, why waste immortality on trailer trash? But they've done a great job of taking the books and turning them into this big show with a huge following and a clear adult target audience. Sure, they're showing you everything but characters are important. On television you can invest that much more time in characters;that helps. So now you have vampire stories for adults and there's Twilight for teens, and a whole lot in between. It's certainly very big in the mainstream now. And besides, everyone in entertainment now is looking for more sex-driven thrillers, because of Fifty Shades of Grey. So I guess we're going to see a lot more there.

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