Standards for Vampires

Why the story makes no sense.
Dec. 23 1998 3:30 AM

Standards for Vampires

Even the undead ought to obey a few simple rules.

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3.Motility. Not to mince words: Can vampires fly? In the early days of the movies, before special effects, they had trouble getting off the ground. The bald, pointy-eared vampire in Nosferatu is barely ambulatory, in fact. He shuffles arthritically around his castle, and when he rises from his coffin he's as stiff as an ironing board. When Lugosi takes to the air it's in the form of a giant Asian fruit bat. (He also turns into a hyena and an armadillo, species that are similarly not native to Transylvania.)

In recent vampire movies the miracle of flight is well established. Cruise gathers Brad Pitt into one of many homoerotic embraces in Interview With the Vampire and soars with him high into the night sky. Gary Oldman turns himself into some sort of gigantic hominid-bat creature and flaps about in Dracula. The Vampire Master in John Carpenter's Vampires can fly down the road fast enough to catch a speeding car and can stick to the ceiling of a motel room. But at crucial moments in these movies the vampire always seems to forget he has these powers and ends up wrestling around on the floor of a dusty convent or abandoned factory with the earth-bound hero.

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Proposed Standard: vertical flight only, to a maximum of 20 feet above the ground. Sustained flight permissible if vampire takes the form of a bat, owl, or other authentic nocturnal species. Vampire is specifically prohibited from turning into a flying homonculus. Once flight capabilities are established and demonstrated in a motion picture, they must be used consistently and logically throughout, without regard to the convenience of the filmmakers.

4.Dentition. Are fangs fixed or retractable? Lugosi managed to evade this critical issue--one never sees his teeth at all. Nosferatu's vampire is so eccentrically snaggletoothed that his fangs seem a danger only to himself. In the original Dracula novel, the hero notices Count Dracula's "peculiarly sharp white teeth" that "protruded over the lips" almost at once. In his baroque homage to the book, Coppola apparently could not muster the will to portray the character with such a pronounced overbite, and so Dracula's fangs descend only periodically, amid so much gaping mouth movement that the count looks like he's coughing up a hairball. The vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in contrast, exist in a constant state of dental arousal. They're the exception, however. Almost every other vampire movie accepts the patently unnatural convention that a vampire's fangs are capable of receding into his gums. But since vampires are unnatural to begin with, maybe that's OK.

Proposed Standard: retractable fangs as default characteristic. Strongly recommend, when appropriate, on-screen discussion of physical requirements for said phenomenon--as when a character in Blade observes an "odd muscle structure around the canines."

This plea for a code of standards should not be considered anti-vampire. For the sake of vampires themselves we need a few simple regulations. With teeth, of course.

Stephen Harrigan's latest novel, Remember Ben Clayton, was published by Knopf in 2011 and recently issued in paperback by Vintage.