A Tale of Two Vampire Movies

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12042008_twilight.jpgBy Matt Singer

I wouldn’t say I liked “Twilight,” but I think I get it. The action is clumsy, the acting is clunky, but the core mythos of Stephenie Meyer’s source material survives the transition to the big screen intact, and while it doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, I can see why it might to others (at least as a novel; the movie, I’m not so sure). The world that Meyer created — a teen soap opera against a backdrop of supernatural intrigue in which clans of vampires walk the earth, some protecting humanity, others methodically eating them — is a chick-lit twist on the classic formula of the “X-Men” comic books. “Twilight” was previewed for the press at a multiplex in Times Square to give critics a taste of what the authentic experience is like: the theater was packed with teenage girls. These young women, by and large, looked approximately like what I would have at that age with a gender swap: big glasses, frizzy hair, questionable fashion sense. Girl nerds, in other words — “gerds,” as we used to call them in high school — and this stuff is catnip for them.

This was true particularly in the case of teenage vampire boytoy Edward Cullen, whose name was on the Twilighters’ quivering lips long before a single frame of celluloid unspooled. The film is the story of his blossoming romance with a human girl named Bella (Kristen Stewart), who moves from Phoenix to the tiny town of Forks, Washington to live with her dad. Despite the fact that Bella is a sulky bore and a bad friend, she’s lusted over by all the boys in her new school. But she’s only interested in the mysterious Edward who, like the rest of his pale weirdo family, tends to call in sick when the weather turns aggressively sunny (a rarity in the Pacific Northwest). As played in the film by British actor Robert Pattinson, Edward’s sort of a bloodsucking version of James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” — brooding, moody, and unbearably handsome — and he walks a clever fine line of attractiveness: he’s a bad boy (what with the bloodsucking and all), but an unusually non-threatening one (Edward, like the rest of the Cullens, are “vampire vegetarians,” eating only animals to survive). In fact, “Twilight” is easily one of the least bloody vampire movies in history; it’s much more about the romantic mystique of the vampire figure than it is the day-to-day reality of the walking undead. Like I said, I think I get it. He’s a vampire James Dean — and I don’t think I’ve ever met a sensible woman who didn’t carry a torch for James Dean.

Stewart and Pattinson have good chemistry onscreen, though not so good that it justifies the titters that filled the theater whenever the pair silently smoldered at one another. The audience kept reacting to things that must have alluded to moments they savored in the novels but were invisible to “Twilight” neophytes. If, like me, you haven’t read one of Meyer’s novels, watching the film can be like a friend telling you a story that’s supposed to be hilarious and, when it proves not to be, ends with the line, “I guess you had to be there.” Sometimes the central pair look like they’re yearning for each other so hard they’re giving themselves stomach aches.

The movie’s ultimate message is one of restraint and self-control; characters are deemed heroic not necessarily for what they do, but rather for what they want to do and don’t, and Edward’s noble ability to control his thirst for human blood is clearly equated with his refusal to deflower the willing Bella (by taking either her virginity or her humanity; Bella’s so “irrevocably” in love with Edward she’s ready to give him either and both all at once). As much as the vampires’ pale skin is a narrative side effect of their fear of sunlight and strange dietary habits, in “Twilight,” it also comes to symbolize their moral purity.

12042008_lettherightonein.jpgThat’s in stark contrast to the recently released “Let the Right One In,” another movie about interspecies attraction between human and vampire teens, where the color white is used in visual opposition to the film’s teenosferatu and her nasty habits. Sweden’s snowy landscape dominates the frame, and many of the film’s images — including a country house, a life preserver, even a Rubik’s cube — balance oceans of white with splashes of red.

In “Let the Right One In,” lonely Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) has no outlet for the frustration caused by perpetual bullying at school and perpetual disinterest in his mother at home. He strikes up a friendship, mostly out of sheer desperation, with a shy girl who moves into his apartment complex named Eli (Lina Leandersson). While Oskar dreams about killing his tormenters, Eli, with the aid of a guardian who may or may not be her father, actually kills people to drink their blood. After Oskar discovers Eli’s secret, he confronts her about what she does, and she throws his own fantasies back in his face. “I don’t kill people!” Oskar says. “But,” Eli counters, “you’d like to if you could.” He doesn’t disagree.

Oscar and Eli’s budding co-dependent relationship is both troubling and touching, which makes it even more troubling. And, to my surprise, the effects in this tiny Swedish indie are far superior to those in “Twilight,” where Edward and his cohorts running at super-speed or gliding ethereally through the air often look like human actors approximating the clunky moments of puppet action in “Team America: World Police.” “Let the Right One In” features characters convincingly bursting into flames, and plenty of gore and dismemberment, all enhanced by director Tomas Alfredson’s sense of restraint, as when Eli’s assistant blocks our view of a victim as he slices his neck, leaving us only the sickening sound of the knife cutting through the flesh to give our imagination something to quease over. The effect is a love story as unsettling as “Twilight”‘s is comforting, and the climactic “justice” in both films has the same net result (i.e. the “bad guys” are defeated), though the implications of the two actions are vastly different.

There is no doubt that “Let the Right One In” is a better movie than “Twilight” — and certainly a scarier one — just as there’s no doubt that “Twilight is the better and easier sell. Everyone in “Twilight” is so pretty — the subway posters with the whole cast scowling lustily at the camera looks like the ad for a new series on The CW — and I think we’d all like to hope that if we were to fall in love with a vampire, it would be for all the right reasons. That is fantasy, and we all love fantasy. I get that too.

[Photos: “Twilight,” Summit Entertainment, 2008; “Let the Right One In,” Magnet Releasing, 2008]



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.