NEAL CONAN, host:
If you are, or were a teenage girl you're probably familiar with the type there's a new boy giving you the eye and well, he's like totally cute, but kind of weird too.
(Soundbite of movie "Twilight")
Ms. KRISTEN STEWART: (as Bella Swan) You're impossibly fast and strong. Your skin is pale white and ice cold. Your eyes change color, and sometimes you speak like - like you're from a different time. You never eat or drink anything, you don't go out in the sunlight.
CONAN: Oh, my god. The new hottie is spoiler alert a vampire and the new film causing all the screams again mostly from the tiger beat crowd is "Twilight." Eric Nuzum, NPRs resident vampire expert, not to mention director of programming here, saw the movie over the weekend and joins us here to talk about it. Eric, nice to see you, and I gather you made it to the hormonal surge intact?
ERIC NUZUM: Yes I did. It was interesting, I saw the movie Saturday night in Wooster, Ohio was visiting my family. My 12 year old nephew Dylan and I went and full theater, three - 400 people. We counted there were 20 guys in the theater including the two of us.
CONAN: And the reaction to the film, ecstatic?
NUZUM: Well, it depends, you know, for the - if you were a teenage girl in that theater it was like "Bridge Over the River Kwai," it was just - it was an amazing - they were they laugh, they cry, they swoon, it was - there was breathless moments in it, but for the rest of us it was kind of slow.
CONAN: Now, if you're one of those who flocked at the theater to see "Twilight" or DVR'd "True Blood", or has heard of the new Swedish vamp film "Let the Right One In" Give us a call 800-989-8255. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website go to npr.org and click on Talk Of The Nation. And Eric, there are three ways to make a book into a movie, ruin it, follow it to the letter, or fix. Which approach this "Twilight" take?
NUZUM: "Twilight" follows it pretty closely which is what's interesting the - what really even though it's a vampire film it really is very little about vampires and very much about teen romance. So, one of your producer described it very well as two hours of smoldering which is I think is a very accurate way of describing it. But, you know, it's interesting when you look at "Twilight" or you look at "True Blood" the HBO series, you see something very similar happening in both of those.
Not only are they very contemporary stories, but in it the vampires are somehow redeemable like they - with just the right inspiration they can behave in a way that is against their nature, and they can kind of overcome and reclaim their humanity. And, it seems to be becoming a theme in vampire films over the last several years.
CONAN: You mentioned the film "True Blood" well this by Alan Ball Mr. "Six Feet Under", and "American Beauty" too, well this invents a whole new idea for vampires. Here's a clip from the series.
(Soundbite of movie "True Blood")
Ms. ANNA PAQUIN: (as Sookie Stackhouse) So, I guess you've killed a lot of people.
Mr. STEPHEN MOYER: (as Bill Compton) I killed a few by accident at first. I was never sure when I was going to get my next feed. But, it's all different now. It's true blood I can get donor blood from a clinic in Monroe, or I can glamour someone into letting me feed on them for love, and then they'll forget all about it.
CONAN: That "True Blood" of course sort of synthetic device so vampires are well no longer have the necessity to eat our blood and kill us.
NUZUM: Right. It is interesting that somehow they can behave in a more humane way by drinking the synthetic blood has been manufactured. You know, it's interesting when you look at, you know not just "Twilight", but even when you look at "True Blood" if you - you always kind of look for when you take the fangs away, what's the kind of predominant metaphor? In "True Blood" it's really is race I believe that if you talk about - if you substitute African American for the word vampire when people are making generalisms about vampires in that series, you hear a lot of reflections of attitudes from the time about race. You know, you can trust vampires. Vampires aren't someone who you should let your daughter go out with at night. These - all these different things - these kinds of prejudices against them
CONAN: Eric, you can't trust vampires, and you shouldn't let your daughter go out with a vampire at night.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NUZUM: Hey, but this is 2008. There are vampire rights. The vampires should be respected as members of society just like everyone else according to the series.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. We're talking with our local vampire expert here at NPR, Eric Nuzum. And, if you'd like to join us 800-989-8255, email us email@example.com. Ben is on the line, Ben calling us from Garfield in Michigan.
BEN (Caller): Hi there. Thanks for taking my call. My girlfriend is obsessed with "Twilight." And this is the first time I heard of it. We actually we waited for the midnight release of the fourth book. And, as of self - you know, a huge nerd in my own right I'm kind of shocked that this strain of vampire has been so popular. There isn't a lot of what we consider the traditional vampire things. You know, they - sunlight doesn't kill them, they don't have fangs. Other than the longevity and the surviving on blood it's kind of a new style of vampire.
CONAN: And, as we heard American accents. They don't tell you "I do not drink." Why?
NUZUM: Yes, it is very much of a - "Twilight" is very much a vampire for - that's kind of approachable and safe for a young woman. Instead of being destroyed by sunlight, he glimmers and shines in the sunlight. And in "Twilight" you never see a fang. There is nothing that wouldn't turn this otherwise a kind of cute little awkward, little pale faced boy into something - some evil monster which if you look at vampires historically that's what they are - they're predators. They're monsters. They attack, and they kill.
CONAN: Blood-sucking teens.
NUZUM: That's right.
CONAN: There you go. Ben, did you like the picture?
BEN: I don't know. As a movie, as a non - non-fan of "Twilight," the movie itself was kind of lacking, but from what I gathered from the entire audience, they were all big fans of the book and as such were big fans of the movie so...
CONAN: All right. Well, thanks very much for the review.
BEN: Thank you.
NUZUM: The interesting thing about "Twilight" is you really have to look at it not as a vampire film but as a teen film. There's a whole emotional vocabulary that's going on in that film that if you're not of that age you don't get it. It's kind of like Elvis. When - you know, when someone ask me what I thought at the movie I said Elvis kept coming into my mind, because, you know, when Elvis first became popular teenagers dug it. They totally understood what is it about, and to everyone else it was just noise and gyrations.
CONAN: Let's get Marcy on the line, Marcy with us from Laramie in Wyoming.
MARCY (Caller): Yes.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
MARCY: Hi. Well - I take issue with the teenager aspect. I'm just about to turn 40. I did read it because my 16-year old love the book, and I've read all of the books. My husband then read all of the books, and my 13-year old son. So, we've got kind of a mix of ages, went to the movie. And if you hadn't read the books, and you just went to the movie the movie was very much a teenybopper phenomenon in the audience because they were giggling, anticipating the jokes - could tell they'd read it. But as a grown woman, I wanted the romance. It's a good story, and you've got a monster, you know.
NUZUM: Yeah, and Marcy do you think it's going to be too long before at midnight showings people are going to be reciting the words?
MARCY: They were. My daughter went to the midnight showing, and my son was there as a - as a observer and yeah, they were reciting the words. It was kind of like "Rocky Horror Picture Show" but without the toe.
CONAN: OK. Marcy, thanks very much for the phone call - appreciate it. Have a Happy Thanksgiving you and your family.
MARCY: Same to you. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Bye-bye. That's that cult aspect. Well, how more cultish can you get that vampires I suppose?
NUZUM: Well, that's true. Though, many vampires though it's in both "Twilight" and "True Blood" the vampire characters are kind of renegade vampires in that they - they don't follow their instinct.
CONAN: Oh, they're like Buffy's Angel so to speak.
NUZUM: Yeah, yeah they don't follow their instincts. They're trying to overcome and rise above it and kit makes for, you know, a lot of the tension between and both the movie "Twilight" and in "True Blood" that the vampires in general look down upon the hero...
CONAN: So there are good vampires and bad vampires.
NUZUM: Oh, yeah.
CONAN: Well, you know, I guess kind of like - well they're just like...
NUZUM: There's good boarsh(ph) and there's not good boarsh(ph), you know, because If somebosy doesn't like boarsh(ph) it's all bad
CONAN: Let's talk to Cassidy. Cassidy is calling us from Oakland in California.
CASSIDY (Caller): Yes, I as one of the 20 people in America who saw "Let the Right One In." I had to call in because it almost antithetical to the other things you're talking about. The vampire in it wasn't beautiful, and it was about the way children love and the way they're trying and be adults in dysfunctional situations. It's a really profound movie. The vampire was just this awful monstrosity.
CONAN: And Cassidy, forgive me, I have not seen the picture. I have read the reviews but the reviews of this film are just terrific.
CASSIDY: Oh, yeah. It's absolutely brilliant. It's amazingly well-acted, it's amazingly well-directed. The one thing that's really odd about is I think in this country it's going to have trouble finding its audience, because it's very slow. And, I think the general audience for the vampire movie is looking for something much more like underworld and much less like "Let the Right One In."
CONAN: Well Cassidy, are you going to go see well "Twilight" or the - have you seen the HBO series "True Blood"?
CASSIDY: I'm just thinking about watching "True Blood" when it comes out on DVD. I don't have cable or any of that sort of nonsense, but I like some of the creators who are attached to the project. And so, I'm probably going to check that one out. But "Twilight" - I'm just not a 16-year-old girl, you know what I mean?
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Interesting, we got this email from Elaine in Sacramento. More than 40 years ago, when I was a teenage girl, my favorite TV show was "Dark Shadows." My friends and I were all obsessed with Barnabas the Vampire. I'm still waiting for the revival of "Dark Shadows" as a mini-series perhaps your show will inspire someone to take on this project and...
NUZUM: Supposedly, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are thinking about doing just that.
CONAN: And, I was also going to say so this teenybopper aspect of a vampire fascination not exactly new, Eric.
NUZUM: No, no. It's very cyclical. It's - we create vampires that fit our times. And. if you look at what Bela Lugosi kind of embodied back in 1931, it was - what that version of a vampire is. You look at the Christopher Lee vampire, in the "Hammer" films in the 1960s - he was a very, very menacing cold war era vampire. It's just we just kind of morph it so it kind of fills the role we need.
CONAN: Some of the rare ones though, he was killed by running water. That's so obscure.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NUZUM: Yes, there was one - late Bela Lugosi flick where he played a vampire that was shot - could walk on daylight,and was shot and killed just like a normal human being.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Cassidy.
CASSIDY: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking with Eric Nuzum, NPR pop culture critic and director of programming here, the author of "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula." He's with us here in Studio 3A. I'm Neal Conan, this is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And, if you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's go to Joe - ah, excuse me, Lee. Lee with us from Golden Colorado.
LEE (Caller): Hi there. I just had to say I'm a 42-year-old mom to two little kids. I normally never even read this kind of fiction. I read - kind of read pretty serious stuff, and I got hooked on these stupid books. And, I read all four of them in a matter of a couple of days each. I even got some of my other fellow moms hooked on them, you know. These are women in their '30s and '40s. This is not the kind of stuff we normally read. We all got together the other night and went to see the movie. And, I think - I was telling the screener. She was asking me what was it that it hooked you? And, I think maybe somehow we secretly envy Bella a little bit, the main female character.
LEE: Well, because she's kind of this ordinary kind of plain, kind of clumsy - at least in the book that's how she's made out to be. And he's this gorgeous guy. He's been around for a hundred years. He could choose any woman he wants. He could make her his mate forever. And, he chooses her. And, you know teenage love is pretty exciting anyway even if you're dating like the quarterback of the football team. But, here's this guy who's a vampire, and who can live forever. So, maybe there's some kind of little secret envy going there too that we all sort of maybe wish in some way we could be Bella.
NUZUM: Yeah. What...
LEE: Have that chance at life, you know, forever love.
NUZUM: I think you know a lot of people - and our comments have been focusing on that - well, I'm not a teenager but I...
NUZUM: You know a lot of people were teenagers and can remember and recall what it was like to kind of have that intense burning. It does not need to - desire - it doesn't need to be that you're teenager now or - the vampire thing is almost completely unimportant in the "Twilight." And, I'm sure almost any young person can relate being attracted to the wrong person, the wrong guy, or the bad person. Or, thinking that you can somehow make the bad person into a better person, which is - goes completely in with this idea that vampires will suddenly not drink blood because of love.
CONAN: Yeah. Thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: And have a happy Thanksgiving, Lee.
LEE: Thanks, you, too. I love the show.
CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's see if we can get - this is William, William with us from Gainesville in Florida.
WILLIAM (Caller): Yes. Hi. Thank you for having me on. I - your guest a little bit ago had commented on racial sort of language inside of "True Blood" and...
CONAN: Because of the civil rights for vampires-kind-of idea.
WILLIAM: Right. But I wanted to sort of extend that idea to not only like racial discourse but also to the idea of just the other in general. It seems that there's a lot of preying on like homosexual phobia, specifically like an episode with Jason Stackhouse like around three or four. And, he's consumption of V in the way it had this hyper-erotic...
CONAN: V being the actual vampire blood...
WILLIAM: Vampire blood...
CONAN: Not the true blood that's the vampire's - has an aphrodisiac effect, yeah.
WILLIAM: Right. And, I mean not only that but there's - and the show like preys specifically on these minor culture anxieties like hyper-arousal from things, you know, like...
CONAN: Well, it had been associated with race in the past, too, but I think you have a point there.
WILLIAM: Yes. Well, absolutely. I mean - and the idea of - I mean I do absolutely see the race, but I'd like to move that from like race to other and see if you'd thought that it expanded even maybe beyond homosexuality, or if you thought it was just racial discourse because...
CONAN: Eric, what do you think?
NUZUM: Well, you know the interesting thing was - is when the first episode of "True Blood" came out - which I think was actually kind of awful, and they got better as they went along. My wife and I got into discussion, was this really about homosexuality or was it about race? Because, even in the opening credits there's a drive by of a little road sign that says, "God hates fangs." And those - there's also...
CONAN: Drop one letter and...
NUZUM: Yeah, exactly. And - so I think I lost that and have settled on race as being the predominant theme. But, you know, going back all the way to "Dracula" people have often speculated what Bram Stoker's motivation was in creating that "Dracula" - the evil count Dracula. And, the truth is is that he probably - it had no intention and didn't really state it and definitely didn't let us know what it was. But, it's what we bring to the story that's most important, and that's why I think vampires work so well for people is because you can take just about anything you want to see inside of it - any dark desire or anything you fear or would culturally be a taboo, and you can kind of just sandwich it right in there.
C ONAN: William, thanks for the call.
WILLIAM: Well, thank you very much.
CONAN: So long. Here's an email, this from Lucy. It's disappointing that current vampire trend, especially the focus of "Twilight," has moved back to the weak and helpless female in the thrall of the vampire and away from the empowered complexity of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." I thought we'd come further, apparently not. And, this from Ellen in Hamilton, New York: It wasn't "The Hunger" with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon and David Bowie precedent of a modern fang-less vampires will concede the point. Thanks very much for the emails and thanks very much for your calls. Have a happy Thanksgiving everybody. Eric, you, too.
NUZUM: Oh, thank you.
CONAN: Eric Nuzum is NPR's director of programming - well, that's what he does in his spare time. The rest of the time he writes about vampires, his book is "The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula." He joined us here today in Studio 3A. Tomorrow we'll go state by state, tell us what makes your home state special, a hundred words or less, please. You could send us an email now, email@example.com - maybe it's your great vampires. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.