- The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema by Jeffrey Weinstock
The inclusion of Jeffrey Weinstock’s monograph The Vampire Film in the Wallflower Short Cut series – a strand designed to offer introductions to key concepts and themes within film studies – is a testament to the growing significance of this particular branch of genre and horror studies. When I first [End Page 146] began teaching the vampire in film and television about ten years ago, I was unaware of any similar classes and the majority of film books on the genre were either broad fan surveys or discussions of the vampire in literature and film, with little consideration for the specificity of cinema. Now the vampire film has become a staple element of many cinema, horror and gothic studies programmes. This growth is partly a result of the increasing popularity of the vampire within mainstream and cult media, but also because of the growing body of scholarship examining the vampire film in its own right. Weinstock’s The Vampire Film makes an excellent contribution to this scholarship, offering a broad introduction to existing research alongside his own fresh take on the genre.
Books in the Short Cuts series are by their very nature short and it would be unfair to criticise Weinstock’s entry in the series for its brevity. In fact, despite its compactness, The Vampire Film offers a comprehensive discussion of the vampire film from the silent era through to the contemporary blockbuster – from George Méliès’s Manoir du Diable (France 1896) to Låt den rätte komma (Let the Right One In; Alfredson Sweden 2008). The book begins with a clear and provocative introduction outlining key principles that underpin the genre and going some way to explaining its popularity and longevity. Here, Weinstock identifies elements which, he argues, both attract audiences and make the films worthy of study, establishing an interesting range of critical discourses through which to consider the vampire in film, from its standing as a product of particular historical moments to its inherent metatextuality – always in dialogue with other films in the genre. Weinstock points out that fans of the vampire film are always ‘vampire textual nomads’ watching not just one single vampire film, but rather ‘many vampire movies simultaneously, comparing the new representation with the old’ (18). In particular, he identifies three topics that are so significant to our understanding of the vampire that they form the three-chapter structure of the book: ‘Vampire Sex’, ‘Vampire Technology’ and ‘Vampire Otherness’. Weinstock uses these topics as broad umbrella concepts through which he considers issues of gender, sexuality, science and technology, race, ethnicity and the vampiric nature of cinema itself. These are all key concepts that should appear on most vampire film syllabi, making this book ideally suited for teaching purposes.
One of the strengths of Weinstock’s work is that he offers a careful balance between discussing canonical vampire films – both classic and contemporary – that one would expect in such a publication and a more unusual selection of films that offer a new perspective on a familiar topic. For instance he considers Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauen (Murnau Germany 1922) alongside Carl [End Page 147] Dreyer’s Vampyr (Germany 1932), a film that is often discussed as a classic of European art cinema but not often as a vampire film, and Ganja & Hess (Gunn US 1973), a lesser-known blaxploitation film, along with cult favourite Blacula (Crain US 1972) and mainstream blockbuster Blade (Norrington US 1998). Consequently, readers come away with insight into the core texts but benefit from new thinking about the genre through consideration of a different canon of films.
The same goes for Weinstock’s approach to the main topics within his book, in which he combines the familiar and unfamiliar to open up his analysis in new directions. For instance, in his discussion of the vampire and sex he offers a case study of the lesbian vampire film, a subgenre that he explains is the most persistent representation of lesbian sexuality after pornography. This is...