What You Pay For

VampireHunterWhen a friend pointed out the easily missed 2001 film, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, (well before Seth Grahame-Smith came up with the same role for Abraham Lincoln) I knew I was duty-bound to see it. As regular readers know, although I’m not a fan of gore or violence, I have a soft spot for vampire movies. Vampires, although often evil, are frequently presented as conflicted characters. As former humans they have some level of sympathy for their victims, while at the same time, all people are objectified for the vampire. We are food. This low-budget, independent film didn’t promise to deliver on many levels, but as the end credits show, they did shoot enough film to be able to cut out a few bloopers. The story, in as far as there is one, has Jesus fighting lesbian vampires in modern-day Ottawa (where the film was shot).

Not that the film was serious enough to invite critical dialogue, I did wonder what Jesus had to do with the whole thing apart from the shock value. There were a few cute moments, as when the “atheists” pile, clown-like, out of a car for an extended fight scene, but the lead could have been any character apart from one scene where a miracle does occur. Jesus fights with his fists, not with supernatural power. Tossing in Mary Magnum and “professional wrestler” El Santo, the movie came close to the screwball level of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It’s difficult to critique a film where logic isn’t held accountable for the plot—the only thing to keep the film going is the action of a particular scene. And that, as I’ve intimated, can’t be counted on.

Interestingly enough, Jesus is treated throughout the film in a positive way. Although he doesn’t use supernatural powers, he is the “good guy” and is even tolerant of alternative lifestyles as long as love is the basis of relationships. The movie is biblically literate, using the Good Samaritan in a scene that underscores the accepting nature of the new millennium Jesus. The vampires don’t add much to the lore of the monster. They can be out in daylight because it is cheaper to shoot film that way, but the plot does come up with an explanation for it. Vampirism, at the end, can be healed by prayer, and when Mary Magnum, El Santo, and Jesus go their separate ways at the end, we are left wondering what all the fuss was about.

Mournful Metaphor

Sometimes the concept is great but the results disappoint. Those who have followed this blog know that a unifying concept over the past half-year has been the often hidden relationship between religion and monsters. Certainly this fascination has its roots in my refusal to admit that I’ve grown up, but with the popular media pushing the undead into our collective consciousness on a daily basis I feel a happy vindication. I posted last week about Seth Grahame-Smith’s new book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Well, now that I’ve finished the book I would say that the jarring concept of our most honored president leading a secret life was fun to wrestle with, but the book failed to win me.

Lincoln’s great contribution to our nation is still echoing through a society slow to admit the equality of all. Perhaps that fact alone would render any book trying to throw some comic relief on a deadly serious issue mute before it even begins to spin its yarn. That, and I didn’t like the portrayal of the vampires. I’m no undead purist, and I’m aware that vampires have changed form and character over the centuries, but having masses of them in one place felt like being the proverbial cat-shepherd. Giving them political ambitions, with a nod to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was too much. The issue of slavery, clearly the metaphor being utilized by Grahame-Smith, is hard to smile about. Lincoln’s personal suffering is difficult to lighten with his career as a vampire hunter. The story just didn’t work.

I’ve had enough bumps in my own life to eschew easy categorization. Even my current career must be listed in the TBD category. Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was a serious attempt at a novel or a humorous exploration of a funny idea. I found the book catalogued in humor, but its narrative seems to have the earnestness of a determined novelist. When the story ended I felt as if I’d read a dime-store novel I’d purchased at Comedy Central. And with the headlines the way they are these days, I’d been hoping for a good laugh. Instead it seems that I have been bitten by a vampire wearing shades.

Two heroes, no smiles

Politicians and Blood-Suckers

The old icons and heroes are gone. It is best just to deal with it. No one is above reproach since we are all in this human morass together. Nevertheless, I’ve always held a soft spot in my cynical heart for Abraham Lincoln. I know he wasn’t perfect, but he stood for an issue that has been a driving force for my life: fairness. Now I see that he was a vampire hunter. After having read Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last year, I’ve decided to give a try to his Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. My fascination with monsters and religion has not been disappointed in this fanciful story.

Our quasi-fictional honest Abe begins his vampire-slaying ways when he learns that, yes, a vampire killed his mother. As a boy of only twelve, he finds the knowledge stressful to the point of burning the family Bible that he used to read to his departed mother. Why? In Abraham’s own (fictitious) words: “How could I worship a God who would permit [vampires] to exist? A God that had allowed my mother to fall prey to their evil?” I admit that I was secretly pleased to see the classic issue of theodicy being raised in a story concerned with the undead. It is the dilemma of all who want to see a good God behind all the suffering in the world. It is a dilemma that stems from the same deep wells as our inhuman monsters. We can imagine a better world, but we can’t have it.

Politicians with axes

As I see New Jersey’s governor Christie (for whom I decidedly did not vote!) slashing away again and again like Freddie Kruger at the state’s educational system, I see the twin peaks of vampirism and theodicy peering distantly over the horizon. I am deeply disturbed by the facile disregard this “visionary” Republican has for the future of his own state, for the future of our children. And I am forcefully reminded once again that vampires are symbolic of all those who prey upon the unwary. When staring into the fireplace on a cold night, I imagine myself standing beside Grahame-Smith’s fictional Abraham Lincoln, wondering what god it is that vampires worship.