Of Phantoms and Vampires

I remember how wonderful I felt when I first saw snatches of Michael Crawford in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ There was a cursed sadness about him that was, well, haunting. The subterranean cave and the candles along with the coffin and the organ seemed to my seventeen year old mind a very pleasant Gothic and, like the heroine in Northanger Abbey,  I felt a trembling pleasure.

Some years later I watched the 2004 film. It wasn’t well received critically but I found it elegantly shot and as the music of the night played out the colours shimmered over the opera, over the brilliant plumed headdresses, the white veiled faces, the crowded balconies with the swirling dancers. It was all so alive as if the spirit of the past was still here. Being a Crawford admirer I was prejudiced about Gerard Butler but somehow it all worked. The phantom’s  deep tones of anguish and Christine’s voice, strong and sweet floated over the scenes. I felt I knew each emotion forever; the phantom’s wringing despair, the burning poignant love he bore for Christine and in the end, when the phantom was unmasked and made to appear ugly and menacing I saw in him a creature shy and absurd in his adoration.

With something of the same excitement I sat down to watch five gigantic blocks of further supernatural in ‘The Twilight Saga’. Here was an extended 331/3 RPM of dark creatures and their mysterious lives. Ugh! What a mess! Edward Cullen played a tall dark handsome vampire to Jacob Black’s tall dark handsome werewolf, both decorously fighting over the saintly Bella Swan. The torment was stretched over four sequels but it was difficult to get past one. Where I had hoped to discover the velvet richness of Goths and Vampires there were ultra-American voices of hero, antihero and the heroine, all ringing hard. The sequences were distressingly laboured and disappointing, everything was shining and orderly in their dull lives, the love scenes were stiff, the magic plebeian, the ghosts and werewolves looked like toys, the dark groves and forests looked suspiciously digital and there was a general air of small-town Netflix Original that was dampening.

Wherein lies the true trick of the ghostly and the mysterious? I suppose it is in the ordinary horrific. Hitchcock mastered it, in ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Psycho’- the Everyman caught in a critical moment.   Writers like Sheridan Le Fanu and M.R James were good at it, as was Roald Dahl. The makers of the Twilight Saga knew who their target audience was and created one big soppy melodrama out of something that could have been so riveting. Funnily enough, the song that accompanied the final instalment rings in my head now and then as an exceptionally beautiful song in a lamentable tale.

Such is life!

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