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We've got a monster crush

A romantic twilight has cast its spell of late, turning vampires, werewolves and their ilk into heartthrobs -- just in time for Halloween.

October 25, 2009|Adam Tschorn

Somewhere on the way to today's multiplex, the traditional horror-movie vampire received an extreme makeover. Max Schreck's Count Orlok of 1922's "Nosferatu" -- bald, hunched, with claw-like hands, bug eyes and shark-like teeth -- morphed into the hollow-cheeked, Abercrombie & Fitch model looks of "Twilight's" Robert Pattinson, all James Dean glowering and choreographed hair.

Beautiful vampires populate the small screen as well. HBO's "True Blood," (based on Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series) has easy-on-the-eyes Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgard and other members of the undead mixing it up in backwater Louisiana, and in the CW's new "Vampire Diaries," comely undead teens walk the halls of Mystic Falls High.

You can hardly hurl a garlic clove at bestseller lists without hitting a cool-blooded hottie like the ones who inhabit the Harris books or P.C. and Kristin Cast's "House of Night" series. And let's face it, when a phenomenon is so ensconced in the zeitgeist that GQ and Esquire feel compelled to visit and at least attempt to explain away the manifestation of metrosexual monsters stealing the hearts and emptying the veins of our womenfolk, you can bet that every book agent and vice president of development is looking for the next paranormal paramour.

Early bets favored the werewolf. Last December, Entertainment Weekly all but declared 2009 the year of the lycanthrope, citing as evidence the werewolf-heavy "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (opening Nov. 20) and Universal's long-in-the-works remake of "The Wolf Man" with Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro in (now slated to open in February 2010).

Lynda Hilburn, a licensed psychotherapist and the author of two vampire-themed novels ("The Vampire Shrink" and "Dark Harvest"), assesses the appeal of the wolf pack:

"Werewolves are very primal and earthy; they're not as withdrawn as vampires. It's like a love interest that turns into a very scary, dangerous, out-of-control pet once a month. If you're an animal lover, you'll like all kinds of were-creatures. And there's all kinds of werewolf books out right now."

Recent titles include Bob Curran's "Werewolves: A Field Guide to Shapeshifters, Lycanthropes, and Man-Beasts" and "The Werewolf's Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten" by Ritch Duncan and Bob Powers (both published last month). Del Rey Books is set to publish the monster-lit mash-up "Little Women and Werewolves," (based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 book and updated by Porter Grand) in June.

Of course, Hilburn has a soft spot for vampires, as well. Women, she says, "have invested a tremendous amount of emotion projecting on these vampire characters. These are the quintessential bad boys, and women always have fantasies about the guy standing in the corner by himself. We want to rescue him and save him."

Women prefer to view their vampires as sort of superior beings, Hilburn says. "I like to think they've used all those centuries to expand their brains." Men, on the other hand, "seem to love zombies because [the zombies] are emotionless. Women I talk to say: 'I don't get the appeal of zombies.' And, 'I'm not going to get up close to a zombie, because you never know what will fall off.' "

Zombies? True, the Woody Harrelson shoot-em-up flick "Zombieland" reversed a trend of softer horror openings, topping the box office with $25 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada when it opened the first weekend of October -- and has nearly doubled its take since then. And Max Brooks' "The Zombie Survival Guide," which offers pointers on surviving a zombie uprising including "blades don't need reloading" and "Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair," has now sold more than 1 million copies.

Nonetheless, as Hilburn points out, the brain-eating bunch can't hold a crucifix to a vampire when it comes to sweeping a lady off her feet.

That makes the literary mash-up of zombies and Jane Austen (credited along with Seth Grahame-Smith) titled "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" a particularly notable phenomenon. The book (in development as a movie) shambled onto the bestseller list after its April publication and has remained there for the last 27 weeks, and zombies seem to have infiltrated a number of literary genres. This month they invaded the "Star Wars" universe with the publication of the horror novel "Star Wars: Death Troopers" (Del Rey/LucasBooks), and by August, they'll be tackling Twain when Tor and Forge Books publishes Don Borchert's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead."

It turns out the zombie zeitgeist closing out the aughts and the romantic notions of the "sparklepires" (slang referring to the "Twilight"-style vampires that, instead of bursting into flames in sunlight, merely sparkle) come from the very same place.

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