Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fangs for the Memories

It’s ironic that vampires are so big in the culture now as Ireland is being sucked dry by her people's own excesses. Count Dracula stares balefully down from posters on lamp-posts in Dublin as part of the municipality’s One City, One Book promotion (reading more than one buke per calendar year would cause anybody’s head to explode of course – best not to take the chance), while the critics rave about Let the Right One In, the remarkable Swedish vampire movie that’s currently on general release.

Let the Right One In is not like other vampire movies that you’ve seen. It’s about a little boy called Oskar, living in a soulless suburb of Stockholm and getting bullied at school, who becomes friends with a strange little girl next door called Eli. Eli walks barefoot through the snow, can’t eat sweets, and knows exactly how Oskar should respond to the bullies. No Swedish pacifism for her.

The children playing Oskar and Eli look the part, but the real horror in the movie is the utterly hideous suburb in which Oskar and Eli live. They live in a block of flats that are like Finglas in the 1970s without the anti-social activity. There is no social activity at all – just a tremendous, soul-destroying ennui that leeches the life out of you just as much as little Eli drains your blood when she’s feeling peckish.

As horror films go the movie is quite tame, really, except for the occasional gory bit, and the lasting terror is of that awful housing complex. Horror films shouldn’t be quite so – dull, I’m afraid. But it is so terribly Swedish - close-ups are the vogue in Swedish cinema always, and the claustrophobic effect of this in Let the Right One In is that when we see Eli, that unearthly child, scurrying up the side of a building, our only reaction is to say “you go, girl! Anywhere but here!”

How far from our elegant host at Castle Dracula, who so enjoys the children of the night and the music they made. Dracula is a strange choice indeed for promotion – Stoker’s connection with Dublin is tenuous at best, and the book really isn’t that good. It really isn't.

It would be interesting to discover why the Corpo chose Dracula above any others. An Spailpín is willing to bet that while many of them will have seen the movie, very few will have read the book. A promotion that claps itself on the back over one book a year would suggest that the promoters are a little off the pace when it comes to reading. A current promotion in Eason’s, where the book will be signed by The Count himself this Saturday lunchtime - how selfless of him to put his notorious aversion to sunlight aside so they can shut up the shop at half-five as usual - would indicate the audience that Dublin City are going for, and the literary set they ain’t. How very depressing.

Better, then, to ignore it completely and sate your thirsts with Joan Acocella’s marvellous appreciation of the book Dracula, warts and all, in the New Yorker some weeks ago. They have super writers in the New Yorker, and Ms Acocella is one of the very best. Bon appetit.

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