Standardization... of Vampire Movies?

Rohit Khare (
Tue, 5 Jan 1999 05:39:02 -0800

In studying the theory of standardization, it pays to look at some
off the wall scenarios.

In recent weeks, I came across an announcement of a unified
international building and fire code [1] and accounting standards[2].
The enclosed article is a standard of a different sort altogether[3].

[1] was a notice in the December issue of archit (as in architecture)
magazine. After almost a decade of wrangling, several national
architects' associations are proposing a harmonised model building
code -- structural integrity, water sealing, etc. The International
Association of Fire Chiefs and another group sponsored by the
fire-protection equipment industry had a falling-out, though, and the
millennial fire code is nonstarter. The really revolutionary concept
though, is that rather than just enumerating building regulations,
the model includes a parallel performance code. So in this version,
any wall is acceptable that accept X shear load and withstand fire
for y hours and z years exposure to sunlight and so on --
rationalizing the now-haphazard exception process.

[2] was in today's New York Times Money & Business Outlook 1999 as a
likely development for the millennium as well. US GAAP (Generally
Accepted Accounting Principles) rules themselves are always evolving
--witness the multiyear option-compensation-valuation struggle
between old-line and high-tech companies within the Financial
Accounting Standards Board (FASB). The real challenge to
harmonization is the SEC's 10-K, 10-Q, and other reporting
regulations -- strict enough to keep multinationals from listing in
the States (Daimler was a noted exception in the mid-90s, which made
its eventual aquisition of Chrysler easier). London's bourse is now
accepting listings which use their own national standards -- making
it a more attractive base. So here's a case where harmonisation is
driven by a need to keep the process transparent and cheaper to
administer -- or else there's an exit option to other regiemes. The
driving force here is emerging markets -- there's just too much
variation outside the G-7 to get a handle on it.

[3] appeared in Slate Dec 18th. It's a plea to reduce consumer
compatibility costs by establishing performance standards for
vampires. The consensus proposed is market-driven, working backward
from existing products on the marketplace, rather than working
forward from a theoretically consistent Reference Vampire. On the
other hand, it's not quite a pure performance standard, since it
enumerates particular irritants (garlic, &c) and appearances
(retractable fangs) instead of functional constraints (smelly stuff,
or ability to surreptitiously draw blood, which would respectively
allow Buffy's worn hose and mosquito-stickers to be acceptable design

> _____________________________________________________
> plotholes
> Standards for Vampires
> Even the undead ought to obey a few simple rules.
> By Stephen Harrigan
> What happens to a vampire in the daylight? Does he explode into flame,
> as in John Carpenter's Vampires? Turn into a Pompeii-like ash
> sculpture, as in Interview With the Vampire? Feel a little short of
> energy, as in Bram Stoker's Dracula? Or merely require the use of a
> good sunblock, as in Blade?
> Behaviorally speaking, vampires are all over the place. Not only do
> they differ morphologically from movie to movie, but they behave with
> stunning inconsistency even within their own films. Why, for instance,
> would a vampire who can hover a good 20 feet above the pavement have
> to scramble frantically over a chain-link fence when being chased by
> Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Why can't the Master Vampire in John
> Carpenter's Vampires, a creature who has repeatedly demonstrated his
> ability to disembowel and decapitate humans with a single swipe of his
> hand, manage to do anything more deadly to James Woods during their
> final epochal confrontation than just cuff him around?
> The vampire is a species of the undead. Like any other species, it
> should manifest a certain behavioral logic that moviegoers can rely
> upon. What if I wanted to make a movie about, say, bears? And what if
> I found it more "interesting" creatively if the bears in my movie had
> fish scales instead of fur? Would audiences placidly accept such a
> frivolous reordering of nature? I think not! Yet when it comes to
> vampires, filmmakers feel free to reinvent the rules with every
> picture.
> This has become such a problem in our society that I hereby propose a
> Uniform Code of Vampire Standards and Practices. In my opinion, there
> are four major areas that are in need of immediate clarification.
> Mortality and Mortification. Vampires, declares Kris Kristofferson in
> Blade, are "hard to kill. They tend to regenerate." Fair enough, but
> it's past time for a meeting of the minds on this crucial issue. How,
> exactly, do you kill a vampire? It was easy enough back in 1922, the
> year of F.W. Murnau's silent classic Nosferatu. If a woman "pure in
> heart" manages to keep the vampire by her side all night until "after
> the cock has crowed" he is guaranteed to suffer what looks like a
> massive coronary and disappear in a puff of smoke. In the 1931
> Dracula, however, which like Nosferatu is based on Bram Stoker's
> novel, Bela Lugosi has to be impaled through the heart in his coffin,
> whereupon he emits a strange little disappointed groan that remains a
> benchmark of decorum when compared to the hissing and writhing deaths
> of modern screen vampires.
> In Interview With the Vampire, Tom Cruise informs us that the
> stake-to-the-heart method is "nonsense." Later he suffers a slit
> throat, is eaten by an alligator, and then what is left of his body is
> consumed in a fire. But only a few centuries later he bounces right
> back. In Buffy, vampires are much easier to dispatch: A simple wooden
> stake will do it after all--or, in an emergency, a broken guitar
> neck. In the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola version of Bram Stoker's
> Dracula, Dracula dies when he is impaled by a bowie knife wielded by
> an improbable London-based cowboy. But Anthony Hopkins, playing the
> film's mad vampire hunter, seems to put more store in chopping off
> heads than impaling hearts. In John Carpenter's Vampires, a vampire
> can't get real dead unless he is dragged out into the sunlight, though
> he can be considerably slowed down if his heart is pierced by a
> crossbow bolt or a giant crucifix. The vampires in Blade, however, can
> walk around in the daytime if they have prudent ultraviolet
> protection, but disintegrate on the spot when they are hit in either
> the head or the heart with a hollow-pointed bullet filled with
> garlic. (Blade, by the way, is one of the only contemporary vampire
> movies that bothers to regard garlic as a serious deterrent. In Blade,
> garlic is as dangerous a substance to a vampire as bad seviche is to a
> human: It induces instant anaphylactic shock.)
> Proposed Standard: crucifixes and garlic to be regarded as nonlethal
> irritants. Vampire death to be assured by penetration of heart muscle
> by any foreign object or by prolonged exposure to
> sunlight. Decapitation alone not sufficient to secure desired death
> effect. A deceased vampire should not explode, disintegrate, burst,
> morph, or molder but should serenely resume countenance pertaining at
> the time of its transmogrification. (See No. 2, below.)
> Transmogrification. We face no more challenging issue than the
> mechanics of "turning," i.e., becoming a vampire. In less
> sophisticated movies, everybody who is bitten by a vampire turns into
> one, usually after an unspecified incubation period. The artsier the
> film, the more elaborate the distinction between the merely dead and
> the truly undead. To the degree I could follow the tortuous logic of
> Interview With the Vampire, it seemed to be that the average victim
> dies a straightforward bloodsucking death. But every millennium or so
> a vampire meets that special someone. In order to "turn" this person,
> it is necessary for the vampire to drain the victim's tank and top it
> off at the crucial moment with a quart or so of his own blood,
> whereupon the thirsty recipient becomes a "new-born vampire weeping at
> the beauty of the night." In Bram Stoker's Dracula, by contrast, the
> new recruit must also drink the vampire's blood, but the
> transformation is far pokier, requiring weeks and weeks, and if the
> vampire happens to get stuck with a bowie knife before the process is
> completed, it immediately goes into reverse. Blade, like several other
> AIDS-conscious vampire movies, treats vampirism as an infectious blood
> disease. "Look at the polys," a beautiful young hematologist says to
> her colleague as she's performing an autopsy on a vampire cadaver,
> "they're binucleated!"
> Proposed Standard: Vampirization should be contingent upon total
> extraction of victim's own blood and its subsequent replacement by
> blood of donor vampire. If more than 24 hours occur between initial
> suckage and revivification, victim no longer qualifies for living
> death designation and will be considered conventionally deceased.
> Motility. Not to mince words: Can vampires fly? In the early days of
> the movies, before special effects, they had trouble getting off the
> ground. The bald, pointy-eared vampire in Nosferatu is barely
> ambulatory, in fact. He shuffles arthritically around his castle, and
> when he rises from his coffin he's as stiff as an ironing board. When
> Lugosi takes to the air it's in the form of a giant Asian fruit
> bat. (He also turns into a hyena and an armadillo, species that are
> similarly not native to Transylvania.)
> In recent vampire movies the miracle of flight is well established.
> Cruise gathers Brad Pitt into one of many homoerotic embraces in
> Interview With the Vampire and soars with him high into the night
> sky. Gary Oldman turns himself into some sort of gigantic hominid-bat
> creature and flaps about in Dracula. The Vampire Master in John
> Carpenter's Vampires can fly down the road fast enough to catch a
> speeding car and can stick to the ceiling of a motel room. But at
> crucial moments in these movies the vampire always seems to forget he
> has these powers and ends up wrestling around on the floor of a dusty
> convent or abandoned factory with the earth-bound hero.
> Proposed Standard: vertical flight only, to a maximum of 20 feet above
> the ground. Sustained flight permissible if vampire takes the form of
> a bat, owl, or other authentic nocturnal species. Vampire is
> specifically prohibited from turning into a flying homonculus. Once
> flight capabilities are established and demonstrated in a motion
> picture, they must be used consistently and logically throughout,
> without regard to the convenience of the filmmakers.
> Dentition. Are fangs fixed or retractable? Lugosi managed to evade
> this critical issue--one never sees his teeth at all. Nosferatu's
> vampire is so eccentrically snaggletoothed that his fangs seem a
> danger only to himself. In the original Dracula novel, the hero
> notices Count Dracula's "peculiarly sharp white teeth" that "protruded
> over the lips" almost at once. In his baroque homage to the book,
> Coppola apparently could not muster the will to portray the character
> with such a pronounced overbite, and so Dracula's fangs descend only
> periodically, amid so much gaping mouth movement that the Count looks
> like he's coughing up a hairball. The vampires in Buffy the Vampire
> Slayer, in contrast, exist in a constant state of dental arousal.
> They're the exception, however. Almost every other vampire movie
> accepts the patently unnatural convention that a vampire's fangs are
> capable of receding into his gums. But since vampires are unnatural to
> begin with, maybe that's OK.
> Proposed Standard: retractable fangs as default characteristic.
> Strongly recommend, when appropriate, on-screen discussion of physical
> requirements for said phenomenon--as when a character in Blade
> observes an "odd muscle structure around the canines."
> This plea for a code of standards should not be considered anti-
> vampire. For the sake of vampires themselves we need a few simple
> regulations. With teeth, of course.
> _