Blood Bathos

Los Angeles

Left: The line outside Vampire-Con. Right: MCs Count Smokula and Scarlett Rose.

THE LINE OUTSIDE Hollywood’s Music Box theater last Sunday morning for the first ever Vampire-Con contained a smattering of the freaky, goth-nerd miscreants that one expects to see at a Bauhaus reunion tour or in a Tim Burton daydream. Perhaps the only difference was that these folks were less festive and inappropriately tanned by the California surfer sun.

There is something wonderfully Los Angeles about swarthy “vampires” congregating across the street from a sold-out performance of Legally Blonde: The Musical. A few teenage girls did their best to satisfy the fishnet-stocking and black-patent-leather quotient. One guy sported a leather trench coat and carried a horned staff. But in general, hard-core devotees were conspicuously absent, presumably hiding in some lair or looking through dusty scrolls for a spell that would summon something almost never seen at such a gathering: dignity.

Inside the convention, we made the rounds of the desultory vendor booths that lined the lobby and main room’s perimeter, some selling black lace corsets, others Vampirella paraphernalia, gothy purses, and vamp DVDs. A blood drive and free HIV testing were conducted in the adjacent parking lot. (For the health-conscious undead.) When the two costumed and cloyingly cheeky MCs—Count Smokula and Scarlett Rose—took the stage before a sparse and unresponsive crowd to tell vampire-themed knock-knock jokes, Scarlett let slip a foreboding moment of sarcasm-cum-truth: “This is going to be a lo-o-o-ng day.” Scarlett’s unenviable task of drawing chuckles from the mirthless proved to be one of the day’s most captivating dramas. It was like watching Sisyphus push his boulder up a mountain, in heels.

Left: Vampirella Nella Swan. Right: The merchandise.

The convention sputtered to life (or whatever) around noon with the first of three panel discussions, titled “Why We Love Vampires: A Brief History of the Undead.” Unfortunately, the panel, made up of the field’s fringe authors and scholars (no Laurence Rickels here), was more interested in discussing Twilight and kissing Bram Stoker’s ass (his grandson/half nephew/second cousin or other was on the panel) than in debating the myths and folklore that gave the genre its original contours. A second panel, devoted to “Vampires and Sexuality,” sounded juicy but was about as bland and lustless as the tepid gray Vampire Coffee that one vendor was giving away gratis.

Vampires and sex: Surely the panel would be packed with heavy hitters from the comic, television, and film worlds. But no. Apparently, organizers felt the “sexuality” element was best served by the unfocused ramblings of no fewer than four cast members from Here! TV’s gay-vampire show, The Lair. We know—we hadn’t heard of it, either. We suspect that no one in the audience, and probably only some of the actors, had seen the show. (Though at least it offered evidence—as if we needed any—of the field’s general homophilia.) Aside from some mentions of Stoker’s Dracula, there was virtually no substantive engagement with the genre’s history. Even the vampire aficionados that side with Joss Whedon or Anne Rice seemed to surrender to the current wave of pasty youth that sees Twilight as the gospel, and Buffy, Lestat, and Nosferatu as mere footnotes.

Left: A Vampire-Con staffer. Right: Line for the Vampirella Ball.

One would like to say that it was the daylight that scared the vampires away, but it’s more likely that the convention’s general lack of star power and failure to highlight the genre’s more important pop-culture creations were to blame. Taking place in the heart of Hollywood and ostensibly modeling itself on Comic-Con (and sister undead gatherings like Zombie-Con), Vampire-Con blew a great opportunity to bring together directors, screenwriters, and casts from any number of vampire-related juggernauts of years past. The giants of the field were either uninvited or uninterested in attending. Panels on Buffy/Angel, True Blood, Anne Rice, Let the Right One In, Lost Boys, The Hunger, Dark Shadows, etc. would have infused the convention with much-needed blood. Instead, the real vampires went hungry. Only the newly crowned (and nearly naked) Vampirella managed to quicken the pulse. Later that night at Vampirella’s Ball, weak attendance again stymied what should have been a theater of eye candy.

As we left the theater and walked to the car, a billboard overhead advertised The Vampire Diaries, yet another new network show cashing in on the trend—or sucking it dry. Wait a minute, did we just pass James Franco and Kathryn Bigelow heading for the ball? Nope. Just two brooding schlubs with lip piercings and purposefully mismatched socks. Better luck next year.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer and Jeff Hassay