Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms
Recently, during a discussion on the flaws of Twilight, an acquaintance of mine made a rather insightful statement. “The vampire is supposed to die. Period.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love a sexy paranormal as much as the next chick, but lately I’ve noticed that a lot of vampires have, for lack of a better pun, lost their bite. The recent trend with all things horror and fantasy has been to either neuter or glamorize what were once considered spine-chilling denizens of darkness. Soul-less vampires and bloodthirsty werewolves have been replaced by pretty boys wearing leather who have brooding puppy dogs. Sexy? Yes. Blood curdling? Not so much. It is for this reason I say, thank God for Suzy McKee Charnas.
Winner of such prestigious science fiction/fantasy awards as the Hugo, Nebula, and Tiptree, Charnas reminds us why we are afraid of the dark. In her works, creatures of the night are sinister, vicious, and yes, even downright scary. Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms is a collection of Charnas’s previously published dark fantasy short-stories, plus two new autobiographical essays. The first essay, “The Stagestruck Vampire,” is about Charnas’s exasperating experiences trying to turn one of her works into a play. In the other, “They’re Right, Art is Long,” Charnas explores how her own personal feminism has shaped her works and career. Both are charming, informative pieces that give the reader a nice insight into the author’s mind.
The best in the bunch is “Beauty and the Opera,” an alternate ending to the classic Phantom of the Opera story. In this version, Christine agrees to live with the Phantom for five years as his wife in exchange for Raoul’s life. Told from Christine’s point of view, the story is equal parts horror and romance. The Phantom featured here is the disturbed, disfigured killer from the novel, not the tragically romantic character that usually dominates the movies and stage. Charnas’s writing is dark, seductive and engaging, drawing the reader into a tale of macabre beauty.
My other favorite story was “Boobs,” a tale of a teenage werewolf who gets revenge on a boy who has been teasing her about her chest size. Probably the most unusual coming-of-age story you’ll read this year, it was satisfying in an A Rose for Emily kind of way. The other stories in the collection are a showcase of horrific oddity. Edgar Allen Poe meets The Twilight Zone.
This is real horror, not the gruesome blood fests that have come to dominate the genre in recent years. The stories are a creepy good time, and while you won’t lose sleep after reading them, you’ll probably want to check under your bed. Just in case.