Here’s a word that turns the stomachs of the hardcore among us horror fans: TWILIGHT. When not followed by the word “ZONE,” it signifies sparkling vampires who brood more than Hamlet on his best day, shirtless teen Indians who turn into werewolves the size of SUV’s, and little girls screaming hysterically at some guy named Pattinson, before many of them have hit puberty. What started out as a series of popular novels has been transformed into a franchise of movies that has made billions of dollars worldwide. According to Box Office Mojo, latest entry BREAKING DAWN PART 1 has grossed $489.3 million, with $220 million of that in domestic fees, in its first 10 days of release. Working this out logically, more people have probably seen Edward Cullen onscreen than any other vampire.
But is the the TWILIGHT Saga the most successful horror franchise of all time?
If you’re confused, let me explain. Dictionary.com defines “horror” as “ an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear,” and subsequently, “anything that causes such a feeling.” If you’re a fan of the genre, you don’t need an explanation; from thousands of hours invested in reading and watching, you know it when you see it. But it’s important to make the distinction in this case, because though it stars genre creatures, TWILIGHT doesn’t really qualify as “horror” at all. So the answer to my question would be, put simply, “no.”
My own experience with TWILIGHT is very limited. When the first film was being made, my sister Sarah let me know about the novels. “They’re trash, but they draw you in. You need to read them, Phillie.” Somehow I found the good sense to decline. Not so easy to decline was Sarah’s invitation to see the first film. I never pass on the opportunity to hang out with her, so I was in. She’d seen it opening night, so she let me know I wasn’t in for anything scary, or for that matter, anything that good.
So I watched what turned out to be like a vampire version of the Degrassi High reboot. A pale, brooding ninny whose family are the outsiders in some town in Washington takes a shine to the new girl in town. He reveals to her how he glitters. A rival group of vampires break up the vampire family baseball game. Toward the very end, there’s a vampire vs. vampire fight. Then there’s a mopey prom scene between Bella and Edward. Sequels to follow. Funny thing is, none of this qualified as horror. I’ll rehash what’s been said about the novels from their initial release: this franchise boils down to a male who wants to wait for marriage to have sex, and a female, overcome by the sexual stirrings that accompany puberty, who doesn’t want to wait. The whole vampire thing is more a metaphor for being an outsider than any real attempt at horror, like James Dean with retractable fangs. None of this scared me, and from the reaction of the largely pre-teen to teen female crowd Sarah and I watched it with (and my sister was close to 30 at the time), none of it scared them either. There was much more swooning among the audience than shrieking.
Sarah swore I would have to endure every flick with her. Fortunately, she forsook that curse upon me, and I never went back. I never needed to. The first film wasn’t made for horror fans, and when I watched a bunch of shirtless, beefcake Native Americans turn into Lincoln Navigator-sized lycanthropes online, I knew none of those to follow would be either. In fact, the most horrifying thing about the initial film was how poorly it was made. Catherine Hardwicke’s direction had me out loud laughing in the theatre, especially in some sepia-toned flashbacks. Kristen Stewart is an absolute bore as Bella Swan, as substantial as wet toilet paper, and lacks any screen presence. Robert Pattinson is so lacking in charisma—the most crucial element for any successful onscreen vampire—that he seemed to be falling asleep as Edward Cullen. Given all this, it was easy for me to join Team Nobody Cares and Team Not Seeing Any of the Sequels.
Which I don’t think anybody involved with the films would mind. Besides the fact that they’re probably bathing in $100 bills and won’t miss my $10 contribution one bit, there’s an even more primary reason: the TWILIGHT films weren’t made for me. Going back to my Dictionary.com definition, there’s nothing “frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting” in any of the subject matter, nothing that would cause me or anyone else over the age of 15 to have “a shuddering fear.” The TWILIGHT flicks and novels aren’t horror. They’re romances with some of the trappings of the horror genre. And if they’re not horror flicks, then the TWILIGHT Saga isn’t the most successful horror franchise of all time, no matter what Box Office Mojo’s figures indicate. When it comes to money makers, you can mention the franchise right alongside THE LORD OF THE RINGS and STAR WARS franchises, and all three hold just about the same legitimacy to claim themselves horror. In fact, LOTR may hold a more legitimate claim, as Tolkien’s Middle Earth is populated with all sorts of witches and monsters, and they do more damage than to glow at you.
The only way for someone to stake a claim for TWILIGHT would be to expand the definition of horror. If you reversed field and used examples of horror archetypes to define the word instead of merely using them as examples, you could do it. “Vampires and werewolves reside in horror stories, so TWILIGHT has to be horror,” or something along that line would work. But you’d be shoehorning it in, and under scrutiny, this would fall apart.
“But wait, Phillie,” you say. “You call Death Ensemble a horror site.” Yes I do. “Then how do you justify reviewing FAT ALBERT’S HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, which would clearly horrify no one over the age of 3, on Death Ensemble?” I’m glad you asked. The whole thrust of that review was about being a kid, enjoying a simpler time before smart phones and Twitter. I posted it on Halloween, as an addendum to a list of 12 real horror films, and took no shame in doing so. It was a little offbeat, and that’s always right up my alley. The Fat Albert program wasn’t horror, but it was a Halloween special. And when in Rome on the 31st of October…
So there’s my argument. And unless something drastically changes within the franchise, such as a cool BLADE vs. TWILIGHT crossover, this will be my definitive last word on Edward Cullen, Bella Swan and co. While author Stephanie Meyer sits back and collects more money than the GNP of several Third World nations, I’ll continue on enjoying the 1970s television version of SALEM’S LOT, which stars a scary vampire who infects a small town in Maine. Stephen King wrote the novel, and he knows a thing or two about horror and vampires himself.