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From Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, to Samantha on Bewitched and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, magical characters have long been a part of our consciousness, whether in books, television shows, movies, or video games. Media has taken supernatural creatures and put them in familiar scenarios, creating the magic of their lore while at the same time allowing them to relate to audiences with human emotions.

The early 1990s and early 2000s brought on an increasingly witchy group of characters. The first rumblings came in 1995, when author Gregory MacGuire released Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. This retelling of the classic Wizard of Oz has since spawned a hit Broadway musical staring Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel and a film version is in production to be released in 2010.

In 1997, the first book of the literary powerhouse series Harry Potter was published by author J.K. Rowling, spawning a series of films beginning in 2001 and continually being released. In 1998, Aaron Spelling’s TV series Charmed began airing, portraying three sisters struggling with the everyday pressures of being twenty-somethings, as well as good witches defeating evil from other realms. In 1999, the blockbuster horror film The Blair Witch Project was released, portraying three lone hikers trapped by a mysterious force in the woods. And recently, the BBC television series Merlin was picked up by NBC to showcase during the summer of 2009.

But now, the success of witches, wizards, and warlocks seems to be teetering off as a new trend emerged: vampires. It is safe to say that, like witches, vampires have always been in our supernatural periphery, from the dapper Bela Lugosi as Dracula to the success of the Anne Rice Interview with the Vampire series and subsequent film. Most modern day vampire franchises owe their success to the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a Joss Whedon creation starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Main character Buffy is your average teenager by day but moonlights as a fierce vampire slayer by night. Like wizards, vampires have learned to latch on to a crucial market to achieve their current success: teens.

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series has teenage girls and their mothers fawning over the seemingly perfect vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen, and Bella Swann, a clumsy, imperfect teenage girl he just happens to be obsessed with. Following in Harry Potter’s footsteps, the Twilight film series even took on a former Potter actor, Robert Pattinson, and actress Kristen Stewart for the lead roles in the film. Fan and child actress Dakota Fanning is slated to appear in one of the upcoming films. Devotees of the series, known as “Twihards,” use the internet to track the down to the second the latest buzz on the actors, film productions, and whether Meyer will ever finish and release the proposed prequel to the series Midnight Sun. It seems that Twilight-mania has reached a fevered pitch.
Tons of authors are trying to recapture the success of Meyer in their own vampire-themed teen novels. Melissa De La Cruz’s series Bluebloods, Heather Brewer’s Eight Grade Bites series, P.C. Cast’s House of Night series, and Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series are all trying equal the success of the previous vampire juggernauts for teens and other readers who enjoy a little blood with their romance.

Still, paperback vampires are not the only ones enjoying their time in the limelight. Vampires on film have been burning up the box office since the mid-2000s. The 1998 Blade series has spawned two sequels, dozens of video games, and a short lived 2006 television series on Spike TV. The Kate Beckinsale films, Underworld in 2003 and Underworld: Evolution in 2006, deal with a secret underground war between vampires and werewolves. The 2007 horror film 30 Days of Night is about a small Alaskan town dealing with the vampires running amuck during the phase of the year when Alaska has little sunlight. And the 2008 flick Bathory stars Anna Friel as the legendary “Blood Countess.”

The 2008 independent film Let the Right One In, about a 12-year-old human boy’s love for a vicious girl vampire, won major awards at film festivals like Tribeca, Woodstock, and in cities across the globe. It even won a glowing review from Dish’s normally curmudgeonly reviewer. Japanese horror films such as Blood+ from 2005 and this year’s Blood: The Last Vampire are joining the vampire bandwagon. Vampires have even sucked their way into video games such as Vampire: The Masquerade, Bloodrayne, Blood Omen, Vampire Rain, Castelvania and games based on Underworld and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among others.

Taking a nod from Buffy are other vampire television shows, in particular the HBO smash True Blood. The television series is based on the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. Premiering in 2008, the series stars Anna Paquin as the telepathic barmaid Sookie and Stephen Moyer as her 173-year-old vampire beau Bill. Set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, the vampires and humans of the area have to learn to coexist after the vampire population of the world came “out of the coffin.” The series won a Golden Globe for Paquin’s portrayal of Sookie in its first season, and on June 14 began its shocking second season.

Coming to the CW this fall is the series The Vampire Diaries, based on the 1990s books by L.J. Smith, also famous for his Nightworld series. Nina Dobrev stars as Elena Gilbert, a typical teenage girl who must choose between two vampire brothers: the handsome, tortured Stefan, played by Paul Welsey, or his brutal, arrogant, but seductive older brother Damon, played by Ian Somerhalder.

Yet if vampires can learn anything from witches, it’s that success is fleeting and there is always another supernatural creature waiting to take the media by storm. In fact, a new trend already seems to be on the horizons: zombies.
Like the trends before it, zombies have already begun their uprising in books. World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide, both by Max Brooks, have become the manifestos of zombie readers. Retelling Jane Austen’s classic tale of the love between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Seth Grahame-Smith published Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance in April 2009. In this version, Elizabeth and Darcy must fight off the zombies invading Meryton before they can fall in love. Needless to say, the movie rights to the book were snatched up by TK only one month after it was published, and will be coming to a theatre near you in 2011.

Zombies are no strangers to video games either. The Resident Evil zombie hunter video game made its debut in 1996 and has sold over 40 million copies as of May 2009. Resident Evil has also brought on a number of film and comic book spin-offs. The computer role-playing game Fallout made its debut in 1997. The game Dead Rising was originally released in 2006 and was adapted for the Wii console in February of 2009, telling the story of a photojournalist trapped in a mall with the undead. A sequel video game is set to be released in 2010. In the 2008 game Call of Duty: World at War, players must fight against the added horror of Nazi Zombies.

Now zombies are finding their way onto the silver screen. In 2002, zombies made a comeback in the film 28 Days Later, directed by Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle. Also in 2002 was the first of the Resident Evil film series, staring Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez as hot zombie hunters. Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead was released in 2004 and was popular enough to spawn a proposed 2010 sequel and a parody film by British comedians Simon Peg and Nick Frost entitled Shaun of the Dead.  In the Will Smith 2007 blockbuster I Am Legend, Smith’s character battles against undead vampire zombies on a post apocalyptic earth.

Independent filmmakers have also embraced the zombie trend. The 2006 indie film Automaton Transfusion, about three teenagers battling zombies in their hometown, has reached cult status high enough to create a sequel, due to be released in 2010. Marc Price’s 2009 film Colin is about a little boy bitten by a zombie who finds himself wandering in an apocalyptic world on his own. Made for only $70, the low budget film ignited major buzz at the Cannes Film Festival and already has Hollywood trying to buy the movie rights. The Norwegian splatter film Død snø or Dead Snow was released in January 2009, premiering at Sundance. The plot revolves around medical students vacationing at a ski resort that is suddenly overcome by, horror of horrors, Nazi Zombies – which seems to be a trend within a trend.

In 2010, many more zombie themed films are planned to hit the screen. In addition to the proposed Dawn of the Dead 2, films such as The Invasion of the Not Quite Dead starring Ken Russell, Army of the Dead, and Zombie Massacre directed by Uwe Bolle will be coming to theaters in 2010. A film version of World War Z is currently in production by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions for release in 2010. A sequel to 28 Days Later is in production, titled 28 Months Later, and is reportedly about the return of the zombie virus. All-in-all, there are around fifteen feature, indie, or foreign zombie films scheduled for release in 2009 and ten so far scheduled for 2010.

If what’s hot in Hollywood continues to change, we can expect a gradual vampire phase out to pursue entertainment of the zombie variety. Of course, zombie fans beware. There’s always another supernatural entity standing in the wings, ready to take the stage. / Issue 98 - September 8164
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