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Vampires & Witches

By Sabrina F Ahmed

SINCE the establishment of primitive societies and the birth of crude religions, humans have been fascinated with the occult, and forces beyond their control. The eternal clash between 'good' and 'evil', has been a subject of many debates and discussions; religions have been created to deal with it, and reams of literature has been written to deal with the concept. It is human nature to try and stretch their limits, and to attempt to take on and master forces greater than themselves, and when they can't do it in reality, they try and achieve the impossible through art. Sounds unlikely? This theory could explain why shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Charmed have gained cult status amongst TV viewers today.

Of course, a good portion of the entertainment comes from the sex appeal of the characters, and factors like the cool fight sequences, and the special effects, and also the elements of fantasy. There's more to it, though. A number of modern programmes like these have many cult viewers and it is worth thinking about the relationship between television shows and their cult audiences.

Broadly there are two very different views about what it means to be in a television cult. The first centers on the way that these audiences decode the media texts. If you look on the Internet at the many discussion groups that are made up of conversation about the shows, you will see that their discussions range much wider than "just" talking about the series. The show quickly becomes a springboard for general discussions among a group with a shared interest. There is also something about the programmes that has spurred these people on- something that they can associate with enough to want to spend their time sharing their personal lives with like-minded people. It could be the characters in the show, or the concept behind the show…or even the situations presented in each episode. The programme becomes something the fans can use as a tool to measure their own lives and make value judgements about the world around them. A long way from just talking geekily about vampires and witches.

Members of a television cult take their fascination way beyond any level that the original producers of the show could ever have guessed. Their act of decoding the messages of the show is highly creative- they are coming up with their own interpretations and meanings for events and relating what they see in the show to the concerns of their own lives and the interests of their gender. So let us take a closer look at three shows which as an example of the way prime-time television has made a huge impact on the lives of thousands of viewers worldwide:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In 1992 Kristy Swanson starred in the role of Buffy in the lukewarm feature film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Creator Joss Whedon probably had had no idea that a few short years later his beloved character would be starring in one of the most simultaneously acclaimed and smirked at television series of the 1990s. Buffy The Vampire Slayer, is the story of a sexy Valley Girl who learns she is the latest in a long line of Slayers, selected to rid the world of the vampire menace. Her job, plain and simple, is to kill vampires, whether she wants to or not. Whedon created an interesting storyline, but the film, directed by Fran Kuzui, veered all over the road, and aside from a pair of fun performances by Swanson and Paul Reubens as vampire Amilyn, it was basically a mixed-up bag of tricks that never amounted to all that much, critically.

Flash forward to 1997, and a mid-season replacement on the WB network finds Whedon controlling a genre-busting new series based on Buffy, and the vampire world would just never be the same again. With obvious parallels between high school and Hell, Whedon ironed out the unevenness of the film version. In the years since the BtVS series debuted, he has continually blended a clever mix of witty, natural dialogue with out-of-the-world storylines that would cause some eye-rolling, were it not for the excellent, tongue-in-cheek writing. Let's not forget all those cool monsters, vampires and beasties.

The show's creator Joss Whedon says: "The first thing I ever thought of when I thought of Buffy: The Movie was the little...blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed, in every horror movie. The idea of Buffy was to subvert that idea, that image, and create someone who was a hero where she had always been a victim. That element of surprise...[and] genre busting is very much at the heart of both the movie and the series... In the credits, where it starts out with this scary organ, and then devolves instantly into rock n' roll, which is basically trying to tell people exactly what the show is, in the credits, which is, here's a girl who has no patience for a horror movie, who is not willing to be the victim... She's gonna bring her own sort of youth and rockin' attitude to it." So she does. The able Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the lead character Buffy. Gorgeous. Strong. Lonely. Funny. Misunderstood. Like the opening narration says, she IS the Slayer, and there are few things more enjoyable than seeing her fire a crossbow or wield a stake. She keeps the character tightly wound, and plays it rather low key and deadpan. Gellar gives Buffy more of a dramatic edge than her predecessor Swanson did. Let's not forget the rest of the brilliant cast…the 'Scoobies': Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Xander (Nicholas Brendan), her watcher, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), and in the later seasons, the scrumptious Spike (James Marsters). Although the series has gone into its final season, its impact on its viewers cannot be ignored.

Angel: This Buffy spin-off, quickly catapulted towards fame shortly after its release, and for a while even overshadowed its parent series. The series details the ongoing trials of the vampire Angel, who had his human soul restored to him as a punishment after two centuries of murder and torture of innocents, leaving him tormented by remorse.

He works as a private detective in a fictionalized version of Los Angeles, California, where he and a variety of associates work to "help the helpless" and to restore the faith and "save the souls" of those who have lost their way. Typically this involves doing battle with evil demons (which, on Angel, are distinguished from well-meaning, neutral and innocent demons) as well as tangling with demonically allied humans and his own violent nature.

The original concept for the series was a dramatic modernization of the classical noir detective story, which gained popularity in large part through the works of Raymond Chandler. In much the same way as Buffy had been a recreation of classical horror films, Angel gave the same treatment to the classical Film noir. The character of Angel was developed here as a recreation of the reluctant, hard-boiled Los Angeles detective who has dealings with a variety of underworld characters. In this case, the "underworld" is a more literal underworld of demons and supernatural beings.

The series has also mirrored Buffy in attaching itself to a higher overarching theme. Where Buffy used supernatural elements as a metaphor for personal issues in adolescence, Angel has employed the same kinds of metaphors to explore higher spiritual and moral issues. The central theme of the series has been the prota-gonist's quest for redemption. Just as Buffy was intended to capture a sense of the suburban oppression experienced by many teens, Angel has made much use of the feelings of loneliness, danger and callousness often attributed to ultra-urban Los Angeles. The divisions between the ordered world of the day and the chaotic world of the night have been trademark themes of noir and by drawing a protagonist who literally has no daytime life, the series has been able to explore these same themes in more dramatic metaphorical ways. The studly David Boreanaz, who is at his brooding best, plays the character of Angel the vampire. As well as a whole cast of new characters, the series also features the lovely Charisma Carpenter, who plays the role of the snooty Cordelia in the earlier Buffy episodes. Rumors have it that once the Buffy series ends, James Marsters, who's put in a few cameo appearances as Spike, will become a permanent fixture in Angel. I for one, can't wait.

Charmed: The most recent addition to Star World's list of fantasy-themed shows. A supernatural one-hour drama from Spelling Television, Charmed chronicles the conflicts and the love among three vastly different sisters and their need to come together to fulfill an ancient witchcraft prophecy. As the series enters its sixth season, the Charmed Ones are stronger and more united than before.

The Halliwell sisters were always different, not just from the world around them, but also from each other. Though bound together by blood and destiny, these twenty-something women could not have been more dissimilar. Yet the discovery that the three sisters were powerful good witches, foretold as the Charmed Ones, created a bond that reached far beyond petty sisterly grudges, and they banded together to keep their otherworldly witchcraft a secret and vanquish all comers.

Each sister has her own unique set of powers, which are constantly evolving. Phoebe (Alyssa Milano), who has premonitions and the ability to levitate, finds new power as an empath in the sixth season. Her newfound ability to feel what others are feeling will prove extremely useful. New mother Piper (Holly Marie Combs) can freeze time and cause explosions. Newest to the Halliwell fold, Paige (Rose McGowan) was raised by adoptive parents and always felt that there was something different about her. In the search for her birth parents, she learned that she was abandoned at a local church as an infant, the result of a clandestine love between Phoebe and Piper's mother and a Whitelighter guardian angel. This ancestry and the unexpected death of the oldest Halliwell sister, Prue (Shannen Doherty), resulted in the awakening of Paige's powers to move things with her mind and to "orb" in and out between planes. Paige's more experienced sisters help her harness the power in their battle against evil. Still, Paige has not yet come to grips with witchcraft, and she will take on a series of temporary jobs this season in her search to find not only a career, but also her true purpose in life.

Other than an interesting storyline, compelling emotional scenes and great fight sequences, not to mention all the magic and special effects, this series also has a good babe factor. Other than the gorgeous Charmed Ones themselves, there's the delectable Daryl Morris (Dorian Gregory) the Charmed Ones' link to the police, and of course Cole Turner (Julian McMahon), Phoebe's demon/half ex-husband. On the whole the series is lighter and funnier than either Angel or Buffy, and definitely more emotional.

There you have it folks; the low-down on the shows that leave you spell-bound. Now if you'll excuse me, I better go and grab the remote…Angel's due any minute.




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