Summit summons young women with 'Twilight'

Vampires have always represented a certain psychosexual allure that has appealed to women. And with HBO’s Alan Ball series “True Blood” building a cult following and the acclaimed Swedish horror pic “Let the Right One In” headed for an English-language remake, Hollywood once again appears to be smelling blood.

In the near term, the most anticipated release that femme filmgoers are waiting to sink their teeth into is Summit Entertainment’s “Twilight,” set to bow Nov. 21.

Based on the bestselling novel by Stephenie Meyer, “Twilight” tells the tale of two tortured teen lovers in the Pacific Northwest: Isabella “Bella” Swan and hunky vampire Edward Cullen. Their conflict — not unlike the one at the center of “True Blood” and other such yarns in which sex and death are inextricably linked — is that if Cullen fully expresses his love for Bella, he could kill her.

Summit’s main calling card is Meyer’s phenomenal success among readers, with combined global sales among “Twilight’s” four books at 17 million.

Since acquiring the film rights in turnaround from Paramount, Summit has carefully courted “Twilight’s” core 13-24 femme crowd. In hiring director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”) and scribe Melissa Rosenberg (“Step Up”), the studio is banking on two creatives who ostensibly know what young women want.

In the decades since Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles sold in the tens of millions, local book clubs have been replaced by global Internet chatrooms. And in “Twilight’s” case, there are 350 fan sites. The official “Twilight” movie site alone has clocked 8 million-plus visits.

Unlike Rice with the critically pilloried film version of “Interview With the Vampire,” Meyer was not relegated to the sidelines when it came to adapting her work for the bigscreen. When Rosenberg sat down to write the “Twilight” script, Meyer insisted that certain elements of the book — from characters to plot points — remain in order to preserve the property’s authenticity.

To transcend the book’s literary pedigree, Summit is taking a more action-driven tack. “We’ve essentially taken the marketing tactics from a superhero film and applied it to a female property,” says Summit’s worldwide marketing topper Nancy Kirkpatrick.

Since last spring, Summit has staged a multifront campaign that resulted in an Entertainment Weekly cover, a MySpace teaser trailer that attracted close to 4 million views, and an early taste of the pic’s single, “Decode” by Paramore, on Meyer’s website.

To avoid narrowcasting (and to court parental support), young “Twilight” fans’ mothers have also been kept in the loop with their own site, TwilightMoms.com.

Summit’s promotional efforts culminated at last July’s Comic-Con convention, where fans crowded into a 6,000-seat hall for a Q&A with the cast.

So why do girls go gaga for “Twilight?”

Hardwicke believes that Meyer’s story taps into “vampires as a teenage metaphor.”

“A teenager, like a vampire, suddenly has a new kind of energy,” says the director. “They can drink, kiss and smoke. It’s about how they control their impulses.”

Meyer’s dark, young alpha male Edward is likened to the Byronic heroes so popular in romantic literature through the ages. “Vampires, like Byron, are romantic, dangerous and live outside the conventions of society,” explains New Orleans lit expert and Rice aficionado Dr. W. Kenneth Holditch.

Summit’s trailers have not only highlighted this idea, but also the story’s action in an effort to lure males under 25.

“The challenge that Meyer has had throughout the series has been maintaining the sexual tension in the protagonists’ monogamous relationship,” says USC English professor and “Twilight” devotee Emily Anderson. “Where I think the movie will have an advantage is by visualizing these themes.”

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