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A fang-tasy that's a little too familiar

Are you fed up to the back teeth already with modern-day vampires and their existential dilemmas? Does the blood drain from your face at the thought of another series about a brooding, guilt-ridden neck-botherer trying to keep a lid on his bloodlust?

If the answer is no, then you'll most likely like The Vampire Diaries. To be honest, it's not really my cup of plasma. I prefer my vampires with a bit more bite, like the ones in the excellent True Blood, which The Vampire Diaries -- being set in a steamy, southern town in the US where the Civil War casts a long shadow -- superficially resembles.

But it has a lot more in common with a different saga. Stop me if this sounds familiar: an ancient but youthful-looking vampire called Stefan (Paul Wesley), who's determined to stay off the sauce, arrives in the small town of Mystic Falls and enrols at the local high school.

He's tall, dark, handsome and melancholy, and is immediately attracted to the beautiful and smart Elena (Nina Dobrev), who's dealing with problems of her own. She lost her parents in a car crash just months before and she's struggling to keep her younger brother on the right track.

But just as Stefan and Elena are clicking, Stefan's evil brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder) turns up, with some shadowy vampire buddies lurking in the woods, and starts snacking on the local population.

It's all a bit Twilight, isn't it? But before you scream "copycat", The Vampire Diaries is apparently based on a series of young adult novels written a full 14 years before Stephanie Meyer dreamed (literally, so she says) her blockbusting books into existence. So who's copying who, eh?

Actually, The Vampire Diaries, which is like 90s teen hit Dawson's Creek with fangs -- hardly surprising since Kevin Williamson, who also wrote the Scream movies, is the man behind both series -- copies from many sources, new and old.

Do Stefan's eyes go all funny at the sight of blood? Yes, they do. Does he jump from tall buildings with a wire-assisted whoosh? Of course. Is he able to wander around in daylight? Hell, he could hang out at the beach if he wanted, thanks to a magic ring which stops him from being fried to a crisp by the sunlight.

So far, so modern-vampire cliched. But the central plot of The Vampire Diaries also cribs heavily from the grandfather of all vampire stories, Bram Stoker's Dracula. Stefan, it turns out, was born in Mystic Falls a long time ago (he knows more about the Civil War than his history teacher) and has returned there because Elena is the spitting image of his lost love from 100 years ago. In a genuinely neat twist, he has a nephew who looks about 20 years older than him.

The Vampire Diaries isn't bad -- which is not to say it's especially good, either. It's got a mild amount of gore and is slightly more adult-oriented than Twilight, in that the vampires actually bare their sharp teeth, and it isn't weighed down with the same chaste message about celibacy. That said, Buffy the Vampire Slayer did this stuff with infinitely more style, cleverness and humour.


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