Bella Bella! Beauties and their beasts

'New Moon' shows the lure of loving a monster. Danny Brierley and David Usborne report

A record-breaking number of filmgoers has been bitten this weekend by the film New Moon, the latest instalment in the Twilight saga. Teenage hearts both sides of the Atlantic have been set fluttering by the vampire tales featuring the British actor Robert Pattinson.

His co-star, Kristen Stewart, has her own, growing following. She reprises her role as Bella Swann in the new film, continuing her celibate on-screen love affair with Edward Cullen, a vampire with a heart.

The couple's chemistry – and the fact their passion is unlikely to be consummated – is driving the film's success, as it did the multimillion-selling books they first appeared in.

The 19-year-old actress is the latest to play a long line of heroines who fall for a leading man with a dark, not to say supernatural, side. They include FBI agent Clarice Starling, who, in Silence of the Lambs, finds it hard to resist the charms of a cannibal doctor, even when he is strapped in a strait-jacket and wearing a face mask.

Vampires feature heavily in the list of celluloid seducers, their hypnotic stares hard to resist, even for the damsels they devour. Werewolves, too, are no slouches when it comes to movie romance. Jenny Agutter, in An American Werewolf in London, found it hard to resist amorous advances – even when they were made by a slavering creature of the night intent on ripping her throat out.

The film critic Barry Norman explained the attraction behind these hits. "It's the appeal of the rogue; women think the power of their love can transform hopeless material into something better, whether it's a bloke, a beast or a vampire. There is also an element of danger involved. It helps that good-looking guys tend to play the parts."

Then there's the noble nature that lies beneath the fangs and fur. Obviously, only a woman can heal his hurts. "He is capable of great love, like King Kong's for Fay Wray, and the rest who followed her, which strikes a feminine chord," added Norman.

New Moon is expected to have the biggest US debut weekend this year. The LA Times reported that it was likely to gross more than $70m (£42m) by Friday, beating the $67.2m record set by The Dark Knight in 2008.

Additional reporting by Rupert van den Broek

IN LOVE WITH A MONSTER...

Winona Ryder in 'Dracula'

In the 1992 film Dracula, Mina Harker (Winona Ryder) is transformed into a vampire by Gary Oldman's lovelorn count. He is smitten by a photo that shows she is the reincarnation of his long-dead wife. Ultimately, he is only after one thing, her blood, and she is forced to lift his curse by driving a dagger through his broken heart.

Sinead Keenan in 'Being Human'

Hospital porter George (Russell Tovey) is transformed into a werewolf every full moon, but nurse Nina (Sinead Keenan) is initially ignorant of his metamorphosis. Won over by his good nature, she sticks by him even after he starts behaving like a dog. He claws her accidentally at the end of the last series, so their next tryst may be a little hairy.

Linda Hamilton in 'Beauty and the Beast'

It's the fairytale that every ugly bloke clings to, brought to life in the Eighties US TV series. Belle wins the heart of the grumpy beast by showing him what true love means. He pulls himself together and, despite his mirror-cracking looks, they fall for each other. The relationship blossoms and he is eventually transformed back into a handsome lover.

Jodie Foster in 'Silence of the Lambs'

He likes to eat his victims and finds FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) tasty. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) forms a strange bond with the woman sent to find a killer by unpicking his brilliant mind. He chews the fat from behind a perspex screen deep in a high-security prison and she – in the books at least – falls in love.

Jenny Agutter in 'An American Werewolf in London'

"Don't go out tonight," Creedence Clearwater Revival wailed in their soundtrack song, "Bad Moon Rising", and how nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter) must have wished she hadn't after falling in love with an American werewolf in London. Her love for Jack Goodman (David Naughton) almost costs her life after she invites him to live at her flat. He is cornered in an alleyway and shot by police, with a preternaturally forgiving Alex shouting, "I love you".

Anna Paquin in 'True Blood'

True Blood's psychic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), should have seen it coming but still falls for vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), who visits her diner after leaving his coffin. Bill wins her over by introducing her to vampirism in America but their affair is cut short by his dalliance with a former lover, another thing her telepathy failed to spot.

Naomi Watts in 'King Kong'

Beauty and the beast love affairs do not come any bigger than that between chest-beating King Kong and faded movie starlet Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) in the 2005 version of the film. The giant ape from a lost island is lured into captivity using Darrow, trussed between two posts, as bait. The primate swats fighter planes while perched on top of the Empire State Building in New York, still clutching Darrow in his other paw.

Geena Davis in 'The Fly'

Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) felt a buzz whenever she was with Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a scientist. Then he's transformed into The Fly when his wonky teleportation invention goes awry. He's soon covered in hair, vomiting on his food and climbing the walls of his apartment but that does little to squash their romance. Pregnant with his child, she eventually shoots him after he tries to fuse the three of them in one of his shoddy teleportation pods.

Kristen Stewart in 'Twilight'

New Moon, the second film in the Twilight Saga, where high-school meets the underworld, sees Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) continue her romance with the brooding Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). In a similar vein to other teenage vampire yarns, their chaste love struggles as he worries that his affection for arteries may cost Bella her life.

Sarah Michelle Gellar in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Buffy (Gellar) killed vampires and other creatures of the night, but fell for an immortal afraid of garlic, mirrors and daylight. Buffy's love of Angel (David Boreanaz) was at odds with her mission to rid the world of bloodsuckers, but she couldn't resist his pointy smile. A night of passion cost him the soul that made Buffy love him, but he recovered enough to spawn his own successful spin-off series.

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