Tag Archive | "Nosferatu"

How About a Little Bite? (The Lure of the Vampire)

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Engendering terror and pathos, earthiness and mysticism, the mythical vampire has long held the fascination of readers, TV viewers, and film buffs of all ages.  Our society so embraces the vampire that we continue to promote his evolution and the lore that surrounds him.   Inarguably, Bela Lugosi’s riveting portrayal in the 1931 film Dracula sparked the public’s  now-rabid interest in the Count of Darkness.  This production was the first film to give the unholy one a voice.  While the earlier German film Nosferatu may have been more horrifying, it was a silent movie.  Any one who has read Bram Stoker’s Dracula understands that the Count demands a voice as well as a grudging respect.


Painted by Stoker, a most compelling storyteller, Dracula (when he wasn’t nibbling necks) was a rather charismatic character.  He had to be, in order to attract the ladies such as the hapless Mina Harker and his servant-in-blood, Renfield, the latter of which serves as a rather interesting literary device providing insight into the Count’s perspective.  As played by Bela Lugosi, Dracula was the dark, mysterious, debonair figure infiltrating himself into and ultimately preying upon Victorian Britain’s high society.


In the late 1970’s, the handsome, classically trained actor Frank Langella assumed the role on the big screen, claiming actress Kate Nelligan as the bride he eventually lost.  Married to Langella’s fine portrayal, the production illustrated the more romantic and sympathetic side of the vampire as drawn by Stoker.  Imagine a man who despises himself, a man cursed to remain immortal.  Doomed to a life of isolation, he is forever denied true love unless he transforms a human woman into an undead serial killer like himself.


And this, I believe, is the crux of our enduring allure with vampires.  In Dracula we see aspects of ourselves that are ugly and base, aspects that we cannot admire.  And yet, as Dracula continues to seek his true love and drink his daily sustenance, leaving bodies in his wake, we see our own struggle for survival, the wreckage that we leave behind, and the damage we do to others — and the wounds that they inflict upon ourselves — all in the name of love.  This endless push-pull exercise is, in essence, the human condition.  And until our species learns to change its stripes, the enticement of the vampire will remain lasting and universal. 


But if the vampire is indeed a myth, here’s a frightening thought: most legends have their basis in reality.  Judas Iscariot initiated the legend.  Having sold his friend Jesus Christ up the river for a few silver coins, he was cursed to wander the earth for all time, taking no respite in the arms of true clinical death.  As the legend of the vampire evolved, taking liberties with Stoker’s original being, the fundamental manifestations remained essentially the same.  Vampires must avoid sunlight, for the sun (a symbol of God and the gods) destroys them.  Thus cursed, they usually while away the daylight hours in the comfort of their coffins; in Stoker’s tale, that coffin had to lay upon soil dug from Dracula’s homeland of Transylvania.  Most vampires have unnaturally white complexions that only turn rosy upon draining a victim’s blood; most have longer than fashionable fingernails.  And all, when on the hunt, possess eyes as red and glowing as Satan’s barbeque: orbs that draw victims in as if hypnotized.


If the vampire did have its foundation in truth, could this truth be linked back to burial customs of old, in days when clinical knowledge was flimsy compared to today’s medical science?  Tales of comatose people being buried alive and later waking up in horror were, unfortunately, all too true.  The lucky few clawed their way back up through the earth to emerge wild-eyed and bloodied in the process.  Bodies that were not embalmed, as they are today, were subject to the release of gases as they decomposed, causing the cadavers to actually shift about in their caskets and emit sounds that must have scared the stuffing out of mourners and cemetery workers.   Unscrupulous gravediggers may have added to the legend.  In their thirst for knowledge, doctors and medical students never seemed to have enough bodies to dissect.  They capitalized upon the greed of those who had ready access to dead bodies and who would gladly dig up corpses for a fee. 


Although vampires have been compared to leeches, which suck the blood of other creatures in order to survive, a vampire’s needs are both physical and psychological — according to the world created by Bram Stoker.  Overpowered by Dracula, Renfield was nonetheless horrified and reluctant to do the Count’s bidding of procuring victims upon which Dracula could feed.  Renfield embodied the feelings most of us have toward vampires; the act that keeps them alive is grotesque and repugnant to us.  Like a salesman in pursuit of a much-coveted account, Stoker’s vampire was thus beholden to market his lifestyle to the recalcitrant Renfield.


Enrapt with Dracula’s poetic explanations of how the blood of others would fortify his servant, making him stronger and more energetic (read: more virile), Renfield, thus baited, began his descent into darkness by catching and eating flies. For this, he was institutionalized, but even the loony bin did not deter him in his quest.  He graduated to dining on spiders, and eventually, drank the blood of higher life forms best left unsaid here.  After each progressive kill, Renfield was convinced — via his master and his own need for power — that he was indeed a better man!


Modern vampires often lack the patience and cunning of the original Count.  Their methods include locating willing donors (there’s a sucker born ever minute ☺) and robbing blood banks of their wares.   While we’re on the subject of choices, the undead do not necessarily have to kill their victims; witness the unfortunate Renfield, until he’d betrayed Dracula.  If a vampire exerts a little self-control, the victim will live, albeit rather miserably.  But if the vampire drinks too deeply from the well, he creates others of his kind, others confronting the same problems.  How easy is it, after all, to maintain the lifestyle of a vampire?


One must address financial issues, primarily the need to generate an income.  One cannot live on blood alone, as demonstrated in Stoker’s novel.  Carfax Abbey, which became Dracula’s lair, was in serious need of a major renovation, including a complete retrofit of its electrical system, but the Count lacked the funds.  Even sunscreen with an SPF of 80 is useless against that great big ball of fire in the sky.  And aging is another problem in reverse of what mere mortals experience.  How does one explain a face and body that never ages?  If one cites Oscar Wilde’s infamous painting in the attic (The Portrait of Dorian Gray), then the vampire will have clued John Q. Public into the fact that he is in league with the Devil.


On the plus side, vampires are seemingly invincible.  They have iron wills, bodies that can withstand speeding bullets, and an endless source of nourishment/empowerment.   They can change their human appearance into that a wolf, which is handy when hunting large prey, or that of a bat for an easy getaway.  Although this last quick-change act can sour quickly if one is momentarily trapped in a tenement, as was the vampire played by George Hamilton in the comedy film, Love at First Bite.


And let us not forget the question of sex.  Vampires rarely have trouble getting dates.  They are usually quite good looking, sophisticated, educated, dressed to the nines, and of course, ooze that oh so appealing dangerous edge.  Good girls have always been drawn to bad boys, and some things never change.


Advantages and disadvantages aside, one thing is evident: vampires are here to stay. The attraction that began with Stoker’s novel and heightened as a resultant of 1931 film and its spin-offs carried well into the 1960’s and ’70’s with Dark Shadows, a brooding soap opera that exploded into a cult following, sit-coms such as The Addams Family and The Munsters, and a comic book series called Vampirella.   Horror meister Stephen King penned the popular Salem’s Lot, which became a movie.  Author Anne Rice also followed in Stoker’s footsteps.  Her best-selling Interview with the Vampire spawned subsequent novels and a film starring Tom Cruise as the bloodsucker Lestat.


Stephanie Meyer’s literary creations (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn) have been translated into films; New Moon is due to premier shortly.  On the small screen, HBO currently enjoys a runaway hit with True Blood.  Based upon the writings of Charlaine Harris, the program features a mind-reading waitress who gets caught up with vampires, including Eric Northman. Played to perfection by the blond, 6’4″ hunk Alexander Skarsgard, the actor was voted several times over the sexiest man in Sweden. 


If you’d don’t agree that these legendary creatures are sexy, if the thought of them makes your flesh creep, follow this simple advice.  A braid of garlic hung on doorways and draped at windows will keep the undead from disturbing your domicile.  If you really want to play it safe, hang the garlic around your neck (should you do so, we take no responsibility for the state of your love life).  Some believe that sprinkling large amounts of mustard seeds on your roof will deter a vampire, as he is constrained to count every last one before passing.  Move by a stream or a river and you’re doubly safe, as vampires cannot cross running water.  A silver cross or crucifix will also keep them at bay and they detest mirrors because, well, mirrors are dead give always.  A vampire, you see, casts no reflection.


Should worse come to worse, have that sharpened stake at the ready, aim straight for the creature’s heart, and whack it as hard as you’d wished you’d walloped the blood sucking  bankers who made off recently with $710 billion in taxpayer funds.  To truly sink the nails into a vampire’s coffin, cut off his head and bury it far from the rest of his body.  Or just take him down to Mexico and lure him onto the beach; the sun will do all the dirty work for you!


If you’ve only given vampires a passing fancy and this article has peaked your interest, you now have enough novels, films, and TV shows to entertain what may turn out to be a bit of an obsession.  I recommend that you enjoy all media as it was designed to be: in the dark.  Just be sure to keep those garlic cloves handy! 

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