Dracula and Modern Popular Culture

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Introduction

Chapter 1: Dracula and Religion

Chapter 2: Interpreting Dracula

Chapter 3: The Sexual Impact of Dracula

Chapter 4: Dracula and Otherness

More...

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INTRODUCTION

"time is on my side, your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine." [Dracula, p.365].

These words, spoken by Dracula himself, encapsulate his motivations within Bram Stoker's well-known novel. Yet they might also have been written to describe the influence of his character over future generations. The character of the Count has so inspired the human imagination that he has become one of the most renowned figures of modern popular culture. Interestingly, it is not the original book that has led to the count's fame, but a host of other mediums. In fact, it has got to the stage now where the kinds of people who would once have read Dracula no longer bother to do so, because they are so familiar with the film adaptations. For this reason, it is possible to see, the book as a victim of its own success. Another way in which the book has suffered from its own popularity is explored by Clive Leatherdale in Dracula:The Novel and the Legend, in a passage that states that popular culture has so trivialized the book that until recently it has been wholly ignored as a subject for serious study.

The character of the Count has been rejuvenated so many times and in so many different ways, that it is impossible to catalogue them all. Dracula is a book that has left the literary world to be absorbed by popular culture, and like vampires themselves, it seems to have attained immortality. One reason for this is that we have taken the character of the Count, made him our own, and perhaps even made him into an image of what we ourselves are. Dracula explores the central themes of gothic fantasy and has the strange effect of transforming the genre from parody to myth. We accept the figure of the Count as a figure of power and a clear reflection of something that is inside of us. Dracula may well be evil, but he is also an empowering vision of the Self as Other. With gothic texts that are parodic, we maintain an analytical relationship; texts that we embrace as fables of identity however, pass beyond fantasy, as is undeniably the case with Dracula.

One only has to look around to see the influence Dracula has had on the world we live in. The Count has appeared in a whole host of films and cartoons; he has been the subject of masks and figurines; he has featured in literally hundreds of comics; and this of course, is only the beginning. What, then, is the reason for this far-reaching influence? Undoubtedly part of the novel's appeal comes from its applicability to so many twentieth century preoccupations - such as sex, the Other, the supernatural, and the nature of evil - but it is likely that its popularity has an even deeper foundation. For what other book can be as easily adapted to topics as diverse as religion and the cold war?

What I am concerned with here however, is exploring the impact that Dracula has had on popular culture. This will involve an evaluation of some of the numerous films it has spawned and an exploration of how indebted later writers in the horror genre - such as Anne Rice and Stephen King - are to Bram Stoker. Unfortunately the topic is such an extensive one, that I cannot hope to cover it exhaustively. As Ken Gelder points out in Reading the Vampire,

"this is a novel which seems (these days,especially) to generate readings,rather than close them down." [1]

 

 

DRACULA AND RELIGION

It is obvious to anyone who reads Dracula that it contains religious connotations. It is not surprising, therefore, that critics began considering the Count's inversion of everything that Christ is supposed to stand for, almost immediately after its publication. There are two main points I want to make about religion. The first relates to the character of Van Helsing, who brings about the downfall of the Count and thereby establishes himself as foremost amongst

"the ministers of God's own wish," [Dracula ,p.381]

Van Helsing set a precedent for a whole range of twentieth century Catholic heroes (eg the priest in The Exorcist). Secondly, I feel it is important to briefly look at the ways in which religion has ceased to play a pivotal role in twentieth century takes on the story. Other ways in which religion is significant to Dracula and its impact on popular culture, will become apparent later on.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is replete with religious imagery, and as Clive Leatherdale asserts,

"it is superfluous to claim that Dracula is a Christian parody." [2]

It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to slot the Count into the role of antichrist; after all, he inverts everything that the Bible says Christ stands for. In the light of this, it is interesting to consider the ways in which he is similar to the character of the antichrist in The Omen saga. Like Dracula, Damien begins as a child. At first it may not be evident why I should describe Dracula as a child; I refer you in explanation to the following assetion about the count by Van Helsing:

"In some faculties of mind he has been, and is, only a child." [Dracula, p.360]

There are various ways in 
which the character of Dracula
is similar to the character of 
Damien in The Omen saga.

Also like Dracula, Damien attempts to use capitalism to conquer the world (Damien becomes head of the Thorn Corporation). The link between Dracula and capitalism is again not obvious, and although I shall be discussing it in more detail later, I feel it is necessary to clarify it here. The Count is shown to be the arcetypal capitalist exploiter during the course of the novel by the way in which he is hording money to attempt to assume economic control of London. The following extract informs us of the Count's interest in money:

"the point just cut the cloth of his coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out." [Dracula, p.364]

Both Dracula and Damien must be stabbed to be destroyed (though in Damien's case, the weapons used must be a series of sacred daggers).

The Count is pure evil in Dracula; but it is an evil which the catholic church seems to need in order to survive. The Bible is replete with references to the fact that the only way we can be saved from Satan is through God. In addition to this, as Clive Leatherdale points out, the vampire myth was used by the church to help them explain transubstantiation (the church claimed that just as the vampire drank blood to capture souls, Christians can drink the blood of Christ to ingest His divinity). It takes the presence of evil in the book to convince the good characters of the existence of God, as Harker's attitude to his crucifix suggests:

"It is odd that a thing which I had been taught to regard with disfavour and as idolatrous should in a time of loneliness and trouble be of help." [Dracula, p.40]

Time and again in modern films,we see heroes and heroines forced to accept religion as the only way of battling some great evil, as films like The Omen trilogy and The Exorcist demonstrate. Christianity is not just used as a weapon against vampires in Dracula, but also as a means of rationalising their murder:

"Strike in God's name, so that all may be well with the dead that we love, and that the Un-Dead pass away." [Dracula, p.258]

This manipulation of faith is another device frequently used by modern horror films. In The Omen for example, the presence of the devil within the the toddler Damien, is taken to be justification for killing him.

In Dracula, it is Van Helsing who is responsible for convincing his comrades of the existence of vampires. As I have already suggested, this makes him a template for future religious heroes. Evidence for Van Helsing's strong belief in the Catholic faith can be found by virtue of his frequent use of Biblical language, e.g. his use of the parable of the seed and the sower (Dracula , pp.145-146), and the following warning which he gives to Mina:

"You must not die by any hand; but least of all by your own." [Dracula, p.346]

His role as a kind of shamanic priest in the novel has influenced popular fiction and film in all sorts of ways. One of the most obvious films that replicates to some extent the character of Van Helsing is The Exorcist. A more obscure way in which the charcter of Van Helsing has influenced modern popular culture exhibits itself in The Karate Kid films. In The Karate Kid an old mentor teaches an impetuous youngster what he needs to know in order to defeat his enemies, in much the same way that Van Helsing teaches his associates about vampires.

Hammer's Van Helsing
is arguably cinema's 
first professional 
vampire hunter.
One of the interesting things about the character of Van Helsing is that it changes dramatically with each new interpretation. Hammer for example, presented him as one of their consummate professionals. Before Hammer, film incantations of Van-Helsing were given to lengthy pseudo-scientific speeches; the Hammer version restricted himself to matter-of-fact instrucrions on how to kill vampires. Hammer's Van Helsing is arguably cinema's first professional vampire-hunter. It is he who outlines the Hammer vampire rules into his recording machine (in Hammer's Dracula). That these rules are broken in later films is not important. What is important is that we have an authorative recognition of the existence of vampires.

The movement of Van Helsing away from religious guru towards vampire-hunter is typical of the way in which Christianity has ceased to play such a key role in the interpretation of Dracula. It would appear therefore,that the following assertion made by Clive Leatherdale about religion in Dracula is perfectly correct:

"Another age or another culture less imbued with Christian dogma might fail to perceive Dracula's religious challenge." [3]

Religion has played an ever-decreasing part in our lives as time has gone on. This is clearly reflected in the way it is presented in our interpretations of Dracula . In the original novel, the spiritual importance of the cross is continually stressed, as we see in the following incident described by Seward:

"I moved forward holding the crucifix and the wafer in my hand. I felt a mighty power fly along my arm." [Dracula, p.364]

In the Hammer films,the cross has become merely another weapon against the undead. This is typified by the way in which the shadow of the cross, formed by the two arms of a windmill, is enough to dispatch the vampire in The Brides of Dracula. This implies that it is the image, as opposed to its religious significance, that vampires fear, and thereby negates the role of Christianity. Anne Rice actually goes so far in her Vampire Chronicles as to suggest that vampires have nothing to fear from religion, as the following extract demonstrates:

" 'The power of Satan will blast you into hell,' the boy bellowed, gathering all his remaining strength. 'You keep saying that!' I said, 'And it keeps not happening, as we can all see!' " [The Vampire Lestat, pp.243-244]

Anne Rice's books are clearly the product of a society in which religion no longer holds the majority in its sway. The character of Louis in Interview with the Vampire is a disillusioned Catholic, whose subsequent belief in vampires is, as Ken Gelder puts it,

"a kind of modern, secular replacement for his lost Catholic faith." [4]

Interview with the Vampire is a novel about disillusionment, written at a time when religion features highly amongst the things we are most disillusioned about. The vampire lore in which Van Helsing places such faith in the extract below:

"after all, these things - tradition and superstition - are everything. [Dracula, p.285]

is descibed by Louis as "bullshit" in Interview with the Vampire. This speaks volumes about the credence attached to religion by vampire fiction today. More importantly, however, it is a reflection of modern spiritual beliefs and a tribute to the efforts of science to banish God to the annals of history.

 

 

INTERPRETING DRACULA

Every generation gets something new from Bram Stoker's Dracula . This has meant that the novel has lent itself easily to a great deal of manipuation during the twentieth century, and has formed an important part of much propaganda. One example of this is the way post-war Germany - seeking Teutonic heroes - found a perfect role-model in the form of Count Dracula, who was descended from Atilla the Hun. Authors thrilled the German public with gothic tales in which vampires were represented as superhumans whose aim was to establish a new order based on blood. Interestingly the link made by Germany between vampires and Nazis was later turned against them by the allies, who seized on what Van Helsing tells us in Dracula is one of the most threatening things about the Count, i.e. is his ability to make new vampires:

"all that die from preying of the Un-Dead become themselves Un-Dead." [Dracula, p.257]

The allies drew to public attention the fact that this ability implies that when the Count feeds on people, he is actually altering their race. To put it plainly, the East was shown to be essentially attempting to assimilate the West. This is what Clive Leatherdale was talking about when he said,

"During World War Two the equation of the Hun-like Dracula with the Hun-like Nazi was gratefully manipulated and exploited by the allies." [5]

The Americans used the Count to personify German cruelty, and even published posters featuring a German soldier with dripping fangs.

It is equally possible to draw parallels between the heroes of Dracula and the Nazis, however. Ken Gelder considers the anti-semitism of Dracula in Reading the Vampire. As he suggests, it is surely significant that it is a Jew who helps the Count escape his pursuers and leave England:

"We found Hildesheim in his office, a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi type, with a nose like a sheep and a fez... with a little bargaining he told us what he knew" [Dracula, p.349]

Another way in which the book seems rascist is in its treatment of the count. If we see him as representative of another race - which seems a quite reasonable standpoint to take - then the pursuit of him becomes a kind of ethnic cleansing.

Dracula makes careful distinctions between the West and the East, as we see in the following entry in Harker's diary:

"The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East" [ Dracula, p.69]

Harker feels that in entering the East, he is leaving civilatization behind. It is partly this kind of distinction that enabled America to make use of the novel as a symbolic representation of the onslaught of communism. They were quick to point out that both the Count and communism appear to threaten the Western world, and that both choose subversion as their weapon. The Count's subversion focuses on women; the subversion of communism focuses on the working class. The Count's subversive tactics are revealed in his careful preparations, e.g. his decision to keep apart his unwitting collaborators:

"Skinsky is mentioned as dealing with the Slovaks...and the man's remark that the murder was the work of a Slovak, showed the general feeling against his class. The Count wanted isolation... he blotted out his traces, as he thought, by murdering his agent." [Dracula, p.419]

The smugness of the West in Dracula discounts the possibility of subversion, meaning that Van Helsing and the others are compelled to act in secret. Van Helsing demonstrates a certain tendency towards disdain in his attitude towards Seward's liberalism, as the following passage shows:

"Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot?" [Dracula , p.229]  

Van Helsing knows that the Count is attempting to sweep aside objection and thus opposition. Interestingly, dissenters against McCarthy were treated in a similar way in America.

America's use of Count Dracula as a metaphor for communism is paradoxical, because as I have already pointed out, the Count can be seen as a capitalist exploiter, attempting to conquer the world with money. There is a close connection between vampirism and capitalism, as Marx points out in the following:

"Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks." [6]

Like the vampire, the capitalist's driving force is insatiable. The Count is a perfectly rational entrepreneur, who even pays his employees well ,as his treatment of Hildesheim demonstrates:

"He had received a letter from a Mr. de Ville of London,telling him to receive, if possible before sunrise so as to avoid customs, a box which would arrive at Galatz... He had been paid for his work by an English bank-note, which had been duly cashed for gold at the Danube International Bank." [Dracula, p.415]

However, as Franco Moretti points out,he is also,

"a true monopolist: solitary and despotic, he will not brook competition." [7]

As a result, he strikes terror into the hearts of his competitors. The Count permits no independent survival, in a similar way to the monopolist. In the words of Ken Gelder,

"The vampire must be exorcised because he represents an excessive form of capitalism." [8]

The connection between vampirism and capitalism remains in much modern vampire fiction. One place we can see this is in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, where the vampire Lestat is shown to prosper as a result of his commercial viability in the music industry, and his ability to captivate the audience at a rock concert. The connection between vampirism and capitalism is also explored in some detail in Guillermo del Taro's 1992 film, Kronos. Kronos is about a man who discovers a clockwork beetle that makes him into a vampire. He is then hounded by thugs sent to acquire the device by a wealthy American on the verge of death. The American wants to buy the beetle at any cost, and because of this becomes more vampiric in his own way that the vampire. The connection between vampirism and capitalism is by virtue of this turn of events, made very clear.

 

 

THE SEXUAL IMPACT OF DRACULA

An academic by the name of Punter has suggested that much of Dracula's appeal comes from the way it secretly concerns itself with exploring taboos. After all, do we not frequently see the character of the Count crossing boundaries that should be secure? One of the main ways in which the novel explores taboos is in its symbolic sexual implications, and these are everywhere. The novel's sexual undertones are most apparent in three specific instances. The first is Harker's seduction by the vampire women, which is exemplified in the following:

"There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing... burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips... The fair girl shook her head coquettishly... advanced and bent over me until I could feel the movement of her breath upon me." [Dracula, pp.51-52]

When one takes into account the paralells drawn by critics like Carol A. Senf and Clive Leatherdale between blood and semen in the book, this passage is obviously sexually suggestive. The second instance when it seems apparent that sex is being explored through symbolic language is when Arthur Holmwood drives a stake through Lucy's heart:

"But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake" [Dracula, p.259]

The stake in this piece is conventially thought to symbolise a phallus, and the staking of Lucy is said to represent the sex act. In the words of Carol A.Senf, the scene,

"resembles nothing so much as the combined group rape and murder of an unconscious woman." [9]

The last of the three most sexually suggestive sections in Bram Stoker's Dracula occurs when Mina drinks the count's blood:

"When the blood began to spurt out, he took my hands in one of his, holding them tight, and with the other seized my neck and pressed my mouth to the wound, so that I must either suffocate or swallow some of the - Oh my God, my God! What have I done?" [Dracula, p.343]

Mina is unable to say the word blood, and leaves an opening which readily lends itself to the insertion of semen. It seems fairly self-evident from the first and last of these passages that there is a definite connection between blood-sucking and intercourse. The link between blood and semen is emphasised by Van Helsing himself at the time of Lucy's blood transfusions, when he says the following about Holmwood's idea that his blood inside Lucy makes her his bride,

"Said he not that the transfusion of his blood to her veins had made her truly his bride... If so... Then this so sweet maid is a polyandrist, and me, with my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church's law, though no wits, all gone - even I, who am faithful husband to this now-no-wife, am bigamist." [ Dracula, pp.211-212]

The connection between blood-sucking and intercourse is something that has been seized upon rapaciously by modern popular culture. The Hammer films are a classic example of this, frequently featuring scenes where stakes find a home in the bosoms of buxom girls. The most overtly sexual of the Hammer films were their female vampire series (Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, Countess Dracula, and Twins of Evil ), which included scenes of nudity and lesbianism, thereby consolidating the association of vampirism with erotic behaviour for their audiences.

Other striking examples of parallels being drawn between intercourse and vampirism in modern popular fiction can be found in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. In Interview with the Vampire for example, Louis's conversion into a vampire is described in distinctly erotic terms:

"he lay down beside me now on the steps, his movement so gracious and so personal that at once it made me think of a lover... I rememeber that the movement of his lips raised the hair all over my body, sent a shock of sensation through my body that was not unlike the pleasure of passion." [Interview with the Vampire, pp.22-23]

Later on we are told how Louis' journey to becoming a vampire actually involves him exchanging bodily fluid with Lestat. The implications of this are obvious, and require no clarification here.

Moving swiftly onto other matters sexual; it is entirely possible to see the count in Dracula as an arch-seducer, who awakens female desire. Mina herself intimates Dracula's morbid attraction, when she says,

"I was bewildered, and strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him. I suppose it is part of the horrible curse that this happens when his touch is on his victim." [Dracula, p.342]

The Count's sexual magnetism is probably partly responsible for his mass appeal. Men long to have his seductive power, whilst women long to be seduced by him. Many film studios attempting to capture the spirit of Dracula have played on this aspect of his character. The Christopher Lee incarnation of Count Dracula, for example, had an elegance and charm that highlighted the character's innate sexual attractiveness, as described in Bram Stoker's novel. More recently, in Francis Ford Coppola's film, Bram Stoker's Dracula , we see the Count transformed into a fairly typical Hollywood hero, who sweeps Mina off her feet to such an extent that she finds herself unable to resist him. Given Count Dracula's seductive power over women, it only takes a small stretch of the imagination to suggest that he is the inspiration for a number of twentieth century heroes, James Bond being one of them. Afterall, both James Bond and the Count are tall, handsome, and irrestible to women.

Gary Oldman as Dracula
 is a fairly typical 
Hollywood  hero.

The character of Count Dracula has become synonymous with insatiable male potency in modern popular culture. If we equate blood-drinking with lovemaking, Dracula's need to find new victims is essentially a journey through a neverrending string of lovers. This comes across very strongly in Bram Stoker's original novel. Once the Count has taken a lover/victim, he moves onto someone else, as we see in his taking Mina immediately after he has finished with Lucy. The potency of Dracula is frequently contrasted with the passivity of the young heroes, especially Harker. The Count has the power to make Harker feel impotent, as Harker himself remarks:

"I felt impotent, and in the dark, and distrustful." [Dracula, p.225]

Later on, we see a striking example of the contrast between Harker and Dracula, when the Count is attempting to turn Mina into a vampire - a sequence which takes place in Mina's bedroom. If, as Ken Gelder speculates, the thin open wound on the Count's chest and Mina's bloodstained nightgown suggest Mina's defloration by the Count, then the Count is having his way with Harker's wife while Harker lies passively on the bed:

"On the bed beside the window lay Johnathan Harker, his face flushed, and breathing heavily as though in a stupor." [Dracula, p.336]

One difference between Hammer's Dracula and Bram Stoker's novel is the fact that Harker is no longer an unsuspecting innocent; he is a knowledgable vampire-hunter. Unfortunately for him, this does not mean he is able to destroy the count. Harker's failure to do this points to the work done by Hammer to connect the piece with the social realities of Britain in the 1950s. Despite Harker's knowledge, Dracula gets the better of him. What we are essentially seeing in this is the theme of weakened masculinity being carried across by Hammer from Bram Stoker's novel. The Oedipal quality of Harker's death underlines the way in which the film presents masculinity as arrested in a weakened state. Arthur Holmwood proves similarly ineffectual against the Count in Hammer's Dracula. At first Holmwood is a Hammer unbeliever, who needs to be brought to terms with the reality defined by the film. Significantly his marriage with Mina is childless. His impotency is further stressed by his helplessness in the face Dracula's vampiric victimisation of his sister Lucy, and by his reaction to her death (clutching his chest). Interestingly it is Arthur himself who destroys Lucy in Bram Stoker's novel, whereas Van Hesling has to do it for him in the Hammer film.

In both Bram Stoker's novel and Hammer's film, Van Helsing and the Count exist on the edge of a world characterised by masculine weakness. Both versions of the Count are seen to prey on this weak world, and particularly on its women. That Mina and Lucy are willing victims in the film demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the male hold over them, and implies that there is an unprecedented acknowledgement of female desire taking place (vide the scene where Lucy waits longingly for the Count). However, Dracula is not liberating the women, but merely placing them into a different power hierarchy, in which they are subservient to him. The same is true in Stoker's novel, as the Count's dominance over the three female vampires in his castle illustrates:

"With a fierce sweep of his arm, he hurled the woman from him, and then motioned to the others, as though he were beating them back; it was the same imperious gesture that I had seen used to the wolves." [Dracula, p.53]

In Hammer's Dracula, the Count's attacks and Van Helsing's defence take place against a background of masculine weakness. This suggests a possible link with the shift in the understanding of gender that was occurring in the 1950s. The growth of consumerism in the 1950s was often viewed as a feminising process, which threatened masculine identity. At the same time the two social positions available to women - that of housewife and that of working woman - were becoming contradictory as many women began filling both. This contradiction registers in Hammer's Dracula in the uneasiness of the females within the bourgeois household (which can also be viewed as representative of male anxiety over the female movement away from traditional social roles). Both Dracula and Van Helsing in the film guarantee a system of male power which is elsewhere seen as weakened - for example in the fact that Arthur Holmwood, who is head of the Holmwood house, cannot keep its women from wandering. Hammer's Count Dracula aims to restore male authority over the women by taking it out of the hands of ineffectual men, and establishing himself as sole patriarch. Hammer's Van Helsing on the other hand, attempts to protect the weak men, without actually doing anything to strengthen them. The Count is defeated at the end of the film, but the situation which gave rise to him remains the same. Arthur's minimal role in defeating Dracula is a clear example of this, and as a result, his reunion with Mina at the end of the film can be seen as provisional at best.

As far back as 1929, critics like Ernest Jones were suggesting that Bram Stoker's Dracula has links to Freud's ideas about the Oedipal Complex. More specifically, it is possible to see the novel as describing a child's love for a mother figure (Mina), and hatred for a father figure (Dracula). One of the most striking cases of Oedipal suggestion in the book occurs when Mina is drinking the Count's blood from a cut in his chest, and she is interrputed by the arrival of Doctor Seward and his vampire-hunting associates. The scene is read by critics like Philip Martin as being representative of a child (Seward) stumbling upon its parents having sex. They cite their evidence for this as being in Seward's two contradictory descriptions of the episode. In his first description, Seward says of the Count's position in relation to Mina,

"With his left hand he held both of Mrs. Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom." [Dracula, p.336]

Later on however, he describes the same scene in the following terms:

"It interested me, even at that moment, to see that whilst the face of white set passion, worked convulsively over the bowed head, the hands tenderly and lovingly stroked the ruffled hair." [Dracula, p.339]

The contradiction in Seward's two descriptions is supposed by Martin to be the result of a confusion similar to that which a child feels over seeing his parents engaged in intercourse; an act which has the father seemingly hurting the mother at the same time as loving her.

Interestingly, although Hammmer's Dracula reduced Bram Stoker's story to the bare bones, the Oedipal connotations were retained. Harker's death in the film is one of the most obvious of its Oedipal sequences. It is as if Harker has been found in the bedroom of his mother by his father. Seen in this light, the dropping of the stake by Harker, becomes a symbolic castration before the father's (Dracula's) accusing glare. As in Bram Stoker's novel, both the Count and Van Helsing are authority figures and symbolic fathers in Hammer's Dracula. The existence of two fathers in the film means that the vampire-hunters are allowed to kill and obey the father at the same time. In the earlier film version of Dracula made by Universal, the Count was isolated from the rest of society, and Van Helsing's role was down-played; in Hammer's version, as in Bram Stoker's novel, the two figures embody the same male authority, and their conflict arises from the use to which their powers are put. Van Helsing's authority in the Hammer film is stressed by the way he dominates the scenes he is in. The same dominance is afforded the Count. Both the Count's and Van Helsing's authority in the film have sexual connotations, since they are the only accomplished penetrators of the female body (Dracula with his teeth, and Van Helsing with his stakes).

It is intriguing to note how recurrent the need is for a father figure to balance the paternal vampire in modern vampire film and fiction. In Stephen King's Salem's Lot the relationship between the two main vampire hunters - Ben and Mark - is clearly depicted in terms of a father/ son relationship, with Ben helping his adolescent friend to become an effective warrior in the fight against vampires. Interestingly, Ken Gelder suggests that there is another father figure in Salem's Lot - the medium of popular fiction itself. It is certainly true that all the knowledge in the novel comes either from classical popular fiction or else from influential literature, both of which the young are shown to be able to inherit.

Another important aspect of Bram Stoker's Dracula that has been absorbed by modern vampire literature and film is the presence of homoeroticism. Of course, Stoker was not the first author to include suggestions of homosexuality in his vampire fiction. J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla has quite obvious lesbian connotations, whilst Polidori's The Vampyre deals with a young man's attraction to an older man. One striking suggestion of a homosexual undercurrent in Dracula is when the Count prevents his three female vampire companions from feeding on Harker. The passage runs as follows,

" 'This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you'll have to deal with me.' The fair girl, with a laugh of ribald coquetry, turned to answer him:-'You yourself never loved; you never love!' On this the other women joined, and... a mirthless, hard, soulless laughter rang through the room... Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively, and said in a soft whisper:-'Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so?' " [Dracula, p.53]  

The vampire woman's exclamation that the Count has never loved suggests that the Count does not need her or her comrades. The Count has just admitted that he needs Harker, however. Taken together, these two things seem to indicate that the Count is homosexual. The women laugh at the accusation they make, but Dracula speaks softly and fixes his attention firmly on Harker in a way that seems suggestive of sexual desire. Critics like Thomas Byers suggest that Dracula is not the only one who exhibits homosexual tendancies in the novel. Byers would have it that Van Helsing, Dr.Seward, Quincey Morris and Arthur Godalming are bound together by similar feelings, though they cannot properly identify them or act upon them. Craft seems to agree with Byers, suggesting that the good men in the novel are bonded to one another in a series of erotic triangles, each of which includes a woman, who acts as a channel for their homosexual desires. Lucy's suitors for example, bond together by donating their blood to Lucy. In this context, the temporary expulsion of Mina from the group of vampire hunters can be seen as a necessary step in order that the men can homosocially stabilise theselves. Homoerotic desire cannot be represented directly in Dracula, but it seems likely that it is there.

Louis' transformation into a
 vampire in Interview with a 
Vampire reads very much like
a homosexual love scene.

Anne Rice is one modern author who has built upon some of the homoerotic desires found in Bram Stoker's Dracula. As I have already mentioned, Louis' initial transformation into a vampire in Interview with the Vampire reads very much like a homosexual love scene, with he and Lestat unashamadly mingling fluids. Louis makes the connection between becoming a vampire and having intercourse even more explicit when he says,

"I can't tell you exactly, anymore than I could tell you exactly what is the experience of sex if you have never had it." [Interview with the Vampire , p.18]

Rice is careful to paint the characters of Louis and Lestat in very different terms. Louis is sensitive and effeminate, whilst Lestat is aggresive and masculine. The suggestion of a homosexual relationship between Louis and Lestat means we read Claudia's questions about how she was made, as actually referring to how she was made by two men. Louis and Lestat are a demonic gay couple who compete with each other for the attentions of their daugther. The arrival of Claudia adds the dimension of heterosexual paedophilia to the homosexual relationship between Louis and Lestat. The description of Claudia sleeping in the same coffin as Louis in particular calls to mind a sexual relationship between the two:

"At dawn she lay with me, her heart beating against my heart, and many times when I looked at her.. .I thought of that singular experience I'd had with her and no other." [Interview with the Vampire, p.112]

Interestingly we also find suggestions of paedophilia in Bram Stoker's Dracula. As Anne Cranny-Francis points out, the blood-sucking/intercourse connection in the book, forces us to view the three vampire women in Dracula's castle as child molesters, since they eagerly feed on the baby the Count provides them with. The episode with the "bloofer lady" later on in the novel, where we see Lucy luring children away from Hampstead Heath, seems to confirm this interpretation:

"During the past two or three days several cases have occurred of young children straying from home or neglecting to return from their playing on the Heath. In all these cases the children were too young to give any properly intelligible account of themselves, but the consensus of their excuses is that they have been with a 'bloofer lady'." [Dracula, p.213]

To return to homosexuality in Interview with the Vampire however; in the second half of the novel, we see another erotic triangle forming, in which Armand and Lestat compete for Louis. Louis clearly expresses a desire that borders on the homoerotic when he says,

"I could see the mortal boy again as if he were not asleep on the bed but kneeling at Armand's side with his arms around Armand's neck. It was an icon for me of love. The love I felt." [Interview with the Vampire, p.275]

Another place the subject of homosexuality crops up is in Joel Schumacher's film, The Lost Boys. In The Lost Boys, the lure of vampirism is fairly obviously equated with the lure of homosexuality. When David asks Michael how far he is willing to go, he is emphasisng this link. Once again there is a clear erotic triangle established; this involves Michael and David competing for Star, and David and Star competing for Michael. David sleeps away from Star, so his interest in her seems non-sexual, unlike his interest in Michael. In direct contrast to the homoeroticism of Interview with the Vampire and The Lost Boys, Stephen King's Salem's Lot seems to border on the homophobic. We see this especially coming out in Ben's discussion with Matt about how the townspeople might think they are homosexual. King gets rid of his vampire before he can upset the sexuality of the heroes; he also has Matt die before he can become too intimate with Ben. Another way Bram Stoker's Dracula has influenced the popular view of vampires and sex is in its presentation of women and female sexuality. Femisinist critics like Anne Cranny-Francis and Carol A. Senf, have written extensively on the way women are both liberated and trapped in the novel. Lucy's letters to Mina reveal her promiscuity and suggest that when she becomes a vampire, she is merely finding the means to live out desires she already had:

"I couldn't help feeling a sort of exulatation that he was number two in one day... Why can't they let a girl marry three men; or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?" [Dracula, pp.75-76]

Taking this a step further, it is possible to see the destruction of Lucy as the result of the patriarchy's need to subdue women who don't conform to the sexual roles assigned to them. Lucy is a character who deviates from what the other characters consider to be the norm, so she has to be saved/destroyed. When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he demonstrated the expedience of using horror fiction to explore female sexuality and the constraints placed upon it. Numerous authors have followed suit. One striking example is William Blatty, who considers these themes in his book, The Exorcist. The Exorcist transgressed a taboo of the time by concerning itself with a woman who masturbated and enjoyed it, because she was possessed by the devil. The girl - Regan - becomes a compulsive masturbator, as the following sequence shows:

"She pulled up her nightgown, exposing her genitals.'Fuck me! Fuck me!' she screamed at the doctors, and with both her hands began masturbating frantically." [The Exorcist, p.128]

This scene is just one example of Regan's complete contempt for decent behaviour. She urinates and defecates in front of others, she forces her mother's face into her genitals, she masturbates with a crucifix and she vomits on priests. There is an obvious displacement by association in the film, since all these latter acts indicate a loss of control. The suggestion is that Regan must be possessed, because nobody in their right mind would do these things. She is seen to have deviated from the sexual norm, and so to be in need of curing. It is up to the exorcist to rid her of her demon. Just as in Dracula, therefore, the patriarchy is seen to have to step in to subdue the female deviant.

Regan in The Exorcist has a
complete contempt for decent 
behaviour, and amongst
other things, masturbates 
with a crucifix.

 

 

DRACULA AND OTHERNESS

"the stranger from another time, the barbarian who speaks an incomprehensible language and follows 'outlandish' customs... the avenger of some oppressed class or race... these are some of the archetypal figures of the Other, about whom the essential point to be made is not so much that he is feared because he is alien; rather he is evil because he is... unfamiliar." [10]

So runs Fredric Jameson's definition of the Other, a concept that seems to inspire the popular imagination with a morbid fascination. The importance of Otherness to Bram Stoker's Dracula is fairly obvious. There are any number of deviations that alienate the Count from the other main characters in the novel. In the first instance, he is of another race and represents the East encroaching on the West. That's rather racist you might think, and you would be right. One of inescapable facts about Dacula is that it has serious racial implications. A striking example of racism in the book is Lucy's comment to Mina about Quincey, when she echoes Desdemona from Shakespeare's Othello :

"an American from Texas, and he looks so young and fresh that it seems almost impossible that he has been so many places and has had such adventures. I sympathise wth Desdemona, when she had such a dangerous stream poured in her ear, even by a black man." Dracula, p.74]

Of course, Quincey is one of the heroes of the novel, which seems at first to go against the idea that it is racist, but it is important to note that the American is persistently shown to be inferior to his English comrades. He is rejected by Lucy in favour of a true Englishman, and is disposed of at the climax in a way that Clive Leatherdale suggests illustrates the innate nationalism of the novel:

"the vulgar Texan is expunged so that the supeior English are no longer reminded of America's growing power." [11]

Dracula is also racist in its depiction of the Count's gypsy underlings. They are shown to be especially despicable in their refusal to help Harker:

" They looked up at me stupidly, and pointed, but just then the 'hetman' of the Szgany came out, and seeing them pointing to me in the window, said something, at which they laughed. Henceforth no effort of mine, no piteous cry or agonized entreaty, would make them even look at me. They resolutely turned away... the Slovaks were given some money by the Szgany, and spitting on it for luck, lazily went each to his horse's head." [Dracula, p.58]

The suggestion is that so long as the gypsies get paid, they will not pry too closely into the Count's business. As I have already mentioned, however, the most obviously racist depiction of character is in the Count himself, who is portrayed as a foreigner attempting to invade the West. From the very first time we meet the Count we are made to appreciate that his roots lie firmly in the East. The connection that he alludes to between himself and Attila the Hun clearly illustrates this:

"What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?" [Dracula, p.41]

Dracula's foreign routes are stressed throughout the novel. He is himself all too aware of them,as he points out to Harker:

"Well I know that, did I move and speak in your London, none there are who would not know me for a stranger." [Dracula, p.31]

We are even told that the Count smells, a common racist misconception about foreigners. The racism with regards to the Count is manifold. Ken Gelder suggests that the description we are given of Count Dracula in London presents him in a way that calls to mind stereotypical descriptions of Jews, making the novel anti-semitic. The descriptive passage Ken Gelder cites as evidence for this claim runs as follows:

"he gazed at a tall, thin man, with a beaky nose and black moustache and pointed beard," [Dracula, p.207]

Further evidence for drawing parallels between the Count and racist interpretations of Jewishness lies in the way he hoards money. The Count has treasure buried all around his homeland - carefully marked out for reference. At one point in the novel, Harker stumbles across a horde of money and jewels in one room of the Count's own castle:

The only thing I found was a great heap of gold in one corner - gold of all kinds, Roman, and British, and Austrian, and Hungarian, and Greek and Turkish money... There were also chains and ornaments, some jewelled. [Dracula, p.62]

In the light of all this, it seems undeniable that Dracula is a racist text, which asserts the authority of England over the rest of the world, and calls for constant diligence against foreign invasion. What we essentially see is a kind of ethnic cleansing taking place, as the West is won back from the East. The heroes are seen to have to rid their country of the invading foreigner in order to safeguard themselves.This kind of racist undertone was to become a common feature in popular horror fiction following the publication of Dracula. It is only in recent years that there has been a change for the better, with authors having to conform to much more stringent regulations. One example of a glaringly racist author is Dennis Wheatley, who had a prolific literary output during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. As anyone familiar with Wheatley's work will tell you, his books have not aged particularly well, and reek of the British idealogy of their day. Wheatley essentially comes across as a man who is writing for the white middle-class. Society at the time was racist, and Wheatley clearly reflects this. One way in which we see Wheatley's racism is in his depiction of his villains, who can hardly fail to call to mind the Russian, German and Chinese meglomaniacs made famous by the early James Bond films. Wheatley's villains are devilish figures, and normally foreign. The connection between evil and abroad is made especially apparent in The Satanist. The description of the disciples of the satanic temple for example, runs as follows:

"among the women there was an enormously fat Negress, and a young Chinese girl; among the men, two Negroes, one of whom had white hair, an Indian and two who looked like Japanese." [The Satanist, p.92]

Within Wheatley's work there is usually a good-hearted heroine, or hero, who is misled by a seductive foreigner, with evil powers. The similarities between this formula, and the formula we find in Dracula are obvious. After all the Count is an evil foreigner who seduces virtuous heroines to darkness, just like one of Wheatley's villains. As in Dracula, the heroes and heroines in Wheatley's novels have to be guided back to the path of righteousness by a virtuous associate:

"The early stages of her investigation had held for her only a spice of danger sufficient to intrigue, and her first successes with Ratnadatta had strengthened her resolution to ignore the warnings she had been given - until Barney had extracted a promise from her that she would have nothing more to do with the Satanists." [The Satanist, p.389]

At the heart of Wheatley's work lies a very definite idea of what is right - or British - and what is wrong. Like Bram Stoker before him, Wheatley considers the forms of decadence, and questions what it actually means to be British. The following comment, made by David Punter in relation to gothic novels and their concern with decadence, seems equally applicable to Wheatley's work:

"they each pose, from very different angles, the same question, which can readily be seen as a question appropriate to an age of imperial decline: how much, they ask, can one lose... and still remain a man... to what extent can one be infected and still remain British?" [12]

Wheatley's protagonists are strong, assured British people, who rescue infected beings and restore them to normality, their transgressions having been seen in terms of dabbling with infernal powers, or being caught up in satanism through no choice of their own.

There are definite parallels
between Count Dracula and the 
enemies of James Bond.
As I have already asserted, the villains in Wheatley's books are often similar to those in the early James Bond films. It is interesting to consider therefore,the ways in which James Bond's enemies resemble Count Dracula. After all, the villains in James Bond films are frequently meglomaniac Easterners, attempting to invade the West and take over by virtue of their capital, just like the Count.

It is tempting to assume that more recent popular fiction and film is wholly free of racist undertones, but there are traces of it to be found, even in the books of an author as contemporary as James Herbert. In The Rats for example, the menace is clearly suggestive of a foreign invasion, since the rats are in fact a mutated tropical strain, introduced to England by one Professor Schiller. The professor has come to England to conclude his experiments. The symbolics of the rats as foreign are pre-figured in a day-trip that Harris makes to Stratford:

"many of the old streets had managed to retain their old charm, after all, but it was the throngs of people, the multi-racial accents that destroyed any hope of atmosphere." [The Rats, p.66]

Herbert is clearly complaining about the violation of a cohesive local-national identity. The implications of the extract with regards to ethnic minorities are self-explanatory, although they remain undeveloped. Of course, race is not the only the thing that casts Count Dracula in the role of outsider. As a character he is alienated from everything around him. He is a nightmarish parody of a man, and as such, he belongs outside the human race. When the Count confides his yearning to walk the streets of London therefore, he is probably expressing more than just a need to find new victims:

"I long to go through the crowded streets of your mighty London, to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity,to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is." [Dracula,p. 31]

What the Count seems to be alluding to is a very real sense of isolation. To quote Clive Leatherdale,

"the Count is lonely, he has no more armies to command; no children to rear; he can no longer love; and his castle is surrounded by a wasteland." [13]

Dracula's loneliness is in stark contrast to the unity of his pursuers, who would willingly die for one another. Royce MacGillivray suggests that the Count is tired of his solitary existence, and embarks on his quest in the hope that he will finally be laid to rest. MacGillvray's evidence for this is that he can think of no other explanation for how such a skilled campaigner as the Count could be defeated by such pitiful adversaries. The friendships shared between the Count's enemies and the interaction that takes place between them, make them a group we can readily identify with. It is this that makes the Count's intrusion so horrifying. We are seeing a situation we recognise being invaded by a creature wholly unfamiliar to us. Time and again this sense of intrusion is emulated in modern popular culture. In Ridley Scott's Alien for example, we see a group of people, with whom we can easily identify, having to fight for their lives against a creature that is vastly different from anything we ourselves have had experience of. The introduction of the alien fractures the group, because of the irrationality of some of its members, making the situation all the more horrifying.Count Dracula's Otherness comes across distinctly in his social position. Unlike the majority of his opponents, the Count is an aristocrat; thereby implying that the Victorian middle-class was a more desirable group of people than the Victorian upper-class. Interestingly, all the film adaptations of Dracula, have retained the Count's aristocratic status. The only other aristocrat in Dracula is Lord Godalming, who achieves very little besides proposing marriage to Lucy, who is a commoner. By marrying into the middle-class, Lord Godalming lowers himself to the level of his associates. Johnathan Harker and Mina are obvious examples of the way Dracula celebrates the middle-class at the expense of the aristocracy. They are upwardly mobile people, who prove instrumental in the battle against the Count. Harker begins the novel as a solicitor's clerk, but ends up with his own law firm. He and Mina are also responsible for providing a medium by which the battle against the Count can be rememebered in the twentieth century:

"We want no proofs; we ask none to believe us! This boy will someday know what a brave and gallant woman his mother is... he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake. [Dracula, p.449]

The superiority of the middle-class in Dracula is emphasised by the narrative structure. The story is told almost exclusively from a middle-class standpoint by three working professionals - Harker, who is a solicitor, Mina, who is a teacher, and Seward, who is a doctor. Stoker disposes of the upper-middle-class Lucy early on in the novel, and deprives Lord Godalming of the opportunity to express his views. Lord Godalming's main role in the book is to provide his companions with the benefits of his money and position. Whenever the Count's opponents wish to break the law or enjoy special priviledges, Lord Godalming provides them with the means of doing so, as we see in the following instance:

"Lord Godalming went to the Vice-Consul, as his rank might serve as an immediate guarantee of some sort to the official, we being in extreme hurry." [Dracula, p.412]

Although other vampire novels like J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla featured an aristocratic vampire, it was Bram Stoker's novel that solidified the link between vampirism and the upper class. It is a link that has been exploited mercilessly in modern popular fiction. In Interview with the Vampire for example, the vampires are intimately acquainted with high culture and have distinctly aristocratic tastes. This is especially true of Lestat, who wears fine clothes and lives life to the full:

"he wasn't opposed to anything which smacked of style and excess. He loved the great figure we cut, the three of us in our box at the New French Opera House or the Theatre d'Orleans, to which we went as often as possible, Lestat having a passion for Shakespeare." [Interview with the Vampire, p.110]

Another aristocratic trait exhibited by Rice's vampires is their familiarity with fine art. Louis' descriptions of the paintings in the Louvre in Interview with the Vampire demonstrate the abundance of time he has had to contemplate them and to change his opinions about them:

"Before, all art had held for me the promise of a deeper understanding of the human heart. Now the human heart meant nothing... The magnificent paintings of the Louvre were not for me intimately connected with the hands that had painted them." [Interview with the Vampire, p.344]

In Interview with the Vampire, the vampires are portrayed as having acquired a sense of culture, and as being as idle as decadent aristocrats. None of the vampires work; their mission in life is to explore their origins and purpose:

"It was her idea that we must go first to central Europe, where the vampire seemed most prevalent. She was certain we would find something there that would instruct us, explain our origins." [Interview with the Vampire, p.164]

Another book which casts its vampire protagonist in the role of aristocrat is Stephen King's Salem's Lot. The noble upbringing of King's vampire is just one of many ways in which he is similar to Dracula. Like the Count, the vampire in Salem's Lot is a foreigner of noble breeding, who introduces the threat of vampirism into a seemingly secure environment. Dracula's Otherness in Bram Stoker's novel means that he must be destroyed. It is interesting to note, however, the ways in which the distinctions between the Self and the Other are collapsed. For a start there is the identity conflict that occurs between the Count and Harker, as we see in the following instance, when a woman from the village proves unable to tell the two apart:

"When she saw my face at the window she threw herself forward, and shouted in a voice laden with menace:- 'Monster,give me my child !' " [Dracula, p.60]

The distinctions made between the Self and the Other are further questioned by the way the Count's opponents are seen to duplicate him as well as pursue him. In driving Dracula out of the West, they increasingly abandon rationality. Superstition takes precedence over reason, even in Van Helsing, the man of science:

"Van Helsing sprang forward and held between them his little golden crucifix." [Dracula, p.254]

On top of this, there is the fact that the vast majority of the crimes in the novel are perpetrated not by the Count, but by his opponents. They play his own game in order to survive, never stopping to reflect on their actions. Dracula, in the words of Carol A. Senf,

"is tried, convicted and sentenced by men... who give him no opportunity to explain his actions and who repeatedly violate the laws they profess to be defending." [13]

It has become fairly common for popular culture to explore the boundaries between the Self and the Other. An early cinematic example is The Creature from the Black Lagoon, which concerns a being who lives outside of society's definitions of normality, but who is presented in an almost sympathetic manner. He is never violent towards the heroine, Kay, and as a result their relationship plays like a tragic romance. Unlike the other males in the film, the creature seems to want to love Kay rather than dominate her. As for Kay, she is fascinated by the creature, and seeks to defend him. Kay and the creature recognise something in one another. When Kay is swimming in the lagoon, the creature mirrors her movements as though he identifies with her. In addition to this, the creature has a childlike quality which makes him seem pre-pubescent. The death of the the creature comes across more as the loss of an alternative form of existence than the destruction of a threatening influence, especially when we are shown Kay's profound sorrow.

The Creature from the 
Black Lagoon is one
example of popular 
culture exploring the 
boundaries between the 
Self and the Other.

In Richard Matheson's novel, I am Legend, we see an interesting reversal of the Otherness theme in Dracula. This time the world is populated by vampires, and it is a human being who is the outsider. We are distanced from the human, Neville, and so we can objectively isolate his limitations. Neville is a man who cannot imagine other states of being. Not only does he refuse to obey burial laws designed to stop the spread of vampirism, but he fails to leave the vampire-infested city for safer surroundings:

"I almost went several times... But I couldn't, I couldn't go. I was too used to the... house." [I am Legend, p.14]

Instead of leaving, Neville starts hunting down and destroying vampires. We are clearly shown that this makes him a monster in the eyes of the vampires. As a result we are forced to the conclusion that evil is relative to social surroundings. The vampires appear monstrous to Neville because they threaten his world, and Neville appears monstrous to the vampires because he threatens theirs'. Neville only realises this when he dies, and humans becomes a legendary threat to vampires, just as vampires once were to humans.

 

 

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