The vampire has been one of our best-loved monsters for as long as we can remember. From its early beginnings to its present day popularity it has reached such a familiar cult status that it has almost resulted in everyday commonality. Who would have guessed that when Bram Stoker created ‘Dracula” he created a phenomenon that would be as comfortable a horror as the monster in a child’s closet.
Iconic image of Nosferatu
Bram Stoker, in his novel, Dracula (1897), did not invent the notion of vampires but he did create the unforgettable and famous character of the master vampire. Dracula, this master vampire has dominated our “horror culture and genre” for the last century. But as we have seen in many of the vampire movies and books, the vampire is not always depicted as that aristocratic, masterful and proud historical character Bram Stoker characterized. Today, the vampire can look quite ordinary and be living next door.
The earliest of vampires were not appealing at all, according to Wikipedia. They were rather the opposite. Early folklore vampires were feared in many countries of Europe. They were said to subsist on the living and for a greater part, on their blood. They were undead entities who would pay horrific and havoc-reeking visits to neighbours and loved ones, killing them and generally being a nuisance in their old neighbourhoods. The early vampires were not thought of as being attractive as the Hollywood vampires, either. They were often bloated and of dark or ruddy countenance. Although different versions of vampires were recorded the actual term ‘vampire’ was not applied until the early 18th century. At one point there was a high level of vampire hysteria in several European countries which led to the staking and dismemberment of corpses.
But it wasn’t until 1819, when John Polidori wrote The Vampyre that a charismatic vampire with intelligence and true predatory skills was created. Then, Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’ came out in 1897 and gave the vampire everything it was missing: rank, wealth, culture and sex appeal.
Suddenly, the vampire was not just a scrounging, hungry, despicable creature, it was Count Dracula- a prestigious vampire with an impressive family tree, a castle and the means of travel in the modern world. Dracula became an intelligent person in his own right, and the ‘master vampire’ capable of creating a whole family of vampires to do his bidding. Bram Stoker’s novel spawned the modern vampire legend. Most of the vampires created afterward had his distinctive traits in one way or another. The character of the vampire was formed and then became a dominant figure in the present horror genre… starring in numerous film, theatrical and television platforms in varying interpretations.
Bram Stoker’s vampire,Dracula, looked nothing like the same character we know today. He is described as an old,cruel looking man— “thin, with a long white mustache pointed ears and sharp teeth.” However, he takes on a more youthful look as time goes on and he is rejuvenated by his victim’s blood.
The Dracula Persona
Count Dracula is the star and the antagonist of Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror novel ‘Dracula’. He has traits, powers and weaknesses that we now apply to all the vampires we know and love. Even the most modern vampire personas have a little of what Stoker bestowed on Dracula.
In the novel Dracula, the vampire is a compelling and powerful monster. It seems he gained most of his impressive characteristics through his dealings with Satan. Chapter 18 of the novel describes “Dracula”, and therefore other vampires, as having many supernatural or shall we say unnatural abilities. For instance he has great strength and is immune to regular means of attack such as being shot, stabbed, etc. He defies gravity and can climb speedily and effortlessly up vertical surfaces even upside down. He possesses the ability to ‘vanish’ at times and reappear elsewhere at will. He also possesses strong hypnotic and and illusionary traits. Over the centuries that he has lived he has acquired much cunning and wisdom. Time has no hold over him- if not killed in the only ways a vampire can die, then they do not die.
Further attributes include the fact that he does not cast a shadow or have a reflection in a mirror. He can also command the animals but perhaps only the despicable ones i.e. rats, owls, bats, moths, and wolves. He also seems to be able to master the weather at times, at least the conditions close by, like mist, storms and fog.
Shapeshifting is another perk, if you’re Dracula or a vampire, according to Bram Stoker. They can morph into many beings such as a wolf, bat, a large dog or even into a vaporous mist.
The Count as Master Vampire
Count Dracula is depicted as a master or King Vampire that can exert his control over other vampires.Fresh blood rejuvenates him, makes him younger and gives him the strength he needs to be master vampire. Vampires, like zombies do, can create a seemingly endless following of other vampires. They all have the ability to turn others into cursed beings like themselves. The original method spoke of in Bram Stoker’s novel is to continually drain the blood of the victim either over time or all at once. Upon that victim’s death he or she will also become a vampire and be desperate for fresh blood therefore multiplying the undead inhabitants in a certain location.
Dracula’s Inherent Weaknesses
Bram Stoker’s monster- Count Dracula also lives with many weaknesses as well as specific requirements that make him vulnerable. It is in the clever use of these weaknesses that the vampire hunter as in the equally famous- Van Helsing, is able to succeed in subduing and/or killing the vampire or even have the slightest chance of escape.
It is notable here to say that Dracula, although he loses much of his powers in the daylight hours, can take sunlight at certain times as in dawn and dusk. He can not shape shift as freely as he can at night, however.
Jonathan Harker explains that the sun does limit him and that in sunlight, Dracula cannot melt into thin air or disappear into cracks…he must open a door like any mortal. (Chapter 22 Jonathan Harker’s journal). Traditional vampire folklore maintains that vampires are nocturnal, but not necessarily that sunlight is fatal to them. It is only in the early film, Nosferatu that the daylight is first depicted as deadly to vampires. So we can begin to see the effect adaptations can have on the original, even if the original is considered solid literature.
Yet another weakness is that Dracula is limited to travel over the sea. He is said to only be able to cross running water at low or high tide. Because of this, he cannot fly across a river in the form of a bat or mist or even board a boat unless he is carried over with assistance. And of prime importance- Dracula cannot enter a place unless he is invited by someone of the household. However, once invited, he can enter and leave the household at will.
He is controlled by his bloodlust and is seemingly hard-pressed to keep himself himself away at the sight of fresh blood. A few adaptations have called this “the Thirst”.
There are some earthly items as well as religious symbols and sacred items that keep him at bay. Wolfsbane (a toxic plant once used to kill wolves) does not bode well with Bram Stoker’s king vampire, nor does the smell of garlic.
A branch of the wild rose bush was also mentioned in the novel, and apparently can be used to lay upon his coffin to render him unable to escape. But the best Dracula-buster seems to be the presentation of almost any sacred religious items. They really create a profound and satisfying ‘back-off’ reaction from the Count. Remember he is evil and is thought to have entered into his accursed life through dealings with the devil, therefore, any religious items- especially crucifixes, blessed or sacramental bread, etc. will do the trick. In the novel these items were said to also calm him and distract him from his momentary blood lust.
The Vampire Death-Sleep
The state of rest to which vampires must experience during the day is described in the novel as a death-sleep. Stoker emphasizes how very essential it is for the Count to sleep in his beloved earth from Transylvania, whenever he is away from his homeland. In the novel Dracula made sure he had several coffins that contained Transylvanian earth at different locations throughout London, just in case. His home soil not only gives him his strength but it rejuvenates the vampire.
* But ironically, in many of the vampire films, the death-sleep was the very place the monster was most vulnerable. If you have the right tool, as he lies there in his creepy death- such as a very sharp wooden stake, you could destroy him.
Killing Dracula and Vampires
Dracula ended his reign of terror in the Bram Stoker novel with a sharp knife(a kukri) through the throat by Van Helsing, assisted by a stab to the heart with a Bowie knife from another character. link. Notably, He was not destroyed by a wooden stake through the heart. Also, the destruction of the vampire Lucy was carried out in three steps: decapitation, staking and garlic was put in her mouth.
Importantly, as mentioned above,the German film, Nosferatu introduced the death of the vampire by sunlight immersion and since has been added in select movies for drama and special effects. The stake through the heart vampire-death seems simple compared to these multiple killing methods and actually began with the Bela Lugosi Dracula films.
From Novel to Screen To Fame
Stoker’s Dracula has become the prototypical vampire in several subsequent books and film adaptations of the monster vampire- Count Dracula. At first they remained fairly loyal to the now famous Dracula traits bestowed on the Count, but inevitably variations occur. This can be put down to the whims and creative license of directors and producers.
In 1922, Nosferatu, one of the first adaptations of the novel and a German expressionist horror film, adhered to the Stoker storyline inasmuch as it could.But it included German name changes and many other detail changes. The reason for the alterations was necessary at that time as the film was unauthorized and the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel. It retains the main characters—Jonathan and Mina Harker, the Count, etc. however, the setting has been transferred from Britain in the1890s to Germany in 1838. Notably it was in this early film that the death of the Count from being immersed in sunlight began, and became a popular and dramatic way to film his destruction.
In this early film, Dracula was Count Orlok and Nosferatu was the name for vampire. Despite the primitive depiction, Nosferatu won acclaim over the years as an “influential masterpiece of cinema”. Also, just recently, in (2015), ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ named it the second best-reviewed horror film of all time! The depiction of the Count was maintained. Nosferatu, as the horrific archetype that appeared in Stoker’s novel was also tall, thin, ancient-looking and creepy, with long limbs and fingers…
The Morphing of the Vampire
It wasn’t until the first Bela Lugosi film “Dracula” in 1931 that the Count became tall, dark and handsome with aristocratic features and sex appeal. In fact it was somewhat of a fluke that the heavily-accented Eastern Europe actor who fits so well the personification of the Count came to define the person of Dracula. Or was it the other way around? Producer Carl Laemmie Jr. had grand plans for the first real ‘Dracula’ film and at first Lugosi wasn’t his ideal pick for the titular role. But, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula portrayal was more than successful and he actually came to define the character of Dracula for many movies to come. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was so well received that he was type-cast forever more, went on to do several more Dracula movies and was even buried in his classic Dracula cape.
Also notable in Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931), is that Dracula is impaled with a sharpened wood stake, a departure from the Stoker novel, kicking-off the beginning of this common vampire-killing practice.
Since Bela Lugosi’s character, the quintessential vampire became somewhat of a caricature- portrayed as a stately, tall aristocrat with jet black hair as in the case of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Reeves, Frank Langella, etc. These portrayals brought a certain amount of sex appeal to the king vampire and many films followed.
Christopher Lee, in the Hammer Film series of Dracula movies, personified the notion of a sophisticated Count and he continued his role in many subsequent films. He became just as familiar in the role as Lugosi had, becoming the new face of Count Dracula. His spectacular dying scene in ‘The Horror of Dracula (1958)’ popularized the use of Dracula’s destruction through being exposed to the sun, first established in Nosferatu.
Dracula had become such a caricature as time went on that he has undergone a most unlikely and degrading partnership with camp and comedy: The Fearless Vampire Killers by Roman Polanski (1967), Love at First Bite, featuring George Hamilton in (1979), Fright Night (1985),The Lost Boys (1987), Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992) were only a few that used parody in the new films of Dracula and vampires.
Alongside these popular vampire movies, another development arrived in the switch from supernatural horror to science fiction as an explanation of the vampirism. The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), as well as two other films were based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. This novel explains the condition of vampirism as having a natural cause related to a virus, similar to recent zombie craze.
And then the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie came out in 1992 vampires and Dracula was. once again, taken seriously and saved from his campy descent. Francis Ford Coppola produced the ambitious film and it did get some good reviews. It went to great lengths to reveal the true evil and frightening nature of the Count as well as show his roots as Vlad the Impaler. The movie also lent Dracula a love story of his own with some serious sexual overtones. This most recent Hollywood version portrays a Count Dracula not unlike the creepy, old vampire from the novel, but comes off as slightly overdone. In this movie, there is no shying away from Dracula’s obvious Satanic dealings… It is worth watching to see this realistic depiction of Dracula as the evil being he was intended to be.
Sparkling Vampires and Love Stories
Today’s modern vampires are not the feared predator-monsters they once were. They have been reduced to the realm of being just folk that are different from the norm, as though they were merely another race or group type.
Yes, they are now simply a pallor-challenged minority, And not to worry because they are just unfortunate beings that live among us and go to our schools and really, it’s only the bad ones that kill for blood. At least this is the vampire of the multiple-part series of the Twilight Saga (And if you feel the need to kill one of them in self-defense, it may be a little difficult for you if you happen to be human.)
That’s because they can only be killed when dismembered and then burned and this usually can only done if you’re another vampire. They remain unharmed by holy water, crucifixes or garlic and can even enter your home uninvited. They don’t go into the sunlight because they will sparkle and this will blow their cover. Plus the more sophisticated of them can boast about just drinking blood from civilized vials and not have to get too messy.
Has it come to this? Are vampires merely another misunderstood group? Have they lost their monster status? Has today’s vampire lost its fierceness and its heritage? The Twilight Saga series of books and subsequent movies, along with TV shows like The Vampire Diaries have given vampires torrid love lives and has diminished this age-old horror genre. However,The Twilight Saga, a series of five romance fantasy films from Summit Entertainment based on four novels by American author Stephenie Meyer were successful, grossing over $3 billion in worldwide receipts, etc.
These newest vampire stories are geared to young people and appeal to them because the vampires are young and are made to be the new marginalized who should be understood, not feared. And besides, who can resist heart-wrenching,young love stories, especially teenage viewers? Vampires in this series may have retained their super speed, and strength, eyesight and hearing, but have lost something essential. This new vampire has lost its mystique and its history and becomes just another species devoid of the awe, respect and fear a good monster deserves.
But there is hope. Who says that the vampire will not re-invent itself and gain some of their old fierce charm, enough to instil some good wholesome horror? At least enough to compel us to make sure the hall light is on at night and there’s a wooden stake nearby.
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