Another University Essay. This One’s About Vampires. No Twilight Though.

Now if you bothered to read or even lightly skim the previous post, then you’ll know that I’m posting some of my essays from my uni days. This week is an essay from my favourite ever module: The Modern Vampire, taught to me by the most excellent lecturer Stacey Abbott. See Mum, all those years watching Buffy finally paid off.

I was 20-years-old when I wrote this essay and as anyone who went to uni will know, your work, no matter what the grade is always fighting against sleep deprivation, word counts and caffeine overdoses. Despite these factors, I got a 1st for this essay. Suck it. Ha, suck it, like vampires. Cause it’s a vampire essay…I don’t have to impress you people.

Question: Select one vampire film made prior to 1968. Through close analysis, discuss how the representation of the vampire draws upon and/or breaks away from the conventions of nineteenth-century vampire folklore and/or literature. Your analysis should be informed by course reading, accurately referenced, as well as the lecture and seminar discussions.

Hammer Studios has become synonymous with horror films due to the successes of their early horror remakes. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959) were all remakes of successful Universal pictures that had literary roots. Because each of these remakes were so profitable, they all had several sequels made, ‘It has been claimed that The Horror of Dracula , produced for about two hundred thousand dollars, ended up having the greatest cost-to-profit ratio of any film ever produced in Great Britain.’ (Skal, 2004:262) It simply made sense to continue a profitable series but the more films that were made, the farther away from the source material they became. I’ll be focusing on The Brides of Dracula (1960), a sequel to Horror, that indicates a connection to Count Dracula and the plot of the first film, but, in reality, had very little to do with it or Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. I’ll be looking into how The Brides of Dracula deals with the representation of vampirism and Stoker’s novel whilst being so different from the text. I’ll also be exploring the influence of Elizabeth Bathory as well as the changing role of Van Helsing and sexuality of female characters. The plot of Brides concerns itself with the release of the Baron Meinster, a vampire who begins collecting brides when Van Helsing comes to stop him and to save the young object of the vampire’s affection, Marianne.

As Bram Stoker wrote Dracula he studied the geography of Eastern Europe and the infamous people who resided there and while much has been made of the connection between Count Dracula and Vlad ‘The Impaler’ Tepes, Prince of Wallachia, I’d like to focus on another source of inspiration. Countess Elizabeth Bathory’s exploits have slipped from fact to peasant rumours into legend; her acts of violence ranged from regularly beating servants with thorned whips to the use of an iron maiden. The most famous story in her reign of terror is that she bathed in the blood of her victims in order to preserve her beauty, reports are largely skeptical on the point, but, true or not, it is features like this that grabbed Stoker’s attention. In my research I found there are particular points of interest in the story of Bathory ‘The Bloody Countess’ that seep through into the character of Count Dracula, and, as a result, into Brides. They both have only female victims, perhaps female blood is purer or perhaps they are more easily swayed or seduced than men. They each have a human assistant of some kind; Dracula has Renfield and Bathory had several loyal servants who brought victims to her. They are of similar ethnicity; Bathory was from Hungary and Dracula from Transylvania which meant they would have been surrounded similar countryside, local customs and superstitions would have been alike. Also, while it may have been mere coincidence, there is a remarkable resemblance in the name of one of Bathory’s female lovers; Darvula. Dracula and Bathory both had bisexual tendencies; Dracula’s fixation with Johnathan Harker is often seen as a homoerotic obsession and Bathory took many female lovers. We can see the evolution from Vlad and Bathory into Dracula which then is expanded upon in the film to the Baron Meinster and his vampire brides. The vampire that Stoker created is a reaction to repressed sexuality and so the violence and blood becomes a metaphor for primal sexual desires which creates the relationship between sex and death and sex and vampirism. To a Victorian society, fear of vampirism is a fear of open sexuality, perverse desires and instincts. The Baron Meinster follows Count Dracula’s lead in acting on these repressed desires.

Brides hardly draws upon the novel at all in terms of plot but does include Van Helsing and the conventions about vampirism that had Stoker created. Dracula and the films vampire Baron Meinster, both fit the ‘Satanic Lord’ model of a vampire as opposed to a ‘Folkloric Vampire’ or an ‘Unseen Force’ (Frayling 1991, cited in Stuart, 1994; 249), this means the character is aristocratic and an intelligent seducer in contrast to an animated corpse who revisits its family members. The Baron Meinster lives in a castle, he has the powers of super-strength, mind control and transformation, is allergic to religious material, will die by staking and sunlight, has female victims and has an assistant named Greta. In these ways Brides draws upon its literary roots very clearly but it also breaks new ground and draws away from the source material in terms of the male vampire. Baron Meinster is a youthful man to begin with; he’s is never old and then rejuvenated, he’s also handsome with golden hair and is outwardly seen to behave in a calm and charming manner. These elements paint the vampire as an unnoticed vampire; one not so easily recognised. Based on what we learned about of what a vampire is from Stoker and what evil characters should look like cinematically, our suspicions are first raised by the Baroness Meinster, Baron Meinster’s mother; she dresses in gothic, black dresses, has a harsh tone and a cold demeanour. This is thrown into contrast when we first meet the Baron; we learn he is being held captive as a supposed mad man and we feel sympathy for him.

David Peel as Baron Meinster


These concepts definitely break away from the novel; a vampire that is imprisoned by his mother and one that we can’t recognise immediately. This creates a powerful female influence over the male vampire and, if we bear in mind acts of vampirism are sexual, an oedipal relationship becomes visible. This is a feature that draws the Baron away from the traditional ‘Satanic Lord’ vampire; to have a woman have such influence and control, sexually or otherwise, is unusual and has incestuous undertones. With vampirism being a metaphor for the released sexual desires of a repressed Victorian society, we can see very simply that a man is being held back from his sexual nature by his mother but when he is released he engages his mother vampirically (sexually) just as a father figure, Van Helsing, appears to punish him for it. Skal (2004:264) describes this situation: ‘The Oedipal tension reaches a climax when the baroness is finally neck-penetrated by her son, then cardio penetrated by Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing.’ The Baron’s human assistant, Greta, gives away a great deal of information about the nature of the Baron’s relationship with his mother before and after he became a vampire:

‘But you spoiled him, oh yes, he was always self willed and cruel and you encouraged him, aye and the bad company he kept too. You used to sit and drink with them didn’t you. And you laughed at their wicked games. Till in the end one of them took him and made him what he is. You’ve done what you could for him since then, God help you. Keeping him here; a prisoner. Bringing these young girls to him; keeping him alive with their blood.’

Here there are strong resemblances again with Elizabeth Bathory; the wicked games being the torture that was acted out for her amusement and she too had victims brought to her from neighbouring villages. Dracula, Bathory and the Baron share another trait; they’re of noble blood which gives them certain advantages; they’re able to do what they want without being questioned, they’re able to travel wherever they please and they view anyone else as peasantry and therefore worthless. They all represent the cruelty that exists not only in a class system but specifically in titled families and bloodlines.

In regards to Professor Van Helsing, the only character from the novel and the prequel that made it into Brides, his role changes dramatically from the novel and he becomes involved in the oedipal relationship between the Baron and the Baroness. The character of Van Helsing

Peter Cushing as Van Helsing

in the novel is very much the father-figure, and while he is a knowledgeable and protective man, he is not a sexual character. In Brides this changes and Van Helsing becomes more of a romantic opponent to the Baron than the character has been in previous incarnations through desires for Marianne. He is intelligent, well-mannered and a doctor which speaks to his education which in turn denotes good breeding, but what Van Helsing lacks is sex appeal. With lead male vampires there is a sex drive, male virility and the desire to rape but Van Helsing has a distinct lack of sexual potency because of his protective nature and virtue. This boils down to sexual jealousy of the vampire. The Baron can and does have any girl he wants, he has mind control and his alluring nature on his side whereas an ordinary man would have to work twice as hard at getting female attention.

One of the girls that the Baron chooses to be one of his brides is Gina, a friend of Marianne’s at the ladies academy. Gina is young and attractive and due to her friendship with Marianne while she was alive, the vampire Gina has sexual desires towards Marianne. As in Dracula, vampirism brings out latent sexual desires in women and turns them into predators as it was with Lucy in the novel, so it’s possible that Gina was actually bisexual:

‘Put your arms around me please, I want to kiss you Marianne. Please be kind to me. Say that you forgive me, for letting him love me. We can both love him my darling.’

Again this parallels Bathory’s sexual orientation and Gina’s speech also points to her having a threesome with the Baron and Marianne. The implied bisexual nature echoes the lesbian tones found in Carmilla (1857) by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, a likely inspiration for Gina’s urges.

In conclusion, The Brides of Dracula has a close relationship to the vampiric conventions and themes set forth in Dracula but is also able to explore and expand on them as well as breaking away from them completely. It keeps close to the sexuality of the vampiric state but also unpacks the perverse sexual desires that vampirism unleashes in its victims. While Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad Tepes are real people and not folklore myths, their stories inspired rumour and legend which inspired the novel that inspired the film.

Bibliography

Auerbach. N (1995) Our Vampires, Ourselves, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press

Carter, M.L. (1997) ‘The Vampire as Alien in Contemporary Fiction’, in Gordon, J. and Holllinger, V. (eds) Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,

Dika, V. (1996) ‘From Dracula – With Love’, in Grant, B.K. (ed) The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, Austin: University of Texas Press

Gelder, K. (1994) Reading the Vampire, London and New York: Routledge

Hendershot, C. (2001) I Was A Cold War Monster: Horror Films, Eroticism, and the Cold War Imagination, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press

Holte, J.C. (1997) Dracula In The Dark: The Dracula Film Adaptations, Westport, Conneticut and London: Greenwood Publishing Group

LeFanu, J.S. (2004) Carmilla, Montanna: Kessinger Publishing (first published 1872)

Rickels, L.A. (1999) The Vampire Lectures, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press

Skal, D.J. (2004) Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen (revised edition), New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company

Stojanova, C. (2005) ‘Beyond Dracula and Ceausescu: Phenomenology of Horror in Romanian Cinema’, in Schneider, S.J. and Williams, T. (eds) Horror International, Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press

Stoker, B. (1994) Dracula, New York, London: Puffin Books (first published 1897)

Wood, R. (1996) ‘Burying The Undead: The Use and Obsolescence of Count Dracula’, in Grant, B.K. (ed) The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, Austin: University of Texas Press

Zimmerman, B. (1996) ‘Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampires on Film’, in Grant, B.K. (ed) The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, Austin: University of Texas Press

Filmography

Blood and Roses [Et mourir de plaisir], 1960, VHS, Vadim. R, France and Italy, Documento Film
Brides of Dracula, 1960, VHS, Fisher. T, UK, Hammer Film Productions
The Curse of Frankenstein, 1957, VHS, Fisher. T, UK, Hammer Film Productions
Dracula, 1931, VHS, Browning. T, USA, Universal Pictures
The Horror of Dracula, 1958, VHS, Fisher. T, UK, Hammer Film Productions
Nosfertau, 1922, DVD, Murnau, F.W, Germany, Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johannisthal

Websites

Prophet, M. (2001) Elizabeth Bathory – The Bloody Countess, Internet WWW page at URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A593084u

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