Me Writing About Vampires: Part Deux

I’m just gonna be honest, my love for vampires is deep and real but I draw the line at Twilight as the ‘vampires’ aren’t actual bloodsuckers, they’re just superheroes with unusual diets.

Aside from that particular franchise, I’m open to all kinds of vampirism. Blade, Dracula, Nosferatu, Lost Boys etc. well not the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Mina Harker, who saunters about in the African heat like it ain’t no thang.

So when another essay was needed for my modern vampire class, I busted out my copy of Underworld and Van Helsing (don’t you judge me!) and wrote up a little something. And once again, it was fuelled by late nights, pro plus and many bottles of coke and that’s why there’s a reference to the Large Hadron Collider. I think I was trying to make some sort of point but not sure that comes across. Ah well, give it a read if you want.

    It’s Fiction, Vlad, But Not As We Know It: The Vampire and Science

8. It has been suggested that very recent vampire films (from the late 1990s to the present) have increasingly represented the vampire through the language of science. With close reference to two films or television series*, critically discuss this statement with consideration for how the vampire has come to embody contemporary anxieties about the body, disease and science.

The vampire, as a cinematic monster, has evolved from residing solely in the horror genre to intertwining with science fiction. The vampire is no longer a figure of horror and nightmares but is now an elaborate science experiment. No longer are they deviants hiding behind billowing curtains, but are gun-toting warriors with a genetic disorder. The inclusion of science in vampire films has always been inevitable but it’s also not a new concept. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1987) had elements of burgeoning scientific processes and advancements such as blood transfusions, recording devices and the constant use of a typewriter by Mina Harker. These inclusions create a more believable world in which the vampires operate as it would be highly unrealistic to have a vampire interact with the modern world but somehow avoid contact with modern technology. In choosing examples to illustrate the interaction between vampires and science, I have decided to avoid drawing too much upon Blade II (2002) as it is laden down with science and technology and there is little left to discover within the film as it’s handled so obviously. I’d like to focus instead on films that use science more discreetly and have integrated it more naturally into both the plot and form of the film. I’ll be using Underworld (2003) and Van Helsing (2004) to draw parallels between the vampire and contemporary scientific and medical issues and concerns.

Contemporary audiences have evolved from ignorant viewers gawking in awe at cinematic equipment to techno savvy viewers who have to be reminded to cut themselves off from technology in order to watch a film. The general population has a broad knowledge of science and the ethical implications of certain advances and so we are less likely to accept a serious story based purely on mythology. Underworld is able to integrate science into its plot alongside a mythological base and extensive historical back-story and views the vampire condition from a mythological and medical viewpoint. The plot of the film revolves around Selene, a vampire warrior, as she becomes embroiled in the secrets surrounding a thousand-year war between vampires and werewolves. This fact means that the characters are inevitably going to be scientifically advanced; werewolves and vampires being immortal and locked in battle for so long were bound to develop new weapons to kill each other with. This is a key factor of the vampire’s advancement through science; simply being immortal has enormous benefits in the evolution of the species. It means that they have an unlimited amount of time to develop a weapon or build an army. They will have amassed an excessive amount of knowledge, possibly over several centuries’ worth. That, in conjunction with actually being a vampire, means they are able to bypass most political processes (perhaps human interaction may come with some red tape as hinted at in Blade (1998)), they are unconcerned with ethical dilemmas and they have no interference from the media or religious groups. They are essentially without limits in terms of the scope of their potential advancements.

Selene tells Michael, a human about to change into a werewolf, that vampires have developed artificial plasma and cloned blood and that once it is approved it will be the vampire’s latest ‘cash crop’. In a single sentence Selene gives away an incredible amount of information about the entire vampire race. The very idea of cloned blood means much more than the fact that it’s an incredible advancement. Cloned blood, for starters, means that the vampires have worked on this for some time; humans have also been working on it and are still are without a perfected product. It indicates that vampires have one if not more fully equipped laboratories complete with vampire scientists. It’s also likely that humans were used in the development process as unwilling victims, unable to refuse the vampires. Financially, it means they are able to sell cloned blood not only to vampires but to humans too, with the demand for blood donors far outweighing the rate of actual donations.

Cloned blood also has other effects on the vampire condition. The vampires in Underworld indicate that they have a conscience and would prefer not to kill humans, instead favouring livestock etc. Artificial blood means that a vampire can overcome a natural urge to not only drink human blood but to hunt and kill and while these urges are incredibly strong, it seems to be that cloned blood can suppress them; science overcomes vampire desires at their request. Or perhaps it is simply convenience and the artificial blood becomes the equivalent of human fast food; synthetic blood is continued through vampire fiction in “True Blood” (2007) where it’s sold in stores as a beverage to vampires. Drinking cloned blood means a vampire does not have to hunt and he doesn’t have to use natural vampire attributes to feed himself. This has the potential to change what we expect from vampires; if they’re not feeding from humans, they’re not threatening and seem to be reduced to, as Spike says in an episode of “Angel” , ‘…now, I’m just a big, fluffy puppy with bad teeth’ (“In the Dark” 1999).

The evolution of the vampire through technology inevitably effects the weapons that are used to kill them. But vampires also evolve through technology in order to protect not just the individual vampire but their entire race. I’d like to quickly look at how technology brings vampires together, particularly in the contemporary tendency to place vampires within families or covens. The image of a vampire alone in his crypt rests with classic Hollywood cinema but vampires in recent fiction tend to protect themselves as groups; safety in numbers perhaps. They aren’t fighting to protect themselves but their species as a whole, particularly in Underworld as it’s about one species trying to decimate another. Underworld displays the vampires living as a coven in a large mansion-house surrounded by high walls, electric gates, perimeter sensors, security cameras and sealed coffin rooms. Technology has changed the way we perceive a vampire’s lair or crypt and we now accept that vampire’s have incredibly secure and comfortable surroundings.

Selene and Michael in a vampire safe house, surrounded by surveillance monitors and rifles on the walls.

Selene at the firing range with weapons and security team member Kahn

In terms of their physical protection there are security teams who have training rooms, firing ranges, re-enforced uniforms and the ability to quickly develop a new weapon in retaliation to the advances of the enemy. One might think vampires should be capable of defending themselves with their natural abilities: heightened sense of smell, eyesight, speed and strength, but instead they make use of technology. Again, science is preferred over skill which is the reflected fear of humanity; that we will choose our scientific discoveries over our own natural abilities, a fear that began when people first started to lose their jobs to machines.

In terms of the vampire, science appears to be the solution to the vampire body as one that is limited by mythology and religious factors. In framing the problem of vampirism as a genetic disorder or virus, we regain control of the vampire as a grounded, conquerable opponent; in Underworld Selene refers to vampirism as transmitting a virus and there is no effort or desire to create a cure. In humanity we find we need a great many cures nowadays; we research every medical ailment or condition and have some way of managing it. On the surface, the idea of being able to end people’s pain or correct a disability would seem to be a good thing but it is not without its controversy. There are a number of groups that protest against certain areas of medical research such as stem cell research and specific vaccinations. Some groups oppose these fields on religious grounds as it is seen as science trying to overcome God’s divine choices. I’d like to look at science vs. religion in terms of vampirism as it mirrors the human concern of science overcoming the human condition as made by God; who has control over human/vampire life –science or God? Concerning the relationship between humanity, religion and science, we were confronted with a combination of all of these factors recently in an experiment that could potentially confirm a scientific triumph over religion. The activation of the Large Hadron Collider was an attempt to find the Higgs Boson particle, also known as the ‘God’ particle. It would have been evidence towards proving the Big Bang theory which would naturally negate the book of Genesis. It was essentially an experiment to prove that science controls life and physical phenomena and not God. Religion vs. science becomes a prevalent problem when exploring vampire films due mostly to the fact that since the late 90’s vampirism is typically framed as a virus and when that happens, the religious legacy of the films suddenly has no place in the story and it becomes difficult to explain or use the allergy to religious materials.

In Van Helsing (2004), there is a struggle between Count Dracula and Van Helsing in Transylvania as Dracula attempts to give life to his stillborn vampire children by passing electrical currents through Frankenstein’s Monster. While the scientific principles of this are most likely wildly impossible, the film is a period piece and so is void of up to date medical and scientific knowledge. However, the audience is willing to accept the basic idea of electrical currents giving life due to our general knowledge of medical science as well as the precedent set in Frankenstein (1931). In that instance, Dr. Frankenstein awakens his monster with lightning and exclaims, ‘Now I know what it feels like to be God!’ Another reason for people to fear that scientific development will negate the power of God. What Dracula wants to achieve is essentially world domination through the expansion of his species. He and his brides have many hundreds, possibly thousands, of offspring and it is stated that vampires only kill only what they need to survive, one or two people a month. If he succeeds in his plan Dracula and his family would soon take over the world and thus almost completely overcome humanity, but there is a flaw in the plan in that Dracula does not account for the fact that vampires need humans to survive and seemingly has no means to keep a source of fresh blood around as they do in Underworld.

Van Helsing explains that Dracula became a vampire as a result of a struggle between God and the Devil, thus giving vampirism religious origins. But Dracula is working towards using science as a solution to a problem of vampirism; the inability to give organic life, but in his own words, Dracula sees this answer as ‘a triumph of science over God!’ It’s revenge on religion for his condition; he’s a lonely vampire who has three brides, all these children and they’re all born dead. His entire species is limited to a few beings and with the arrival of Van Helsing in Transylvania, the vampires are threatened further and all Dracula is trying to do is protect his race, ‘All I wanted was life, Gabriel. The continuation of my kind.’ The problem of not being able to create organic life is a human problem also and religious people will often comment that ‘it’s just not in God’s plan’ when they cannot conceive. However we have the scientific ability to overcome this problem using IVF treatments and have expanded the solution into genetically designed babies, something that is also paralleled in Blade II through the genetic experiments on vampire DNA. We see in humanity that, in religious terms, God perhaps has a grand design and therefore decides that certain people cannot create life. In terms of Dracula, God is definitely the reason that he cannot create life and in both human and vampire cases, science is able to overcome these restrictions.

Dracula having a fiery allergic reaction to a silver crucifix

While the above problem of procreation is a drawback of vampirism, the benefits are multiple and another I have so far not listed is a superior immune system. Vampires are unaffected by diseases or sickness but instead we have synthetic viral strains and engineered chemicals/formulas which are used instead to affect the vampire. The use of engineered serums and viruses is best displayed in Blade because Blade, the vampire/human hybrid, needs a serum to suppress this thirst for blood, or, in other words, strengthen his human immune system against the vampiric virus he has. He also uses an anti-coagulant formula to use against the vampires One could conceivably conclude that because a vampire is the result of centuries of evolution stemming from a viral infection (for the time being we will exclude religious or demonic causes), they are not included in the natural equilibrium of a food chain and evolutionary scale that exists for organically created creatures e.g. humans and animals. Vampires are a genetic anomaly and so seem to have to be targeted specifically with engineered viruses e.g. the Daystar virus featured in Blade: Trinity (2004) that wipes out any creature with vampire DNA. This reflects societal fears of manmade viruses/disease and ones that exist or are spread, through mankind’s activities e.g. AIDS, MRSA, anthrax etc. These are prevalent modern fears for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s an unnatural occurrence which means it doesn’t have a natural antidote or purpose; it too doesn’t fit into the natural equilibrium. Secondly, it means a species has the ability to develop a virus that will attack other members of that species. It’s the fear that we’re all out to get each other; a throw back to scientific, cold-war paranoia. Thirdly, it mirrors a fear of transformation which is also represented through zombie films in which the undead are affected by some kind of virus. This creates the fear, not that you die, but that you don’t die; you are transformed into something that is no longer human which is what happens when a vampire bites a human.

In conclusion, the vampire of recent films and TV shows is almost expected to be engaged with the world through science. The way they feed, the continuation of their race, their defences and their genes; it can all be analysed through science, particularly over any kind of religious reasoning, as those types of answers cannot satisfy the curiosity in the techno savvy viewers of today. In an age where we can explain almost everything with formulas and equations there is hardly an aspect of the vampire that has not been explored through science.

Bibliography

Abbott, S. (2007) ‘Vampire Cyborgs’ [pp 197-214], in Abbott, S. Celluloid Vampires:
Life After Death in The Modern World, Austin: University of Texas, Press

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

Jordan, J. J. (1999) ‘Vampire Cyborgs & Scientific Imperialism: A Reading of The
Science-Mysticism Polemic in Blade’ in Journal of Popular Film and Television 27, no. 2, 1999, pp4-15

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

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

Waller, G. A. (1986) ‘The Invasion of America’ [pp 233-271] in Waller, G.A. The
Living Undead: From Stoker’s Dracula To romero’s Dawn of the Dead,
Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press

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

Filmography

Blade, 1998, DVD, Norrington. S, USA, Amen Ra Films

Blade II, 2002, DVD, Del Toro. G, USA/Germany, New Line Cinema

Blade: Tinity, 2004, DVD, Goyer. D. S, USA, New Line Cinema

Frankenstein, 1931, DVD, Whale. J, USA, Universal Pictures

“In The Dark.” Writ. Douglas Petrie, Dir. Bruce Seth Green, “Angel: The Series”. WB. 19 October 1999

“True Blood” HBO, USA, 2007-present

Underworld, 2003, DVD, Wiseman. L, USA/Germany/Hungary/UK, Lakeshore Entertainment

Van Helsing, 2004, DVD, Sommers. S, USA/Czech Republic, Universal Pictures

Websites

Assosciated Press, (10.26.06) Science Nips at Vampire Myths,
http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/news/2006/10/72014 (accessed 05/01/09)

Davis. L, (17/08/08) When Are Vampires Science Fiction?
http://io9.com/5037949/when-are-vampire-stories-science-fiction (accessed 05/01/09)

Unknown author, (19/03/08) The science of religion: Where angels no longer fear to
Tread http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10875666 (accessed 04/01/09)

Unknown author, (19/03/01) Vampires: Medical Facts About Vampires
http://www.penddraig.co.uk/vampire/vampmed.html (accessed 05/01/09)

Wilson. T. V. (Unknown publication date) How Artificial Blood Works,
http://health.howstuffworks.com/artificial-blood3.htm (accessed: 04/01/09)

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. The Great Goth Ninja (@GreatGothNinja)
    May 29, 2013 @ 12:02:30

    Cool. I Get added as a reference 😉

    Unknown author, (19/03/01) Vampires: Medical Facts About Vampires
    http://www.penddraig.co.uk/vampire/vampmed.html (accessed 05/01/09)

    Reply

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