Points of Light Halloween Edition: Dracula
Greetings and Happy Halloween season to you all. I’m returning to the blog to kick off a favorite tradition- the October reviews of horror classics in literature and film (which will have increased entries to make up for their late start). To kick things off, we examine a horror masterpiece that is currently seeing a revamp in the theatres- Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Jonathan Harker, an English lawyer, travels to the mountains of Transylvania to finalize the sale of Carfax Abbey to the enigmatic Count Dracula. As Harker’s stay becomes further extended, he slowly begins to realize that Dracula is an undead vampire that has terrorized the region for decades. Harker is able to escape, but is unable to stop the Count’s journey, as he reached England and begins a new reign of terror. As he attacks Harker’s friends, they band together and with the help of Dr. Van Helsing, work to stop the vampire, who has begun to turn Harker’s fiancée Mina.
What Writers Can Take- Imagination, Morality, Desire
Dracula has gone through countless revisions and rebirths over the years, but they often overshadow the brilliance of the original text. To begin with, Stoker uses Dracula in a way that is often forgotten by the horror films of the modern day- he has little actual time in the novel. The story is told as a series of journal entries from Harker and other sources, and we see a much greater view of their world then we do of Dracula’s, save Harker’s early writings in the castle. However, Dracula himself hangs over each page, an invisible presence fueled by the reader’s knowledge of him, and the characters’ growing fear. This builds him into a much greater force, painting him as a force of tremendous evil, but leaving his exact nature to the reader’s imagination, which makes fearful to all, but in a very individual way for each reader.
However, there are aspects of Dracula that are clear, and those are the moral and even sexual undertones the character and vampirism bring to the novel. After all, Dracula lives with three brides that attempt to seduce him before biting him. And the fact that Dracula’s victims are all women, who become more and more enamored of their escapades as his power over them increases. It paints Dracula, and vampirism itself, as a sexual temptation, a force that would speak volumes in Victorian London. Both are seen as a sense of freedom, of release from society and all else. But the cost is high- continual murder and the loss of one’s soul. It is no surprise that the affected characters struggle to hold on to themselves even as their vampirism increases. They know that while their new desires whisper of freedom, they come at the cost of their very souls and morality- often the price for an overabundance of freedom and what makes Dracula so very dangerous.
As mentioned before, there have been countless adaptations of Stoker’s work. However, fans of the silver screen are required to view Universal’s original Dracula, with Bela Lugosi’s career making performance. Another excellent entry is Hammer Film’s Horror of Dracula, which is loose with the original story, but holds to the spirit of the novel, and contains some effectively seductive and horrifying scenes (as well as an original death scene for Dracula). Francis Ford Coppola’s version is best for a pure adaptation, though it adds its own romantic touch that still works with much of the original plot. And there are several group monster films that feature Dracula in a fine light (Monster Squad, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). However, fans should avoid the 2009 book sequel, Dracula Un-dead, which is written by Stoker’s great grandson and a film writer, which retcons much of the novel and is largely seen as an attempt by Stoker’s family to reclaim the Dracula name (which has long been in public domain). And as for the current revision film, Dracula Untold?
Skip it. Just skip it.
Keep your eyes open, as I will soon be taking us on a red-eye flight, where there just might be something outside your window…