Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dracula, The Legend Endures

Saving the best for Halloween. Dracula Rocks, he's the King of the Damned, the Father of them all. 

Vampire lore may have been with us for centuries. Maybe not.

One thing I do know for sure is this: Dracula, by Bram Stoker, was the first introduction to the Vampire as a beloved monster icon for most people.  We had to read the story for high school literature.  We read about Jonathan Harker, Mina, and Lucy. We were introduced to the idea of a remote village in Transylvania where peasant folk feared the ruling lord in the castle and spoke in whispers about the pervading evil there.

It all started out so simply:  mysterious, reclusive nobleman in a dark castle.  A visitor from England. Some shady dealings, suspicious happenings, and we were hooked. We felt for Jonathan, being kept prisoner at the count's castle. We worried over Mina, and wondered about crazy old Renfield.  It was a great story. And what came in the century after might just make the original Dracula cry tears of blood.

We had some good vamp movies, and lots of bad ones. Seems in the 70's an0th d beyond, everyone was doing a vamp movie, even doing them badly.  The parodies came, with Hollywood trying to make Dracula, or his legend, into a buffon, a clown, a villain.  Eek!  Poor Drac didn't get a lot of respect in the late 20th Century.  There was Jim Carey as the high school kid vamp in Once Bitten. We had goofy, vamps with  Leslie Neilson and George Hamilton. It was bad, people, really bad.

The was another spoof movie called Modern Vampires that makes me cringe to this day. If you missed it, good for you! Don't go there.

Bram Stoker's Dracula Movie Gary Oldman

But things turned around for our beloved legend. Things took a more serious turn. We had a few Noble attempts to restore Drac's dignity after the bruising he took in the 70's and 80's and even the bad movies of 1990's. Interview with the Vampire and Bram Stoker's Dracula did a lot to restore the dark vampire legend after too much silliness. Yes, they were different from the book versions--they always are! A director, be he theater director or movie director, interprets a book or play with his own perceptions, and that's what comes out in the final product. Sometimes we like his or her interpretation, sometimes we don't. Just remember the fiasco recently with scripting   a 'BLONDE' to play the infamous red head, Anne of Green Gables, and you know the disasters that can come from Hollywood's reinterpretation of a cultural legend.

Stoker's book is loosely based on legends of this dude, Vlad the Impaler
In essence, Dracula was a scary legend, with a germ of historical fact that Bram Stoker used to create a very compelling supernatural story in his day. I won't go into the legend of Vlad the Impaler, you know it. Stoker researched vampire lore in Romania and drew some from Vlad's notoriety.  Stoker wrote his novel in The Victorian Era, when it was rumored that people were sexually repressed (not really, but it's a cultural myth we accept today). In the story we have a guy who is dangerous, going out stalking virginal women by sneaking into their bedroom at night and penetrating them with his fangs, drawing blood and turning them into his love slave forever.

No, not one iota of sexual tension or allusion in that plot premise! 

Dracula represents many things to many people. We have a subculture of Goths, who like to play at being 'undead', play at being a Vampire like other people play at being Star Trek Characters.  Dracula has survived a century of incarnations, and well he should, he's the most dashing, the most cultured and attractive monster among them. I'm a vampire lover. Dracula has always been my favorite of the monsters.  He's cool, he's wise, and precise. A very strong, intelligent predator, not a gnoshing groaning zombie in tattered rags, or a Frankenstein with brain damage.

What is the appeal? Just that. Dracula can glamour us. He can hypnotize his prey. He is attractive when hunting. He's handsome, charismatic, and seems to be everything you ever wanted. He draws you in, to quote the Twilight dialogue. We can't resist his charm, it's part of his gift as a predator to lure in his prey. He lives forever, so there is the ancient wisdom appeal. He's lived through centuries and has witnessed the future outcome of situations that we can only guess at going into them. Hence the accumulated wisdom, and part of the appeal.

One thing I do hold to in my vampire affections. Dracula is a serious man. I want my Dracula to be a sexy, scary predator, not a clown or a buffoon. I was so disgusted with the earlier parodies of the vampire legend that I held off even seeing the new Johnny Depp/Tim Burton Dark Shadows movie. I was afraid it would be a huge disappointment. It wasn't bad. I liked the the movie. It' s not my favorite, but as I am a huge Depp/Burton fan, I finally broke down and watched it. A year later.  Still, Johnny's Vamp was a little too cute and precious for my tastes. I'll take serious and scary every time. I like a brooding vamp.  

 So, today, when those cute little vampires come to your door asking for treats, remember Bram Stoker and his incarnation, Dracula, that started it all.  Thanks Bram, Really. Thank You.  I love your monster. We all wish someone like Garret from Twilight or Lestat from Interview would come knocking on our door late one night, sweep us off our feet, and give us the promise of eternal life--without sickness, pain or aging.

To quote the byline from the movie "The Lost Boys":  It's fun to be a vampire, Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, and never die! 
Yes, isn't that the ultimate appeal? 

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