Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Threads of Fear: The Vampire

Threads of Fear! The first real update.

In order to make this laborious project a little more streamlined, we're starting out by focusing on a single classic monster: the vampire.

Bitey. Isn't that still kind of a broad topic though?
It is. There are probably thousands of vampire films, books, comics, games, poems, songs, even toys. Think of the modern vampire. What does it mean to you? Fangs, blood, romance, aristocracy? Is the vampire a tortured romantic soul, or a savage monster? This is one particular thread that has gone in a thousand different directions.

Just thinking of some of the most popular vampire movies from, say, the last few decades, you have Dracula, 30 days of night, Interview with the Vampire and even TV shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries.

There's that other series, too. The one about, I don't know, sunset or something? With the glitter?

I. . . don't remember anything about glitter?

That last one came out not too long ago. Breaking. . . something. I can't remember the title.

Breaking Bad? Great show, but this is strictly a horror blog. You've really got us off track, Yikes.

Anyway, the diversity of the modern vampire is exactly what makes it a perfect start to this topic. But you're right, We need to get a little more specific if we're going to follow this thread.

How specific?
Let's start with one vampire, probably the best known: Dracula.

We talked about him before.
Yeah, we've addressed his. . . agenda, but now we can track his trail from modern times back to the origins of the character. These days, Dracula has been everywhere. Movies, books, games, you name it. He's been portrayed by a multitude of actors, enough that his face is blurred across dozens of different men. Even now, there's a new series about Dracula in development for NBC. Previously, we've had the Dracula 2000 series, the 1992 Coppola Bram Stoker's Dracula, which always makes me think of graham crackers.

It does what now?
In the early 90s, I had just discovered cinnamon graham crackers. I associate that with seeing tons of previews about the new Dracula movie, those behind the scenes things that HBO used to show a lot. Graham crackers. Bram Stoker. I dunno.

. . . Alright.
Anyway, who played the best Dracula is very debatable, but there are certainly some frontrunners. You have the Hammer films giving the classic monsters a huge resurgence, lead by Christopher Lee's portrayal of the count. That may be my favorite, and it's what I tend to think of when I think of Dracula. He gives you a great mix of classy gentleman and terrifying monster.

In a way, he's a great example of the vampire being more than a one-dimensional creature of the night. It's not a zombie. It's not just some creature crawling out of the mud to kill the living. There's intelligence there, a real cunning. Yet, he's still really just a killer. He has brides, sure, but they're subjects of his, not a great lost love. You can contrast that with Gary Oldman's performance in Bram Stoker's Dracula, where he is seeking not just blood, but his lost love. Regardless of whether or not you enjoy that direction, there's an evolution there.

All of those films, of course, may never have existed if not for the originals: The Universal classics. A number of different actors portrayed the vampire in those films, from Lon Chaney Jr., through John Carradine and of course back to the original, Bela Legosi.

So you take all these modern Draculas running all over the screen, and you trace them back to Legosi.
Well, Legosi may have been the first screen actor to play Dracula in name, but he is preceded by Max Schreck, playing a count Orlok in the first real movie adaption of the original Dracula novel.

Right, so the first actor to play Dracula didn't play Dracula at all. He played some other vampire named Sherlock?
No, it's Orlock. Sherlock is the detective. But Max Schreck was playing Dracula in spirit. The film makers just didn't have the rights to the novel, so characters were renamed. It's the same story.

But his name is Morlock?
Orlock. Morlocks are those monsters in The Time Machine.

That's a minor boss in Castlevania.

You know what, let's just call it Dracula.

The point is, if you're looking for the root of the vampire in film, it has to be here. And here, we do have something closer to a creature climbing out of the mud. Count Orlok is a frightful creature, hairless and ratlike with prominent fangs. The groundwork is laid for the romance as well-- he is distracted, enthralled with the beauty of a woman, and that is his weakness. Yet, there is never any doubt that the Nosferatu is a creature of nightmares.

The nightmares are what we're looking for.
Precisely, and there is a lot more history to go before we get to their source. Traveling back through time, at this point, we have to leave the world of film, and we find ourselves with the novel. We're entering the world of the written word. It's an interesting point in the past of the genre. The written word is the first time the things that scared us were really being recorded and preserved outside of our own fearful minds.

It's kinda like our journey left the pavement and went to a gravel road.
That's the best sign that we're getting somewhere. We'll pick up there, in the next Threads of Fear.