Exploring the Vampire in Cinema

nos_orlok2Vampire mythology has long held firm on two important elements, in spite of its many deviations that were the result of “artistic license”. The first being the depiction of vampires as tortured soul-less beings, doomed to live an unnaturally long life, devoid of any companionship…even that of their own reflection. The second being the sensual undertones of the lifestyle the walking dead are forced to live.

Vampires are of course mythological or folkloric beings that are renowned for subsisting on human blood, or in some cases “life-force”. While originally popularized in the early 1800s Balkans as “undead beings who visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the areas they inhabited while living”, the charismatic and sophisticated vampire of the modern era can be traced to John Polidori’s 1819 publication The Vampyre.

However it is the Bram Stoker novel Dracula (1897) that has long been considered the quintessential vampire story. It is here that the first notion of vampire’s being unable to cast a reflection is introduced. This piece also openly reinforces the erotic’ nature of the disease that is vampirism.

The reason, it is argued, that vampire’s fail to cast a reflection or to be captured on film is because both of those acts “capture a piece of your soul”, something a vampire no longer has. Because this trait was the birth child of Stoker’s imagination, as well as generating more technical arguments like “why can’t we see the vampire’s clothes?”, it has been the subject of numerous debates.

Regardless, the more interesting question has to do with the obvious dichotomy of portraying such a concept in a medium that it is essentially claiming is unable to do so. Is there some sort of hypocrisy to be found in the mere act of presenting the story of a vampire on film when the history of said character tells us they cannot be captured as such?

In some circumstances, most notably Shadow Of A Vampire (2001), where the story itself involves a vampire having its image captured on film, one could certainly argue as such. However, since the particular trait itself is the product of one particular author, rather than traditional vampire lore, the argument is without much merit.

Sensuality, however, has long been the one truly universal theme in vampire literature. As society’s views on sex have evolved, so have the erotic undertones of vampire lore.

What began as a representation of a dominant male, able to seduce women and bend their will to meet his needs, has begun to delve into a more complex set of issues. The modern vampire is able to overwhelm the sense of their prey, no matter the sex of either the hunter or the hunted.

Additionally, the disease’ of vampirism was always a thinly veiled allusion to sexually transmitted diseases from the onset of its existence in literature. In the post HIV world this takes on an additional relevance. While the medical implications of a vampire ingesting HIV tainted blood has been the subject of a heated debate among fanboys and folklorists alike, the underlying implication is undeniable.

Once again we find society telling us that danger lies around the corner of every sexual encounter.


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