Sunday, June 20, 2010

A World Without Dracula?

Theresa answers a reader's compelling question on her blog: "Without Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula' do you think the vampire would be as popular today?"

Let's put this in perspective. At the time Stoker wrote his book, vampires made sporadic appearances in fictional literature. The vampiremania and theatrical adaptations that followed in the wake of John Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1819) were long-gone.

Sure, Varney the Vampire (1845-1847) was a reasonably successful penny dreadful. But, to my knowledge, it didn't exactly have global distribution. It was reprinted in 1853 and wouldn't see republication again till 1970 and 1972.

How about J. Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" (1872)? Even though it's been reproduced in numerous anthologies, it didn't exactly have a huge impact at the time. That'd come much later.

Between then and 1897, I dare you to name any other vampire novels or stories, off the top of your head. And, if you can think of any more, then ask yourself this: did they have as much of an impact on vampire literature as Dracula did?

How about we skip right ahead into the twentieth century?

Between 1897 and let's say, maybe, Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot (1975) or, better yet, Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976), try and come up with some vampire titles that have been in continuous reprint since Stoker's book. Try and think of a name that is more synonymous with vampires than Dracula.

Can't think of any? That's how important Dracula's been to vampire literature. For better, or worse.

Now, just to get technical for a second, Dracula wouldn't nearly be so well-known today if it wasn't for its subsequent stage adaptations and a certain Bela Lugosi flick, but the fact remains, that Stoker's book spurred on a hell of an interest in the undead. So much so, that even "folklore" he invented managed to slip into studies on the vampire proper.

Sure, Stoker was drawing on a rich Gothic tradition, but few vampires have succeeded in crystallising an archetype and given birth to an industry.

But, to get back to the initial question, would vampires be as popular as they are today, if it wasn't for Dracula?

Bane argues in the affirmative. However, despite the material she cites, that is, the vampire writings leading up to Dracula's publication, I'm not really convinced vampires would be the pop culture figures they are today.

After all, as I pointed out, fictional writings on vampires were quite sparse by Stoker's time. Hell, a lot of the non-fiction stuff was derived from three primary sources: republications of Augustin's Calmet's works on vampires, Herbert Mayo's "Vampyrism" article and Theosophical/occult writings on psychic and astral vampires.

In fact, vampire literature of the latter nineteenth century was geared more to this last category, e.g. Florence Marryat's Blood of the Vampire (1897). This motif was already well-worn by the early twentieth century, too.

Thus, the publication of Dracula helped turn the tide against the metaphysical direction vampires were taking, by returning to folkloric variants, giving us many of the tropes we associate with them now. Its basic storyline and characterisations (Van Helsing, anyone?) also set a benchmark.

Of course, this also meant that a new cookie cutter template was born and many clones followed in its wake. Thus, it's no surprise that the next major novel to have a significant impact on subsequent vampire stories was Rice's 1976 book, mainly because of its shift from vampire-as-shadowy-background-figure, to protagonist. Hell, a vampire even told the damn story. A big overhaul, as it essentially meant the vampire's personality (along with moral complexities) came to the forefront. No longer was it a mere figure of evil to stalk-n-stake.

And yes, I know Fred Saberhagen beat her to the punch in 1975. His novel served as the perfect bridge between Stoker and the new guard.

But here's the thing: how could all these changes have taken place, if you remove Dracula from the equation? If there's anything Dracula achieved, it was casting vampires into the mainstream. You know, the "popular" angle of the original question.

I mean, how many vampire characters do you know, that have inspired potential theme parks?

So, no, I don't think vampires would be as popular today if Stoker's Dracula never existed. I mean, you don't exactly see Carmilla Karnstein on a box of cereal, do you?

Admittedly, the vampire has gone through bursts of public interest, which Bane touches on, but what she neglects to deal with is the large gaps between this interest. That is, prior to the twentieth century. And even then, basic knowledge and exposure to vampire writings is one thing (I'm sure a lot of folk knew what a vampire was by that time), but popularity, another. Toys, fake fangs, games, movies, TV shows, comics, etc., etc. they were all largely born in the shadow of Dracula's mainstream success, not a penny dreadful boogeyman or Polidori's Lord Byron pastiche. Thus, no Dracula = no mainstream success.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Putting the Fright in Fright Night Remake

Just when I was (slightly) warming to the idea of the upcoming Fright Night remake, it goes ahead and makes itself seem even more pointless and stupid than that it already was.

Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) in Fright Night (1985).

Ryan Turek reveals that the aging, vampire hunting horror host, originally played by Roddy McDowall, will be recast as a "Las Vegas magician". And it gets worse. Here's the transformation the Peter Vincent character has undergone for the sake of the remake:
"wiry, hot - a rock 'n roll bad boy" (as the script describes him as) with a hit gothic stage show at the Hard Rock, well, whether you groove to it or not, works for today's crowd who can quickly identify the likes of Criss Angel.
Ugh. Anyway, who've they got to play this "bad boy"? Russell Brand, maybe? Nope. Try Dr. freakin' Who:

That's right. According to this and this, David Tennant will be playing the Peter Vincent role. Let's take a look at the rest of the re-casting, shall we?

We'll start with the most obvious, that is, the vampire-next-door himself, Jerry Dandrige. He was originally played with suitable malignancy and pathos by Chris Sarandon.

So who've they got to replace him? Well, remember Colin Farrell? Yeah, the dodgy facial hair bloke from Phone Booth, Daredevil and the Miami Vice remake. Yep, him.

Ok, how about Charley Brewster? Y'know, the main character. The one originally played by William Ragsdale.

Try Anton Yelchin on for size!

Who? Yeah, that was my reaction too. Well, he was in Terminator: Salvation and that recent Star Trek flick. Remember him? I don't. Still, I guess he looks geeky enough.

And speaking of which, how about "Evil" Ed Thompson, Charley's best mate?

Stephen Geoffreys' stand-out role was leading into horror typecasting. That is, until he "became" Sam Ritter and pursued a slightly, uh, different niche.

Who could they possibly have gotten to fill his shoes? Why, none-other than McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse!

Oh, and Judy Brewster (Dorothy Fielding) is gonna be played by Toni "United States of Tara" Collette. Of course, we Aussies still remember her from Muriel's Wedding. I'll be surprised if her role's gonna be greatly expanded from the practically miniscule part featured in the first place, but we'll see, eh?

Strangely, there's been no mention of casting for Charley's love interest, Amy. But hey, at least they got Judy covered! And that's what matters, right?

Anyway, after sifting through this tripe, I suggest moseying on down to Tim Sullivan's incisive interview (try and overlook the crappy formatting) with Tom Holland, the director/writer of the original and pretend the remake doesn't exist.

Clark and the Cross

Fred Clark has some interesting speculations on the vampire's fear of the cross.

Not that I really agree with him, mind you. Especially when he prefaces his article thusly:
I should note here, before we go on, that I believe in vampire stories. I don't mean that I believe these stories are "literally" true -- they're not that kind of story. But I believe they are true stories -- stories by which we tell ourselves true things so that we do not forget them.
Make of that what you will.

But essentially, he argues that a vampire's fear of the cross stems not from a dread of something holy, but the confrontation with a symbol that evokes "powerlessness"...and being bewildered by it.

Mind you, the vampire's fear of the cross isn't all-pervasive in vampire folklore. David Keyworth even argues for their inefficacy (mainly against revenants) in the "Vampire-Slayers and Christian Paraphernalia" chapter of Troublesome Corpses: Vampires & Revenants, from Antiquity to the Present (Southend-on-Sea: Desert Island Books, 2007), pp. 142-48.

Let's say the lore is hardly consistent.

Oh, and just to give credit where it's due, I came across Clark's article via David Wong's "6 Popular Monsters Myths (That Prove Humanity Is Doomed)".

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Catch It While You Can

The Watson Library in the University of Kansas is holding an exhibit called, "Vampire by Any Other Name: Vampires, Werewolves and Witches of the Slavs, Balkan Peoples and Other Lands: A Linguistic and Cultural Adventure".

Have a flick through the exhibit's catalogue, which contains some rather interesting items and three pics of their displays.

It's been going from May and finishes this month, so catch it while you can.
Related Posts with Thumbnails