Thursday, October 1, 2009

This. Is. Horror.

Dracula is horror. He's not the first horror figure by a long shot, that role belonging to some long-forgotten figure spoken of in the caves and drawn on the walls, probably some part mammoth, some part monster. And he's also not the oldest passed down in writing either, with such figures as the golem far surpassing his longevity. But Dracula is horror. He is monster, myth and menace, sexual menace, rolled into one.

Dracula is dread. He's the guy who comes into your home, into your bedroom, and takes care of your wife or fiance while you're away, or just in another room. When he leaves she has a disease, one that you can't cure unless you kill him before she dies and if she dies first there's nothing to do but drive a stake through her heart and cut off her head. But the part that really stings is... she can't wait for him to come back. And it's not like you can compete with him because you can't. See, it's not about looks because he doesn't have any. He's dirty, has a foul odor, sleeps in a coffin and has hairy palms... and she can't wait for him to come back. But it gets worse: He is most decidedly not a subject of the British Empire. Oh no, he's one of those swarthy types, an Eastern European lacking the refinement of a well-bred, well-educated Anglo-Saxon man. That's right, your girl has the hots for a foreigner. A foreigner who spreads disease and can disarm you physically in seconds, throwing you to the ground or out the window while your best girl pants in expectation and pulls back the sheets. You. Are. Impotent.

Dracula is the Victorian man's worst nightmare. And Dracula can be or mean almost anything. He can be the sexual predator, he can be the untrustworthy foreigner or he can simply be the monster hiding under the bed. The fact that Dracula can stand in for so many ills and dreads of our society as the perfect scapegoat is a testament to how well drawn he is in the epistolary novel written by Bram Stoker and first published in 1897. But I'm not here to talk about his multiple meanings or vampire symbology or why people are so afraid of the whole sense of "other." Rather I am here to state boldly and without reservation that the movie that best understands everything stated in the first two paragraphs is 1958's The Horror of Dracula (Dracula in Britain), directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing as Doctor Van Helsing.

The Horror of Dracula is a reboot, only they didn't call such things reboots in those days. It takes the basic, very basic, story of the novel and runs with it. The names are changed, the relationships are changed, the plot points are changed. But what they do is more extraordinary than providing a faithful adaptation (that was done by others later and didn't prove very interesting). What they do is cover the themes and ideas of Dracula and throw everything else away. Look not here for a deep reflection upon Van Helsing or Dracula or any of the characters. Look here for the bewitched damsel getting up to open those windows and unlock those doors because he's coming back tonight. Look here for a vampire woman attacking a good English man only to be thrown to the floor by Dracula and later to be staked, through the heart that is, by that very same good English man, already falling victim to the disease himself. Look for children led astray, burned impressions of crucifixes on foreheads, blood spurting death scenes and sunlight sending the unwanted one, that goddamn dark, stinky, swarthy son of a bitch, to his grave, as it were. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Horror of Dracula is about the idea of Dracula. It couldn't give less of a damn about the story of Dracula and that's why it's my favorite of the vampire genre. Because sometimes the best way to adapt a work of one medium to another is to interpret, not transcribe.

Dracula the vampire, and all of his ilk, will play strongly into the ideas and themes discussed this month here at Cinema Styles and so it seems fitting to introduce the month by introducing the Count but make no mistake: There will also be madmen and monsters, witches and ghosts, corpses and killers. It's October and we here at Cinema Styles welcome you and bid you good morning. Let the horror begin.