The Dead and Undead
This is probably the most obvious and immediate significance of the vampire figure, especially with its early connection to plagues, inexplicable deaths, and premature burials in eastern Europe, particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The theme is most emphasized in the Nosferatu films, with the connection between the vampire figure and the plague of Wisborg in the first film and the plague of Wismar in the second. Melton claims that the term "Nosferatu" derives from nosufur-atu, an Old Slavonic word meaning "plague carrier" (435). Some critics have seen the Nosferatu of both Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski as resembling an erect penis (for example, Danoun, 54–55), but such an interpretation seems to me to be the result of a preconceived sexual interpretation of the vampire in general. Certainly both Murnau and Herzog emphasize the ratlike heads and unworldly demeanor of their vampires to link them to the themes of plague and pestilence. One of the most striking scenes in Murnau's film is the long shot of the procession of pallbearers carrying the coffins down the narrow, claustrophobic street from the top part of the frame to the bottom, a scene repeated and widened in Herzog's work with a high-angle shot of three forlorn processions in the town square of Wismar. But all the films to some degree play with this general motif, especially with Dracula's coffin as a central image. Although vampires in eastern Europe were thought to be reanimated corpses, Dracula is often thought of as "undead," and the theme of immortality is stressed in the book and all these films—remember Van Helsing's words in the novel, "The vampire lives on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time" (245). But Dracula is also seen as a creature who is both undead and dead, a transitional figure who moves between the two worlds and, as such, responds also to our fear of the spirits that inhabit the other world and intrude into ours, especially as nighttime creatures. Yet this is often a creature who seems to have had enough of such intrusions and would prefer to remain permanently in his grave. Recall Lugosi's speech in the 1931 film, "To die, to be really dead—that must be
glorious," sentiments expressed in some variation by all the figures in the sound versions of these films. Lucy, in most of these films, becomes a vampire creature of the cemetery after her death and is finally put to rest so that she may remain dead.
The novel also emphasizes the physical aspects of death: though Dracula may appear to grow younger and stronger as he feasts on more blood, he always has the stench of the grave and the pallor of the dead. In the films he is too much a seductive lover to have these qualities, but corporeal decay does rise to the surface in Terence Fischer's film with the effective physical decomposition of Dracula at the end of the work achieved by a series of very skillful superimpositions. Coppola's film also adds a contemporary note to the theme of plague and disease so developed in the Nosferatu films by subtly relating AIDS to the disease of the blood spread by Dracula. We first meet the Van Helsing character, Professor Bulwer in the film, giving a lecture to his students on "the diseases of the blood" and their connection to "the sex problem." On a deeper level the connection may even be more disturbing, reminding us that the suave count in the sound films is a representative of the seductiveness of death and, as such, a manifestation of our death wish. In this context we must recognize that the heroines of Badham's and Coppola's films are committing an act of necrophilia when they willingly make love to someone who is not alive.