The Anti-Christ and Anti-God
On the most fundamental level, all the Dracula stories, like so many horror films, are moral allegories depicting the struggle of good against evil, but this particular myth ties itself more directly into the struggle of Christianity against the forces of darkness: Van Helsing says in Badham's film, "If we are defeated, then there is no God." The religious aspects of the story are well-known and frequently a source of great humor for audiences even when filmmakers do not intend them to be funny. Vampires, along with witches and werewolves, were part of the developing folklore in eastern Europe and also Greece that the Christian Church was quick to pick up and exploit in its war against disbelief during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Vampires were sometimes thought to be creatures unbaptized, excommunicated, buried without a proper religious service, or born on Christmas day (Summers, passim). The ways in which Christian symbols are used as a weapon in the novel and films are easy enough to identify, but I must emphasize how much the very notion and nature of the vampire is shaped to be the reverse of Christ, the symbol of goodness and rebirth. Dracula is a creature of the dark, not the light. Dracula is a creature of the body, a soulless fiend who casts no reflection in the mirror, while Jesus takes us beyond the body and offers us an everlasting life of the spirit. While Jesus was permanently resurrected, the vampire must descend into the tomb every day at sunrise. Jesus offers the promise of everlasting life, while Dracula is a creature of the grave who belongs to the undead and offers a state of perpetual longing and need as a member of the undead. Through the Eucharist, Jesus gives us his blood and flesh in an act of sacrifice and holiness, while the vampire tears at our flesh and takes our blood from us. Therefore all things holy and related to Jesus—the cross, holy wafer, and holy water—are anathema to Dracula. The Christian iconography is played down in both Nosferatu films because of the ineffectuality of religion to stop the onslaught of the plague, while it becomes a chief means of fighting and controlling the vampire in Browning and Fischer's films. Badham's version undermines the religious element when Frank Langella, as the count, reaches out and ignites a wooden cross with his touch, so strong and powerful has he become through his passionate love for Lucy. When Dracula tells Lucy in this film, "You will be flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood," as they commence their ardent lovemaking in one of the most stylized and romanticized interaction of vampire and female in any of these films, we know that the motif is neither Christian nor anti-Christian but Hollywood romance; indeed, Van Helsing even fears toward the end of the film that the two will go off and create more of their kind, suggesting the possibility of a happy and fruitful wedlock. Coppola's film most dramatizes this religious element, at least at the very start of the film, even suggesting that
Dracula's career as a vampire and as the undead is very much involved with his sacrilegious behavior in the church after hearing of his wife's suicide and the church's refusal to bury her in holy ground. "Is this my reward for defending God's church?!" Dracula shouts in Romanian before he goes into a rampage, impaling the cross and drinking bloody holy water from the sacramental communal goblet as the chapel fills with blood from the wounded cross.
As Jesus is made of the substance of the father and son, so is Dracula as much an anti-God as anti-Christ. In the novel, Renfield quotes Dracula as seeming to say to him, "All these lives will I give you, ay, and many more and greater, through countless ages, if you will fall down and worship me!" (285). As Van Helsing states, "[H]e can, within limitations, appear at will when and where and in any of the forms that are to him; he can, within his range, direct the elements: the storm, the fog, the thunder . . ." (243)—a limited God, but God-like nonetheless, he is more than human. Of course no such impression of the vampire figure is possible from either of the Nosferatu films, where he is clearly a figure of death. In Murnau's film, the Renfield character, Krock, may announce, "He is coming. I must go to meet him." But what arrives in Wisborg from the ship is the count carrying his coffin and a host of rats. Budgetary concerns in Browning's, Fisher's, and Franco's films limit the powers of Dracula and make him seem something less than God, though he remains something more than mortal. Although Gary Oldman is a young performer and plays a young Dracula through much of Coppola's film, he gives a striking performance as an older count in the first part, an overpowering, otherworldly figure who dwarfs the inept Harker. But the sense of Dracula's omnipotence and ever-present threat is created in the film largely through Coppola's visual technique and editing, through the shadow of Dracula that falls upon a scene even when he does not seem to be there (a technique anticipated in Murnau's film), through the all-seeing eyes that we view in the sky on the other side of the window of a moving train, through the unnatural crosscutting that seems to distort and finally overcome time and space in order to impose the presence and actions of the count on the characters in England. Though Badham's and especially Coppola's film are able to create a figure more powerful than those in the other films, with greater supernatural abilities, we still remember these figures more for the strength of their human passions than their inhuman powers.