The Preoedipal Mother
We might think of the entire Dracula story as implicitly suggesting a regression from the genital to the oral stage, from desiring pleasure through normal sexuality to the more primitive stage of attempting to satisfy desire through the mouth. The very act of drinking blood from the body, though, is more than an attempt to find satisfaction through the mouth—it is an inverted memory of the child's hungry and sadistic taking of milk from the mother's breast. Beginning with the vampire woman's protruding bosom in the Hammer film directed by Terence Fisher, most vampire films put heavy emphasis on this female part of the anatomy—one need only think of Sadie Frost's bare breast as Dracula puts the bite on her in Coppola's film, or even the elderly and slovenly Van Helsing, in the midst of cold winter before Dracula's castle and in the midst of his crusade to destroy the monster, being tempted in the same film to suck on young Mina's breasts. The movement of the mouth from breasts to neck (a movement literally and physically carried out by all the Draculas since Christopher Lee in 1956) and the change of milk to blood in the underlying fantasy to the Dracula myth is the result of an intensification of oral sadism conflated with a later awareness of the relation of blood to the mother's sexuality, primarily though an awareness of menstruation. The oral act has become both destructive and intensely sexualized. The Hammer vampire films were the first, with their vivid and bold color, to put the emphasis on the conjunction of female breasts and bright red blood—a particular lobby poster for Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), one of the many spin-offs from the 1956 film, shows a female neck with two bandages rising from a very developed bosom (Twichell, 111).
I suggest, however, that the image of the vampire sucking the blood of his victims conveys something more, conveys another inversion, where the mother becomes herself the sadistic punisher and taker of sustenance from the child. We can see the suggestions of this inversion in Coppola's film with the presence of the three vampire women—their breasts most obvious when they themselves feast off Jonathan Harker—but it is evident in a more direct way in the novel and in all these films when Lucy as a vampire desires
to suck the blood of young children. We must take this argument one step further, to the very chest of the count himself. Recall what Van Helsing and the young men in the novel see when they break into Mina's bedroom: "With his left hand he [Dracula] held both Mrs. Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her at the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man's bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten's nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink" (287–88).
How can this be? Mina drinking blood from the count—and from his chest! I must emphasize once more the palimpsest nature of this figure, the fact that he is a creature of our repressed fantasies with a considerable amount of condensation. He is much more than one thing: he is a composite and configuration of various stages and also various desires and fears in our psychic history and topography. In Browning's film, Mina drinking Dracula's blood is slightly less distressing since she drinks from his arm and describes this dastardly scene as a distant dream. In both Badham's and Coppola's films the drinking is turned into an erotic act in which the heroine willingly imbibes the blood of her lover from his chest so that she will remain with him forever. Undoubtedly Dracula in these films is a highly sexualized male figure, but there is something more, something strongly implicit in his actions that resonates through his masculine facade. In the novel, Mina's drinking from the wound in his chest is an instance where this implicit meaning breaks through the surface. She is like a child drinking her mother's milk, but the gash on his chest also suggests the oedipal child's fantasy of the mother's castration and thus offers another explanation of the conversion of milk into blood.
But the violence of this scene reminds us that Dracula victimizes his partners and takes far more blood than he gives. The gash on the chest giving forth blood, a symbol both of castration and the vagina, must also remind us of the vampire's bloody mouth and fangs sucking the life out of his victims—and both these gashes are also suggestive of the fantasy of the vagina dentata, the vagina with teeth, that conveys the fear of the mother's genitals. The image of Christopher Lee, in the early part of Fisher's Horror of Dracula, with his blood-dripping mouth torn across his face, made a remarkable impact on audiences of the time. I am suggesting that on some level the blood-drinking vampire is a product of the child's fear of and anger toward the mother, an impression of the woman when she fails to give the child what it wants and so seems to take from it: she is the feared maternal figure who is distinct from the good mother and the later-victimized oedipal mother. The bleeding wound she bares in the mind of the child during the oedipal stage is imposed upon her earlier image as an instru-
ment of destruction and terror. In this context we are on the threshold of also seeing this figure as the parental cannibal that Leonard Shengold finds symbolized by rats and teeth in fantasies of adult patients suffering from the childhood trauma of overstimulation.
The very terror of castration is clearest in the depiction of the Lucys of these films who, once bitten, themselves become biters only to ultimately have their bodies ripped open by the stake through the heart and, in the case of Franco's, Badham's and Coppola's films, their heads severed from their bodies. In these films the fear of castration is compensated for by a displacement onto the female bodies, a displacement that at first fetishizes the female body onto to mutilate it next. But each of these women is at first converted into the monstrous creature who imposes such bleeding wounds upon others. All of the vampire women can easily be seen in this context—my argument is that Dracula himself is the most violent and terrifying extension of this figure, violent and terrifying because he ultimately transcends any single sexual identity, because he ultimately victimizes both men and women. We can trace his very roots to the child's fantasy of the mother from a time when she was undifferentiated according to gender but a version of the figure with the child's later oedipal fears imposed upon it. The Dracula story, as all vampire stories, is inherently a hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden, tale of children and parents torn from the terrors of our childhood years.