Preferred Citation: Horton, Andrew, and Stuart Y. McDougal, editors Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1j49n6d3/


 
Sixteen— How Many Draculas Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Sixteen—
How Many Draculas Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Ira Konigsberg

He ought to be left in peace. We keep exhuming him from his musty tomb, trying to set him going again, animating him so that he will continue to rise from the coffin from his own volition. But his volition is really our volition. So much has been written about this dark, enigmatic, seductive figure in recent years that the mind boggles, nausea overwhelms as one again confronts the subject, speculates on the story's popularity. So much has been written on both the book and the films—we can not consider them apart since all the criticism seems concerned with the same basic myth. And yet the book and films will not cohere—each cinematic treatment seems another attempt to get it right, to put the book on film or, at least, to find in the book what is the heart, the center, the significance of the myth. We can certainly think of each filming as a reinterpretation to fit a changing time and culture, but we still wonder at the large number of remakes, at the popularity of the story, at the commitment of director after director to put the story, all over again, on film. We are after bigger game, deeper insights. If Bram Stoker had not invented him, Dracula would have existed anyway.

We are dealing here with more than the subject of remakes: we are dealing with a preoccupation, an obsession. I count seven film versions of the novel—nine, if we consider two television adaptations of some ambition.[1] But the Dracula myth is also an articulation, a configuration of larger themes—I notice a recent publication that describes 372 vampire films in general (Flynn). The Dracula myth, though, is certainly the most eloquent, the most stirring, and the most popular articulation of the vampire motif in contemporary culture. We must, therefore, approach this book and its filmic adaptations as the embodiment of forces that transcend this specific configuration, but we must see this configuration as the most accessible


251

means in our culture of reaching for these transcendent meanings; and we must see each film adaptation as itself a different interpretation of these transcendent significations or, at least, as a different focus on them. What I should like to explore, ultimately, in this essay is the possibility that all of these versions may be seen as an attempt to push deeper into the heart of the myth, an attempt to unlayer the palimpsest.

We see a compulsion to repeat in each of these films: the monster keeps reappearing and he continues to perform his unspeakable acts until the film must close and we must rejoin the daylight world. But the repetition compulsion is also evident in the constant remakes of the film, in telling the story over and over, in trying, finally, to understand and master it. Sometimes the pretense is to get the actual novel on film, to be true to Stoker's vision,[2] but even if we acknowledge the virtual impossibility of adapting a novel to film with any degree of accuracy, we must still be struck by the way in which filmmakers consciously and even waywardly seem to try so ardently not to get the novel on film. The novel, finally, seems a pretext, a legitimization of some other effort, of an attempt to develop something inherent in the novel and earlier films and hence to develop away from the earlier versions. Each telling is not so much a reshaping to fit a new time period as each time period allows a retelling that takes the film one step further, that repeats while doing more than repeating.

Freud goes beyond pleasure in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) to explain the repetition compulsion. He attempts to explain the phenomenon in biological and evolutionary terms. He puts us on the edge of a new vista by suggesting that "all instincts tend towards the restoration of an earlier state of things" (26). Why not push further and see psychoanalysis itself as part of an evolutionary process? Why not take the step and think anthropologically, as Freud himself did on this occasion. In this context, then, film becomes something more than film. In this context Francis Ford Coppola's most recent version of the story, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) can take us farther into the heart of darkness while not being a satisfactory cinematic work—in fact, its weaknesses as a film may be inextricably linked to its success in penetrating back into our biological and evolutionary history. (See figure 31.) We shall proceed with this discussion, finally to arrive at such an interpretation of Dracula 's latest remake.

As Coppola's film is both successful and not successful, it is also both a horror film and not a horror film. It is a horror film since it deals with themes that have traditionally been dealt with by this genre, but not one because it no longer deals with these themes horrifically. Horror films seem to have gone as far as they can legitimately go in horrifying people—the nadir has been reached and the genre, for all intents and purposes, is on its last legs. Violence had become so exploitative that the exploited in the audience have become immune to their own exploitation; sex has become


252

figure

Figure 31.
Gary Oldman is convincing as Dracula in Francis
Ford Coppola's no-holds-barred, visually arresting
retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula  (1992).

so violent that violence has become totally sexualized. What Coppola has created is a work strangely divided between its romantic and horrific elements. We saw this turn of events coming with John Badham's 1979 Dracula , with the romanticization of Stoker's story to such an extent that the film seems less like Dracula and a horror film than all the previous versions.[3] (See figure 32.) Coppola took from the old horror film that which was still salvageable and developed it in the only logical way that he could—as an erotic dream, creating a work more erotic and dreamlike than even Badham's film. Coppola himself admits his attempt to create "almost a


253

figure

Figure 32.
Frank Langella's fine stage presence is lost in the
mist of special horror effects in John Badham's
overblown recasting of Dracula  (1979).

dream state" through "a kind of evocative, poetic use of imagery" that he finds in the symbolist movement of the late nineteenth century, clearly referring to the paintings of such figures as Klimt and Moreau (Coppola and Hart, 70). Coppola unleashes the fantastic and sends us hurling into psychic space. The irony here is that he is able to do so only because he has so little vision of his own, because he is such an excellent reader of past films and can derive his own work from all the understated and yet most compelling dark corners of earlier Dracula films and other films of fantasy as well.[4] All


254

figure

Figure 33.
Max Schreck chills us to the bone, silently,
in F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu  (1922).


255

figure

Figure 34.
Klams Kinski stars in Werner Herzog's  Nosferatu, the Vampyre  (1979).

those homages and references to earlier films, as well as the scene in the cinematographic parlor, are but a recognition that this is a film about films and, as such, a dream about dreams.

The equation of the Dracula story to a dream is apparent in Murnau's early silent film of 1922, Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (see figure 33), with its primitive attempts to achieve this quality through such special effects as accelerated motion and negative images, but also through the characters' references to dreaming as well as Ellen's somnambulism and sleepwalking. Both this film and Werner Herzog's effective and stylistic remake in 1979, Nosferatu, The Vampyre (see figure 34), photograph a number of their scenes in the outdoor world, but both films are impressive as a result of their intrusion of the supernatural dimension into this reality. Basing his film on the stage version by Deane and Balderston and focusing on Bela Lugosi's otherworldly performance (see figure 35), Tod Browning confines his 1931 film mostly to the studio, creating a work singularly slow and spatially limited even with the opening sequence at Castle Dracula and the closing one in Carfax Abbey creating a somnambulistic and dreamlike state to his entire work. Whereas the colorful, bold, but unsubtle film made in England in 1956 by Hammer Film Productions and directed by Terence Fisher gave the count an earthly power and zest through Christopher Lee's perfor-


256

figure

Figure 35.
Bela Lugosi's most memorable screen performance
was that of the count in Tod Browning's  Dracula  (1931).

mance (see figure 36), and Badham's version places much of his story in an outdoor setting, Coppola insulates his characters and world from any hint of reality, shoots the whole thing in the enclosures of a studio, breaks down any semblance of real time and space, and uses performers who seem themselves totally unreal—there is not enough of the real world in this film to make events seem threatening either to the characters on the screen or to the audience. But this is a film that explores and exploits the dream quality of all previous Dracula films, that makes hints of the unconscious


257

figure

Figure 36.
Christopher Lee plays the title role in Terence Fischer's
The Horror of Dracula  (1956). Lee also played the
same role in Jesse Franko's  Count Dracula  (1970).

even more visible and recognizable.[5] And in being so focused on the unconscious, Coppola falls into the pit and goes spinning right past the oedipal and preoedipal stages, hurling down our genetic line.

The analogy between watching a film and dreaming is almost as old as film criticism itself, and the concomitant connection between the horror film and a nightmare almost a cliché at this point in time. In recent years the regressive quality of viewing a film, film's ability not only to penetrate


258

into the unconscious but to reawaken early infantile experiences, has received considerable attention (for example, in the writings of Baudry and Metz). The Dracula films envelope us in a world already dreamlike and unreal, with their closed bedrooms and dungeons, with their logistics of doors and windows, with their nighttime intruders and sleeping, passive victims, with their intrusion of the dead into the world of the living. Lloyd Michaels, in another essay in this collection, refers to the suitability of film, with its illusion of reality—of a world that seems to be here but is actually not—to portray the phantom presence and nonpresence of the vampire. The point is well taken in relation to Coppola's realization that the year of the novel's publication, 1897, was the same time as the beginning of projected motion pictures and his staging of an early scene between the count and Mina in a cinematography parlor. But I wish to take this point in yet another direction and consider the film image from both a psychoanalytic and phenomenological viewpoint, a consideration that takes us to a major issue in the book as well as in all the films. For me the issue is about perception and representation, a subject closely related to presence and absence (by "perception" I mean the image we perceive and by "representation" the object as it is represented outside of us). Baudry makes the cogent point that "the cinematic apparatus is unique in that it offers the subject perceptions 'of a reality' whose status seems similar to that of representations experienced as a perception "—a confusion between perception and representation "characteristic" of both the primary process and dream (120). But whereas Baudry's point is that cinema returns us to an infantile phase in which perception and representation were not yet differentiated, my own point is that this confusion reinforces the drama of the characters' and our own interaction with the vampire figure—a point that Coppola nicely underscores with his film's self-reflexivity, but one that he knows to be inherent in all the films before him. We may relate this notion to the most fundamental aspect of the horror film, the fact that what we see is originally a product not of reality but the mind's reality, that what is dramatized before us is some form or shape of mental configurations that we all share in our dream and fantasy lives. What we have, then, are representations of perceptions mistaken for representations. What we have within the films themselves are stories of characters who must be forced to take as representations what we unconsciously sense as our own perceptions. In a major way, these characters act out our own issues of denial and acceptance, of fear and desire; these films are so uncanny because they actually represent what has heretofore been hidden as our own perceptions.

Recall Van Helsing's speech in Stoker's novel about belief and disbelief: "Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand; and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot? That there


259

are things old and new which must not be contemplated by men's eyes, because they know—or think they know—some things which other men have told them" (197). It is interesting that he discourses on what people believe in terms of their seeing and not seeing, in terms of what they will see and will not see, especially since he soon urges Jonathan "[t]o believe in things that you cannot" (198). Let us recall that it was Jonathan's strange adventures in Transylvania that unleashed the unholy forces in the novel; that it was Jonathan who could not see, or would not see, that one of the three female vampires who sought to attack him, the one with blonde hair, seemed so familiar to him because she reminded him of his Mina; and that Jonathan is still, at this point in the novel, suffering from myopia. It becomes clearer and clearer that he and the other characters will not see because they do not want to see, because they do not want to have their subjective perceptions proved to be actual representations. In his Studies in Hysteria, Freud refers to the "peculiar state in which one knows something and at the same time does not know it" (117), a description that well fits the human characters in the Dracula myth and that will take on even more significance in the latter part of this essay. But we must always remember that these characters are our own surrogates in these films, acting out our own resistance and final submission to the monsters that we see on the screen.

The theme of belief and disbelief runs throughout all the films. Van Helsing tells us in Browning's 1931 film, "The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him," emphasizing the fact that people will not believe in the vampire because they do not wish to. In Jess Franco's film, Harker himself asks Van Helsing, "Then why did you not believe what I told you about Count Dracula?" and the wise man responds, "I cannot tell you. I dare not." He dares not because of what he knows about himself and the vampire, that Dracula indeed is the manifestation of some part of himself. Later he says, about Dracula, "I feel as though I know him better than my own soul." All of these films, like the novel, have the same plot wherein a group of people must be convinced of the existence of this nighttime horror; until they are convinced, violation follows upon violation. In Terence Fischer's version, Harker knows from the start that Dracula is a vampire, and, in league with Van Helsing, goes to the castle under the pretext of cataloguing the count's books but with the real purpose of destroying him. Although the start to this film seems fabricated and, once in the castle, Harker seems totally incompetent and incapable, the notion of libraries and books is in keeping with the theme of articulation and communication—articulating and communicating the reality of the vampire to others—that runs throughout the first part of the film, a theme also developed through the importance placed on Jonathan's diary and Van Helsing's Dictaphone.


260

In Herzog's film Van Helsing claims to be a man of science, but he is weak and ineffectual while the heroine, relying on faith, is able to grasp the situation and bring the plague to an end through her sacrifice.

The asylum guard in Browning's 1931 version has two lines he delivers to a female servant that at first appear to be a throwaway comic bit—"They're all crazy except me and you. Sometimes I have me doubts about you"—but consideration, in the light of my present discussion, gives the statement a telling irony. The issue of belief and disbelief is very much tied in with that of sanity and insanity because either an individual will appear insane to the sane if he or she perceives the truth or one may have to transcend what is normally considered sanity to see this reality beyond our everyday reality. After Harker's adventure, which unleashes Dracula upon an unsuspecting civilization, and the boat ride on the Demeter that transits the count from one world to the other, Renfield takes on importance as the only one of the characters who knows the nature of the Dracula figure and the only one who knows what is going on in general. The crazy man is crazy because he is in touch with forces that shatter his sanity, but he is thought crazy because he is in touch with a reality that the other characters cannot and will not see.

Badham's 1979 Dracula is the first of these films to emphasize the importance of Seward's mental institution, to see it as the proper location for the myth's abnormal acts and forces—all the shots within the institution are in muted colors with dominant grays as if to suggest a documentary credibility to this context. After Lucy (Badham switches Lucy's and Mina's names) has become the lover and advocate of the count, she herself is locked up in the institution, something unthinkable with her corresponding character in the novel and the other films, but fitting in a larger context: like Renfield she now has the vision that removes her from the limited seeing of the everyday world of reality. Whereas the other characters continue to see only the representations that exist outside of them, Lucy now is able to merge her perceptions with the world of representations. Since perception must be a product of desire, she has projected her desires onto the world outside of her. Since perception and representation have merged for her she has, literally, removed herself from the everyday world of the sane and unseeing. To believe in the novel and all the films, to see the truth, is a form of insanity because belief not only removes one from the world of the sane, but it also reshapes the world that one perceives outside of one's self in the image of the dark recesses of the mind. All the films bear this out, with Count Dracula unleashing the hidden desires of the Lucys and Minas, with these women throwing open their arms to welcome the dark midnight intruder and baring their throats to his teeth.

The ultimate question with all these films is what exactly is the perception we subjectively have of the vampire figure—what do we project onto


261

his representation on the screen (and what, finally, do we introject into ourselves)? The answer resists a simplistic reduction. As our mental lives are the creations of layers upon layers of mental stages and experiences, so does Dracula become a repository for all these levels, a palimpsest who entices us to analyze him layer upon layer. The popularity of this figure resides in the complexity of his representation, in the fact that he is always more than what he at first seems. To trace the development of the Dracula story in film is to see what aspect or aspects of this figure each filmmaker emphasizes, a focus very much impacted by changes in our culture in general, especially in issues of gender and sexuality, but also by a growing self-consciousness in the arts of psychoanalytic concepts and by changes in the history of cinema, particularly the decline of genre films and an expanding self-reflexivity in film—the fact that genre films have been replaced by films about genre films.

The variations in the focus upon the Dracula figure very much determine what aspects of Stoker's original story are emphasized. We might think of these films according to two grids, a vertical, paradigmatic grid that represents the various choices that each film makes about the characterization of Dracula and a horizontal, syntagmatic grid that represents the sequence of actions chosen to intersect with the vertical grid. The following paragraphs outline the basic sequence of actions and the syntagmatic variations that emerge from the novel and its film versions.

1. Jonathan Harker's visit to Castle Dracula, which is described in the novel by Harker himself as a transition from the modern West to the old-world East, but also a journey into the world of superstition and "some sort of imaginative whirlpool" (12). Browning's film, largely based on the stage play by Balderstone and Deane, has Renfield make the journey, and Fisher's film takes away much of the journey itself and deposits Harker almost immediately at the castle in broad daylight—an emphasis on the this-worldly qualities of Dracula. Badham's 1979 version is the only one of these films totally to ignore the journey and the visit to the castle, erasing the mysterious background of the figure and making him less a creature from our own imaginations than a creation of Hollywood romance.

2. The journey of the Demeter, which reminds us that in mythology and literature the crossing of a body of water is often symbolic of a journey from one world to the next. The fact that the ship is named after the earth-mother goddess of the Greeks may well be Stoker's way of suggesting Dracula's birth into the everyday world of nineteenth-century England, but the name also suits the androgynous nature of the figure as discussed toward the end of this essay. The Hammer


262

film features no such journey, probably because of budgetary considerations; instead the journey from Castle Dracula to Lucy and Mina is a mere coach drive from one neighboring European city to another. Franco's film also eliminates the boat trip for budgetary concerns and has first Harker and then Dracula suddenly appearing at the sanitarium outside of London, which in this case is run by Van Helsing.

3. Dracula's interaction with Renfield. Much of the action of the middle part of the story is centered on Dracula's interactions with three characters in England: Renfield, Lucy, and Mina. These interactions are themselves paralleled by the relationship of Van Helsing to the three figures, a relationship that develops his own awareness and powers and that culminates in his expunging Dracula from the everyday world of the living. It is clear that the insane Renfield now takes the place of Harker as the bridge between Dracula's world and England: his major function is to invite Dracula into the Seward asylum and home, since the vampire figure cannot enter on his own volition.

4. Dracula's seduction, destruction, and transformation of Lucy, which is the most explicitly misogynistic and sexually violent relationship in most versions of the story. The character is absent in the Nosferatu films (although Herzog, like Badham, uses her name for his Mina character) since the focus of the film is not on sexuality. In the remainder of the films Lucy is the woman drawn to the vampire figure and punished for her sexuality.

5. Dracula's relationship with and desire for Mina. In the novel Mina is the strong and virtuous woman with a "man's brain" who is forced by Dracula to drink his blood from a self-inflicted gash in his chest. While Mina and Lucy trade names in Badham's film, the character clearly becomes a creature of the 1970s, a liberated woman and law student who willingly takes the count as her lover and enjoys a protracted act of lovemaking and bloodletting. In Coppola's film Mina becomes a reincarnation of Dracula's wife, and the two characters become star-crossed lovers struggling against the onrush of time.

6. The pursuit of Dracula back to his place of origin, where he is finally destroyed on the threshold of his castle. The only one of the films to come close to the novel in its ending is the most recent version. In both Nosferatu films the monster is destroyed in the heroine's bedroom, victim of her sacrifice. Herzog imposes a modern ending on the tale, sending Harker off on a journey, himself now a vampire, carrying the deadly plague that Dracula began. In Browning's film, Dracula and Mina are followed to nearby Carfax Abbey by Van Helsing and Harker where the older man gets rid of Dracula off-


263

screen while the two young lovers are united. Badham's Dracula is discovered and exposed to the sun on an outgoing ship, but his cape rises high in the air, becoming batlike wings as Mina's tears are replaced by a smile of triumph.

We can find the following themes residing in the Dracula figure in the book and in these films through the way in which the plot is structured and developed. I would argue that all of these themes are inherent in the figure in every treatment, but that different films manipulate the figure differently to focus on one or another of these aspects of his character.

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).[6] 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


264

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.[7]

Political Oppressor and Victimizer

Although this is the least developed aspect of the Dracula figure in the films, it still remains part of his characterization and is very much evident in the novel. In Stoker's novel, the count gives to Jonathan Harker an account of his warrior's background and his life as a patriot (37–39). Dracula in all his incarnations is a creature of an aristocratic background, and though he may certainly be symbolic of the decay and degeneration of this class, he is also symbolic of this group's oppressive powers. In various degrees and ways all the Dracula figures have a certain regal bearing and disdain for the other characters they confront. The very act of drinking the blood of the living is symbolic of the way in which the aristocracy has fed off and destroyed those beneath them. Coppola's film most develops Stoker's use of the historically real Wallachian figure, Vlad Tepes, also called Vlad the Impaler for his ruthless way of punishing his Turkish enemies, as a background for his count, but the film never develops this political dimension in its rush into sexuality and romance.[8] One must turn to a West German film made by Hans W. Geissendörfer in 1970, Jonathan, an allegorical telling of Hitler and his horrors that has only some resemblance to the novel, to see a full treatment of this political aspect of the figure.


265

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.[9] 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


266

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.

The Unconsciously Desired

Dracula is very much a projection of repressed sexuality who is able to perform his physical acts upon the young people because he is the aggressor


267

and takes responsibility for their violation. Sexual repression is an underlying motif throughout Stoker's novel, a clear product of his own Victorian age. The seductiveness of sin in the guise of Dracula is most related to the female characters who, deep down, are shown to desire the male's physical penetration. This is certainly not the case, though, in both Nosferatu films. The heroine is the woman "pure in heart" whose virtue and sacrifice destroy the vampire figure; in both versions the monster drinks her blood in the most repulsive and least erotic scenes of this action in all the films—in both films she lies in bed across much of the horizontal plane of the frame from left to right, with the monster sitting behind her and taking his nourishment by sipping from her neck. In Herzog's film the vampire starts to take up her nightgown, but she guides his head to her throat. The shots of the count lowering his head to the exposed necks of both women in the Browning film is the first filmic statement of the theme of repressed sexuality, which is then made more explicit in Terence Fisher's film where both Lucy and Mina, under the power of the count, allow him into their bedrooms. Van Helsing tells us in this version that "victims consciously detest being dominated by vampires but are unable to relinquish the practice." Although sexuality is forced upon these women by the mesmerizing powers of the count, they must be punished for such a transgression, for the defilement of their bodies, which, on some deeper level, was obviously desired. The theme of repressed sexuality is rampant in all versions after the Nosferatu films, growing in explicitness until we have the extraordinary wanton portrayal of Lucy and then her physical destruction in the Coppola film. The first graphic stakings of the female body take place in the 1956 Fisher film, where we see the stake penetrating Lucy's body and the blood surging from her wound—the very punishment itself must remind us of the act of sexual intercourse. Though Lucy, as a prototype of a modern feminist, needs no such punishment in Badham's film, her counterparts in the novel and both Fisher's and Coppola's films are branded by the cross, a wound erased only with Dracula's death—"Unclean, unclean!" shout both women in the novel and Coppola's film version.

But let us not forget Jonathan Harker, who, in Stoker's novel, is masochistically overwhelmed by the three vampire women. Only with Coppola's recent work is repressed male desire pushed to the forefront of a Dracula film (the scene between Jonathan and these female vampires is never developed in either Browning's or Franco's film, where the three figures appear only briefly). But once we begin talking about repressed sexuality, especially in relation to sadism and masochism, we are into the subject of desire itself and find ourselves peeling off the layers and going further into the psyche. We must remember, throughout this part of my discussion, that where desire produces conflict, where there is a possibility of retribution for desire, an important defense of the ego is to make that which is desired


268

into a fearsome object; this concept is fundamental to an understanding of the human psyche as it develops in our earliest years as well as to our later emotional reactions to the horror film. This concept also explains the basic rationale for the Dracula figure.

The Oedipal Father

Here we bring together our first four themes, discovering that they may, indeed, be splittings and displacements for us of even deeper levels of psychic emotions and configurations. To some degree all of these Draculas are powerful and even God-like figures who threaten the other characters with violent sex and death. The conflation of these qualities suggests something implicit in the novel's count but a little more explicit in the visual images of older men violating younger women in the hidden recesses of their bedrooms in these films. We feel this oedipal resonance most strongly from the image of Bela Lugosi leaning over the throat of Helen Chandler, and Christopher Lee penetrating into the bedrooms of his female victims, in Fisher's and Franco's films, but we feel this level of recognition from all these films. I am referring to Dracula as the oedipal father, sexually desired by both male and female children, but I also wish to suggest that these bedroom scenes of erotic violence are suggestive of the child's fantasies about the primal scene, the imagined sexual violation brought upon the mother by the monstrous and powerful father.

We can take our oedipal reading a little further and see the issue of the son's feared punishment of castration for desiring the mother as relevant to the treatment of both Harker and Renfield—we especially remember the character of Harker in Fischer's film, who first receives two puncture marks on the side of the neck, two bleeding holes, and who is then dispatched by a stake through the heart. If we are willing to see these oedipal configurations in the basic myth, if we are willing to see Dracula as the fearsome oedipal father, then the reading of the story as a version of Freud's theory about the primal horde and the sons' slaying of the father to possess (or repossess) the mother as described in Totem and Taboo (141–46) have a certain validity (see Richardson, 428–29), as long as we remember that much in these films deals with the father's control over and intimidation of the young people and that normally only one of the younger generation, along with Van Helsing, is involved in the destruction of Dracula. Coppola's film, however, captures something of the excitement and deeper resonances of the novel as the three young men go in pursuit of Dracula and ultimately overwhelm the gypsy caravan to attack him. Only when the young are banded together under the leadership of Van Helsing, the good father, can the young men slay the evil father and claim the mother, in the


269

guise of Mina. We can see both Dracula and Van Helsing, for children of both sexes, as manifestations of the child's sense of the bad and good aspects of a single figure, as the splitting of the original father into two separate figures at war with one another. However, in Murnau's Nosferatu Van Helsing and the adult figures are seen as ineffectual, and in Herzog's remake of that film they are totally inept before the force of death that Dracula represents and that even the heroine's sacrifice cannot abet.

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.[10] 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


270

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.[11] 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-


271

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.

The Beast That Once We were

We delve deeper into our psyches now, so deep that we go hurling back into our genetic history. What I wish to suggest at this point is a reading of the novel and visual reading of the last Dracula film that is as much anthropological as psychological, a reading that Coppola more than all the other directors recognized in the count and his story. Our impression of the young people in the center of the film—the impression we often have of children play-acting at being adult—may destroy the dramatic credibility of the film, but such an impression also intensifies and eases the return to earlier times that we unconsciously feel, to childhood and infantile emotions and imagos, to both oedipal and preoedipal stages but also to a vague sense of a kind of polymorphous sexuality and pleasure we felt in our childhood. We confront in this film something more than sadistic and masochistic desire; we confront a kind of fetishism that lies beyond Freudian fetishism. Here kissing is not confined to the lips: the chest and neck are even more central to pleasure and desire; here the drinking of bodily fluids is an act of nourishment, pleasure, and even fusion. Here one drinks and is drunk. We trace these acts back, then, to our earliest months when we were


272

so much creatures of our bodies, when our fantasies were comprised largely of bodies and physiological functions, when we functioned so much on a basic animal level.

But we must push even further. Recall, if you will, Stoker's insistence on relating Dracula to animal life. Van Helsing tells us at one point, "[H]e can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat—the month, and the fox, and the wolf . . ." (243). More than this, Dracula is a shape-shifter and can become certain kinds of animals himself—the bat and wolf, for example.[14] Coppola's film explores this ability, not only allowing Dracula to appear as these last two creatures but also on occasion allowing him to appear in a half-human, half-animal state, emphasizing that with all his human attributes he also is an embodiment of the beast that remains within us.[15] Perhaps the most striking appearance in this state occurs when Mina discovers Dracula mounting Lucy between her legs, described in the screenplay as "a wet man or beast" (71), a description much akin to a similar one in Stoker's novel when Mina is unable to discern whether the figure leaning over Lucy is a "man or beast" (101). There is no question that Dracula in Stoker's novel and at certain points in Coppola's film is more like an animal than a human, that when biting flesh and drinking blood, when sexually violating women, he reminds us more of a beast in heat than a human lover. It seems fitting that sometimes he appears a wolf on all fours because, on occasion, his very act of lovemaking reminds us of our earliest animal state, when we were still quadrupeds, when the mouth had no limitations, when the nose and mouth pushed themselves into all parts of the anatomy of other quadrupeds, when sexuality, appetite, and violation were indistinguishable.

There have been numerous horror films dealing with our repulsion for the animal in us, a repulsion meant to defend against remnants of desire having to do with the animal state. I am reminded of horror films such as King Kong (1933) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), which deal implicitly with human evolution and which send us back along the evolutionary scale, forcing us to identify, to think that we recognize some earlier stage of animal life—suggesting that such memories and desires still remain residually within us. Perhaps the film that most directly deals with this fear is Island of Lost Souls (1933), where animals are turned into humans only to revert to their animal states. There are moments in all the Dracula films when something of this regression occurs, when something inside of us is unpleasantly stirred. Dracula is certainly a palimpsest, layer upon layer of psychological stages, a condensation of the very worst we have desired and feared. In some ways Coppola's film offers us the deepest insights into this figure, unflinchingly reducing his hero not so much to the beast that remains within us as to our very bestial origins.


273

Works Cited

Abraham, Karl. "A Short Study of the Development of the Libido, Viewed in the Light of Mental Disorders." Selected Papers. 1924. Reprint, London: Hogarth Press, 1927, 418–501.

Abramowitz, Rachel. "Neck Romance." Premiere 6 (1992): 49–58.

Ambrogio, Anthony. "Dracula Schmacula! Misinformation Never Dies." Video Watchdog 19 (1993): 32–47.

Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampire, Ourselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Baudry, Jean-Louis. "The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema." Translated by Jean Andrews and Bernard Augst. Camera Obscura 1 (1976): 104–25.

Biodrowski, Steve. "Coppola's Dracula: Directing the Horror Epic." Cinefantastique 23 (1992): 32–34.

Coppola, Francis Ford, and James V. Hart. Bram Stoker's Dracula: The Film and the Legend. New York: Newmarket Press, 1992.

Danoun, Roger. "Fetishism and the Horror Film." Translated by Annwyl Williams. In Fantasy and the Cinema, edited by James Donald, 39–61. London: BFI, 1989.

Farson, Daniel. The Man Who Wrote Dracula: A Biography of Bram Stoker. London: Michael Joseph, 1975.

Flynn, John L. Cinematic Vampires: The Living Dead on Film and Television from The


275

Devil's Castle (1896) to Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1992.

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Vol. 18, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited and Translated by James Strachey. 1920. Reprint, London: Hogarth Press, 1955, 3–64.

———. Totem and Taboo. Vol. 13, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited and Translated by James Strachey. 1913. Reprint, London: Hogarth Press, 1955, 1–162.

Freud, Sigmund, and Joseph Breuer. Studies on Hysteria. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited and Translated by James Strachey. 1893–95. Reprint, London: Hogarth Press, 1955, 2.

Klein, Melanie. The Psycho-Analysis of Children. Translated by Alex Strachey. 1932. Reprint, New York: Delacorte Press, 1975.

McNally, Randell, and Radu Florescu. In Search of Dracula: A True History of Dracula and the Vampire Legends. Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1972.

Melton, Gordon J. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994.

Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Translated by Alfred Guzetti. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982. Part III: 99–147.

Noll, Richard, ed. Vampires, Werewolves, and Demons: Twentieth-Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1992.

Rank, Otto. The Trauma of Birth. 1929. Reprint, New York: Harper Torchbooks, Harper and Row, 1972.

Richardson, Maurice. "The Psychoanalysis of Ghost Stories." Twentieth Century 166 (1959): 419–31.

Roth, Phyllis A. "Suddenly Sexual Women in Bram Stoker's Dracula." Literature and Psychology 27 (1977): 113–21.

Shengold, Leonard. "More about Rats and Rat People." International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 52 (1971): 277–88.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Signet, New American Library, 1965.

Summers, Montague. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. New Hyde Park: University Books, 1965.

Twichell, James B. Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Waller, Gregory A. The Living and the Undead: From Stoker's Dracula to Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.


277

Sixteen— How Many Draculas Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?
 

Preferred Citation: Horton, Andrew, and Stuart Y. McDougal, editors Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1j49n6d3/