Thursday, October 12, 2006

ICFAB reviews (sorta) Dracula

In a fit of insomnia last night, I found myself watching Universal Pictures' 1931 classic "Dracula," starring Bela Lugosi. It's not scary, as such, but Lugosi is so deliciously creepy in the title role that it's worth watching again. Probably a station like Turner Classics is running it sometime this month. Lugosi's Dracula was not the first film portrayal of the monster (that honor goes to Max Schreck in the German-Expressionist classic "Nosferatu") but it's his portrayal that influenced all those who followed in his footsteps. His facial expressions, suave demeanor, and--most importantly--Hungarian accent were repeated ad nauseum, so that anyone who affects those behaviors is readily recognizable to us as a vampire.
Bram Stoker's character was obviously intended to be the embodiment of evil. He walks about only at night--utterly helpless during the day. Darkness and light are, of course, long-standing metaphors for evil and good. He is powerful and alive only in the darkness. Dracula's very existence must be maintained by sin. He drinks blood, a practice forbidden by Scripture, and like the Serpent in the Garden, he quotes the words of God out of context to justify his behavior. "The blood is the life, Mr Renfield," he intones, a partial citation of Deuteronomy 12:23, which is one of several passages that forbids the drinking of blood! Even in the New Testament, when discussions of non-Jews becoming Christians were broached, the gentile converts were instructed to, among other things, abstain from eating blood. (Acts 15:20, et al)
In a scene reminiscent of the Satan tempting Jesus in the desert, the vampire offers Renfield "thousand of rats, millions of rats" (which the insane Renfield views as a potential food source, drinking blood in imitation of his master, Dracula) if he would only perform the task that Dracula instructs him to do!
In a Satanic antithesis to Christ, Dracula promises his victims eternal life, but it is more of a living death: a perpetual fleshly existence on earth with their souls in eternal peril. In further mockery, Dracula's victims are made to drink from his blood to gain his version of "eternal life," twisting the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.
Additionally, Lugosi's portrayal of a very charming and attractive vampire adds to the demonic nature of the character. Here is evil incarnate: sophisticated, debonair, seductive! He seems pleasant and harmless on the surface, but then you are drawn in and trapped, like "the spider spinning his web for the unwary fly." (This is in sharp contrast to "Nosferatu"'s Count Orlok, who is hideous and rat-like, wearing his evil on the surface.) In much the same manner, Paul instructs the Corinthians to beware of false teachers who seem to be "servants of righteousness" on the surface. They are merely imitating their master, Satan, who "masquerades as an angel of light."
Though very powerful, Dracula can be resisted. While the movies depict him often as unstoppable and irresistible, the 1931 film at least has a scene in which Professor VanHelsing resists the vampire, causing Dracula to note, "Your will is very strong." In the novel, if I recall correctly, the vampire must be invited in! Otherwise he cannot enter and do as he wishes! One is led to recall, perhaps, James 4:7's reminder to "Resist the devil, and he will flee."
Furthermore, Dracula can be defeated. He has weaknesses that may be exploited. Most memorable from the movies, probably, is his aversion to crosses. In the novel, however, Dracula has a dread of all "holy" things. Holy water and the Host (the wafers used in the Lord's Supper, for us non-liturgical types) are both used as weapons against vampires. This again highlights the contrast between the ways of the vampire and the ways of God: that which ought to be a blessing to the redeemed soul is harmful to Dracula & his ilk. And if light is a symbol of righteousness, then it is certainly significant that light is a destructive force to the vampire! While the novelized Dracula (as well as the '31 Lugosi version) is destroyed by a wooden stake through the heart, I have a special fondness for the manner in which he is defeated in the silent "Nosferatu." According to that version of the story, the vampire must be seduced to stay up all night feeding and then be caught and destroyed by the daylight. So...

Ellen Hutter (the Mina Harker character in "Nosferatu") allows the Count Orlok into her room to feed upon her. He is so caught up in this that he doesn't notice the sunrise until it's too late! Though it's a far cry from the doctrine of the Atonement, and lacks a resurrection for a perfect analogy, here is at least a visual representation of the Evil One (Orlok, the vampire) being defeated by the selfless sacrifice of the pure (Ellen, whom we gather from the films visual cues is still a virgin)!


So there you are, one more good excuse to watch a classic horror flick. It's educational, and good fodder for spiritual meditation and discussion!


Gregory said...

Good review. A couple things though: I believe in the novel that Dracula was able to go out in daylight, though his powers were weakened. Also, I don't believe he had to be invited in.

Allen said...

You may have something there--and I'll wait outside while you clean it off. It's been a day or two (read "years and years") since I read the novel. I'll have to go back & check on those items.