Taste The Blog Of Dracula

Growing up in the Ballymun of the 1980s was, in socio-cultural terms, somewhat akin to living beyond the immediate blast radius of a nuclear explosion. While those at ground zero absorbed all the energy, only the fall-out ever reached us, leading to malformed, barren mutations.

One happy consequence of this phenomenon was that, as children, we were blissfully ignorant of our dire need to cultivate positive role models at the behest of middle-class patricians. We probably thought positive role modelling was what Maurice Pratt was doing with his fluffy jumpers in the Quinnsworth ads.

So the closest thing I had to a hero was Peter Cushing. Peter Cushing the screen presence, I mean. As a child, I think I would have been less impressed had I known that, in real life, he was a cheerful, high-pitched, giddy and skittish raconteur, ebullient to the point of eccentricity. On-screen, however, he was either a taciturn, incorruptible and boundlessly humane good guy, or an obsessive, iconoclastic antagonist, ravaged by his own inarticulable genius.

While I’m normally a fierce advocate of the primacy of an original author’s vision, Cushing’s interpretation of the role of Van Helsing was the making of the character, which became an archetype in its own right. It also gave Cushing an opportunity to unleash the generic Central European accent with which he also graced Dr. Terror’s House of Horror and The Beast Must Die, curiously plummy undertones and all (the principle being that simply because a chap happened to be foreign, he wasn’t absolved of the obligation to speak properly.)

Cushing is, of course, inseparable in the popular consciousness from the Hammer productions of the 50s, 60s and 70s. My own preference was always for the creepy portmanteau movies of Amicus, which were often mistaken for Hammer films thanks to numerous shared quadrants of the vintage horror Venn diagram, including the presence of Cushing, Christopher Lee and other mainstays of the genre.

It took me a long time to accept, however, that Hammer films were mostly dull, and that I wasn’t really interested in the classic icons of horror which populated much of the studio’s output (although leftists could do worse than check out Plague of the Zombies, a powerful parable about industrial exploitation and probably the only Hammer film which aspires to social commentary.)

This led me to ponder the popularity of these characters, and the appeal of the type of horror they represented. One thing many contemporary directors fail to understand is that mere physical peril is not the stuff of horror; they seem unable to appreciate the fundamental difference between horror and the horrific. To see someone butchered by a psychopath may be (though it usually isn’t) an horrific experience, but it doesn’t leave the cinema with you. At best, it might engender a kind of short-term PTSD.

True horror seeps insidiously into your bloodstream and comes back to haunt you with a frisson of unease in quiet moments of solitude, because it thoughtfully tosses an impossible fear beyond words onto the pile of mundane anxieties beneath which we all labour. This, I think, is why the classic creatures of horror, though they don’t press my buttons, have aged so well.

Vampires, werewolves, zombies can all kill you, but what’s really disturbing is that they used to be you. Once a serial killer or a five-headed monster slaughters its victim, that pretty much closes the lid on the whole affair. When a vampire or werewolf kills someone, he’s just getting started. Psychologically, the fear of losing one’s identity and becoming other than oneself is an extremely potent concept.

This, I think, is why vampires are so popular with adolescents. Teenagers don’t share the existential anxieties of the adult and are naturally fascinated by metamorphosis.

Right, enough horror. Let’s get back to the really scary stuff…

Advertisements

11 Responses to “Taste The Blog Of Dracula”

  1. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    Naw, Bela Lugosi has the best central european accent by far. And vampires appealt to teenagers as a pre-conscious sexual thing. Certainly the three vampresses in the attic of Dracula’s castle (in the book), seducing Jonathon Harker, got my blood rushing as a young teenager.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Béla, good Communist though he was, had a genuine accent, that doesn’t count. The Cush’s accent reached its apotheosis in Shock Waves, a mid-70s horror film in which he played the repentant commander of a troupe of indestructible underwater Nazis in hiding on a deserted island.

      I think the sexual aspect of vampirism is overdone. Sure, it’s there, and not particularly subtle, but the vampire is a romantic figure more than a sexual one.

  2. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    DD,

    I think I read somewhere that Bela Lugosi couldn’t speak english at the time Dracula was filmed, so his lines were learnt off phonetically, which adds to the accentuation. Take your point though.

    Romantic-vs-sexual, it’s certainly a mix. The current fad of teenage vampirism (from Buffy to Twilight) aside, you’re probably right that the romantic outweights the sexual, if you mean 18C/19C romantic al la Byron etc.? I haven’t read any of the recent teenage stuff but my 13 yr old daughter is hooked on it. I’ve re-read Dracula probably once every 5 years or so since I was that age myself, so I’d consider myself a bit of an anorak in that regard. There’s nothing romantic about the count himself, in my opinion, nor in his seduction of his victims, but the descriptions of the Balkans is intensely romantic in the book. Apparently Stoker never visited the Balkans at all himself strangely enough.

    Anyhow, on the subject of your post, Cushing and Lee, yes, what a combo. The Hammer Dracula was pretty cheesy, but in a good way.

  3. Garibaldy Says:

    Surely Cushing’s scariest role was in Star Wars – he was able to tell Darth Vader what to do. What a man.

    And give me Buffy over Dracula the book any day. Tedious in my opinion.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Still not been able to sit through Star Wars…been trying for years, just not my bag. It comes from (and arguably instigated) the whole making-movies-your-ten-year-old-self-would-have-liked school of arrested development moviemaking which Lucas and Spielberg are so fond of.

  4. WorldbyStorm Says:

    That’s interesting because it tallies very closely with my sense of what disturbs me most in fiction.

    I remember reading Peter F. Hamilton’s the Reality Dysfunction, which starts out like a hard Science Fiction soap opera, i.e. grounded in what we can – perhaps laughably – term realism. And then a little over a third of the way through it tips into what is effectively a sort of possession horror story, and like any good horror it is the initial grounding in realism that gives the real edge to the later story.

    Oddly though the most affecting fiction I’ve read recently was an old SF novel by a guy called Jack Williamson entitled the Humanoids. Plot is straightforward, planet in the midst of conflict with another is effectively invaded by benevolent but utterly proscriptive robots called the humanoids whose one function is to see that humans are happy. So, they remake the world, put people in houses where they’re not allowed to smoke (dangerous), cycle a bike (dangerous), etc, etc. When people become depressed at this state of affairs the humanoids treat them with euphoride, a sort of chemical lobotomy which makes people happy.

    The story is of its time, late 1940s, but there’s a description of the man coming back to this new house, led by the ever present ever solicitous humanoids, to discover his wife has been dosed to the gills with euphoride, that he is himself allowed to do nothing, and to be honest there’s a real, and very adult horror, the sense that there are no options left about it.

    Entirely agree with you re teenagers and vampires. 🙂

    Mind you Garibaldy, Buffy wasn’t a vampire… 🙂

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Aye WBS, tonal shifts in any work of fiction can he highly disturbing. One of the scariest scenes I’ve ever seen was in some shitty 70s vampire movie where the prey were gathered in a drawing room discussing the situation and the vampires just breezed straight in. Decades of convention broken.

      Playing it straight and real is the key to both horror and comedy, I think. As soon as it gets too fantastical you lose any real emotional connection, unless the characters are extraordinarily well-defined.

  5. Garibaldy Says:

    WBS,

    She certainly wasn’t. And f**k you very much for pointing that out.

    DD,

    Haven’t seen Star Wars? Good lord. The only other people I’ve met who say that are people from eastern Europe. Or the sort of people who were home schooled.

  6. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    Re. Star Wars, never really got it myself. Saw the originals in the cinema in the 70s as a kid and the later ones I’ve seen in part when my own kids were watching them on video/dvd, just doesn’t do it for me at all. All that swashbuckling with laser swords just reminds me of Errol Flynn in Robin Hood, which is horrific in another way altogether.

    Can’t agree that Stoker’s book is tedious I’m afraid. I don’t read much fiction admittedly, but Dracula would be up there as a favourite alongside Dr. Zhivago (can a WP member admit to that in public?) and And Quiet Flows the Don.

  7. Garibaldy Says:

    As Sean Connery says in the Untouchables, I’m among the heathen. Bad enough to see Star Wars insulted, but to insult Erroll Flynn’s Robin Hood is just wrong. Basil Rathbone v Flynn? Classic stuff.

  8. WorldbyStorm Says:

    Perhaps that should have been buffy wasn’t a vampire 😉 Garibaldy… perhaps not 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: