Saturday, March 11, 2006

Vampires and the Cross Part Four

For all the faith used against vampires in books and movies, if there is a movement of the myth with popular belief, there must be a movement from faith to science and, within science, there is little room for the nebulous credo of metaphysical faith.

A prime example of how the cross was regained by science and stripped of any metaphysical symbolism occurs in the online film Vampire Domestication. In this it is explained that the vampire is a creature of evolution and genetics, and the aversion to the cross is born of this. In this the vampire’s retina is wired differently to ours. A cross wiring of the retina meant that if a vertical and horizontal plane intersected at right angles in the vampires field of vision, simultaneous impulses from the receptors caused a neural overload which led to grand mal type seizures. In short this “crucifix glitch”, as the film calls it, made a vampire suffer potentially fatal epileptic seizure if faced with a cross.

Yet it is not just Internet films that make use of scientific explanations for vampirism. In the “Blade” (1997, 2002 and 2004) series of movies it is clear that the vampires fall into two camps - naturally born vampires and vampires who contract a genetic retrovirus. Further the low budget flick “Reign in Darkness” (2004) has the vampires created by a man-made viral formula.

In fact vampires are used as a symbolism for a multitude of society’s ills, from drug addiction (“The Addiction” (1994) actually shows the shooting up of blood and the excellent “Side FX” (2005) is blatant in its connection of drug use and vampirism), to a personification of disease. In “Near Dark” (1988) it is clear that vampirism is a disease. Not because the condition is transmitted via a bite but because, in the unnervingly saccharine ending, it can be cured by a full blood transfusion – effectively washing the illness away.

There is a danger here, however. If a filmmaker chooses to make a film in which the vampire represents a disease of the blood, especially a sexually transmitted disease such as HIV, then the use of Christian (or any other religion’s) iconography as a deterrent is disturbingly evangelical. Is the filmmaker using visually interesting and yet genre standard visuals, or is the filmmaker employing a form of pro-religious and moralistic propaganda?

To a degree, however, combining the vampire as an allegory of disease and yet being able to see the fiend off with the symbols of God brings the genre full circle to one of its roots, an explanation of the spread of plague. For a marvellously intelligent representation of how the effects of a plague can be transformed into the nightly visitation of a vampire, in the minds of those faced with the plague, I would recommend that you watch the Boris Karloff vehicle “Isle of the Dead” (1945).

There has also been a merging of the supernatural with science in such features as the animated “The Batman Vs Dracula” (2005). When Dracula starts turning the citizens of Gotham into an army of the undead Batman realises that, though vampires are of the supernatural, as they infect through blood there might be a way of developing a scientific cure. This cure works upon the Lost Ones, as the vampirised Gothamites are named, but fails to either kill or cure Dracula himself as he is purely a creature of the supernatural. There is mention within the feature of the effect of crosses upon vampires, though this is somewhat confused within the plot and not very developed.

So is there any conclusion we can draw? It is clear that the weakness of the vampire for holy symbols has developed over the years. Some writers and film makers are abandoning the concept altogether. Others are trying to put a scientific, or perhaps pseudo-psychiatric, explanation forward. Others are making faith the prime cause of the effectiveness of the cross, or the Star of David or the Buddha. Yet we come back to the iconography each and every time and this is the important part of the discussion. The vampire rearing back from the cross is a potent image and that, perhaps, is the main reason that the cross will continue to ward away the undead in vampire cinema and books.

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