Sunday, March 05, 2006

Vampires and the nature of immortality – how popular entertainment offered the vampire true immortality. Part 1

This is an essay piece I pulled together for the sake of it. I will post it here in parts.

It seems a general rule of thumb, when deciding on whether any given medium is concerned with a vampire, or something else, to look at whether the creature is immortal. This rule of thumb is no constant. Many films have vampiric elements, yet are concerned with ‘immortal’ creatures of an altogether different nature. As well as this, films such as “Vampire’s Kiss” (1989) are certainly concerned with vampires, though Nicholas Cage’s ‘vampire’ is very mortal.

But for this discussion piece I intend to rely on the following traits, the vampire is a supernaturally based creature, it steals the life of a victim most commonly through blood and it is undead.

The next question is, what do me mean by undead? The term was first brought to popular consciousness by Bram Stoker, in fact “Dracula” was originally to be entitled “The Undead”. It is certain that the vampire is undead, but what about ghosts, zombies and the various other assorted monsters whom hail from beyond the veil of death. For the sake of this I am going to assume that there are three states, life, death and undeath. Life, we are all familiar with and death is, of course the cessation of life (though, as we will see, not necessarily the cessation of animation).

In the literature and films surrounding the generic genre of the ‘not living’ there are various corporeal and non-corporeal creatures, some of these are alive others are dead yet animate but we state that the vampire is undead. He or she clings to life, clutching the very end of the mortal coil and anchoring his/her existence between the states of life and death through the medium of living blood. The fact that this creature clings to life grants it the memories of its mortal lifetime, plus the faculties of intelligence and cunning. Van Helsing tells us;

“That mighty brain and that iron resolution went with him to his grave, and are even now arrayed against us.”

Dracula - Bram Stoker 1897

It seems that the personality of the person carries through to undeath, shaped and tempered by newly discovered urges and power. Sometimes it is this lack of change, this adherence to what the vampire was, that proves to be a vampire’s downfall. As Armand states in the movie “Interview with the Vampire” (1994), “The world changes, we do not, there lies the irony that finally kills us.” As an aside, whilst Anne Rice alluded to the vampire being almost unstuck in time, in many movies it is the belief that a mortal woman is the reincarnation of a lost love that leads to downfall. Prime examples of this are the fall of Jerry Dandridge in “Fright Night” 1985 or even Dracula in the romanticized “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992).

Conversely the zombie, the closest cousin in popular culture to the vampire, has very little intelligence or memory. Though George Romero, for example, has played with the concept of the zombie remembering parts of mortal life in films such as “Day of the Dead” (1985), the memories are disjointed and the ability to utilise them, or to physically exploit them in a coordinated manner, is lost. The zombie, I would argue, is dead rather than undead. It is a reanimated corpse instilled with base instincts (to feed) and very little else.

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