ALLEGORIES OF VAMPIRE CINEMA Jeremy Magnan Department of English & Creative Writing Allegories of Vampire Cinema is a theoretical film essay involving the issue of spectator relations to vampire films before, during, and after viewings. The piece closely examines which character the spectators are truly meant to connect with. This is an interesting and important issue to raise as it offers a new analysis that had not previously been explored, aligning the spectators not with the protagonists of these stories, but with the vampire itself. In my research, I gathered dozens of books, magazine articles, and journal entries to delv e deeply into the horror genre and vampire subgenre. I also screened ove r three dozen vampire films, though only a handful are cited directly. The essay was pieced together from the beginning of January through Marc h when, upon completion, I presented my findings at the 2008 PCA/ACA National Conference in San Francisco. Implications that are brought to light upon the revelation that the spectator is being aligned with vampires includ e the notion that the vampire film may not be an isolated case. With further study, theories and analyses may bring about spectator relations and alignments with not only a myriad of other antagonistic horror icons, but antagonists throughout the entire scope of film. Many authors have sought to lend insight into the metaphorical relationship between the vampire, their victims, and even their spect ators. On the spectators of horror films in general, Joseph Biggs and Dennis Petrie offer that ...one goes to the horror film in order to have a nightmare... a dream whose undercurrent of anxiety both presents and masks the desire to fulfill and be punished for certain conventionally unacceptable impulses (Biggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 484). It is their position that the spectators of horror view these films due to a subconscious desire to see their unaccep table impulses played out by the monster (in our discussion, vampires) and to be punished for the surrogate actions that the monster plays out in our stead. In regards to the vamp ire, Jorg Waltje sees our clear alignment with the vampire as soon as we sit down in the theater. He explains: The vampire only comes out in the dark and spends the rest of the time in his coffin. The spectators voluntarily sit in a coffin (the darkened cinema), watching a screen on which not only light but also (within and between every frame) darkness is projected (Waltje, 2000, p. 29).
J. Magnan 144 While I agree that this is a startlingly clear example of our relationship to the vampire, this vampire-spectator relationship can be further clarified through a common iconographical object in most of these films in a way that has not as yet been established. Lacans famous mirror stage is one of his pillars of seeking out the moment when the identity of a child in relation to itself begins to develop. The child... can already recognize as such his own image in a mirror. This recognition is indicated in the illuminative mimicry of the AhaErlebnis ... This event can take place... from the age of six months... up to the age of eighteen months (Lacan, 2004, p. 441-442). Aha, you may say, but the vampire casts no reflection, does it not? Stoker himself, Draculas keeper, has been the catalyst for your exclamation: This time there could be no error, for the man was close to me, and I could see him over my shoulder. But there was no reflection of him in the mirror (Stoker, 2003, p. 30-31)! So what would Draculas answer to Lacans mirror stage be in fact? Fiona Peters states: Vampires have no need for an unconsciousnor can they be seen in mirrors because they do not need to rely on the process of identifications that Lacan describes; in other words they have not become formed as human subjects, and in the case of those who become vampires after being human... they have evaded the symbolic order... (Peters, 2006, p. 180) In Peters argument, humans who become vampires have separated and transcended themselves from the symbolism th at is the vampire to become one of them. Interesting... My question for Peters would be What if someone was a vampire and didnt know it? Must they still graduate from the fully-fledged humans mirror stage? I believe they do. But who ever heard of someone not knowing that they are in fact a vampire? Perhaps my line of questions has no value... I believe Slavoj i ek had it right when he said, It is therefore clear why vampires are invisible to the mi rror: because they have read Lacan and, consequently, know how to be have... (iek, 19992, p. 126) Christian Metzs groundbreaking work in The Imaginary Signifier is the starting point from which I will make clear the metaphorical truth behind the absence of the vampire from the mirror. He theorizes that ...film is lik e a mirror... (Metz, 2000, p. 410). He goes on to explain that, ...although... everything comes to be projected, there is one thing, and one thing only that is never reflected in it: the spectators own body (Metz, 2000). If this is true, then perhaps we have not developed our identification inside of this film-mirror through Lacans mirror stage. Metz responds, ... what makes possible the spectators absenceis the fact that the spectator has already known the experiences of the mirror... (Metz, 2000, p. 411) Later he adds that because of this, The spectator has the opportunity to identify with the character of the fiction (Metz, 2000, p. 411). Im not entirely convinced though that it is a simple identification that we are meant to make.
Allegories of Vampire Cinema 145 It is through iek and Metz though that my claim is ready to be revealed: the mirrors in which vampires cannot be seen are analogous to the film-mirror that we encounter when we go to the cinema to view one of these films. As such, it is clear that not only are we aligned with the vampire through the space we enter and the darkness we become enveloped in as Waltje has claimed earlier, but we are the vampires that we see in front of us. It is not a mythic, undead man with phallic teeth that we are being warned against; the vampire is our subconsciously primal sexual and violent desires, and we are seeing our mirrored selves in its eyes. We do not identify with the fictional character as supposed by Metz though; it is the vampire who is identifying with us. Our vampire cannot be seen inside of the mirror. Metz also adds that there is not only so me sort of relationship between spectators and characters in the films but also with the e quipment that films employ as well, ...the spectator can do no other than identify with the camera, too, which has looked before him at what he is now looking at... (Metz, 2000, p. 413-414) This can be seen as an explanation of our absence from the film-mirror as well. If it is true that we see what the camera before us has seen, then the camera is, in fact, a surrogate for our sight in our absence from the set. What is projected upon the screen then, is our vision returning to us. This is only appropriate in regards to our absence because, supposing we were there to witness the acts being displayed for us on the scr een, we wouldnt be able to see ourselves then either. So, if the screen, or film-mirror, is actually casting our own reflection when we see the vampire, then it is safe to assume that when the vampire looks into the mirror, s/he
J. Magnan 146 must see us, and, when they do, they often react violently upon this reflection, frequently shattering the glass. But why? If the vampire is meant to be the embodiment of human evil (Wright, 1974, p. 45), and/ or the incarnation of unbridled sensua lity (Wright, 1974, p. 45), as Judith Hess Wright claims, then perhaps the vampire dest roys the mirror because it sees in that instant that it is only one fragment of who we are and/ or who we can become and the idea that we have a choice to leave the theatre and its da rkness behind is more than the vampire in us can bear. We have let the vampire in us escap e into the screen for a few hours and when we drag it kicking and screaming, pushing it back down into our subconscious realm, it reacts in the same way a two year old reacts when hearing the word no. Through this, ieks joke about vampires having read and/ or at least having gone through Lacans mirror stage holds more weight than he probably surmised when adding it to the page because, in fact, we all have. Waltjes earlier claim is unfinished. He goes on to say, Having turned themselves [the spectator s] into vampires, they are waiting for the film-vampire to come out and join them (Waltje 2000, p. 29). This is actually a half-truth. We spectators are merely waiting for the vamp ire within us to have its fun and then rejoin us once we see that side of us punished for its desires by the protagonists that we thrust it against. Matthew Bunson explains the vampires aversion to mirrors in The Vampire Encyclopedia : Folklore for this aversion stem from the concept that a mirror also reflects a soul, and evil beings have no soul to reflect. It has also been argued that the bloodsuckers actually exist in two worlds, that of the living and that of the dead. As it is in neither world completely, it will not be seen in a mirror (Bunson, 1993, p. 176-177). Without us, the vampire wouldnt have a soul to reflect, as it is nothing more than a decimal without our complete presence. Also as I have just outline, the vampire does indeed live in two worlds. Apart from us, acti ng out its desires inside of the screen, it is dead. It cannot actually live without its true host. Before we release it into the screen and after we trap it once again after the film, it is a part of our whole and, as such, is alive with us. It is also interesting to note that this spectator-screen-vampire relationship has not gone unnoticed and that films since Coppolas Bram Stokers Dracula have actually taken this dynamic a step further than only showing us the vampires absence from the mirror. Patrick Lussiers Dracula 2000 includes a scene in which a young, voluptuous reporter (Valerie Sharpe) and her cameraman are attacked by Dracula. As the attack begins, the camera man sees Valerie seize up, and her neck is suddenl y sliced open though no cause can be seen through the lens of the camera. Sharpe flees into the news van and watches in horror as Dracula manhandles her colleague. As she watc hes on the video monitor receiving the feed
Allegories of Vampire Cinema 147 from the camera, Dracula is absent from the screen He is absent from this film-mirror just as we are absent from the film-mirror in front of us. Valerie Sharpe is attacked. The cameraman is being attacked by Dracula though he cannot be seen on the screen.
J. Magnan 148 In Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, 2000), Max Schreck is fictionalized as being a real vampire during the filming of Murnaus Nosferatu In a pivotal moment of the film, Schreck encounters a projector on his own, without the interference of Murnau and his crew. Stacey Abbott describes the scene: Like a child amongst toys, he curiously begins to crank the lever resulting in an image of a sunrise being projected onto the wall. While he is transfixed by the sight of the first sunrise he has seen in centuries, the sequence changes meaning as soon as Schreck instinctively places his hand before the lens in order to protect his shadow on the screen. This equipment captures and projects a part of himself (Abbott, 2004, p. 3). The vampire, in this scene, is seeing what it is to be the whole without us. His shadow, the part of himself that Abbot is referring to, is representative of the vampire as part of us cast upon the screen. It is not a surprise that in spite of this essays claims, people will continue to flock to the theatres to unleash their inner vampires ever y time a new vampire film is released. For lovers of these films, it is a necessary evil, a period of time when they can allow these subconscious desires to manifest themselves be fore their eyes, relieving the tension that bottling these desires creates. Nina Auerbach sh ares that ...what vampires are in any given generation is a part of what I am... (Auerbach, 19 95, p. 1) Do not be afraid of the vampires that reveal themselves to you on the screen. Be afraid if you find yourself trapped in the darkness of the theatre, unable to bottle them back inside once the credits have rolled. References Abbott, S. (2004). Spectral Vampires: Nosferatu in the Light of Technology. Horror film: Creating and Marketing Fear Ed. Steffen Hantke. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 3-20. Auerbach, N. (1995). Our Vampires, Ourselves Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Biggs, J. M., and Petrie, D. W. (2008). The Art of Watching Films 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill. Bram Stoker's Dracula Dir. Francis F. Coppola. Perf. Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves. DVD. Columbia Pictures, 1992. Bunson, M. (1993). The Vampire Encyclopedia New York: Crown. Dracula (2000) Dir. Patrick Lussier. Perf. Gerard Butler, Christopher Plummer, Jonny Lee Miller, and Justine Waddell. DVD. Dimension Films.
Allegories of Vampire Cinema 149 Lacan, J. (2004). The Mirror Stage as Formativ e of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience. Literary Theory: An Anthology Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 441-446. Metz, C. (2000). The Imaginary Signifier. Film and Theory: An Anthology Ed. Robert Stam and Toby Miller. Malden: Blackwell. 408-436. Peters, F. (2006). Looking in the Mirror: Vampires, the Symbolic, and the Thing. Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil New York: Rodopi Press. 177187. Shadow of the Vampire Dir. E. E. Merhige. Perf. John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes. DVD. Lions Gate Films, 2000. Stoker, B. (2003). Dracula New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. Waltje, J. (2000). Filming Dracula: Vampires, Genre, and Cinematography. Journal of Dracula Studies Official Publication of the Canadian Chapter, Transylvanian Society of Dracula. 24-33. Wright, J. H. (1974). Genre Films and the Status Quo. Jump Cut Jump Cut. 42-50. iek, S. (1992). Enjoy Your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out New York: Routledge. Further Reading Bauer, R. N. (1999). Hearing Dracula: Sound as Sign in Film. Romance Languages Annual West Lafayette: Purdue R esearch Foundation 9, 138-143. Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (2008). Film Art: An Introduction 8th ed. New York: McGraw Hill. Braudy, L. and Cohen, M. (1999). Film Theory and Criticism 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 610. Clover, C. J. (1993). Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Ge nder in the Modern Horror Film Princeton: Princeton University Press. Dyer, R. (2001). Dracula and Desire. Film/ Literature/ Heritage: A Sight and Sound Reader Ed. Ginette Vincendeau. Berkley: University of California Press, 91-97. Heldreth, L. G. (1999). Vampires in Film & Television. Journal of Popular Film & Television Washington: Heldref Publications. Henderson, C. J. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies: From 1897 to the Present New York: Checkmark Books. Holte, J. C. (1999). Not All Fangs are Phallic: Female Film Vampires. Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts Armonk: Sharpe, Inc., 163-173. Jenkins, H. (2000). Reception Theory and Audience Research: The Mystery of the Vampires Kiss. Reinventing Film Studies Ed. Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams. London: Arnold, 165-182. Kittler, F. (1997). Literature, Media, and Information Systems New York: Routledge. Konigsberg, I. (1998). How Many Dracul as Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb? Play it Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes Berkley, University of California Press, 250-275.
J. Magnan 150 Senf, C. A. (1979). Dracula: Th e Unseen Face in the Mirror. The Journal of NarrativeTechnique Ypsilanti: Eastern Michigan University Press, 160-170. Siegel, S. and Siegel, B. (2004). The Encyclopedia of Hollyw ood: An A-Z Guide to the Stars, Stories, and Secrets of Hollywood 2nd ed. New York: Checkmark Books. Worland, R. (2007). The Horror Film: An Introduction Malden: Blackwell. iek, S. (1991). For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor New York: Verso.