by Laura Collopy
The vampire is a monster that has both thrilled and terrified people for hundreds of years, from sophisticated Parisian theatre-goers to quaking Eastern European peasants. Elements of the vampire legend are found in North and South America, Europe, and Asia are older than Christianity. Although the modus operandi and physical appearance may differ from culture to culture, one thing remains constant: The vampire is an animated corpse, un-dead and kicking through the intervention of Satan and the warm blood of his living victims.
Few folkloric creations have survived for so long in such diverse cultural and geographic situations, and therefore, there must be something common to human nature to create such universality and endurance. A Freudian interpretation of the myth can uncover such a bond.
A strong tie to the Freudian doctrine of the oral stage of psycho-sexual development is quite obvious. The comfort and pleasure derived from taking nourishment through sucking is merely mutated and certainly exaggerated in the Vampire. Would Sigmund Freud have diagnosed Count Dracula as suffering from an oral fixation? It is not too farfetched. A description of the "oral" character includes a demanding attitude and dependency (on blood?) similar to "clinging like a Vampire" if frustration should occur during the first, sucking phase of the oral stage of psycho-sexual development.
The blood from which the Vampire gains sustenance has definite sexual connotations according to Freud. Blood is sexually important, and even arousing in this case, perhaps because of it's significance as symbolizing menstruation, or the blood shed by a virgin during penetration (as the Vampire's fangs penetrate his victims body during the attack). Beauty is also an element of sexuality, and one woman, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, believed that blood was indispensable to it's preservation.
Countess Bathory was a descendant of Prince Steven Bathory of Transylvania, who in 1446 helped Vlad Dracula to regain the Wallachian throne, about 100 years before her birth. She was a lesbian and a sadist who delighted in torturing buxom, young servant girls while her husband, the "Black Hero of Hungary", pursued glory on the battlefield. She became involved in witchcraft, and developed an interest in blood which soon became rather obsessive.
The torments she inflicted on her hapless victims were specially designed to be as bloody as possible, and she effectively employed razors, knives, silver pincers (custom-made) and her own teeth to this end. Her interest in gore deepened and gained a new angle when the once exquisitely beautiful countess found her beauty waning and was driven by narcissism and vanity to new heights of perversion. When one fateful day she bloodied the nose of a servant who displeased her, she became convinced that the blood that splashed on her face and hands had erased all lines of age. In order to gain the full benefit of this wondrous treatment, Elizabeth Bathory made it a habit to bathe in the blood of young virgins and attempted to regain her youth through Vampirism. Over a ten year period, the Blood Countess murdered over 700 women until her deeds were finally discovered in 1610.
Freud felt that sex and death were intertwined and demonstrated this through other's desire to preserve (render immortal) ancient objects of beauty as Countess Bathory tried to preserve herself. The death of many famous Vampires can be viewed from a sexual level as well.
The most common form of death for a Vampire comes due to the reception of a stick, knife, or stake through the heart, which can be seen as pointed, phallic symbols. This is a ritual symbolism of sexual penetration. The retreat back into death every morning of the Vampire can be seen as a rebellion against birth (the new day) and an Oedipal retreat back into the womb, symbolized by the coffin, as Freud believed that sexual intercourse was frequently an attempt to regain the womb, as well. Of some interest is the unusual death of Thomas Prest's hero in the famous penny dreadful, "Varney the Vampire" serial. The unhappy blood-sucker plunges to his death in the gaping crater of Mount Vesuvius. The symbolism in the case is rather obvious.
The Vampire myth underwent a great change with the transformation of society as it became more "civilized" and Christianized. The more sexuality was repressed in society, the more it surfaced in Vampire literature. Peasant lore concerning Vampires was much bloodier that that formally depicted in literature. Instead of merely passing out lethal hickeys, the monster frequently savaged his victims. In many languages, the word for Vampire and Werewolf are virtually the same. It is commonly believed that Vampires could shape-shift into wolves, and in fact that a person who had been a werewolf in life would become a Vampire in un-death.
While one would not bring a hideous beast such as the cadaverous, traditional Vampire home to wilt the flowers with his fetid breath and red-glowing eyes, the Vampire of modern fiction is normally presented as a perfect Victorian gentleman. In Bram Stoker's classic "Dracula", the famous Count even espouses temperance when he declares that he "never drinks...wine."
As civilization progresses, the Vampire story picked up more and more religious undertones, until the Pagan, mindless beast was transformed into a thinking creature aware of his evil nature and therefore greatly pained by the sight or touch of religious articles. The Vampire of ancient lore was not affected by sunlight, and was free to go about its diabolical business in broad daylight with impunity. The modern-day Vampire, however, is not so lucky and is adversely affected by the rays of the sun, representation of holy salvation, and by the dawn of the twentieth century, the heretofore unheard of discomfort and loss of powers suffered by Stoker's Dracula have escalated until the Vampire of the German film "Nosferatu" is completely desiccated by the sun's purifying rays.
The "original" Vampire was easily detectable, as it resembled in everyway a walking corpse, a zombie for all intent and purposes. As society began to increase the repression of it's sexuality, the evident supernatural nature of the Vampire was also repressed until he is seen merely as a pallid, but otherwise normal person. This is indicative of the dark side of man that had suddenly been so utterly buried.
The last thing in the world on the ancient Vampire's numbed mind was sensual pleasure; he was an animal, but Vampire literature and film is more steeped in erotica than in blood. Evident in the transformed Vampire legend is an overpowering need to pass the buck and transfer dreaded sexual yearnings to a source outside one's self. Previously, it had been extremely easy to become a Vampire, in fact it was a miracle that not everyone was un-dead. If a child jumped over your grave or a cat walked on it, you were doomed. If a Vampire so much as looked you in the eye, forget it. Those with red hair or blue eyes were also suspect as was the seventh in an unbroken succession of same-sex births.
Not so, the modern literary Vampire. Apparently, in a society that has become more complex, the road to Vampirism has become quite simple. There seems to be just one means by which the Dark Gift may be bestowed and that is by surrendering enough blood to the Vampire and in turn drinking some of it's blood -- in other words, and exchange of body fluids. This implies that the modern day Vampire wanted to become a Vampire and that he or she asked for it. The guilt is shifted from the victim-for-nourishment to the one who has actually chosen to become one of the un-dead. This is an important shifting of guilt to the Vampire, a symbol of buried sexuality from the "victim".
The Vampire in literature is also harder to destroy than its ancestors. While putting garlic in the mouth of the cadaver or pouring scalding water over its grave could extinguish some Vampires, the literary Vampire must have a stake driven through its heart, its head chopped off, and its body burned completely to be laid to rest. Sometimes this is not enough, as the full moon can revive the injured Vampire. This is indicative of the fact that this buried sexuality cannot be completely conquered, and not just a desire for sequels.
There is no denying the sexual element of modern Vampire literature. While the old fashioned Vampire was another form of plague carrying vermin, the new Vampire gave and received sexual pleasure. Freud studied the phenomena of sexual arousal through sado-masochistic action, (the Marchis de Sade himself wrote a couple of Vampire romances: "Justine on les Malheurs de la Vertu" and "Juliette".) and so we can safely theorize that the Vampire not only sucks its victim's blood, but also symbolically takes them to bed. This scene from "Dracula" illustrates just such an event:
The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, 'till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the sharp white teeth....There she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and could feel the hot breath on my neck...I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super-sensitive skin on my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited....waited with a beating heart.
The mindless Vampire of old had no sexual preference in his victims, because they were mainly just food. The literary Vampire, however, is very selective in his or her choice of victims. While most Vampires of mainstream literature chose victims of the opposite sex so as not to offend, evidence of such is still to be seen in the classics. In "Dracula", Lucy Westenra, the King Vampire's first pupil in the new World is seen creeping about town as the "Bloofer Lady" and carries home babies on which to feast. Universal Picture's first sequel to "Dracula", "Dracula's Daughter, has a heroine tempted by both a male doctor and a young girl who works as her artist's model. Anne rice's book, "Interview with the Vampire", revolves around the seemingly platonic but latently homosexual obsessions of it's principal main characters Lestat and Armand for Louis, and of Louis and Letast's blatant pedophilia toward the tiny five hundred year old protégé, Claudia.
The modern Vampire has become a master of seduction, which is the operative word. The monster's "victims" are seduced, and whatever pleasure they receive (they usually swoon from pleasure, not pain or terror) is not a direct result of any action on his own part, and is therefor not his "fault" and no guilt may be attached to it.
Count Dracula is always portrayed as a lecherous man after young girls and even Vlad the Impaler, the modern Dracula prototype, is more of a romantic nationalist hero in his own country than a skeleton in its closet. In the Hammer films of the 1960's and '70's, the female vampires are always portrayed as voluptuous wanton women laying in wait for helpless victims. This then extends all the way down the line to "Vampirella" and "Tomb of Dracula" pulp horror comics, and shows the great need in the human personality from absolution of responsibility and pressure in sexual matters.
The Vampire is an example of the ultimate in horror fixation, but he is also the symbol of the need and desire of people to rid themselves of their "impure" sexuality and all of the guilt that is attached. This can be seen in the transformation of the Vampire myth in literature. As Dracula said in the stage version of the novel: "You fools! You think you can destroy me with your wafers and your wolf's-bane, Me, the King of my kind?! You shall see!" The same is true of the repressed emotions that he represents.
by Laura Collopy