Sunday, October 28, 2007

Adios, Suckers!

Vampires are more theologically interesting to me than werewolves, though perhaps that's because I see them as fairly straightforward. While a werewolf can be tortured by the knowledge of what he becomes and does, a classic vampire is comfortable in his own skin and someone else's neck.

But what is a vampire? In the early Hammer films, Van Helsing claimed that vampirism was a Satanic parody of and response to the Church. It's an intriguing thought, but unfortunately over time the Hammer films went from speculative theology to PC babble and over-sexed scripts. Avoid any of them from the seventies, and be careful of any from the late sixties. The two best vampire movies I've encountered are Return of the Vampire (with Bela Lugosi playing a vampire that specifically isn't Dracula) and Brides of Dracula (even though the vampire isn't really Dracula). Odd note: the Spanish version of Universal's Dracula somehow has a better script (or else the English version I saw was cut badly). I'd recommend the Spanish one to those who know Spanish or don't mind a subtitled version.

Now, the status of "traditional" vampires (much of the tradition deriving from Hollywood) is fairly clear: they are corpses animated by demonic entities. In some fashion, the soul or spirit of the victim is bound to the corpse, a fact that presumably enables the possessing spirit to use the body. When the victim is released (generally with the wooden stake bit), the demon can't maintain the lifelike appearance of the corpse, which then rapidly degrades as the demon leaves. Theologically tricky at best.

The "St. Judas Syndrome" is especially common for vampires, particularly in modern work. The problem is that a corpse, even if the victim's spirit is somehow bound to it, is still a corpse. The victim, if able to act freely to begin with, can at best hope for a blessed death, as happens in Brides of Dracula.

So a common solution these days is to have a non-traditional vampire. The condition is a metabolic quirk (Ann Rice), the result of a disease (as in the movie The Last Man on Earth), or something similar. The problem is that these aren't vampires as such; they are merely vampiric. It's like having fairies turn out to be just vaguely humanoid bugs.

If I were going to do something along this line, I would have a traditional vampire, but with one (not uncommon) difference: the victim isn't dead, just possessed. The demon has a hang-up about death, so the victim lives in a tomb (Mark 5:2-5). The victim may even enter a death-like state when the demon is less active for whatever reason. I'll pursue this idea in a later version of my essay on fictional demonology.

For another Christian take on the subject, see Sue Dent's novel Forever Richard.


Sue Dent said...

You know, I've never read Anne Rice. I think I acquired my love for vampire and werewolf lore mostly from Dark Shadows though I remember so little about the show execpt for the headless corpse roaming the gravehard looking for its head which was in a case in the Collins' house. I've never read Stoker either because I worried it would scare me. LOL

Now that I know Anne Rice had her literary start with soft porn stories and that much of that spilled over into her vampire writing, I'm not sure I could read her without a twinge of hmmmmm . . . but I may one day.

And yes, you rock and have brought up some very interesting points here . . . I think! :)

Steve said...

I watched Dark Shadows as a kid--until Mom decided it was too scary.

I've only read Rice's Interview with the Vampire; the main character was vaguely bisexual, I thought, tending toward hetero, while many other vampires seemed homosexual. But since they were no longer truly sexual beings, this may have just reflected their different view of sexuality.

Dracula isn't scary as such, though it does have some good suspense. It's one of the better vampire stories from the 1800s (or 1900s).

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