Celluloid Vampires: Life after Death in the Modern World

Celluloid Vampires: Life after Death in the Modern World

Celluloid Vampires: Life after Death in the Modern World

Celluloid Vampires: Life after Death in the Modern World

Synopsis

In 1896, French magician and filmmaker George Méliès brought forth the first celluloid vampire in his film Le manoir du diable. The vampire continues to be one of film's most popular gothic monsters and in fact, today more people become acquainted with the vampire through film than through literature, such as Bram Stoker's classic Dracula. How has this long legacy of celluloid vampires affected our understanding of vampire mythology? And how has the vampire morphed from its folkloric and literary origins?

In this entertaining and absorbing work, Stacey Abbott challenges the conventional interpretation of vampire mythology and argues that the medium of film has completely reinvented the vampire archetype. Rather than representing the primitive and folkloric, the vampire has come to embody the very experience of modernity. No longer in a cape and coffin, today's vampire resides in major cities, listens to punk music, embraces technology, and adapts to any situation. Sometimes she's even female.

With case studies of vampire classics such as Nosferatu, Martin, Blade, and Habit, the author traces the evolution of the American vampire film, arguing that vampires are more than just blood-drinking monsters; they reflect the cultural and social climate of the societies that produce them, especially during times of intense change and modernization. Abbott also explores how independent filmmaking techniques, special effects makeup, and the stunning and ultramodern computer-generated effects of recent films have affected the representation of the vampire in film.

Excerpt

In 1896, one year before the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula, French magician and filmmaker George Méliès brought forth the first celluloid vampire in his film Le manoir du diable (The Haunted Castle). In this film, a bat flies into a Gothic castle, transforms into a man who then conjures up numerous visions to horrify the other inhabitants of the castle. He is vanquished by a man brandishing a crucifix. In the century that has followed, the vampire continues to be one of the most popular Gothic monsters to haunt our cinema and television screens with hundreds of films that both draw from classic vampire folklore and literature and break away from this tradition to reinvent the vampire myth. Today, more people are familiar with the vampire genre through film and television than through classic literature. How has this legacy of celluloid vampires affected our understanding of vampire mythology? Has the vampire changed from its folkloric and literary origins?

Vampires have traditionally been associated with the past through their perceived relationship with primitive desires, folklore, or Gothic fiction. To imagine a modern vampire seems almost contradictory. The vampire emerged in literature in the nineteenth century as part of the Gothic genre and therefore has traditionally been defined by its conventions. The Gothic, in literary terms, is a genre of fiction written in the eighteenth and nineteenth century that celebrates the irrational, the fantastic, and the supernatural. The writing style of Gothic fiction is usually excessive, emphasizing, through detailed description, gloomy and unsettling atmospheres and settings. Narratively, the novels often focus upon a conflict between past and present. Fred Botting describes Gothic atmospheres as signaling “the disturbing return of pasts upon presents” and explains that “in the twentieth century, in diverse and ambiguous ways, Gothic . . .

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