Abraham "Bram" Stoker (November 8, 1847 – April 20, 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.

Jeremy Magnan: 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 delve deeply into the horror genre and
vampire subgenre. I also screened over three dozen vampire films, though
only a handful are cited directly. The essay was pieced together from the
beginning of January through March 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 include 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 spectators. 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 “unacceptable 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 vampire, 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).”
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.
Lacan’s 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 Aha- Erlebnis... 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, Dracula’s 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 Dracula’s answer to Lacan’s mirror stage be in fact?
Fiona Peters states:
“Vampires have no need for an unconscious- nor 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 that is the vampire to become one of them. Interesting...
My question for Peters would be What if someone was a vampire and didn’t know it? Must
they still graduate from the fully-fledged human’s 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 Žižek had it right when he said, “It is therefore
clear why vampires are invisible to the mirror: because they have read Lacan and,
consequently, know how to behave... (Žižek, 19992, p. 126)”

Christian Metz’s 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 like 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 spectator’s own body (Metz, 2000).” If this is
true, then perhaps we have not developed our identification inside of this film-mirror
through Lacan’s mirror stage. Metz responds, “... what makes possible the spectator’s
absence- is 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).” I’m not entirely
convinced though that it is a simple identification that we are meant to make.
It is through Žižek 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 some sort of relationship between spectators and
characters in the films but also with the equipment 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 screen, we wouldn’t 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
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 sensuality (Wright, 1974, p. 45),” as Judith Hess
Wright claims, then perhaps the vampire destroys 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 darkness behind is more than the vampire in us
can bear. We have let the vampire in us escape 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, Žižek’s joke about vampires having read and/ or at least having gone
through Lacan’s mirror stage holds more weight than he probably surmised when adding it
to the page because, in fact, we all have. Waltje’s earlier claim is unfinished. He goes on to
say, “Having turned themselves [the spectators] 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 vampire 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 vampire’s aversion to mirrors in The Vampire
“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 wouldn’t 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, acting 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
It is also interesting to note that this spectator-screen-vampire relationship has not gone
unnoticed and that films since Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula have actually taken this
dynamic a step further than only showing us the vampire’s absence from the mirror. Patrick
Lussier’s 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 suddenly 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 watches on the video monitor receiving the feed
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.
In Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, 2000), Max Schreck is fictionalized as being
a real vampire during the filming of Murnau’s 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 essay’s claims, people will continue to flock to
the theatres to unleash their inner vampires every 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 before their eyes, relieving the tension that
bottling these desires creates. Nina Auerbach shares that “...what vampires are in any given
generation is a part of what I am... (Auerbach, 1995, 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.

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New York: Verso

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