The Vampire and the Divine: A Shifting Relationship Seen Through Media Produced Between 1819 and 2010
. Andrew M. Boylan
1. Opening and the Early Form This essay looks to examine the relationship between the vampire and the divine. For divine I will accept any deific form, independent of actual religion or godform, so long as it is popularly seen as ‘good’, any supernatural force or agent actively opposing this will be deemed infernal. I have previously looked at the shifting use of the part holy symbols have to play in the vampire genre1. Whilst that essay looked at the use of holy symbols as an apotropaic this looks more into the relationship with the actual divine, and explores the vampire as it is used as an infernal agent opposing the divine, as a secular creature or perhaps a force of nature and as an agent of the divine. However, out of necessity we will explore similar concepts to that earlier essay in Part 3, “You have to have faith for this to work on me!” The essay comes with a simple caveat; the vampire as a symbolic archetype has proven itself to be incredibly malleable and versatile. Or, even more simply, the vampire has been used to represent most anything, however I intend to use some of the bigger films and classical books as well as more obscure media. I intend to use the vampire as portrayed in popular media rather than the traditional vampire of folklore – though traditions will be touched upon. The first published English language vampire story was John W Polidori’s ‘the Vampyre’ – which first received (incorrectly credited) publication in 1819. The story itself was a good example of the versatility of the genre as it was a thinly veiled satire at the expense of Lord Byron and thus the debauched lifestyle of the vampyre, Lord Ruthven, could be seen to be the excesses of the landed classes. Even so, the vampyre is still a supernatural entity in this tale and is associated with intemperance, and evil will visit upon those who cross paths with the creature. “They described it as the resort of the vampyres in their nocturnal orgies and denounced the most heavy evils as impending upon him who dared to cross their path.”2 However, there is no mention at all of the use of apotropaic substances or iconography, religious or otherwise. I will take this silence as an indication that there was no divine influence over the vampyre and, similarly, there is little to indicate that the vampires in Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood3 are held at bay by the cross. They are, perhaps, created as a punishment for their own misdeeds – a curse bestowed if you like and, in the case of Varney, this might be for killing his wife or his child. That said we also hear of one character, Clara Crompton, raised as a vampire simply because she was killed by one (in an act of vengeance against her family). These discrepancies are not uncommon in the text, making it somewhat unreliable as a consistent source material, and are born from the nature of the Penny Dreadful. Whilst stories such as La Morte Amoureuse4 had a definitive religious aspect (concerning, as it does, a priest) and actually had the vampire destroyed by holy water, it is to the early English language stories we will look for now – due to the wider impact they seem to have had on the genre – and to Carmilla5. One of the big two stories, in my opinion, to impact the genre the vampire of the story, the
eponymous Carmilla, does have a negative relationship with the divine. We see this when she hears hymns during a funeral procession: “‘You pierce my ears,’ said Carmilla, almost angrily, and stopping her ears with her tiny fingers. ‘Besides, how can you tell that your religion and mine are the same; your forms wound me, and I hate funerals. What a fuss! Why you must die – everyone must die; and all are happier when they do. Come home.’”6 What is interesting here, in looking at the relationship with the divine, is that not only does the hymn hurt Carmilla but she mentions a different religion. Could this be worship of the infernal? Whilst it isn’t obviously clear, I would argue that would seem to be the case, albeit subtly, in Bram Stoker’s seminal work, Dracula7; despite taking the name Dracula from the historical Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476). Stoker had used William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them8 for research and copied into his notes9 a footnote pertaining to the assertation that Dracula meant devil. However Stoker clearly did not base his vampire on the man also known as Vlad Ţepeş, or the Impaler, and only used his name. Indeed the vampire was, until the eleventh hour, still called Count Wampyr. We need to note that Dracul could translate as either ‘devil’ or ‘dragon’ and Vlad’s father was known as Dracul due to his membership of the Order of the Dragon. Dracula would therefore mean ‘Son of the Dragon’ when in context to Vlad III. When it comes to the relationship this vampire had with the divine this is important for, as many atrocities that Vlad III might have carried out, he was a Christian; certainly he died a Catholic and had probably also been a member of the Orthodox Church. Compare and contrast this with the Count Dracula of the novel who became a vampire, Stoker hints, via the agency of the Devil. “The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due. In the records are such words as 'stregoica' witch, 'ordog' and 'pokol' Satan and hell, and in one manuscript this very Dracula is spoken of as 'wampyr,'”10 The hint here being that, perhaps, this Dracula was the tenth scholar who, according to Emily Gerald (another source Stoker used in researching his novel): “…is detained by the devil as payment, and mounted upon an Ismeju (dragon) he becomes henceforward the devil's aide-de-camp, and assists him in 'making the weather,' that is, in preparing thunderbolts.”11 We should note that Dracula is given some control of weather in the novel. Stoker also established many of the rules around using religious artefacts to fight the vampire. Jonathon Harker is given a crucifix by a concerned lady – interestingly Harker is uncomfortable with this at first as, being an English Churchman, he finds the crucifix idolatrous. Later, of course, he comes to rely on said crucifix. Stoker also
establishes the use of the host; purifying Dracula’s unhallowed earth, making putty that prevents the passage of the undead or searing the flesh of a mortal infected by the vampire’s blood. Bizarrely Stoker seems to contradict himself with regards the place where a vampire might sleep. Having established the idea that the vampire should sleep on unhallowed earth or, as in Whitby, the grave of a suicide (which itself was in the consecrated grounds of St Mary’s Church), Stoker then suggests that hallowed ground is necessary: “There have been from the loins of this very one great men and good women, and their graves make sacred the earth where alone this foulness can dwell. For it is not the least of its terrors that this evil thing is rooted deep in all good, in soil barren of holy memories it cannot rest.”12 This does seem incongruous as surely placing the host in the soil, which they do to purify Dracula’s boxes of earth, would offer a ‘holy memory’. That aside, however, Dracula is clearly the most influential vampire novel written and established the vampire as an unholy creature, perhaps even the devil’s aide-de-camp. We shall next see that it would be with the character of Dracula that this went a step further still.
2. An ascent up the infernal hierarchy After Dracula1 we are hit by a veritable slough of vampire stories. A casual glance sees more and more short stories appearing, then movies – with a primary source of Dracula – and as the pace of movies produced increased so did the number of novels and shorts, until – by the twenty first century – the production of vampire related material becomes a veritable plague of its own. In 2009 the vampire seemed to dominate popular culture, and yet even then Dracula was still a central figure within the genre – with Bram Stoker’s distant relation Dacre Stoker co-authoring a sequel to the novel, Dracula: the Un-dead2, which was deemed an official sequel by the Stoker Estate. A year before the release of Dracula, the film maker Georges Melies produced the two minute film “Le Manoir du Diable”3. It is sometimes deemed as the first vampire movie, though its principle villain is named Mephistopheles and is certainly made to look like the archetypal devil. This, of course, is interesting as it is perhaps a precursor as to where this part of the essay will take us. Also interesting is that a bat flies into the room and transforms into Mephistopheles – interesting as the association between vampires and the bat is normally credited to Bram Stoker and yet here is something (now) deemed vampiric, or at least with vampire overtones, that had a transformation from bat. Also exciting is that Mephistopheles is defeated by a cavalier brandishing a cross. It is easy, with the use of the bat and the cross, for us to decide that this film is of the vampire genre. I prefer to think it has, to our modern sensibilities, a vampiric aspect – though whether Melies thought it did, as he created the film, is doubtful. Whether Stoker was influenced by or even saw this film, or not, we are unlikely to ever know and, to be fair, if it did the influence is likely to be limited as Stoker had spent 6 years researching for the novel at that point. The first (surviving) vampire film was Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens4, which dates from 1922 and was an unofficial production of Dracula. It is interesting to note that not only did this film remove us from England as a location – the film being set in Germany – but the novel’s religious aspects are not dwelt upon. There is a question of purity – the vampire can be killed by a good woman (not virginal, note, but one of pure intent. The concept that the woman should be a virgin is explored in the film Vampire in Venice5, a loose sequel to the remake of this film) detaining the vampire by offering her blood willingly and thus making him face the dawn. It is this film that introduced, in a cinematic sense, the idea that sunlight would destroy a vampire. The next several decades saw a slow but steady increase in the number of vampire movies produced. Their content from our point of view was a mixed bag with some containing a very secular approach to vampirism tying it into (often mad) scientific principles and others concentrating on an occult or supernatural source for the vampirism. Of special note is the film The Vampire’s Ghost6, which was based on Polidori’s the Vampyre7 and yet added in an aversion to crosses that was not obvious in the original story, as well as a pro-Christian message as an ensorcelled hero can
only be set free by mastering his own will – an act only achievable through the church. However I wish to jump forward to the Hammer Horror vampire movies which began with the Horror of Dracula8 in 1958. This was a loose adaptation of Dracula and elements such as fear of the cross was in this and featured within most of Hammer’s vampire films (to clarify, crosses actually wilted in the presence of the vampire in the marvellous Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter9 and crosses are not explored in Countess Dracula10). Horror of Dracula introduced the idea of crossing two items together to create a cross – candlesticks in this case – though we shall explore that in part 3 of this essay “You have to have faith for this to work on me!” Hammer also introduced the idea of the cult of vampirism, so that vampirism was not only a supernatural infection but, one might say, an initiation into a dark religion – very much the worship of the infernal. This was taken a step further in the Karnstein Trilogy, based on Carmilla11. In Twins of Evil12 not only are a horde of puritanical (and questionably moral) priests burning women accused of witchcraft but the vampires are created by more than a bite. If someone is bitten by a vampire and they are dedicated to Satan they will become undead, otherwise they will die. Thus there is a direct pact with the infernal and the cult of vampirism recruits not by biting and changing the nature or will of an individual but by turning those who are actually evil themselves. It was in the penultimate Dracula movie that Hammer made, their final film with Christopher Lee as the Count, that vampirism raised itself to a dizzy height within the infernal ranks. The very name Satanic Rites of Dracula13 offers an infernal connection. The film is met by wide derision, many feel that moving Dracula from the Victorian Gothic arena that Hammer had done so well and modernising the series had been a mistake. However there are very interesting aspects to this movie, when it comes to vampire lore. This begins with the introduction of the apotropaic hawthorn. In this a vampire will be deterred and injured by hawthorn as it is the tree from which Christ’s crown of thorns was made – thus making it, immediately, a symbol of the divine. Dracula, at the climax of the movie gets caught up in Hawthorn – stopping him so that Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing can put a stake through his heart. However the imagery when Dracula is captured has him upside down with the hawthorn around his head like a crown of thorns. In short this vampire is no longer an ordinary servant of the infernal or even the devil’s aide-de-camp – he is the antichrist. This then explains his actions through the film. Dracula sought to create an apocalypse by unleashing a synthesised virulent form of the bubonic plague onto the world and wiping out mankind. On one level, this attempt to destroy his own food supply can be seen as the actions of a world weary vampire, sick of being killed and constantly being brought back to undeath. However, more so, it is the actions of the antichrist fulfilling the biblical prophesies contained in Revelations – he truly became, in this, the Prince of Darkness. Vampires had before ascended to a Godlike level. In the joint US/Philippines movie Blood Thirst14 (which was released in 1971 but shot in 1965) the vampire claims to be an Aztec “Golden Goddess”, and because of the need to consume life we can take this
as an infernal Goddess. Years later we would see the birth of vampiric blood God La Magra in the otherwise secular Blade15. But, in terms of the vampire rising up the infernal ranks I believe there is no better example than Satanic Rites of Dracula.
3. “You have to have faith for this to work on me!” We have seen the vampire rise up the infernal ranks but the question remains why does a couple of pieces of wood, nailed across each other, trigger such intense reaction amongst such powerful creatures and the answer is as diverse as the genre itself. Of course the initial answer has to be that the cross is the symbol of Christianity and thus is a symbol of the divine. This makes the genre rather Christian-centric and, indeed, it certainly was – despite vampires appearing in most countries mythologies in one form or another. Looking at La Morte Amoureuse1 – a story by Theophile Gautier published in 1836 – the vampire witch Clarimonde is destroyed in her tomb with holy water that makes her crumble into “a shapeless and frightful mass of cinders and half-calcined bones”. Then again, the story itself betrays the relationship between Clarimonde and Romauld, a young priest. I find it more sympathetic to the vampire (and her relationship with Romauld) than the clergy. However it did seem that the use of a cross – in the movies – was a lesser used trope for some time. That’s not to say that films didn’t use it but the reason it worked was taken for granted (in that it was a symbol of the divine) and it was sometimes missing altogether, as in the film Vampyr2. Vampyr certainly had an occult aspect, including a wonderful astral projection sequence, and an infernal aspect; the book seen through the film states that the vampire finds that the “‘Prince of Darkness' is their ally and lends them supernatural powers with which these dead prey upon the living…” However we see no real use of the cross when combating the vampire indeed the film is at pains to tell us that “Neither medical science nor prayers nor exorcisms can prevail against this…” suggesting that a victim, in danger of becoming a vampire, can not be helped by either a secular path or a religious one. The poverty row movie Dead Men Walk3 does contain a crucifix trope – but whilst it keeps the vampire at bay it is easily removed by the vampire’s servant. Further, the male characters who are trying to protect the female victims are too secular (at first) to believe in such superstitious nonsense – the cross was given by an old woman who declared the vampire evil at the start of the film (during his funeral) and brings to mind the old woman often depicted giving Harker a crucifix in the various interpretations of Dracula. I think it more interesting that the vampire worshipped Shaitan – the Islamic version of Satan. Getting back to the cross, however, it does seem to keep the vampire at bay simply by its existence and despite the fact that the vampire worships an Islamic version of the infernal. Probably unbeknown to the filmmakers, it was the Hammer film Horror of Dracula4 that started to seriously explore why a cross would hold back a vampire. At the end of the film Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing pushes Christopher Lee’s Dracula back with a cross constructed from two candlesticks. One might argue that this just arbitrarily allows the geometry to scare the vampire (something we will examine again in part 5, The Secular Vampire), but Dracula had been through cemeteries (generally filled with crosses) and seen window frames before then. I would argue that it was the faith of the wielder that was important – Van Helsing had faith that what he held was a symbol of the divine and thus, as such, started a specific direction for the holy symbol
trope in the genre. We should mention that Van Helsing – again played by Cushing – went one step further in Brides of Dracula5 and killed the vampire by trapping him in the shadow of a cross cast by a windmill. Hammer certainly liked to play with the constructed cross trope. Kiss of the Vampire6 has an effective use of the cross by smearing it on the chest in blood. There is a turn around to this in the later film Deathmaster7 when a vampire is paralysed after a cross is painted onto his cheek in blood. It should be noted that Kiss of the Vampire really labours the idea of the cult of vampirism and is quite unusual in that black magic is used to actually defeat the vampires – an ending that was, originally, meant to be used in Brides of Dracula but was dropped for cost reasons. Sometimes the faith of the vampire is more important than that of the hunter. In the Fearless Vampire Killers8 most vampires are warded by the cross (indeed two swords are crossed at one point to optimum effect) but when the new vampire Shagal is threatened with a crucifix, the Jewish vampire drawls “Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire.” This is aped, in reverse, in Love at First Bite9 when a Jewish ‘Van Helsing’ holds up a Star of David to a rather nonplussed Count Dracula. However, in the main, it does seem to be the faith of the person holding the cross that is important. This leads us all the way to the film Fright Night10, where the name of this section of the essay was taken from, where holding up a cross to a vampire requires faith from the wielder for it to have an effect, sort of. A cross thrust upon the forehead of a new vampire burns said vampire – it is the master vampire who is unaffected by a faithless threat. Perhaps this is the will or evil of the vampire pitted against the faith of the wielder. Certainly certain vampires can exert their will over the cross. In the 1992 Dracula11 not only is the source of the vampirism seen to be begin with an assault on a cross (which then bleeds) but Dracula is able to make a cross held before him burst into flames, other films have crosses melt or heat up under the baleful gaze and will of the vampire. An interesting twist on the symbolism of crosses occurs in the book Mr Darcy, Vampyre12. Different vampire familial lines have different weaknesses. Darcy’s line finds crosses and holy paraphernalia uncomfortable only. However, whatever the familial line, only symbols from a vampire’s own time or before will affect it. So a 3000 year old vampire would find that they would be unaffected by the crucifix. Similarly the source of vampirism in the book Bloodgod13 is another world. Those who came from that world would be unaffected by the symbol of the cross but those turned on Earth, who were Christian, would be psychologically predisposed to reacting to a cross in the stereotypical vampire way. The use of psychology is interesting – and will be explored further when we look at secular vampire stories. The Timmy Valentine series of books by S P Somtow have a Jungian basis to whether an object of faith would affect a vampire. Anne Rice also placed a psychological aspect in her Vampire Chronicles series with certain vampires (at one point) shunning entry into churches as they believed they were damned creatures – but that was a product of the time they lived in. On the other hand Rice did
have a rather Christian-centric aspect to her books, perhaps peaking with the volume Memnoch the Devil14, which is essentially a reworking of Milton. Filmmakers, however, did not forget Hammer and the crossing of two things to make a cross. In the Swedish film Frostbite15 we have a situation where the very touch of a priest’s hand on the skin of a vampire burns and yet when two pieces of wood are crossed it has no impact – not when in the shape of a St Andrew’s cross or the more traditional form – clearly indicating that faith is needed (and that the priest, by his vocation, is a creature of faith). The idea also comes up in From Dusk Till Dawn16 and Cushing himself is cited. When the ‘heroes’ of the film are discussing the vampires and how to defend against them, using a cross is mentioned – though no one has one. The character Scott states “What are you talking about? We got crosses all over the place. All you gotta do is put two sticks together and you got a cross.” To which the character Sex Machine adds, “He's right. Peter Cushing does that all the time.” Later, Scott’s father, Jacob, creates a cross by putting a baseball bat through the pump of a shotgun (with the added advantage of being able to blast the overly enthusiastic vampires). It did seem to hold them back but, then again Jacob was a preacher who had just rediscovered his faith. Possibly the most obvious way of making the trope of the cross affect a vampire is by tying the lore directly into the Christian myth of Jesus. In Dracula 200017 the true identity of Dracula is revealed to be Judas Iscariot – thus the apotropaic effect of religious artefacts is directly tied into his betrayal of Christ. Taking that one step further, the film Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter18 has Jesus himself hunting the vampires. Strangely the presence of Christ does not ward or hurt vampires, whilst holding a cross up does. However we later learn that the essence of Christ is literally within him and, when injured, the light of that essence shines out killing vampires. It is also worth noting that, probably down to the symbolic drinking of blood and eating of flesh in the Christian Eucharist rite, some creators of vampire genre material have completely turned things around and made Jesus either a vampire or the source of vampirism. The obvious example of this was the novel by Eccarius, the Last Days of Christ the Vampire19. Sometimes faith of the wielder is enough, with the symbol being the focus of the faith, without the symbol having to be religious – territory edging closely to the secular vampire, whom we shall visit in part 5 of this essay. This is clearly demonstrated in the Doctor Who adventure, The Curse of Fenric20. In this a Russian army officer has so much faith in the Soviet state that his hammer and sickle badge is enough to ward the vampires away. An interesting turn around to this was in the film Karmina21 where the vampire Vlad is a soviet, he is being held back by a cross (more correctly two bits of wooden handle crossed) and, in return, crosses a hammer and sickle. His symbol glows and then fires a beam of light at the cross, causing it to burst into flames.
4. Culture shock and a Diversity Agenda It was right and proper that we examine why a cross, as the most used holy symbol within the standard genre, might affect the vampire and the source of faith that allows it to do so. However, when examining the vampire’s relationship to generic divine and infernal aspects we can almost take it as read that there is faith, divinity and infernal ranks – it is the cornerstone of the essay. No matter how Christian-centric the genre may be, however, we must remember that each and every culture seems to have had some form of vampiric mythology at one time or another. Often magic and petition to divinity were used to deal with these vampires. In this part of the essay I wish to examine – through the medium of the Far Eastern vampire types in cinema – how non-Western vampire types were portrayed and, further, how the Western vampire began to creep into Eastern cinema. In doing so we will see some interesting uses of religion in the genre. One of the earliest meetings of East and West came about as Hammer Horror tried to capitalise on the public’s new found love of movies from Hong Kong and coproduced a film with the Shaw Brothers. The result was The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires1. This was possibly not the wisest move the company made. Christopher Lee refused to reprise his Dracula role and the honour went (briefly) to John ForbesRobertson – whose makeup made him look more like Dracula the drag queen. I said briefly because Dracula, before travelling to China, assumes the physical appearance of Kah, priest of the Temple of the Seven Golden Vampires, as played by Shen Chan. The main vampires are a leathery skin, desiccated looking bunch. The film also foreshadows later Hong Kong vampire movies by having zombie hordes that adopt a hop crossed with a mince as they ran. The hop would become famous later with the vampire type the kyonsi. What is interesting from our point of view is the fact that a shrine to Buddha holds the vampires at bay. Indeed Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing suggests employing the image of Buddha rather than a cross – indicating a faith level on the side of the vampire or perhaps just the power of the region’s collective subconscious belief. Whilst not the first film to feature the creature, it was really Mr Vampire2 that introduced the West to the concept of the kyonsi. The film also introduced us to many of the rules surrounding these creatures, which were quite different from their Western brethren. However it is the religious aspect of the kyonsi that I wish to explore. The kyonsi could be controlled, or defeated, by Taoist priests. Prayer scrolls could be placed upon their heads to prevent their movement and ritual aspects were introduced based upon Taoist principles, often with elements of Buddhism and Confucianism as we shall see. The Hong Kong film industry was a veritable machine and produced many vampire films featuring kyonsi, indeed my mentioning Mr Vampire is useful as there were five films in the resultant series (though, strangely, not all of them featured a vampire). The film Mr Vampire 43 actually featured both Taoism and Buddhism, with the practitioners of both religions at odds with each other (indeed, actively cursing each other) and then having to work together in order that they might defeat the vampires. It wasn’t the first time that Buddhist principles had been included in a kyonsi film, the
film Close Encounters of a Spooky Kind4 was set during the Hungry Ghost Festival and as Wayne Stein points out the festival “combines three different religions: the Confucian idea of respecting ancestors mixed with both Buddhist ideas of rebirth and Taoist ideas about separation of the soul.”5 He then goes on to argue that the new breed of vampire film (the kyonsi movie) was an amalgam of the three cultures. Thus Mr Vampire 4 perhaps reminds the audience that the two featured religions are stronger when working in harmony Mr Vampire 4 starred Ma Wu, who went on to direct the movie Exorcist Master . This introduces a Western element into the indigenous lore with Ma Wu playing a Christian priest who reopens a Church much to the disdain of the local Taoist master played by Ching-Ying Lam. The vampire is a hybrid of Western vampire and kyonsi. When attacked by Taoist methods the vampire takes on Western attributes and is immune to the attacks and vice versa. The only way to defeat it is through the Taoist Master and Christian Priest working in consort. The Western vampire trope certainly did become a part of Hong Kong cinema. Doctor Vampire7 sees a doctor from Hong Kong infected with vampirism when in England. On his return to Hong Kong he finds himself becoming a vampire and actually tries moving like a kyonsi and is given burial robes associated with that vampire type. However he is not kyonsi and the Taoist priest called in to deal with the vampires fails as his methods do not work on Western vampires. There is, of course, a cultural element that corresponds to the history of Hong Kong, British Colonialism and the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China but that is not within the scope of this essay. Other Asian countries provide us with films featuring their indigenous vampire variants and they are dealt with using the traditional methods from that country. The Thai film P8, despite being filmed by a Western director, features the vampiric ghost the Phii Borb and is tackled using traditional Thai methods. A witchdoctor is sought at one point and the possessed girl was also a spellcaster who lost control of the forces she played with by breaking specific rules that had been handed down to her. The Indonesian film Pocong V Kuntilanak9 features a supernatural war waged between two families. The Kuntilanak is the vampire type and, interestingly, the Pocong is a type of physical ghost, a dead soul trapped in its own body by its shroud and is of Indonesian Muslim origin. By having the two creatures opposing each other we have a clash between indigenous myth types, born of local religion, and myths derived from the newer Islamic faith. Japan, however, rarely seems to produce films with Japanese specific vampire types – despite vampire-like creatures being present in the folklore of Japan. The film Kuroneko10 has a cat like vampire creature but most Japanese vampire films feature a recognisably Western vampire type – in many cases the vampire will have originally come to Japan from Europe – and then the film will often add a local twist to the mythology. However, the idea of the crucifix holding the vampire back is often used. In the series Koishite Akuma11 the cross is effective as an apotropaic but interestingly, when the students in the series look at vampirism for a play they are writing and producing, a definitive distinction is made between Western style vampires and Chinese vampires – presumably kyonsi.
In a local twist the anime series Rosario and Vampire12 the vampire, Moka, wears a cross – the rosario of the title – that limits her powers. Giving the vampire an almost superhero aspect; when the cross is removed her powers emerge and she then saves the day – often with a well placed kick. Note that the cross limits her powers rather than removes them altogether and thus she still is a vampire and will still feed on blood in her limited form. Moka also displays one of the local variant twists to the mythology; she is able to inject her blood into another via her fangs. Before I move on to look at Korea, I do have to say that whilst I have looked specifically at Far Eastern cinema there are vampire films being produced all over the world and some have rather interesting amalgams of lore. Take India, and the Bollywood film industry. The film Bandh Darwaza13 has a very Western genre derivative vampire but he is held back by an Aum symbol rather than a cross. Moving on to Korea it does seem that the Western style of vampire holds sway there and thus the religious representation of the divine is Christian. Vampire Cop Ricky14 has the titular character turn into a vampire after having been bitten by a mosquito that previously fed upon a vampire in Transylvania. At first he is half vampire and gains vampiric powers by being sexually aroused or when he feels great anger. He is taken under the wing of a Catholic priest who is also a vampire hunter – the hunter hopes to cure him. However Ricky is killed, becoming a full vampire. Despite this the priest and vampire continue their relationship as Ricky had been a bent cop and his vampirism actually makes him honest and puts him on a path of redemption. The film Thirst15 does not have such an obvious tale of redemption and the vampire’s original profession was that of priest. Because of this Chan-Wook Park actually chose to lose the concept of religious apotropaic, but religion plays an awfully large part in the film. Hyeon, the priest, starts the film wanting to save others and so volunteers to be a guinea pig in the search for a cure for the Emmanuel Virus. The virus proves deadly but he is given several blood transfusions and, seconds after he dies, he comes back to life but eventually discovers he is now a vampire. He is given inhumanly strong drives, not only for blood but also lustful drives that lead him to covet his friend’s wife, Tae-ju, and ultimately cause him to leave the priesthood. The religious references come thick and fast; from the belief, espoused by Tae-ju, that one is spared Hell on death if one has no faith, to the encroachment of Western style consumerism into Korea as a new religion. Indeed Hyeon can be seen to be the messiah of secular society through the medium of the Emmanuel Virus as Emmanuel is (biblically) the Messiah foretold, thus the virus has searched out the one who will return from the dead. This brings us neatly to our next aspect, the secular vampire.
5. The Secular Vampires
Whilst this essay looks at the vampiric relationship with the Divine, it would be remiss not to briefly examine those vampires who developed a secular outlook. In the BBC Documentary Vampires Why they Bite1 Lisa Hilton argued that the secular vampire show came about via the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer2. This was not so. Firstly Buffy the Vampire Slayer was not secular. In the first season the vampire Angel – who we shall examine more closely in part 6 of this essay, When Black is White and White is Black – gives Buffy a cross as they are an effective apotropaic within the series’ lore. At a later point he goes to Hell, Buffy goes to Heaven at another point and the vampires are essentially soulless corpses reanimated by Blood Demons. The main reason the documentary was inaccurate with their supposition was the fact that it was far from the first secular vampire vehicle. If we look at films then F W Murnau eschewed all religious artifice from his seminal reworking of Dracula3, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens4 and thus we can safely say it was the first, surviving, secular vampire film. Jumping forward to the eighties we find a film that was one of the seminal genre movies of that decade, Near Dark5. Near Dark played with many of the standard tropes used in the vampire film and created a gritty, violent western that was only undermined by the last few seconds that became unbearably saccharine. There are no religious tropes included that would lead one to read a relationship to the divine, however the vampires do stay in the “Godspeed Motel” deliberately chosen by the director Kathryn Bigelow to underline that these vampires were not warded by religious artefacts. In fact the vampire Jesse has a cross engraved on the handle of his gun, further eschewing the idea that religion has any place in this tale. As time went by we started to see vampire films emerge where the vampirism was a retro virus. This was the cause of the turned vampires in the series of films based on the comic book hero Blade – there were also purebloods, vampires born and not turned. Whilst many of the standard vampire tropes held true, silver burned, a stake or beheading killed, garlic warded (and garlic solution could main or kill) and the cinema’s own sunlight once again killed the vampires, there was no hint of a religious aspect – at least not in regard of the divine. There was a religious aspect when it came to the infernal, in the first film6, as Deacon Frost the bad guy vampire of the film attempted to summon and become the Blood God – La Magra. There was no real viewer double take at this merging of the supernatural along with scientific principles – it just was. Indeed often when a secular view is taken of vampirism, no matter how based upon scientific concepts that story tries to base its lore, there is an injection of the supernatural. Let us take Ultraviolet7, a short lived British TV series that came out in the same year as the first Blade film, as an example. The vampiric aspects were couched very much in pseudo-science with ultraviolet light showing the residue of a vampire’s bite and
the fact that we were watching a Government-funded Agency dedicated to battling these creatures continued that feeling. However, in truth, the vampires were of a supernatural origin. The show might have added the clever device of putting a video viewfinder on the vampire hunter’s guns but the fact that the vampire did not show up on the video was supernatural in itself. Indeed the show had it that vampires and technology were so incompatible that a vampire could not make his or her voice heard through a telephone. The mask of the secular started to slip further when we realised that the leader of the unit was a priest. Whilst the hunters could not call upon divine intervention, certainly some of their number were devout believers. The lines are blurred further in the book Doctors Wear Scarlet8. The book is set within the halls of English academia and there is very much a push through the book to suggest that the vampirism is a psychiatric issue. However, the author, Simon Raven, deliberately blurs the line between the scientific and the supernatural. These rational men ensure every corpse interred, that was killed by a supposed vampire, has a stake thrust through the heart first. Interestingly the main focus of the book, Richard Fountain, actually calls to Zeus for a sign at one point and the omen he receives appears to be accurate. It was not the first genre piece in which the ancient Gods were called upon. The film Isle of the Dead9 looked at superstition. Those who are dying have contracted septicaemic plague; science knows what it is and how it is spread. Yet there is one woman, portrayed as the superstitious peasant, who believes the truth is more sinister and supernatural – she believes they are plagued by a vampire type called the vorvolaka. She even believes she knows who it is, a belief rooted in ignorance and fear. However, as the plague takes hold the more rationale General Pherides begins to listen to her, even more so when he contracts the plague and becomes feverish. He believes science has failed them and starts burning offerings to the old Gods. The big difference between Isle of the Dead and Doctors Wear Scarlet is that the former is people believing someone is a vampire and the later is someone thinking that they are a vampire. Doctors Wear Scarlet is a prime example of the human vampire but the human vampire story might not be secular in itself, as the ‘vampire’ might maintain the delusional that he or she is doing God’s or the Devil’s work. This is not restricted to the human vampire, however, whilst the Blade series might be primarily secular one of the episodes of Blade the Series10 featured a vampire called the White Prince, a vampire serial killer who believed he was doing God’s work to the point he believed himself an angel. One of the directions the genre can go in is to make the vampire a force of nature. When that occurs the vampire ceases to be a reanimated corpse and, instead, becomes a natural occurring other race and sometimes a genetic variance of our own race. The novel Desmodus11 by Melanie Tem sees a vampire race, humanoid but descended from the vampire bat – and, interestingly, matriarchal. On the other hand, the novel Blindsight12 is a science fiction novel in which vampires were a sub-species of homosapien who became extinct, their genetics still dormant in humanity and slightly reactivated in sociopaths and high functioning autistics. The vampires’ doom was due to a genetic flaw that led to the crucifix glitch – essentially right angles in the field of vision caused potentially fatal grand mal seizure, a wonderfully secular explanation. This glitch not an issue in the wild but, as humanity developed geometry, the
vampires found themselves at a disadvantage as a species and died out. When the genetic coding was rediscovered science recreated the vampire and then developed drugs that could prevent the crucifix glitch occurring. Another way a more secular approach can be taken is to have the vampire extraterrestrial in origin. The vampire in the episode of Star Trek, The Man Trap13, was the last alien creature of its race. A shapeshifter who craved salt and could drain the substance from the human body via the suckers in its hand, there were no religious overtones in the episode just a desperate alien trying to survive. Of course, if we wish to talk of a secular vampire story then the Granddaddy of them all is the novel I am Legend by Richard Matheson14. In I am Legend the character Neville is the last human being on Earth, all others having succumbed to a plague that seemed to be vampirism. All the tropes are there, the dead return, the infected hide from the sun, they die when staked through the heart, they avoid fresh garlic, mirrors and the cross. Yet each and every aspect has a reason, whether down to the bacterial infection that can affect dead and living tissue alike or down to a psychological reaction. The novel itself is a study in loneliness, in an ordinary man faced by the extraordinary. At the climax of the book Neville understands the nature of superstition and fear. “Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.”15 It seems strange, therefore, when the Will Smith vehicle16, which was the first time the book had been filmed under its own name, not only missed the entire point of the end of the book but deliberately added a religious aspect to the film that was so unsubtle it couldn’t even be called a subtext. However, if some filmmakers and novelists had tried to avoid any form of relationship between the divine and the vampire, there was a whole new dynamic waiting in the wings. This takes us to the final part of the essay.
6. When Black is White and White is Black During the latter part of the first decade of the twenty first Century Vampires saw a massive surge in popularity. It seemed you could not move for fangs (and sometimes no fangs at all). It also saw a new dynamic between the vampire and the divine – though that dynamic had been shifting slowly for some time. Vampires were becoming (sometimes) agents of the divine. I said in Part 5 of the essay that I would explore the character Angel, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer1, in this section. Angel was a vampire and in Buffy the vampires were corpses reanimated by a Blood Demon. The resultant vampire was a hybrid of the two, retaining memories and personality from its human part but losing its soul and gaining a range of kung fu moves (presumably a side effect of the demonic heritage). Angel was different, having been cursed by a gypsy clan. The curse forced his soul back into his body – his soul being the source of conscience he felt immense guilt over the evil he had wrought. Angel – and the clue really was in his name – became a soldier for good and fell in love with the slayer. One of the main themes became the impossible nature of that love, beyond the supposed relationship between vampire and slayer of vampires, in that one perfect moment of happiness (in this deemed as a sexual moment) would free his soul and leave him as the murderous vampire Angelus. Eventually Angel left Sunnydale, the fictional town where Buffy was set, moved to Los Angeles and set up a detective agency (in a spin-off series, Angel2). Becoming a private eye, or even a cop, was not a new career choice for the repentant vampire. Nick Knight was a vampire ill at ease with his nature and used the police as a path to redemption in the series Forever Knight3. This had run from 1992 for three seasons and had actually been originally piloted in 19894. Post Angel, the series Moonlight5 saw a vampire private detective as Mick St.John agonised over his nature. Actually the religious trope was little used in Moonlight but the characters name really gave the game away. We saw a similar trope in part 4, Culture shock and a Diversity Agenda, with the Korean film Vampire Cop Ricky6. However, this searching for redemption does not make the vampire race (if I can call it that) have a direct positive relationship with the divine. Vampires are still essentially bad but an individual (or a number of individuals) decide they want redemption. In the case of Angel and Nick Knight, religious artefacts are still an issue. However some vampires have a more direct positive relationship with the divine – either as an obvious plot point or a sub-text. In Memnoch the Devil7 – the fifth of Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles (and in essence a reworking of Milton) the Devil – in the form of the outcast archangel Memnoch – tries to persuade Lestat to work for him but Lestat’s actions actually work in the favour of the divine when he triggers a religious movement (by giving St. Veronica’s Veil to a televangelist). In actuality Memnoch has manipulated Lestat but Memnoch himself works for God as, in Rice’s theological theorem, Hell is a place where bad people are punished in order that they might be made ready for Heaven.
Cutting forward to the renewed popularity of the vampire in the Noughties, we find ourselves faced with the book Twilight8 and its subsequent series. Again we have vampires at war with their own nature – out with the other vampires in the world. However, one view I have heard postulated is that Edward Cullen (and subsequently all the other abstaining vampires) is less a vampire and more an angel, hence the sparkling skin. As one of my correspondents pointed out, such a basis for the characters would also explain the golden eyes of the Cullens as opposed to the red demonic eyes of blood-drinkers such as The Volturi9. This, in itself, sits against the character Edward’s self-loathing as he believes himself a soulless monster. Clearly, however, Bella does not believe that becoming a vampire removes or destroys the soul and it doesn’t seem to be a view shared by the other Cullen vampires. Given the author’s strong religious convictions and the moral messages within the story – such as sexual abstinence – one can believe that the angelic nature of the Cullens was built into the book; albeit as a (subconscious) subtext. However Twilight, like many others shows the good vampire as a minority. In the main, one vampire (or at most a small handful) chooses to follow a path to redemption and the others retain their vampiric urges. The vampires do not loose their aversion to any given religious apotropaic, if such implements are used in that specific lore. However there is a small area of the genre where that relationship is clearly shifting. In the series True Blood10 the vampires, whilst some are mainstreaming and drinking synthetic blood, have not – in the main – renounced the predatory natures. Religious tropes do not work upon the vampires in the series anyway and I am not suggesting that they have developed a positive relationship with the divine. More, I believe that, in the series, the standard representatives of the divine, the church and clergy thereof, have shifted to the side of the infernal. This is seen with the levels of intolerance the church is shown to have. In the title sequence we see a sign that declares “God hates fangs”. This is clearly alluding to the real life signs from the evangelical churches in that part of America, which declared their intolerance of homosexuality with signs that read “God hates fags”. The Church run group, “The Fellowship of the Sun”, are portrayed as little more than paramilitaries and bigots. Even the more ordinary churches are given short shrift. The character Tara puts money and her heart on the line for her alcoholic mother, who turns back to the Church once cured in a fake voodoo ritual. However, the newly reborn church-goer hypocritically abandons her daughter, arrested for driving under the influence, due to misguided moral superiority. However for me, the film that illustrates the most marked shift within the relationship between the vampire and the divine was the movie Pearblossom11. In the film a model, Rhea, is chosen by God (portrayed as a woman) to become her instrument of vengeance against the wicked. She is made a vampire, an angel made in God’s image to punish the evil doer. In case you’re wondering, the fact that sunlight burns them is God’s way of ensuring they only work at night. Because of Rhea’s supplication, God also turns Brooke, Rhea’s girlfriend – unfortunately her girlfriend is homicidal and quite mad. Why would God do this? In essence because a vampire will always need, from a cinema or novel plot point of view, an enemy of equal or greater power to fight
against. This is why, I think, most stories have the good vampire being lone against generally evil vampires – many of whom would rather corrupt than kill. In this specific film it is suggested that Brooke is Rhea’s great test. It was interesting to me that the filmmakers would take the path of redemption concept, screw it up and throw it in the bin. Rhea has no need for redemption – it is never suggested that her lesbianism is something she needs to gain redemption for and she seems to be a person of good heart who has ‘no previous convictions’ as it were. She really is God’s warrior. Does this show a new path for the vampire, a path were they are instruments of the divine rather than the infernal. I doubt it; I think it more a cul-de-sac. Writers and directors will often aim for the lone vampire seeking redemption – it has become a classic trope. They will look to the barely controlled bad boy making the girl’s heart flutter and, partly in reaction to the phenomena of Twilight, they will also make films and write novels in which the vampire is entirely bad and very dangerous. More so the secular vampire will continue to be used by those wishing to distance themselves from religious tropes altogether. However I hope, from time to time, that filmmakers and novelist visit the vampire as the divine representative. It adds a twist to the genre another dimension to arguably the most multi-faceted and symbolically malleable of the monsters.
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