Over the weekend I watched the 1979 Dracula movie with Frank Langella, which was a surprisingly good movie. I initially watched it because I heard Sylvester McCoy was in it (yay, Doctor!), but I found I enjoyed it despite the multiple–and I mean multiple–liberties they took with the story (vampires reflecting in the water? Come on, people; laziness like this is how the undead start to sparkle). All of the heavy Catholic imagery in the story got me viewing the vampire and all it represents in a Catholic light, and, well, I got the urge to write it all down here on my blog. Lucky you. So you probably know to expect a heavy dose of Catholic Nerd Girl in the following paragraphs.
One of the notable aspects of the 1979 Dracula is that they made the count not ugly and only minimally creepy (he acts completely normal until he starts doing vampire things. Seriously, you’d think his name was Joe until he starts hypnotizing people. Then you might think Joe has a few screws loose). Having an attractive vampire actually makes a certain kind of sense; his goal is to attract prey before draining them of blood, and it’s kind of hard to get close enough to people to exsanguinate them if you look as though you just clawed your way out of a grave. This particular Dracula has the habit of a: being charming and b: using his charmingness to make his potential victims feel sorry for him. There’s one scene where Lucy refers to him as the kindest and wisest and saddest of all, and in that phrase you can really get an idea of Dracula manipulates his victims, earning their sympathy and trust and gradually lowering their defenses so that he ultimately has a willing food source. I mean, he can always use his hypnosis to accomplish those goals if he doesn’t have a lot of time to waste, but I think in a way he prefers the manipulative path because it requires a sort of deft artistry to break down someone’s defenses in that fashion, and he takes pride in the way he hunts.
But here’s where we get into the sin allegory stuff. Dracula is evil incarnate, yet his attractive qualities are designed to dull defenses, make people less leery and more trusting of him. They think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being around him, but their lives–and their souls as Van Helsing frequently reminds them–are in terrible danger because of the corruption that dwells beneath the veneer of a suave nobleman. His only goal is to extend his unnatural life through any means possible–he does not truly care about any of them; his only concern is his own survival.
This is startlingly similar to how sin operates in everyday life. So many times we encounter something or someone that seems perfectly harmless, and we think that nothing bad can come from associating with that person or thing. Its attractive qualities dull our senses; we’re concerned only with external appearances and don’t stop to think that perhaps the appearance is false and conceals something with a far darker purpose. Then once our defenses are down, WHAM! It starts controlling us and taking over our lives and causing us to drive our friends and family away until it ultimately consumes us. Its unholy appetite satisfied, it starts cruising around for a new victim.
Why is this such an effective tactic? Well, our brains are naturally hard-wired to like and trust beauty and charm; we see them as inherently good. The devil is well aware of this and recognizes an opportunity to trick people into sinning by perverting and twisting beauty and charm into tools to lure the unwary into dangerous scenarios. He takes something good and distorts its for his own purposes, which typically involve leading Man away from God. The good news is that we always have a way back–Confession. There’s a scene in the 1979 movie where midway-vampire Lucy is repelled by a crucifix, only to start sobbing and kissing it in penitence. She realized the state of her soul and was begging for forgiveness. When we realize the states of our souls, we are able to go to Confession and receive absolution, and sin’s hold on us is obliterated just as Dracula’s hold over Lucy was destroyed when he fried to a crisp in the sunlight.
Part of this is why I get upset sometimes when people view or portray vampires are romantic and desirable–there’s a rich theological layer ripe for exploration, and all they can focus on is the shiny. Plus, they’re undead, and I can’t for the life of me see what’s so desirable about that.
If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations! I applaud your persistence. As the title suggests, I do have a second part planned for this post that will focus on how the vampire, by its nature, is incapable of feeling real love and how that whole immortality/eternal life line they like to use on their victims is really an elaborate scam. Stay tuned for more random ramblings!