Out of the Shadows

OK, I admit it. I not on Team Edward. Come to think of it, the tortured vampire looking for immortal love tends to make me cringe. Sure, I make an exception for Barnabas Collins (the Jonathon Frid version, not the Johnny Depp version) because he brings so much more to the table with the ongoing masquerade and all the cat and mouse games. I also cut Barnabas some slack because, unlike the vapid, tortured things with their wide, wet eyes and emo poses that seem to dominate the popular media these days (and no, I am not talking about the democrats this election year), there is something about Barnabas that harkens back to the granddaddy of them all, Dracula.

The story of Dracula is one, not of love or sex though both are elements, but of invasion. What makes him worse than an invader from another country or culture is his outsideness. He is inhuman, an otherworldly predator that not only kills, but toys with, seduces, and converts his victims. There is no romance about it, it is domination and submission. Forget the Victorian lace, we’re talking black leather here; master and slave. Invasion, occupation, dominion. Those who willingly submit are no different from the Vichy French in World War II, except in their mode of collaboration.

In the series, Barnabas invades the world of Collinsport, takes territory, the Old House, and begins to work his influence, enslaving Willie Loomis and capturing Maggie Evans, trying to bend her mind to his own purposes; his ultimate goal to turn her into his lost Josette and make her an immortal vampire like himself. In the recent movie, Barnabas is rendered as a troubled antihero, whose devotion to his family must be balanced by the killings he commits to slack his thirst. Note, I do not refer to them as murders. As a vampire, the relationship Barnabas, or Dracula, have to their victims is the same one we human beings have to beef cattle. It may not be very flattering but it is the basis of much of the horror inspired by the vampire.

It is also the basis of much of his power. The terror of confronting the vampire is the terror of knowing that we cannot save ourselves, that we are totally under the otherworldly monster’s control and that our fate will be one of its choosing, one that serves its purpose alone. Anything less can be had for a fee from some professional dominatrix, or for free at a S&M club. This is not to say that the vampire must be a villain. The undead can be heroic, but they have to be who and what they are. Depp manages to bring that out of Barnabas Collins, which tells us it can be done. Come to think of it, there are plenty of monstrous heroes out there that are heroic and yet stay true to who and what they are. Marvel’s Incredible Hulk comes to mind, Gamera, the giant flying turtle from Japan likewise. Being a monster is not a choice. The choice is whether you use your monstrous powers for good or evil.

Which brings me back to Edward, and all of the others developed along those lines. What is the point? Where is the horror? Where is the feeling of touching something not of this world? It isn’t there, and maybe that is the point; the desire to make us understand the plight of the poor vampire, to give us a window into his tortured soul, to let us know that he really isn’t so bad, that he is, in fact, just like the rest of us. That turns the once noble bloodsucker into an emo poster child for moral relativism.

Rubbish. The vampire is a monster, and must always remain a monster, distinct and apart from humanity. Any attempt to bring him down to the level of humanity can only result in a tawdry caricature of his true nature.

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