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Bram Stoker & the Legend of the Vampire

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

What is a Vampire? A blood sucking demon of hell? A romantic aristocrat with a penchant for necks? A European baron looking for love in all the wrong places? The leader of a biker gang obsessed with Chinese food and The Doors? Black cape, widows peak, pale skin. Blah blah blah. Well we all know the basic traits of a vampire. It's kinda impossible not to know the first few 'rules' right?

Nobody quite knows when the myth of the vampire (originally vampyre) originated but it is believed to have stemmed initially from European stories and the Irish writer Bram Stoker, who created Count Dracula, invented a set of core rules by which most vampire tales have been based on since. These rules have of course been adjusted to fit a specific period of time and/or story plot but they have generally been there in some sort of fashion throughout history.

1. They love to suck blood, especially from the neck. In fact they need blood to remain immortal and they use elongated fangs to bite their victims.

2. They only come out at night. Sunlight burns their skin and if exposed for prolonged periods will eventually die, usually melting or vaporising or some equally brutal death.

3. They sleep in coffins. Coffins are cool I guess and helps stop any unwanted sunlight from creeping in.

4. They are allergic to garlic. Raw garlic somehow affects them in disastrous ways. Can burn skin but doesn't usually kill them unless exposed to severe high doses. Usually just keeps them at distance and wards them against approaching a potential victim.

5. They must be invited into a home. They can usually enter freely into certain buildings but homes are a no-go unless given express permission by the proprietor of the property.

6. They can change into bats. The winged denizen of the night is their preferred animal of choice but they can in some cases morph into other beasts like wolves.

7. They have no reflection. Vampires tend to be very pale in general anyways and can sometimes have an ethereal appearance but they will never cast a reflection in any kind of mirror, window or shiny object.

8. A stake through the heart is instant death. Although they can be killed in other ways as explained above briefly, the stake through the heart is the only sure way to kill the undead. In some cases killing the 'lead' vampire can heal and re-humanise the victims.

Where Did Vampires Come From?

The myth of the vampire arose from the common misunderstanding of how corpses decomposed. Hundreds of years ago when pathologists would attempt to determine cause of death, new discoveries would unfold like the seeping of fluid from the body. This dark fluid would primarily leak from the nose and mouth and look similar to blood. The legend of the dead coming back to life increased during times of plague and widespread disease. Corpses would be exhumed in an effort to better understand the increasing deaths and the skin on these bodies would understandably have been peeled back, especially around the mouth and hands. The teeth and fingernails would be exposed giving the impression that they had grown longer than humanly possible.

The story of the most famous vampire of all time was brought to life by Bram Stoker. Born and raised in Dublin, Stoker was an accomplished athlete and a mathematical scholar. Despite being bedridden from an unknown serious illness as a child, Stoker excelled in college before becoming more involved with theatre. It was around this time that he began his writing career. After serving as a critic for the Theatre Royal in Dublin, Stoker married his wife Florence Balcombe and the couple moved to London.

Bram Stoker became the manager for the Lyceum Theatre in the West End where he worked for a total of 27 years. Throughout these successful years he travelled to various parts of the world including the United States of America. A trip to the English seasonal town of Whitby in 1890 would turn out be more influential than any of his worldwide trips. Whitby would become a significant location in the novel Dracula. Most of the novel is set in Count Dracula's castle in the Carpathian mountains, a location that Stoker never visited himself but had researched thoroughly through a Hungarian writer friend called Armin Vambery. Following this meeting Stoker began integral research into Eastern European folklore and especially the traditional myth of the vampire. It's claimed that Stoker spent 7 years studying vampire myths, of which little was known outside of Europe, and that the character of Count Dracula was loosely based on Vlad III Dracula better known as Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian warrior. Stoker historians have mentioned that he only borrowed the name and nothing else.

Bram Stoker's Dracula was published in 1897 and takes precedence for all forthcoming vampire fantasy fiction. The novel has become one of the most famous and most adapted pieces of literature ever. The first cited adaptation came from the writer himself during his stint at the Lyceum Theatre just before the publication date. Stoker sadly passed away in 1912 before any other adaptations were made. There was a 'lost' film made in Hungary called Dracula's Death that borrowed the name but was said not to be a true adaptation of the novel. The first big screen adaptation was the now legendary unauthorised F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu in 1922. Stoker's widow declined to sell the rights so an adapted screenplay was written however it changed the Count's name from Dracula to Orlok and also modified some of the other characters and details. Despite these changes the obvious similarities resulted in a legal court case that was eventually dropped by Stoker's widow. Various versions of Nosferatu would become public and a remake from German director Werner Herzog was produced in 1979, which restored the characters original names.

A few years after Murnau's adaptation, Dracula took to the stage touring England then eventually made it's way to the USA. During it's New York stint the part of Dracula was played by Hungarian actor Béla Ferenc Dezsö Blaskó known professionally as Bela Lugosi, who would famously go on to play him in the 1931 Universal Studios produced feature film. Lugosi's version completely defined the character for years to come and pretty much every version of Dracula was inspired by his amazing performance. His portrayal as Count Dracula made Lugosi a huge superstar however it also typecast him as a horror villain, from which he struggled to ever really recover. Lugosi would return to the character multiple times during his career both on the big screen and on stage.

In the late 50's British film company Hammer Horror Productions purchased the UK rights to the character and began working on the first of many Dracula films. Legendary actor Christopher Lee starred in the titular role and turned the character into a even bigger villain. A slew of different adaptations appeared over the following decades to varied success with the most recent being a BBC production written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss and starring Danish actor Claes Bang as the Count. Fresh off the huge success of The Invisible Man, Blumhouse Productions have just announced a new adaptation with Karyn Kusama (Jennifer's Body, The Invitation) set to direct.

There's no doubt that while Bram Stoker didn't entirely invent vampires his famous novel definitely put them front and centre in modern day literature and eventually pop culture itself. He could never had guessed that whole generations of kids would wear black bin liners, gel their hair back, cover their face in white makeup and use their Mum's lipstick as pretend blood at Halloween parties. That's when you know something you created has truly taken on a life of it's own.

The legend of Dracula will remain immortal.

- Gavin Logan

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