Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fear the Undead

Greetings once again to the river Styx. Recently I had ventured again amongst the living, and found it was indeed difficult to return, just as it is if one strays into the land of the dead. But thankfully I am back, and wish to continue our journey into the nature of fear.

One of the oldest tales of horror is that of the Vampire. Folkloric tales of the dead rising from the grave to prey on the living are still commonplace in a number of countries and rural regions in the world today. So it is of no surprise that such terrors would become commonplace in horror literature and later cinema, in fact some of the earliest silent films acknowledged the captive spell these tales have upon us and capitalized on them. Now the Vampire is the most frequently used monster to have graced the silver screen. So what better subject is there for our journey into the analysis of what it is that defines scary?

The modern Hollywood vampire holds little resemblance to the traditional vampire of folklore. Traditionally a cursed family member that through some supernatural means would survive death and burial and inflict famine, disease and ill fortune on a village or family, the Vampire has become far more personal, tangible and terrifying in it’s modern incarnations. The modern Vampire is a seductive immortal predator feeding quite literally on the living. To some it brings death, and others it brings its curse to endure for eternity.

The vampire we know in film and fiction today owes much of its existence to the author Bram Stoker in his much studied and overanalysed masterpiece Dracula. A powerful and feared count of old Romania which found his way to London England to satiate his evil hunger on the modern world, far from his broken battlements and the terrified and unsophisticated villagers. Now sophisticated, alluring and mysteriously sensual, with the ability to transform into creatures of darkness, the vampire would never be the same. Although this foundation is still the cornerstone of what graces darkened movie houses to this day the character of the vampire has indeed continued to evolve. Much like any horror theme, it changes to meet and reflect the apprehensions of the current society. Seldom are vampires royalty or symbols of class struggle, rather they now tend to resemble their intended contemporary audience. Gone as well is the subtle mysterious seductive nature, again replaced with overt sexuality.

Firstly Vampires are what I would consider monsters, a physical supernatural being attacking and preying on people. This is just a small part of what makes them scary, but by no means should we overlook this aspect. It is after all this part of their character that impregnates our minds with what I have formerly describes as true fear. Their nocturnal nature of course preys on the subconscious fear of the dark and the use of symbols such as bats or insects, which illicit irrational fears in many are a vital component in their unsettling nature. This fulfills the first requirement of what it is to be scary by taking the audience out of their comfort zone.

More importantly however is the character of the vampire. Almost every aspect of the vampire is trait that we find alluring or desirable, yet here each is corrupt and perverse shadow of itself providing only unfulfilled promises and worse. The Seductiveness and sexuality of the undead is indeed something most of us would like to possess, but to the vampire, physical fulfillment and pleasure is simply unattainable. Instead it results in death of the mate and a fleeting glimpse at life and satisfaction of physical appetite. Wealth and power are neutered by situation. Certainly a secretive and secluded existence precludes any meaningful influence outside a small and corrupt group of likewise individuals at best. Not to mention your very existence being in the hands of such unimpressive underlings. Superhuman strengths and abilities only suffice to make the fulfillment of basic needs simpler and more attainable, but offer no joy, pleasure or pride. And of course most significantly is the promise of immortality. To this end the vampire is cursed to exist for all eternity only through the darkness of night, never experiencing the light of day and the joys of the living.

Perhaps it is this that we find most frightening about the vampire; as a monster in the dark, ready to hunt and prey on us unsuspectingly, and even wontedly. As a mortal the best we can achieve is death, for if our dreams and aspirations are granted to us they will in effect leave us with less than we currently have. We see that with every accomplishment and desire we strive to fulfill it only makes us more monstrous and pitiful. Indeed as fearful as we humans are of death the thought of there being a situation even worse, and it is that situation which we long for, we find that scares us. Could it be what scares us the most is our own personal and internal insecurities, and desires?.