Last Updated 16 Jun 2020

Disease in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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As science continues to illuminate the darkened corners of our world, another mythic tale--the drinking of blood by the ubiquitous Dracula--may have a basis in fact according to Wayne Tikkanen, a professor of chemistry at California State University, Los Angeles. "I am a trained scientist. I don't believe in vampires and werewolves," Tikkanen told Anthony Breznican for an AP release on Halloween, 1998.

Tikkanen speculates that some European monster myths were the product of a blood disease known as porphyria that causes the skin to weaken and be negatively affected by ultraviolet rays that change heme, a component of blood that carries oxygen to the brain, into a toxin. As the disease progresses, the skin blackens and ruptures in the sun, followed by hair growing in the scars. Lips are burned, causing them to peel back, thus making the teeth more prominent.

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In some cases the nose erodes and the fingers disintegrate, making the hands resemble paws. The disease affects one in 100,000 people and is treatable with medication. Tikkanen thinks it is possible that those afflicted with the disease centuries ago may have drunk animal blood to relieve their pain as a folk remedy, and that they would have preferred to go out at night in order to avoid the sun, and that perhaps this behavior was co-opted into myths.

"You may do this all the time, but people will only see you when the night is at its brightest--or in other words, a full moon," Tikkanen said. Unfortunately, the result of such myth-making was that as many as 600 victims of this disease were considered to be monsters by the 16th-century European judge H. Bouget, who subsequently had them burned at the stake. "Just think: you're horribly disfigured but you're perfectly lucid," Tikkanen said. "You don't know what's happening to you, and the doctor doesn't want to treat you even if he knew how.

Your priest wants you to confess your sins or the judge will burn you at the stake. But you don't know what you've done wrong. " Other elements of the Dracula myth often include garlic, which Tikkanen says causes victims of porphyria to suffer violent illness because of the creation of toxins in their blood. Fear of the cross also makes sense in this theory, because the cross represents the Church and thus the Inquisition, which would have instituted the torture and murder of the sufferers of porphyria.

In the same vein, the superstitious Romanian society projected its fear of disease and deviancy onto Dracula, thus rising the well-liked folklore hypothesis that "a man or woman who has led a predominantly wicked existence will almost certainly become a vampire; it is his curse for the wicked deeds committed during the usual term of his life, as well as an entrance that a influential sin can not easily be put to rest" (Douglas, 39). This resembles the idea propagated by the religious right that AIDS is a visitation of heavenly punishment for sexual deviancy, i. e. , homosexuality.

David Prindle in his book Risky Business "of all the diseases, the ones that are sexually transmitted seem to carry the heaviest burden of symbolic weight. Such diseases seem to bring our peoples anxieties about spiritual and physical pollution, their dread of being exposed as hypocritical sinners, their yearning to condemn those less righteous than themselves" (Prindle, 73). In Coppola's Dracula, Lucy, who is teasing, inquisitive, and immoral is punished for her "evil" behavior, her sexuality, by being seduced into the warren of Dracula and thus flattering a vampire herself.

Once a vampire, Lucy takes a young child as her injured party, intimidating the guiltless child much in the same way that infants with AIDS often are fatalities of their mother's performance. Susan Sontag notes that these metaphors "are hardly in contradiction. Such is the extraordinary potency and efficacy of the plague metaphor: it allows a disease to be regarded both as something incurred by susceptible others and as potentially everyone's disease" (Sontag, 152). Bela Lugosi first gave Dracula filmic complexity in the 1931 Dracula. His moves were smooth and contemporary, steeped in gender and glamour.

His affluent inflection gave the count the religion that awoke the sexuality of female audience members. Christopher Lee (1958) followed in Lugosi's steps and moved Dracula from sexual innuendoes to blatant sexuality. At one point in The Horror of Dracula, he bites a youthful woman's throat-not simply feasting, but apparently experiencing orgasm. Dracula had thus developed into a seduction fantasy, vitally disturbed with the circumstances and penalty of premarital or extramarital luxury in forbidden corporal relations, in this occurrence with the opposite sex.

Gary Oldman takes Lee's erotic Dracula one step hither in Coppola's Brain Stoker’s Dracula. When Oldman attempts to nibble the neck of the inoffensive Mina at the Nickelodeon, the camera comes in on a taut attempt of his face as his eyes change color, his fangs are exposed and his corpse tremors with expectation. The transformation of Dracula to his present- day classification makes him the most sexual of all the creatures of the night.

Dracula's sexual insinuation and blatant hunger for human blood make him the wonderful mythic vehicle to express American society's fear of the modern day plague of AIDS, since the HIV virus is transmitted through blood and semen. Coppola's Dracula visits his victims in the dead of night or in a dark milieu. He takes Lucy from her bed to connect her with both intercourse and feeding. These visits from the attractive creature who first exhausts the sleeper with fervent embraces and then withdraws her blood symbolically parallels the night-time emissions that convoy erotic dreams.

Frank Jones points out in his book “On the Nightmare of Bloodsucking” : "In the unconscious mind blood is commonly an equivalent for semen" (Gottsman, 59). However, the sentence for these sexual interludes with the leech is the permanent alteration into vampirism; an illness that separates the afflicted from the rest of the society, one that insists on sucking the life out of other people. In this admiration the vampire enters the victim's blood stream, as does the HIV virus, to eventually exhaust the host of his/her life.

Coppola cinematically reflects this correlation throughout the course of the film. Initially, Dracula renounces the church, and in doing so plunges his sword into the cross at the alter. Blood then flows from the cross, and Coppola cuts from a stone angel icon releasing tears of blood to a shot of Dracula satisfying a cup and consumption the blood. In this pre- recognition succession, the back illumination creates a striking similarity between Christ and Dracula (the shoulder length hair, smooth skin and ethereal glow).

On his return home from war, Dracula learns of the death of his wife. His stabbing of the cross is a phallic metaphor for intercourse with a virgin, whose loss of virginity is often marked by a loss of blood. The cathedral, infected and raped by war, denies the interment of Dracula's suicided bride. Dracula renounces the church by drinking the blood out of the chalice, declaring that: "Blood is the life and the life is mine. " Here he metaphorically takes on the position of the bug, gratifying the judge of life and death.

David Prindle reinforces the vampire as a metaphor for the virus: "As a deadly threat, the disease was made to order for melodrama; as a potential sexual assassin, the HIV carrier could easily be portrayed as a demon. " (76). Coppola establishes a departure from innocence to evil by using peacock feathers, representative of innocence and vanity, as a transition between the "enlightened" world and the dark road to Transylvania as the young Jonathan Harker is sent to Transylvania to work for Dracula.

Both virtue and pride are lost when Jonathan encounters a group of female vampires who seduce him throughout his first night in the castle. Coppola reinforces the anonymity of the participants by showing incorporeal footsteps appearing by the bed while the women appear from within his sheets and start to embrace and murmur to Jonathan. He does not resist and follows through in what could be termed a one night stand. The camera shows a head shot of one of the "vamps" whose hair is made out of snakes, referring to Medusa or the serpent From Genesis that caused the eviction of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

References Babuscio, Jack. "Camp and the Gay Sensibility. " Gays and Film. Ed. Richard Dyer. New York: Zoetrope, Inc. , 1984. Broeske, Pat. "Hollywood Goes Batty for Vampires," New York Times, April 26, 1993. Canby, Vincent, "Coppola's Dizzying Vision on Dracula," New York Times, Nov 13, 1993. Douglas, Drake. Horrors! The awful truth about monsters; vampires, werewolves, zombies, phantoms. mummies and ghouls of literature and how tiny went Hollywood. New York: The Overlook Press, 1989.

Gottesman, Ronald. Focus on the Horror Film. Trenton, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1972. Hogan, David. Dark Romance-Sexuality in the Horror Film. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. , 1986. Prindle. David. Risky Business. the Political Economy of HollywoodBoulder: Westview Press, 1993. Russo, Vito. The celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. New York: Harper arid Row Publishers, 1990. Sontag, Susan. Illness as a Metaphor/AIDS and its Metaphors. New York: Doubleday, 1989.

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