The Ultimate Un-dead
Halloween, a day of horror and disguise. A day to remember the dead. A day, perhaps, of party and the urgent need of inspiration regarding the obligatory costume...
How about a vampire costume?
No, wait, before you start moaning and groaning, be comforted: this article is not about Twilight. Instead, we go back to basics, tracing the roots of Nosferatu to its first appearance in popular culture. This is about the good old days when vampires would laugh their immortal socks off at the idea of glittering in sunlight. We are talking Dracula here.
As one of the most frequently featured characters in adaptations, Dracula has become the icon of vampires. When Dracula was first published in 1897, the vampire made its step from folklore to literature. Since then, he has been not only the subject of many film adaptations and modern vampire novels, but also a source for various other purposes. Take the promotion of tourism in Romania, where “Tracking Dracula” trips are organised. Also, did anyone realise that we are taught our numbers by the very reincarnation of Dracula in fabric? Everyone surely knows our purple friend, Count Count from Sesame Street. Indeed, the vampire mania has spread so far as to reach the branch of consumption with the emergence of so-called “Vampire wine”. Binge watchers will be delighted to hear that in the near future NBC is going to broadcast a new series entitled “Dracula” starring Jonathan Rhys Myer. With their spreading to young adult novels, they have now arrived in the days that vampires fight werewolves, not in a contest of terror, but about who is the sexiest.
I could spend hours discussing the cause of the vampire’s persisting popularity. Perhaps some clues lie in the well-tried appeal of a tall, dark stranger. Maybe we can ascribe it to the general allure of night and mystery. In any case, there is something about the vampire that attracts us, puzzles us, entices us. It is indeed odd that, although he is a monster, Dracula is fairly human; he seems to be the embodiment of paradoxes. The civilized cannibal, the erudite savage, the eloquent foreigner − these are the features that make him recognisable for a reader and yet, at the same time, an inhuman outsider. Dracula is a subtle character, fit for dozens of retellings.
Interestingly, these adaptations have resulted in a flawed image of the ultimate Un-dead. There are more than a couple of common misunderstandings about the looks of Bram Stoker’s invention. As we are all, to some degree, academics in training, we should behave accordingly and take pride in showing off at a Halloween party... with a literary edified costume.
A Practical Guide for Die-hard Dracula Imitators: Some Do’s and Don’ts
1. I apologize in advance to some readers, but no matter how much the Twilight series and Vampire Diaries try to make you believe vampires are young, breathtakingly handsome and sexy, Stoker’s description of Dracula is very clear: “a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere (Dracula, 21). Although the fresh blood of his victims does rejuvenate him, his face remains, in the words of protagonist Mina Murray “not a good face; it was hard, and cruel, and sensual (...) he looked so fierce and nasty (156).” So unless you have a fancy for the bad guy, a vampire is not what you call drop-dead-gorgeous (although the qualification “drop-dead” is a bit unfortunate here...).
2. Go to the gym. A true Dracula has a “grip of steel” (17), and should be able to surprise his victims with his “prodigious strength” (17) and “panther-like” (272) moves.
3. Remove all mirrors and polished objects. Dracula is not perceivable in mirrors and gets uncomfortable when being in the same room as the named device. Now generally you have little to fear at a party, but there is some more caution to pay: pointed wooden objects , such as sate-skewers, are to be avoided, and you’d best stay away from people eating salami, as the cliché is true: vampires cannot abide garlic. Furthermore, stakes are no-go area, as are sacred bullets, wild roses and holy water.
4. Contrary to popular adaptations, you don’t have to flash a crooked grin that makes the knees of girls go wobbly. What you have to do is make your smile “soft, smooth and diabolical” (50). To achieve a smile that is worthy of Nosferatu, you will have to practice a lot. As you are not in the vicinity of a mirror (if you have correctly followed the advice of point 3), you will have to find a guinea pig to test your wolfish smile. An unsuspecting classmate or neighbour will do. You have achieved the perfect grin of malice if your guinea pig tries to make a run for it. (This is the perfect moment to practice the “grip of steel” move – see point 2.)
5. Get working on your non-verbal communication. Dracula conveys loads of messages with his eyes: he does not indulge in lazy, languishing looks of silent suffering, but his eyes are burning actively. If he is not scorching his victims with a glance “full of basilisk horror” (53), his eyes are swelling with “anger and hellish rage” (272) or throwing a “vindictive look” (215).
6. This is very important and a lot of people get it wrong, so pay attention: Dracula does not have black hair, and he is not smoothly shaven either (cf. point 1). Indeed, it is preferable if you are so fortunate as to have a lot of facial hair, for Dracula is in the possession of an impressive unibrow and a moustache (and, on some occasions, a fake, brown beard):
His face was a strong − a very strong − aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion (23). (Emphasis added)
(I would refer any female readers to the accompanying note¹ − although I cannot but encourage girls cultivating a bristling moustache as it would undoubtedly create an effect of positive horror at a party.)
What is even more striking, and must not be omitted in a carefully scrutinized costume, is made clear by the following quote: “Strange to say, there were hairs in the centre of the palm [of his hands]” (23). So if you are not gifted with lavish locks, you know you have to obtain the obligatory hairiness otherwise.
7. Dear reader, this is a vital point: go to a nearby cosmetic shop. Buy a lipstick of the brightest red you can get and apply it amply on your lips before going to the party. As we are informed:
The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache,
was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white
teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable
ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years (23).
Red lipstick will definitely enhance your carefully studied, wicked grin of point 4.
8. Do not eat (or at least, not visibly). It is stressed repeatedly in Bram Stoker’s novel that Count Dracula never eats human food. Of course, you are allowed to sip from suspicious-looking crimson beverages.
9. Although several portrayals of Dracula want us to believe the vampire’s roots are audible in the way he speaks, there is absolutely no need for the Eastern-European accent. Dracula is fluent in English. Nonetheless it is a pro if you deliver any speech in a somewhat quaint, old-fashioned way, and with an unspecified intonation. Don’t forget you have been walking the surface of the earth for ages and ages (cf.point 1).
10. Last but not least, avoid daylight. Yes, this cliché is true, although not to the extent that the sun will render a vampire’s body to ashes, or (as seen in more recent adaptations) to a bling-bling sixpack show. The fact is that Dracula’s powers are strongest in the night. Besides, you have to get a complexion as pale as possible – in that respect nearly all the adaptations are true to the original.
Perhaps Dracula is not as sexy as Edward Cullen. Perhaps he is a bit old-fashioned, what with garlic allergies and sleeping in coffins and so on − but I think he is much cooler. Van Helsing teaches us that Dracula is able to:
...direct the elements: the storm, the fog, the thunder;
he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the
owl, and the bat – the moth and the fox, and the wolf;
he can grow and become small; and he can at times
vanish and come unknown (212).
Would not that be convenient when the party happens to get a little bit boring?
by Maj Hansen
1. Female vampires can ignore points 1 and 6. What women of the Nosferatu persuasion basically have to do is looking “radiantly beautiful” and “exquisitely voluptuous” (328).
Stoker, B. Dracula. 1993. Wordsworth Classics, St. Ives.