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I used to have a lot of wacky ideas about Dracula. I knew vaguely that it was an older novel (written in 1897 by Bram Stoker). In my imagination Dracula skulked in the shadows and said “I vant to suck your blahd” in a cartoonish accent.
To me, Dracula was about as frightening as the Count from Sesame Street. I always ignored the novel because I thought it would be boring. And that just goes to show how badly I underestimated the Gothic Novel.
Classics are classics for a reason and Dracula surprised me from the very beginning by not being a straight-forward vampire narrative.
Found footage movies are well-known thanks to Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. Basically, Dracula is a found footage novel. The story is epistolary and cobbled together from different documents. From the start, we’re reading a lawyer’s travel diary. Jonathan Harker is a solicitor and he goes to Transylvania in order to help Dracula sell some stuff, basically.
What makes it eerie is the cat and mouse game that Dracula plays with his victims. Jonathan Harker is there to help Dracula purchase land. Harker dreads interacting with his host. He’s terrified and the reader feels his anxiety. Dracula, it seems, is a man who likes to play with his food.
From there, ships’ logs, various diaries and recollections put down on a page all build the mythos of Dracula.
I honestly was expecting to be a little bored. After all, what was so scary about Dracula? But Bram Stoker drew me in. I shivered while imagining what it would be like to be trapped in a castle that I couldn’t escape. Due to the remoteness of the time period and how foreign the past is, only made it easier for me to be unnerved. These days, the idea of driving through a dense wood in a car seems like a lot. Now imagine doing it in a carriage. And there are wolves.
And remember, phone’s don’t exist. Imagine letters would take countless weeks to get where they needed to go. So, there are no phones. No texting. Also the internet doesn’t exist. When you’re alone, you’re truly alone.
Dracula gets a bad rap and it might be because he’s so iconic. We know vampires too well. As a result, vampires aren’t scary anymore. They’re too prevalent in our culture.
So he’s a puppet. A video game villain. A… hot misunderstood general? As well as our dreamy highschool boyfriend?
As Dracula is reworked and retold, it’s hard for us to remain scared of him. It’s the unknown that’s the most terrifying, not the familiar. When I read the original version, however, I could understand why people had found him terrifying. Hell, I found him terrifying. Dracula trapped you in his castle. You’re playing by his rules and he keeps changing them. It’s disorienting in the best way.
Then, right when I thought I had a handle on what the novel was going to be, the location changed. Now Dracula wasn’t remote and far away. Now Dracula was in your village, your town, even your bedroom. Nothing was going to be able to keep him out if he decided that you were who he desired. And due to that change I was side-eyeing the shadows on the wall.
Forget Twilight, forget Lestat. If you want to see vampires at their best, you really need to go back to the beginning.
Still the best Vampire story hands down.