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Stanley Stepanic Lecture: Sex and the Vampire

Renowned UVA Assistant Professor Stanley Stepanic unpacks the vampire myth and walks us through how it arrived at where it is today.

Master Educator Stanley Stepanic delivered this Master Class at Course Hero headquarters on August 9, 2017.




Stanley Stepanic, PhD

Professor, UVA

PhD and MS in Slavic Languages and Literature, BA in Art History, BA in Philosophy

Stanley Stepanic: I’m Stan Stepanic. I’m from UVA, that’s where I teach—so, University of Virginia. I have taught a number of things over the years. I’ve taught Russian, first- and second-year Russian; I’ve taught Russian folklore and some other things. But the big course I’m known for at UVA is called Dracula. Dracula is something that I always have trouble explaining to people, because anytime I’m out in public, especially [with] someone who’s not really used to academia or how it works, they’ll ask what I do, and I’ll say, “I teach at UVA.” They’ll say, “Oh, wow, that’s a good school. What do you teach?” I’m like, “Ah,” so I always lead with, “Well, I have taught first- and second-year Russian.” “Oh, that’s a hard language!”

Then I’ll say, “Russian folklore.” “OK.” And eventually I’ll pull out, “I always teach this course about the history of the vampire from Eastern Europe into modern-day popular culture. It’s called ‘Dracula.'” The reaction usually is, “Hah, hah, this guy,” and they’ll say something like, “Here’s a typical liberal school; there goes my tax dollars.”

I have heard that so many times. I don’t get paid in tax dollars, trust me. It’s maybe like a penny out of my pay, barely anything. The reason they laugh is because the title seems to be so simplistic, right? “Dracula”—what can you learn about in a course called “Dracula”? Is it about the book? Like, one lecture is. The title is actually just symbolic; really that’s what it is.

There’s lots of things I’ll talk about over the course of the semester. Students are often amazed when they get to the end, and they’ll say, “I can’t believe I learned so much that I thought was going to be about one thing. There are so many things that went into this. I’ve learned almost everything.” And really the course is about human experience, and the vampire is just a sort of a frame that I use to talk about it, really.

One of the things I talk about, which I figured would be entertaining, because sex sells, was sexuality and the vampire. So I just titled this “The Vampire and Sexuality.” I’ll explain who that is in the picture to all of you … I’ve no doubt you know who that is, but I’ll explain it a little bit later here. So, the reason I’ve decided to talk about this is because today the vampire is readily associated with sexuality. The vampires are sexy, and we want to take them out on dates, and we want to have their babies. And it seems pretty simple, but if you understand where that all came from, its actually pretty amazing how it got to that point.

So where did it come from? What was the vampire like in original folklore? Of course, there’s a lot that goes into that, so I have to really restrict on talking about it. Where does sex come in with the vampire? How’d it become that? Was it like that originally? What did it look like?

Let’s start with that. Let’s start with original folklore, right. Kind of like an overview of how the course works, focusing on sex really is a primary thing.

[What] the hell is that? Most of you would probably look at that and say, “It’s a zombie!” You’d be wrong. That’s a vampire. In actuality, what you consider to be a zombie today, if you watch shows like “The Walking Dead,” or you go to a zombie pub-crawl or something like that, is actually just another representation of the vampire. It’s not a zombie at all, really. It’s a zombie in name only, in terms of the original folklore. Ancient folklore. That’s something else. I don’t want to get into that.

“Oh, OK, well that looks way different than what I … That’s not Edward Cullen. I don’t know if I want to marry that.” Right? You might want to; that’s a separate problem outside the lecture. Let’s just not talk about that any further.

What was it? Well, I’ll get to this. The vampire has lots of variations in original Eastern European folklore. Of course, I’m talking specifically about the Eastern European vampire. The word vampire is Slavic in origin. We use that word now to refer to any type of creature like that in mythology and folklore throughout the world. We’ll say “Chinese vampire” when we actually mean jiangshi or something like that. That word vampire is Slavic, so I’m talking about Eastern European vampires in particular. We just use that word generally now.

It has lots of interesting variations all throughout Eastern Europe. There’s different names for it. One of my favorites, if not my most favorite, is a type of vampire that comes from certain parts of Bulgaria called the plot-neek or the plotnik. Plotnik is interesting in that it has one of three forms. All right, so I’ll get back to this image. One of three forms, this particular type of vampire has.

Starts out as a sort of disembodied humanoid shadow. A living shadow, if you will. If you can imagine a shadow walking around with glowing eyes, that’s what it looked like. And the way that its eyes are often described in folklore is kind of interesting. If you’ve ever seen flint on steel, the sparks—right? That’s what its eyes are like. You can imagine that going in a circle, that’s what it looked like. You’d have these shadows that would roam the streets at night, screaming. And sometimes they would put blood on your door.

Or they would … listen to this. They would take poop and throw it at your house. “Doesn’t sound very vampire-like. Why is it doing that?” Folklore is weird sometimes, right? Get used to it!

It starts out like that. Because … disturbing image, living shadow, could hide almost anywhere. Could be under that chair right now and you wouldn’t know it. Just wait till you’re not paying attention.

Then, as it gains more power … if you don’t kill it when it’s in that phase, it gains more power. Then its second phase, it’s a really disturbing image. As far as I know, [it] has never appeared in popular culture. Its second image, it has a variety of names. I heard one Bulgarian word for this, pikh-ti-ya—and basically what it is, is this blob made out of human skin that has blood in it. It’s kind of like this bag of blood. Another description I came across once is, if you can imagine a human body without bones in it, what would it look like? It’s a pretty disturbing image, actually. Be kind of like this puddle of organs and flesh, and it moves around like an amoeba. Gaaaahh. Climbs up the walls—tchkha, tckch. It hides in your ceiling, right? You would sit there in bed, “Ahhh…. Aaggghh!” And it just falls on you. It’s a pretty disturbing image, right, this thing?

When it gains more power from there—it’s kind of vulnerable there. You could put some thorns, for example, in your doorway. It can’t come in now. It’ll pop and die. It’s kind of vulnerable. Now, if you don’t kill it in that phase, it gets to its third level of power, right? Level 9,000, if you don’t mind the Dragon Ball Z reference there. It gets really powerful. Then it’s its most dangerous point when it becomes fully the plotnik, the plotnik or vampir—it’s now at its highest level of power. What is it then?

Get this. It basically, in most cases, looks totally normal. Which means there could [be] one sitting right here in the room right now, and you’d never know it. And they can come out in sunlight, too, by the way. “I thought vampires die in sunlight?” They actually don’t. That’s not original folklore. No.

This thing could be sitting right here, right now, and you wouldn’t know it. They hide in plain sight. It’s a theme you see all throughout the world. It’s the monster hiding in plain sight, is what it is. So how can you tell if it’s any different? Well, if you threaten its existence, then it’ll kill you and reveal what it is. There are certain signs. Sometimes this vampire would have one nostril. “That guy right there only got one nostril. Clearly must be a plotnik over there!” OK, that’s kind of an … that’s an odd thing.

Or, if it was an individual who didn’t want to have sex anymore. Listen to that one. That’s why I said there’s a sex thing there, right? “Hey, Yvonne. I thought that was Yvonne there. Yvonne disappeared for like a week. Everyone remember that?” “Oh, yeah. She doesn’t want to have sex now.” “Hey, Yvonne never said no to sex! There is no way that’s Yvonne. Can’t be human.” That’s a way you could point this one out. “Hey, he doesn’t want to have sex anymore. Clearly, he must be this creature of the damned over there who doesn’t want to have sex anymore.”

Interesting, right? But quite different from what you’re used to. In most cases, though, this is what the vampire was throughout Eastern Europe. A reanimated corpse is what it was in most cases. Not all, but most cases. What you think of as a zombie is exactly what it was, essentially. Dead body, for whatever reason, there are a variety of ways it becomes animated. It gets up. Gah! And it comes to your house and does things to you. That’s what it did. And, of course, there’s a variety of interesting things in the folklore there, but let’s get to the sex thing now.

Was there any connection, sexual-wise, to the vampire? Well, you already know it’s not sexy, right? It’s a rotting corpse! It spreads death and disease. Probably not going to find that sexually attractive. Was there any sort of association with sexuality? Oh, there was quite a bit, actually! One of the signs of these things, when they were actually digging up corpses to find a vampire, is if the corpse had an erection. Now you would think, “Huh?” But that’s because you know nothing about decomposition. Sometimes when the human body decomposes, male, the pressure of decomposition, the blood will actually cause you to have an erection. If your blood hasn’t been removed. They would look for that. They would dig up a corpse and say, “Aha. Got an erection. Vampire’s got a boner right there. That’s all I need.” And go, pshhh! Stake it, chop off its head. That was a sign, right there.

What else could it do? Well, there’s some sexuality there, of course. In terms of sex and the vampire, along with that, here’s what it can do. It could rape you. Or molest you. Nothing you want to have happen with you. This thing did not come to you to have sex with you in a nice way. It would rape you. That’s what it did. Because you have to understand, the vampire in the original symbol, right? It’s a symbol of death and disease. It’s a defiler. It violates you, right? In every way possible. So if it’s going to have sex attached to it, it’s going to be negative.

That’s what it was originally, in terms of sexuality. It’s a reanimated corpse, and it might rape or molest you. Nothing that we would think was attractive or desirable today.

So how did this change happen over time? Well, there’s lots I could talk about here. The vampire, of course, eventually makes its way into Western literature. There’s a whole process there; I’m skipping over it, trust me. Roughly 100 or so years. And you get lots of images of vampires all throughout Victorian literature, especially nineteenth-century literature. There’s tons of examples of vampires. Vampire becomes a very popular theme in Gothic literature, here.

The works you know today, there’s really probably only one, and that’s Dracula. That’s why the course is called “Dracula,” that I teach, because everybody knows Dracula. Everyone knows that name. Just out of curiosity, here, raise your hand if you’ve actually read the novel. Go ahead. Raise it high so I can actually see it. Typical. Look, look at this. We’ve got two or three, and that’s it! That’s usually what I see. A class of like 150 kids, 75 kids. One or two will raise their hand. So raise your hands again. Keep them up if you actually finished the book! Oh, all of you did! OK, I’m impressed, because usually hands go down there. Because it’s not that good of a book! It’s pretty bad, actually.

Dracula’s at the end of a long line of vampire literature. There’s really nothing unique about that book. It’s just become the most famous vampire of the time. The first vampire we get that’s aristocratic and had some images of sexuality attached to it [shows slide]—1819, almost 90 years before that book’s even conceived, really. Right?

So, Dracula is at the long—there’s a long line of vampire literature there. In it’s day, it was essentially a failure. Average success, at best. Comparable to Twilight—except no one really liked it; it didn’t make any money. That’s the reality of the actual release of Dracula. No one really paid attention. It was viewed as escapist literature, a beach read—you know? “Oh, I’ve read things like that before. I ain’t readin’ this again. I already read that.”

So Dracula’s really the most important image we have of a male vampire. How about female vampire? How about that? There’s right there. I would doubt, though, if you’ve heard of this. It was a very important and influential novella, short novel, from 1872 called Carmilla. Bet you never heard of Carmilla. Or Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Oh, one! I’m impressed. That’s usually about it. If anybody, if anybody, that’s usually it.

That was not the first female vampire in literature, but [it] was the most important because of how it was depicted. I’ll get back to Dracula. Carmilla was directly influential on Bram Stoker [when] he’s thinking about writing Dracula. He probably saw the earlier versions of that story, because he worked for the man who wrote it as a freelance drama critic. So he knew about it. And that was his first exposure, that we know of, to vampire folklore. Was an interpretation of it. Appropriation, if you will—is exactly what it is.

Carmilla, the way that Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu did this different, is a vampire, here, [but] first off, was a girl. Wasn’t the first example of it, but she was young. It’s not really specified how old she is in there; roughly 15 or so, and her victims, though, are also primarily young girls, you know, like 12 or 14. So they’re also young.

There’s already some tension there for the Victorian reader. “Got two young girls here. I don’t know.” And the one, Carmilla, is depicted as having an attraction to her victims. This is considered by scholars to be the first so-called “lesbian vampire” in the history of popular culture. This image here.

Now, if you think about that today, if you think of Game of Thrones level or something like that, that’s not what you’re going to see in this. You’re going to see strong suggestions of it, but it never breaches that point.

Further, Sheridan Le Fanu knew how to mess with people, right? What could he do that was scandalous for an 1872 audience? 1871, it was serialized, and 1872 natural book form. What did he do to actually mess with people? Well, there was this image of this young girl who’s attracted to other girls. But it’s especially where she bit her victims. If you were trying to make something scandalous like that in 1872, 1871 when it first comes out, where would you have her bite? Today, you assume the vampire bites on the neck. It’s classic. In the original folklore, they could bite anywhere. And they could drink the blood of anything, by the way, that had blood in it.

Where would you have Carmilla bite if you wanted it to be scandalous or kind of, you know, illicit? Ah! There it is! Right? I’ve had people guess the thigh. That’s a good one. One year, someone was brave enough to say, “The vagina.” I was like, “That is a big risk! To say that, you took a chance. That would be very scandalous for 1872, also probably today.” But that’s not where she bites. It’s the breast, actually. She bites them on their breast, right? That’s an image in American popular culture, we still sexualize the breast image. Right? We see someone breastfeeding. “Oh! Oh wait, that’s what those are for! Forgot.”

So that, of course, was a sexualized image of this time, as well. She bites on the breast. So, Carmilla was clearly attached to sexuality, and it influenced Dracula. Now, I know we have at least four of you here that read Dracula. Do you remember how Dracula’s actually depicted in the novel? Not really any specifics unless you remember that. Just generally speaking. I have a hand over here. One over here. Do you remember how he’s depicted generally? Anybody. That raised their hand. Over there, someone over there. No? Don’t remember?

Anyone over there? Someone was over there. No? OK. He’s depicted as a creepy old pedophile, basically. He has bushy white eyebrows. He has these squat fingers. His nose is described as beaky. He has bad breath! Says that in there. Says his breath was rank. Blech! He also has hair on his palms. Got hair on his palms. That’s creepy, right? That touchin’ on ya. “Ah! You’ve got hair on your palms? How’d that get there?”

He’s described as actually being pretty repulsive. There was nothing really sexual about that in the positive sense. His primary victims in the novel are young women, though, right? And there’s this image, right? It’s kind of like classic folklore, really. He’s a defiler, is what he is.

These things change over time, though. Carmilla’s an early example of how these shifts are happening. Dracula’s just the biggest image that people remember today, and that’s the name that everybody knows. Even, as you can see, usually people haven’t even read the novel. What’s interesting about Dracula is it’s not really the novel that causes that character to become famous. It’s adaptations of that novel that do it. Notice how many didn’t actually read the novel. All right? But you know that name.

There are lots of interesting changes that happen. What’s interesting about the vampire, too, in American popular culture in particular, is before Dracula has a huge impact here, the vampire was already there. We actually had some original vampire folklore, late 1700s, especially also mid-1800s, 1850s in America. New England, in particular—there was a vampire panic, where people actually thought vampires were real, and they were taking corpses of relatives and chopping their heads off. And dismembering them, and burning them. We know of at least 80 cases of this, probably more they haven’t discovered yet. They actually…. That was the real folklore there.

Now, in terms of an alteration of that image, you see these things appearing later, especially when you get into the 1910s before World War I. Coming from this here [shows slide]: There was a famous poem by Rudyard Kipling. Right? You know him from The Jungle Book. It’s called “The Vampire.” Now, when you look at this, you think—immediately, as an American today, or anyone, really, who has heard the word vampire—you think of this image. You know, Edward Cullen or Dracula. Or something like that. That’s not what this poem’s about. I’m not going to go through it. The picture there is the inspiration for this poem, actually. Kipling saw this famous painting from 1897 of this sort of seductive woman on top of this man. The idea of this was it was a seductress, basically.

The vampire was an image of the femme fatale, which we’ve had in literature for a long time. The “fatal female” is what that means. It’s typically a young girl who leads some older man astray with her looks and her intelligence, uses him for a while, and then—pff—moves on to the next guy. Like a sugar daddy, basically. Next one. That’s what this poem’s about. This has a huge cultural impact in America in the 1910s and 1920s. It’s not the vampire you know today. There was nothing supernatural about it. They call it “the vamp” or “the vampire.” It was a popular slang term in 1920s, to call a girl a “vamp.” Usually this was reserved for women, although you sometimes came across it for men, but typically it was women.

Here’s a famous song from 1928, “Fascinatin’ Vamp.” Anyone ever hear of this song? Pfft, you never heard of it. People forget things fast. This is the image of the vampire before we had these changes in popular culture. This is what vampire meant to most Americans. They may have known about that supernatural thing, but this is what it was. It was this flapper image, right? Usually a girl with black hair, who was young, intelligent, independent, didn’t need a man—but used them. Emotionally, physically. And then moved on to the next. “The Vamp.”

So this image was already there, but it wasn’t what you think. This song here, I have it [on] this slide, here, on the next one. You can listen to the song, briefly. [Plays music.] We’re going to listen to this back in 1928. Probably won’t listen to this today.

[Stops music.] That’s enough. I think it’s enough. There’s no actual vocals in this particular song. This is the image we have. Here’s another example of sheet music for this song. This is what the vampire was before. There are some famous movies with this image there.

And then things come to a drastic change in the 1920s. Late 1920s.

Bela Lugosi. American icon. Hungarian born, though. He was a Hungarian actor, makes his way here. Eventually, he becomes this huge icon through one role entirely, and that’s Dracula. He did many other roles. In fact, he’s tied into the zombie tradition in American popular culture. He was in the first zombie film ever made, White Zombie, 1932. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Dracula, though, is really all he’s remembered for. Bela Lugosi first plays Dracula on stage, 1927. And when he plays Dracula on stage, this changes the image. This is not how Dracula is depicted in the actual novel. He doesn’t look anything like this! Like I said, he’s basically a creepy old pedophile, is what he is. He’s not this sort of suave Eastern European aristocrat. That’s not really what he is at all. He’s this creepy old guy.

Now, what happened here is the director of this film, Tod Browning—who you see in the upper left there—when he is creating this film, all he did is he used the stage version that already existed. The film comes out in 1931. Bela Lugosi was legendary in that role. Whenever he portrays Dracula, he became a sex symbol for that role because of his exotic accent and the way he moves on stage. Women adored him. He said he would receive countless fan letters, especially from women, and they would want to have an affair with him. Or they wanted him to bite them on the neck. “Please, bite me.” And they were being serious! Because in that role, he became a sex symbol. And that’s not what Dracula is in the book.

Lugosi is really the primary reason the shift starts to happen in American popular culture, and then this affects the world. The way that Bela Lugosi looks, the way he talks, is still the stereotypical vampire image that most people have, especially in the United States. “That vay of talking. Vampires talk like dis.” No, they don’t. You think that’s in the novel Dracula? It says he has an odd intonation in there, but what’s that mean? It means he has no breath coming out of his lungs, so his voice sounds hollow is what that means. It doesn’t mean, “He talks like dis.” It doesn’t say that in the book. That’s how Bela Lugosi talked naturally. That was just his accent, but people associated that then with vampires in general. “This is the vay they talk today because of that.” And the widow’s peak hairline.

He had a huge impact on that image. This then begins this whole shift in how the vampire changes in popular culture. Lugosi is critical. He is the most important depiction of a vampire or Dracula in the history of popular culture ever. This is the image right here.

Let me just show you the trailer, here, briefly. Give you an idea of how he talked. So the film comes out in 1931, as I said, and it’s just the play version, basically. They filmed it and added some things to it. [Plays film trailer.]

Very popular film.

Film: Bela Lugosi: I am … Dracula.

Film: Van Helsing: A moment ago, I stumbled upon a most amazing phenomenon. Something so incredible I mistrust my own judgment. Look.

Film: Narrator: Dracula! Grim mention of the name brings to mind—

Stepanic: [Stops film trailer.] That gives enough of an idea, I think. So that film has a huge impact. So huge, in fact, that Lugosi can never get away from it. That’s all he was remembered for, eventually. “We need a vampire.” “Call Lugosi.” He said himself that Dracula ruined him artistically but made him a success financially. He made a lot of money off that, but that’s all anybody wanted. Eventually he’s buried in his own cape. He’s like, “Whatever! Bury me in it, too! Might as well!”

But this is really the shift here. Sexual, here, and Bela Lugosi was a sex symbol for that role. He’s dead now, in terms of the film. He doesn’t die until much later, 1956. So, they make a sequel, then, to that. Dracula’s Daughter. You’ve probably never heard of this film. 1936, five years later, roughly. First sequel to Dracula 1931, Dracula’s Daughter.

This is a highly unique film for its day. Way ahead of its time. Dracula’s Daughter, what they essentially did for this, is they took this original first chap—well, no, there was like 3 chapters Bram Stoker excised from Dracula before he published it. And he recycled that later, and he wanted to use it as a short story, which his wife eventually publishes after his death. That short story is known as Dracula’s Guest today. It had other titles, though, and one of those titles was Dracula’s Daughter.

Universal takes that short story and decides to make a new vampire film based on that. Supposed to be a direct sequel, but it’s loosely based on that story. And what they did here that was different is the central focus was on a female vampire as your main villain, and your main role. There she is, right there. She’s called Countess Zaleska. Countess Zaleska.

This film was a little scandalous to people in 1936, because something you have to understand is that at this time in film, one of the difficulties that the first Dracula film had is there was a censorship system in place there called the Hays Code. The Hays Code lasts, technically, from 1930 until 1968. That film restricted what could be shown in films. That code—is what it did. It’s completely arbitrary though. It wasn’t actually law. It was just a court of public opinion, right? People [were] getting “triggered,” so to speak, and they wanted an answer to that. They wanted an answer to the problem, so they blamed the film industry for the so-called “immorality” of the 1920s that led to the Great Depression. They blamed films for that. That was one of the things that Americans did back then. “Why … How did we get here? Is it because I got a house loan I couldn’t afford? Why I spent too much money gambling? No! Films caused me to do that.”

It’s a very old argument. The argument is that things you consume can affect how you act. And that’s actually wrong! Nah. Not how it works. We have that argument today. Video games, right? Any time there’s a tragic shooting, they’ll say, “They played too much video games. The video games did it.” The video games did nothing. The person did it, see? If you blame it on that, you’re taking morality out of the picture. It’s deterministic death, right? Nah! People make choices. Sometimes they’re bad. That’s human experience, though, right? Deal with it. There are bad people out there. They know what right and wrong is; they just don’t care.

But the Hays Code was there to try to protect us from these ideas that can make us make those bad choices. That was the argument. So how are you going to make a horror film, 1931? It succeeded, why? Lugosi, that’s why. The film’s awful otherwise. Terrible! Terrible filming mistakes and camera angles. But Lugosi’s what sold that role.

They had the same problem here [with Dracula’s Daughter], though. That censorship system’s still in place, and they went a little too far for the censors in 1936. This is considered to be the first depiction of a lesbian vampire in the history of film. OK, what’d it look like? Let me show you.

If you’re coming from a Game of Thrones mindset, you’re like, “Ah! Here we go! This is going to be really saucy! I can’t wait! Check it out!” OK. It’s really just one moment. I’m going to show you the trailer, just bits of it. There’s really only one moment in this movie that the censors had a problem with. Let’s see it. You’re not even going to notice it today; I’m going to have to explain it to you! Here we go, all right. [Plays film.]

Film: Character 1: The castle!

Film: Character 2: Dracula! He’s come back!

Film: Countess Zaleska: Sandor, look at me. What do you see in my eyes?

Film: Sandor: Death.

Stepanic: [Stops film.] OK, it’s coming up right here. OK, so, Gloria Holden, by the way, the actress who plays Countess Zaleska—incredible job. What she actually also presents, which you don’t see in the trailer here, is a sympathetic vampire. A vampire that laments its own existence. This is way before you get to Edward Cullen. That image had already been there, trust me, for a long time.

For roughly the first 20 or so minutes of the film, she doesn’t like what she is. You feel bad for her, actually. And right here is this particular scene—now, even looking at it right now, you can kind of probably point to some things: “Oh, OK. Well, her shirt’s about to fall off. The girl on the left, there.” OK. That would’ve been definitely something noticeable in 1936. But that really isn’t it.

Second thing is you got two women alone in a room. Oh, no! Look out! Today, you’d say, “Oh, so what?” Right? “I got a dorm mate, you know?” Hey, careful here. It’s 1936. Now let’s see here, this particular part. It’s a brief thing. Here we go. Here’s the scene of so-called lesbianism. Get ready for it. Let’s check it out. Exciting. [Plays film.]

Film: Countess Zaleska: Do you love jewels, Lili? It’s very old and very beautiful.

Film: Lili: Please, don’t come any closer. I—” [Screams.]

Stepanic: [Stops film.] What about this would even suggest lesbianism to you today, in 2017? Can anyone figure it out? 1936, what didn’t they like about this scene? It’s the way she talks.

What about the way she talks would make that troublesome in 1936? Can you guess? You heard it twice. Anybody? There’s a sort of suggestion of sexual or emotional tension in her voice. The way she talks. She’s kind of like, “Ahhh.” As if she’s ready to pounce on her or something. Barely noticeable in 2017. You’re ready for Game of Thrones, rubbing thighs or something. You’re like, “Where’s it at?” And that’s all it is! 1936, that was enough. “Oh! I don’t know about that. She sounds kind of like she might, sort of, maybe want to sort of kiss her or something, in the way she talks.” That’s all it was! Right? That’s all you needed.

And in reality, really, her primary victims are men. She’s using girls to get to a guy ultimately, so really she’s bisexual, not lesbian. So you see these things changing over time.

The next sequel to this would be … the final film, the trilogy, 1943: Son of Dracula. Imagine the brainstorming session behind this one. “All right, what’s the next one?” “Uh, Son of Dracula?” “All right! Do it!” They didn’t think really hard about this! You got the daughter out of the way. Who do we do next? Cousin, maybe? They didn’t do that, thankfully. They stopped at Son. This is the last of these.

Now, look at that girl over there. [Points to slide.] Now this is…. This film, you know, has number of things that it really contributed to the development of vampire in American popular culture. First vampire in the American South, for example. First time you saw a vampire change from human to bat form on screen. Wow, think of that!

Pretty minor film. In terms of sexuality, though, you got some of the same things going on here. And then the actress here that plays the character, Katherine, she’s bringing the vampire from Eastern Europe into America. You have this shift in locations, now. “I don’t care about what’s going on over there. I want to bring it over here, and it’s scarier!”

And Katherine, the way she’s depicted is in many ways a retention of that “vamp” image from the 1910s and 1920s. The seductress who knows what she is, and she knows how to mess with her victims. You can hear that in her voice. I’m going to show it to you, briefly. So, you have a partial retention of that “vamp” image, except by now it’s entirely supernatural. It’s not just a normal woman anymore; this is an actual vampire. Let’s see this. So, really a brief moment in this trailer that you need to see. [Plays film.]

Film: Narrator: “To prey on unsuspecting victims. With Louise Allbritton, Robert Paige, Evelyn Ankers, Frank Craven, J. Edward Bromberg, and Lon Chaney as the new Count Dracula. You’ll shudder at the screen’s most fascinating woman vampire, luring men with cold beauty, and the promise—”

Stepanic: [Inaudible] there, right? She’s introduced as this female vampire that can “lure men with cold beauty,” right? That is the classic vamp image that’s been around since the 1910s, except it’s supernatural. And pay attention to how she talks to this guy in this brief moment; you’re going to see exactly what I mean about that old image and how it’s been retained here, but now it’s supernatural.

Film: Narrator: … of immortality.

Film: Katherine: Count Alucard is immortal. Through him, I attained immortality. Through me, you will do the same.

Stepanic: [Stops film.] It’s brief, but what I want you to hear is the dominance in her voice, right? The way she’s talking to that guy isn’t like, “Oh, you know, would you like to be a vampire?” She’s like, “You sniveling worm.” Right? She’s the one that’s gahhh. That’s got ’em. Classic vamp, femme fatale, been around for a long time. Now it’s associated with a supernatural entity, right?

The problem, though, is for this film, 1943, is the vampire was really not culturally relevant anymore as a symbol. This film does not do as well as the first two. In fact, the vampire film at this time is more of a B movie. There are some films that occur after this. By the end of the 1940s, the vampire was basically irrelevant as a cultural symbol to Americans. Died off. 1950s, you only had two films in America that were released—that were American made, at least—about the vampire. Compare that to 1980s, where you got, like, over 80 films. Big difference. People weren’t interested in that anymore. They were interested in science fiction, because you had the Cold War, right?

And ironically, even though the vampire comes from Eastern Europe, images of aliens and space ships were more relevant to the Space Race. Right? Professor Boyer there talked about Sputnik, right? That’s what that’s about! That’s why they like those films, and aliens and flying saucers. It’s a foreign threat that’s indeterminate and amorphous. Right? “What is that alien country over there? What do they do?”

The vampire’s from Eastern Europe, but it’s still being presented as this aristocrat, which has no cultural relevance anymore. Nobody cares about an evil aristocrat coming from Eastern Europe. They care about communists. Right? So the vampire lost its function, really, as a symbol. And then that is revitalized when we get to the late 1950s. Really by one person, and that’s an actor known as Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee—you probably have heard his name. The only other things I can think of that you would know him from, if you don’t know he’s in Dracula originally: Lord of the Rings! Saruman, right? Count Dooku, Star Wars. That was Christopher Lee. Incredible actor. I suggest you read his biography; it’s absolutely amazing how much that man did in his life outside of acting. It’s actually incredible. But really what starts off his career, even though he was a trained actor—he was a spy in World War II. Killed people with his bare hands. There are some famous stories about him in making these Dracula films, because he did a bunch of them. The director of one of these films said, “OK, this is how you’re going to die in this scene,” and Christopher Lee said, “That’s not how a man dies.” The director was like, “Oh, what d’you know?” He said, “I’ve killed men. Here’s how a man dies,” and he showed him how somebody died in front of him. The director was like, “OK, do that.”

Christopher Lee’s career really kicks off with this film right here. 1958, Horror of Dracula changes everything. Lugosi was a relic now. Everybody knew that name, and they knew Bela Lugosi was the vampire in Dracula, and “You talk like dis at Halloveen,” and that’s really it. It has a particular context. If you saw that film in reruns, you’re like, “Oh, yeah, that film.” In fact, parents that knew this film was coming out decided to take their kids to it. Bad idea.

Hays Code’s still in effect. There’s no ratings system yet. Right? Even with the ratings system, parents don’t pay attention. Deadpool, right? Parents were on Facebook, “How dare you release this film!” It says R on the poster. Can you read letters? It’s a letter. One letter. I don’t know how else to help you if you can’t read a letter! “R” means you probably shouldn’t take your 8-year-old to see that movie.

In their defense, in this time, there was no ratings system. There was the expectation that the film was generally censored and controlled by the Hays Code. “Oh, whatever!” And the parents who had kids at this time had grown up with Bela Lugosi–type images, so they said, “Oh! Little Johnny,” who everybody knows what little kid’s name is, “I’m going to take you to see this new Dracula film. It must be a remake of the old Bela Lugosi film I saw when I was 10!” No, it’s not.

This film was a British film. Although Great Britain had a censorship system in place, it was different than in America. You had more violence, more sexuality. (Nothing like you would expect from today.) When this film was released here, they had to retitle it, first off, because we already had Dracula. In Great Britain, it’s just called Dracula, because Bela Lugosi had no real cultural impact there. Here you couldn’t just have Dracula on the marquee, because an American would say, “Ah! Seen that film. Why do they have it again?”

They wanted you to know this is a different Dracula film, and not just in title. That’s why they called it Horror of Dracula! Right? This is scary! Parents, though, didn’t know. Tons of stories about parents who had kids crying and hiding under seats. “Triggered,” if you will. You think that’s a new idea, people getting upset over nothing? Ha, ha, ha! No. It’s not.

Kids hiding under seats, screaming. Children who would see anything that related to Christopher Lee and would cry for months. Like, “Ahhh!” “Can’t take my daughter outside.” They wanted the film removed from theaters, right? “Take it out of theaters! How dare you show this horrible travesty of a film!” If you see it, you’d laugh at it. All it really was, was a little bit of blood dripping from the mouth here; suggestions of sexuality. More than what people were used to, but in comparison today, you would laugh at it. But in 1958, it was shocking. It’s changing censorship. People are like, “I want to see more of that!” Teens, young adults are like, “I like this because my parents don’t like it!” It’s a symbol of rebellion.

This film is arguably one of the reasons why you had this British invasion—it’s part of the first British invasion. The Beatles, they didn’t come yet. This film is one of the reasons why teenagers got so interested in that country. They’re like, “What else you got over there?” after they see this. They’re like, “I want more of this stuff! Rolling Stones. Give me all that! Bring it over here! I want more of that. If my parents don’t like it, awesome.”

Sexuality was used as a selling point here, but it’s not really symbolic anymore. Right? It’s, you know…. Countess Zaleska, 1936, [you’ve] got to read into that. This, clearer suggestions of sexuality. In fact, one of the actresses was told by the director, “I want you in this scene, after you’ve been attacked by Dracula, I want you to act like you’ve had the greatest sex in your life.” And that’s what she did. You can see it in her face; she hated it but loved it. That’s the way she depicts this victim image here.

Images of sexual—notice the woman here. [Points to slide.] She’s not in the film! Who is that? It’s sort of like one of the girls in it, but this scene never happens! What the hell is that? Sex sells, right? So now we’re associating these ideas more and more.

A French director then, 1960, gets his own idea. He sees the popularity of Christopher Lee. He’s like, “I’ll make a vampire film.” Can’t use Christopher Lee. Christopher Lee’s basically owned by Hammer studios in Great Britain. So he says, “Oh, I need something else.” This director of this film, Roger Vadim, is basically one of the reasons why the French film censorship system was falling apart. He had already pushed a number of boundaries, and he was a legend in his day.

Now, he wasn’t known for plot and character development. He was known for his artistry. He was great with color and shape, and he knew how to film. Blood and Roses is a great example of this, if you ever watch it. Roger Vadim is looking for inspiration. Dracula’s already done, so he finds Carmilla. He says, “Ah, no one’s done this.” Actually, somebody had. It wasn’t that successful, and very, really—not really known at all. So he creates a new Carmilla film. Close to the novella in comparison to earlier films, but not really that accurate in terms of the presentation. But he changes things. Look at this advertisement. [Shows slide.] This isn’t Countess Zaleska, 1936. This is an original advertisement they call a lobby card for this film, 1960, 1961. This is what you would’ve seen in the lobby of a theater. Perhaps.

“Hey, honey. I wanna see Blood and Roses.” “Yeah, why is that? Hey, wait a minute. Is it because of this, here?” “No. Bats! I saw the bats there! I love … OK, yes, it’s the picture.” Right? I mean, they’re kissing! That’s what’s going to happen here. This isn’t something in the voice you’ve got to read into. This looks like two girls about to kiss, clearly. Vadim was a genius in how he did this. If you see the actual trailer, you’ll under—you won’t even understand it then. It takes, really, the whole film. The censors didn’t care about this. They cared primarily about the suggestions of vampire violence in the dialog, and that’s all they really changed.

Let’s see it. I’ll show you the trailer here. [Plays trailer.]

Film: Narrator: A girl whose secret is reflected in an image too dreadful for the eye to behold!

Stepanic: [Pauses trailer.] OK, first off I just want to pause it here. You see vampire violence in the film. Bite marks on the neck. You say, “Oh, so what?” today. They wouldn’t show that in 1930; in fact, they didn’t. They mentioned it in the dialog. They’re like, “Can’t show the bite marks. Too violent.” 1960, don’t care anymore. Now here comes that famous scene. You’re going to see her creeping on the victim here, and let’s see what she does. [Plays trailer.]

OK. What else can it be, right? Smart. He was using lesbianism in this film symbolically. What actually is happening in this scene, that you don’t see in this trailer, is the victim of Carmilla here—or the woman who’s been possessed by her—cut her finger on a rose and put the blood on her lips from licking her finger. So what she’s actually just doing there is not kissing her, but drinking the blood off her lips. It looks like a kiss. Actually isn’t, because she’s just a monster in essence. Right? She’s not human at all! But when people saw this—right, that’s what it looks like.

So these things have clearly changed over time. And then even more so as you go further. 1968, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, another of these Christopher Lee movies. First vampire film to get a rating. Rating system is officially introduced, 1968. Letters have changed over time; at this time, it was rated G—has a different meaning to it. This would be more like NC17 or horror by today’s standards. This poster, Christopher Lee’s not even on it. This is one example of this. “Who’s this girl? I’ve seen the movie. She’s not in it. They didn’t have Band-Aids like that in the Victorian era. What the hell is that? Neon pink, especially!” Notice how her breasts are about to pop out. Her lips, seductive. Suggestion of kissing, sexuality, oral sex.

This is a new selling factor for Hammer studios. They get into 1970s; they want to sell the vampire and sex, because Christopher Lee isn’t making that much money anymore. Still making money, [but] not enough. They want to develop a new, sexual vampire, and they start to do that. 1970, vampire lovers: Here is the most accurate version of Carmilla we have in the history of cinema. 1970, this one comes out. Rated R at this time; more like NC17 by today’s standards. And really the only reason that this film got an R rating is they show the bite marks on the breast that had been there since Carmilla came out, 1871. Bite marks on the breast are shown here.

And the seduction: They upped that because it’s a 1970 audience. This is a sexual revolution. Second wave of feminism. The ideas of that movement were abused by media to use women’s bodies to sell things! Right? It’s one of the effects. And the vampire was part of this. So the actress they got to play Carmilla: “Do you mind being naked? It’s not in the novella.” “Sure.” “Topless. We’re going to have you run around a room. There’s going to be a bed for you to jump on, because, you know, your breasts are there. People will see that. Do you care? It’s not in the book.” “Pfft.” She didn’t care. She was ready to do that. She loved this role, and the role she had afterwards.

The image, now, becomes entirely sexual, especially when it relates to women. And you see this happening further … I’m going to skip the trailer just to save time.

Here’s an Italian poster for The Vampire Lovers. Notice how much more sexual this is than the American one. Lingerie, the breasts. Clearly you can see pubic hair there through that, right? It’d be kind of hard where you’re sitting.

So sexuality became a big thing with the vampire here, especially with women. Now, when you go further, you’re going to see this develop even more and more. What you tend to see in popular culture, female vampires tend to have the primary powers resting in how attractive they are, how big their breasts are, how seductive they are. By contrast, although male vampires can be sexy too, it’s more tied into their strength and their manliness, so to speak, than the way they look physically.

Comics, 1969: Vampirella. One year before Ingrid Pitt has huge cultural impacts as Carmilla, you have an alien vampire here who’s clearly sexual in nature. The only way you really know she’s a vampire is that little collar. That’s a Bela Lugosi look there. All you have to do is put this teeny-weeny thing here, and America says “Vampire, because Bela Lugosi had that collar.” But it’s really tiny now, right? It’s been reduced to this small thing that’s part of a swimsuit, basically.

Vampirella, 1969, is all about sex. Compare that to male vampires that start to come back, finally, in 1971. First modern comic vampire for that time—that was a man, at least: Morbius, the Living Vampire, from Spider-Man. The reason Marvel does this is because there is a censorship system for comic books, too. Here we go again with that. Hays Code wasn’t enough! 1954 is the introduction of something called the Comics Code Authority, or the CCA, where people thought, “My kids shouldn’t be reading comic books; they’re too violent.” There were some violent comics. I won’t even get into that.

And one of the things the CCA did in 1954: There’s a series of Congressional hearings about comics. Parents were upset! “Why is my kid so bad?” It’s because you’re a bad parent, but we don’t want to say that. We’ve got to blame something else, right? That’s how we are as a species. “Ah, it’s not me. It’s not that I suck as a dad. I wasn’t around for them. It’s because they’re reading these comic books here.” There’s a rise in juvenile delinquency in the 1950s, post–World War II, for a variety of reasons. Teen drug use, teen alcohol use, teen pregnancies. “Really? I thought that was just like 16 and Pregnant stuff. You mean that was happening back in the ’50s?” Wasn’t that great of a time, really.

There’s a certain naïve view that Americans have of the ’50s being this time where everything was great! You just didn’t talk about it as much as you do today. You didn’t have the Internet to see it every second.

People wanted to blame something, so they blamed comic books. And one of the things the CCA did, [in] 1954, is they blamed vampires, and they said, “Ban this!” They banned vampires, 1954. The CCA lasts officially until 2011. It’s amazing! Trust me, it didn’t care by that—it didn’t matter by that point, but it was still there.

1971, they slightly lift their ban on vampires, so Marvel’s like, “Oh, yeah? Let’s see.” So they create this sort of quasi-scientific vampire called Morbius, who you can see is male, totally ripped. But would you call him sexually attractive? Probably not. This bat-like face, the pale skin. There’s that Lugosi collar again. That’s all you need, that little poo—it’s a vampire. Because the CCA said, “As long as there’s some reference to classic vampires, we’re OK with it.” They’re like, “OK, we’ll just give him that pweek. That’s enough. We’ll go with that and that sort of bat thing there.”

You compare these characters today, [and] it’s clear how they’ve changed. Right? Morbius is about, like, blagh! This ferocity. Vampirella—I mean, you notice how big her breasts have gotten over the past couple [of] decades! That’s like, what, five cup sizes now? How does she even—how’d this happen? What is she doing there? She’s like this damsel in distress. “Oh! Oh! Help me!”

This is what you see … you tend to see in popular culture, today, this dichotomy where the male vampire’s strength are primarily in his physical strength; women, their sexual assets, really, is what you tend to see. This is how this has changed.

Now, all those things are interesting, but the biggest change that happens in the 1970s is this famous novel right here, Interview with the Vampire, 1976, Anne Rice. You’ve probably heard the name. As far as I’ve heard recently, HBO apparently is going to be doing like a whole Game of Thrones–type series out of every single book she wrote. Get ready for that one.

Anyway, when this novel comes out, it was revolutionary, but not in how it presents the vampire. Typical folklore there that’s been interpreted in and appropriated, if you will, over basically two centuries now. What she did that made it different though, is this story is told from first-person perspective, from the perspective of the vampire, and nobody had done that yet. So you get to experience the book as the main vampire Louis. You understand why he cries. He cries. He cries in there, and he’s got emotions, and he’s sexy.

So sexuality and this first-person experience, the sympathy or empathy, if you will, of the vampire becomes this new thing. First person to think of doing it. Before this, the vampire’s a thing to be hunted down, and now it’s a thing you can relate to. “I know what that feels like. Poor guy.” He’s a vampire, actually, not a human. So we move closer to vampires, here. They’ve changed over time from that corpse to things, we look at them and say, “Oh, wow. I want to die. I can’t wait to have that thing’s baby!” Right? Completely alien to how the Slavs viewed this centuries ago. Now they got things like this. “Oh yeah. Team Edward, woo!”

When I first saw a Twilight film in the theaters—I did see one of these in the theaters, New Moon—when that came out, the theater was completely packed with, primarily, 12- to 14-year-old girls. And I’m thinking, “Can I be here legally? I don’t even know if I should be sitting here! This is not appropriate, probably!” And they loved it! Scholars have wondered, “Why does this do so good? It’s garbage! There’s nothing unique about Twilight. Total trash. Absolutely horrible. There’s nothing new about it. It’s sparkle … The sparkly thing’s not new.” Oh! Didn’t know that, did you?

“Well, but … they got married.” That’s not new, either. Vampire love story? Definitely not new. “They have sex?” That’s not new at all. There’s nothing new about it! Why did it do so good? Because what’s happened over time here is we’ve gone from that reanimated corpse to something that’s so human we can’t tell it any different anymore. It’s more of an ideal now. “I want to be that. I associate with that! It’s super strong, it never gets sick, it never dies,” unless you cut its head off. “It’s really sexy, or it’s ultimately attractive.” And scholars have wondered—and there are lots of articles about this film series when it came out, and the novels too. Why did it do so good? Primary demographic is young girls. Why did it do so good? Edward Cullen is in many ways a reiteration of a character type that had been around since the nineteenth century, called the Byronic hero. Let me get into that.

What he is, in essence, is the bad boy who needs to be tamed, see? It’s this fantasy we teach our girls that there’s this guy out there: he’s rough around the edges, but inside is this heart of gold. And whenever he falls in love with you, it’s all going to change. Ha, ha! It doesn’t happen that way. This is part of this fantasy of love and sex. In actuality, Twilight’s more about abstinence, really, right? Saving yourself for marriage is actually what this is more about, and people latched onto this.

There were Twilight-themed sex toys. Can you believe that? For guys and girls! Who’d want to buy that, right? People did. They consumed this, because what happened here is the vampire became relevant in a new way. For that new generation that needed to have its symbols. The vampire’s become so human over time, that it relates to us and it mirrors us as a species, right? Before, the vampires’ original function was a symbol of death and disease that explained what people didn’t have access to. They didn’t understand viruses or bacteria back then. That’s the function of that thing there. We generally understand these things now. We don’t really fear disease like people did back in the eighteenth century, for example.

But there are problems we haven’t figured out. Like poverty, racism—so you’ll find the vampire symbolizing these problems now, because it helps us to really understand and deal with them. We deal better with symbols than we do actual problems, sometimes. And the vampire’s become so human over time, and so attractive, that it relates to us and we associate with it, and we use it to understand ourselves. Sex is just one component here. True Blood, a sexy vampire who originally would have been a rotting corpse, is now so human that you want to be a part of its world. It’s amazing.

Questions. I open the floor for questions now. Kind of crammed some things there, but I got everything out that I wanted to. No questions at all? OK, what d’ya got?

Speaker 1: When you dig up the male vampire, and it has an erection, that’s how you tell it’s a vampire; what do you do with female vampires?

Stepanic: Oh, OK. Good question. First off, this is just one sign of vampirism. I’m just going with the sex thing here. One sign of vampirism. Only sometimes, not all the time, was if the corpse had an erection. There were other things too. If it had “loose skin.” All those so-called signs were just misinterpretations of natural decomposition, which the average person, even today, knows nothing about. I do—used to work in the funeral industry. Trust me, you can ask me for some neat stories if you want. But that was just one sign. In original folklore, the vampire was not female. It was only male. There was, essentially, a female counterpart of that figure.

And then the folklore changed over time because of pressures, right? Disease and death, and “Why does this corpse—it’s a woman—have these signs?” Well, obviously, there’s a different thing going on there now. Now these are vampires, too. And babies, for example. Eighteenth century, as far as we know, is probably the first time that a baby could be a vampire. They said, “This baby, here, must be vampire. It’s got the signs.” That was just one sign of it, yeah—so there were lots of other signs that were all just misconceptions about decomposition.

Good question.


Speaker 2: Where did the burning in the sun enter?

Stepanic: Good question. Where’d the burning in the sun come from, because in original folklore that’s not what you find. You’re never going to find an example, [in] original vampire folklore, [where] the vampire goes out in the sunlight, goes, “Ahhh!” and catches on fire. It won’t happen.

What you will find, at most, is they’ll fall on the ground, inactive. They’re bound by sunlight, which means they’re basically sleeping. It’s like a reversal of the human sleep cycle, basically. They’re basically sleeping. So if you saw a vampire, and you were fighting it—there were folktales like this—and it falls over and the sun comes up, it’s not dead. It’s basically bound by its powers. And you said, “Oh, all right.” You left. [But as] soon as the sun goes down, it’s going to go, “Argh,” and it’s back to doing its thing.

So where’s the sunlight come from? Is it in Dracula? I know some of you read Dracula. Is there anything with sunlight in Dracula? Anybody happen to know? Where are my Dracula readers? Dracula walks around in daylight in that book. Because Stoker researched actual folklore. At the end, it’s not sunlight that kills him, it’s the big bowie knife a Texan psshh! in his chest, and then he falls in the ashes. And the sun’s going—it’s nothing to do with the sun at all!

There’s a movie from 1922 called Nosferatu. It’s a famous German film. It’s a landmark silent film. That is the first time a vampire dies in sunlight, and since people hadn’t read the book, and that was basically a bootleg version of Dracula, they saw that film and said, “I guess that’s how it is.” And it just became a new thing. That sets a new standard and changes the folklore, see? That’s how folklore works. It’s always in flux, right?

This idea of appropriation is not a new concept. People have been borrowing ideas for centuries. That’s what we do as a species. Without that we would be so blocked off that we wouldn’t understand each other. We need to share ideas. It’s a positive thing. And that idea just changed over time. Where the sunlight became dying in sunlight, and that became the new—you still see that today, right?

Good question. Other one? Back there.

Speaker 3: Where’d the aversion to garlic come from?

Stepanic: Garlic, that is original folklore. At some point in the prehistory of the Slavs, East Europeans, they discovered that garlic had curative functions. For example, it will actually … [it] works as a minor antibacterial. It will help your intestinal bacteria. It can purify your blood. You maybe know somebody who had high cholesterol or something—it wasn’t bad enough for actual medication. The doctor might say, “Take some garlic oil tabs from Whole Foods” or something.

The Slavs recognized centuries ago that garlic had some sort of warding function against disease, and since the vampire’s a symbol of disease, naturally it’s going to ward away the vampire. So you would cover your house with garlic, sometimes. People still do that in certain parts of Eastern Europe. Or, vampire corpse, you take garlic and cover it in the garlic and rebury it. That was enough. “It’s not going to get out now! No way.” That’s an old one.

Good question.

Speaker 4: Speaking about a wooden stake in the heart, or not having a reflection in the mirror, is there sort of a religious aspect of that? Where it came from, or what do you think that symbolizes about … that we connect to vampires; they’re like us—what does that say about society?

Stepanic: That’s a big question there. I don’t know if I have an answer to the ending part, but the first part, yes. OK, so, mirrors. The mirror thing. I’m still doing research on this. Bram Stoker, by the way—I’ve read everything the guy’s done. He’s a bad writer. Dracula was a total fluke that became famous. Read the rest of his books; you’ll be like, “Oh, my God.” Now, what I’m saying, here, is he’s basically a hack. There are tons of things in Dracula he literally stole and plagiarized from other books, and verbatim cut-and-pasted into there. He was, “All right, I’m going to put this in here. This book here, put it in here.”

The mirror thing, as far as research has shown so far—although I assume there’s got to be something out there I just haven’t found yet—that is the only thing that is unique about that book, is that’s the first time in the history of depictions of vampires that the vampire cast no reflection. In the original folklore, the vampire would sometimes have no shadow, or the length of its shadow could determine how old it was. So it’s possible Stoker saw that and just assimilated the idea, and restructured it to make it relevant to Victorian society, where the mirror was already a popular symbol in poetry and literature. Victorians had this sort of idea, in some cases at least, that the mirror … what you saw in the mirror was a reflection of one’s soul. So he probably just made a natural shift. Took the original folklore and adapted it, basically, is the general argument here about that.

The other one was the stake. Stake is original folklore. One of the ways you could stop a vampire when you found its corpse was you stake it. Not necessarily in the heart. It was anywhere in the general torso area, because it worked as a binding mechanism, and that stake was often made out of sacred objects, like hawthorn. It was sacred to the Slavs. You make it out of that wood because it’s a curative wood, and that’s the symbol of disease, right? That thing right there. It won’t be able to touch it; it’s stuck to the ground like tent peg in a tent, basically. You psshhh so it can’t get out. Not so you kill it. It’s sits there and goes “Ack!” Can’t move; tries to grab the stake—”Ahh!” It can’t touch it.

Now the heart thing: It’s possible the reason that became the focus is in the 1700s, when there was a huge vampire epidemic in Eastern Europe, and they were digging up hundreds if not thousands of bodies, and chopping their heads off and staking them, the pressure from decomposition … They don’t have embalming. They’re not draining the bodies of blood, and that blood begins to pool and collect, and then bacteria, when you die, it eats you. Right? And then it lets out gas, and that gas causes you to bloat. Causes the erection thing. And then that blood will come out of your mouth and stuff like that. But it pools in certain areas. So when they psshh, it was like a big balloon. And that blood would go psshh!

There’s recorded cases of vampires where they would “moan.” They would go, “Arghh!” All that was is air being forced out of the lungs through the epiglottis and stuff, and it sounded like a sound, but was actually a big balloon. And that pressure, when it psshh, shoot that build-up, and they said, “All right, put it right there next time, because clearly that’s a good spot! All that psshh! That blood came outta there!” And then we think, then, the heart, probably, that was the focus. Get hit in the heart because that was a good spot.

The second part’s probably too complex to talk about now, so let me get you afterwards. Other questions?

Speaker 5: What’s your favorite vampire in film? Are there any?

Stepanic: Oof, favorite vampire in film. I don’t just do vampires, by the way. I love anime. Attack on Titan, Season 2, is great. So don’t think I’m some vampire freak. But, let’s think. Boy, I don’t know. Honestly, I would say, in terms of everything I’ve seen, at least, Dracula’s Daughter 1936 is an incredibly unique film for its time, and the way that Gloria Holden portrays this sort of sad side of the vampire for the first time people have ever seen, in film at least, is amazing for its day. That film really…. And that’s, by the way, that film was what directly inspired Anne Rice to write Interview with the Vampire. When she saw that, she said, “Wow, it’s a vampire that feels bad about what it is. What if she could explain it from first person?” That’s how she made that her idea.

That film, I mean, if you watch it today, you’d probably find it boring, but just in terms of the overall history of vampire films, that one’s always stuck with me because of how unique it was for its day and, really, what it does later. Good question.

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