Vampire in a Strange Land: Otherness in Dracula (1931)

In Dracula (1931), the count manages to slip seamlessly into British high society without missing a beat, even though his thick Transylvanian accent, odd beliefs and suave mannerisms seem a little bit out of place. He mercilessly takes victims that he is enamored with and destroys the young lives that surround him. I’m sure we’d all like to think that we would be privy to someone’s harmful behaviors and tendencies- but sometimes our judgement can be clouded by the aura of someone’s personality and social status. In Dracula, we see that dignity and money can get you incredibly far, even if you are a bit of an outsider.

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Dracula could represent a lot of different things and in episode 51 we talk about a few. However, I want to mention a couple of different routes that we didn’t have time to discuss in the episode. Firstly, Count Dracula could be a metaphor for large corporations who will stop at nothing to grow (even if it means putting lives at risk) and greedy people who prey upon the weakest members of society for their own personal gain. With this in mind, Dracula could be interrupted as an insidious force that comes for you when you least expect it and slowly drains you, leaving you weak, dying, or worse- one of his pawns. It’s no wonder, in my opinion, that Dracula’s first victim in England is a poor flower girl.

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We see this in our daily lives constantly- we don’t want refugees or people of a lower class coming into our country or being supported- but because of money and social status, we are blinded by the true intentions of big corporations who we seem to trust more- The 1% tends to blame the lower class and foreign citizens and refugees for our maladies and economic woes. So, as long as you are white and rich (aka Dracula), you have a place here in our country. It won’t be long before the wealthy vampires of the world begin to destroy the very people who invited them inside in the first place.

 

According to C.D. Calderon in their article titled In Retrospect: Dracula (1931):

The horror comes from two interrelated aspects of the film. None of these chills have anything to do with the fast-paced graphic, in your face gore that people have come to associate with the genre. The first element is so well hidden that it often goes over the heads of most viewers. It is the underlying sense of racial class hypocrisy that allows Dracula easy access to parlors and drawing rooms of England’s upper-class system. It is doubtful the Count would have survived for long if he didn’t depend on his status as a member of the nobility. The rigid and unforgiving social strictures of Victorian Britain wouldn’t have permitted much fraternization with any foreigner deemed as “The Other”. At the same time, money and titles go a lot farther than any effort at diplomacy. The irony is that it is this very same class-system that is responsible for putting all of Britain in peril. The Ruling Class is willing to discriminate against working class foreigners who want nothing than to just build a life for themselves, while being more than willing to court their own destruction, as long as it involves “the right sort of people”, international or otherwise.

While we were discussing our research for the episode, Gracie made a great point, and brought up this quote from Jason Marzini in his article Traversing the Darkness: Representations of Dracula through Two Films Film Studies:

In Browning’s telling of the tale, Dracula’s foreignness is tied to his country of origin. The choice of Bela Lugosi for the role functioned well to enforce the stereotypes associated with immigrants in the 1930s. Lugosi’s strong Hungarian accent and dark features distinguish him from the English actors in the film. His eccentric behavior and strange mannerisms serve as a reminder that he doesn’t fit in with the white aristocracy of London…Another plot device [to show the vampire’s otherness], is the vampire’s inability to cast a reflection…It was once believed that mirrors had the power to capture a person’s soul at their time of death. The injection of this belief into the vampire mythology helps to reinforce the fact that Dracula is of the undead. He is soulless, and yet alive at the same time. His uncanny physical presence conjoined with his inability to cast a reflection places him in a realm that not entirely of this world.

The really ironic thing about all of this is that Dracula has no reflection, because he is soulless, so he has learned to mimic the body language, expressions and mannerisms of his victims. If he doesn’t learn how to blend, he’ll be discovered- and he becomes so good at it that it signals the end of those who surround him.

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Secondly, to give Count Dracula a little more credit, he represents a foreigner living in a xenophobic west that’s afraid of the handsome “other” out to “take away the women.” While Professor Van Helsing is the happy, helpful foreigner who has successfully assimilated into western British society, Dracula is too strange and too… well, sexy. Van Helsing poses no threat to the women in Dracula (1931). He’s an older gentleman whose accent isn’t as strong. Dracula (who is logically older than Van Helsing) appears younger, tells spooky tales of his homeland, dresses nicely, and just oozes sex appeal. I don’t feel that it’s any coincidence that the character Lucy Western was given that name in particular. “Lucy” is an English and French feminine given name derived from Latin masculine given name Lucius with the meaning of light (born at dawn or daylight, maybe also shiny, or of light complexion). Western is almost too on the nose to explain. Her name literally means “light of the west” and her light is smothered by Dracula (or so its interpreted). Dracula then tries to woo Mina whose name means small rose or daisy. She’s a delicate flower who can’t look after herself and needs the protection of the assimilated doctor, the boring white boyfriend, and her wealthy white father. Gag me.

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Overall, when we strip away the identity of foreigners, much like the way Dracula’s identity is nonexistent as a reflection in the mirror, outsiders have no choice but to take what we give them. What exactly are we handing them, though? What makes us believe that our whiteness, our aggression, our very American characteristics, are superior in ANY way to those that have been around centuries longer than we have? These are questions that I’m sure many of us have pondered in our current climate when it comes to immigration. And it all boils down to fear of being victimized, or of someone taking something from you indirectly. But perhaps we are so busy being afraid of this that the REAL threats among us have blended in with society in ways that don’t even make you blink- the fear of “others” becomes a distraction for what we should actually be afraid of, and that is our willingness to overlook the predatory appetites of outsiders as long as they assimilate and become familiar- because at that point, they become the reflection of us and our country’s ideals.  

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Ep. 51: Dracula (1931) – Watch Old Horror Movies is available here!

Resources:

In Retrospect: Dracula (1931) by C.D. Calderon: https://hccegalitarian.com/5481/commentary/in-retrospect-dracula-1931/

Traversing the Darkness: Representations of Dracula through Two Films Film Studies 352: Monster Movies by Jason Marzini: https://www.academia.edu/9553708/Traversing_the_Darkness_Representations_of_Dracula_through_Two_Films_Film_Studies_352_Monster_Movies

The Children of the Night: Dracula (1931): http://thefineartdiner.blogspot.com/2011/10/children-of-night-dracula-1931.html?m=1

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