Bela Lugosi's Dead, Vampires Live Forever August 4-September 30 at BAM
Though Bram Stoker's original novel only infrequently addresses the sexual threat that its titular character poses, Dracula, and all of the scads of fiction that it has spawned, is unequivocally about doing it. Or, more specifically: why people do it, foreplay leading to doing it, and the consequences of doing it. Count Dracula is the ultimate outsider, a menace whose malevolent motives are only discovered after his seductive charms have worn off and his victims can no longer stop him. He's a swirling mass of projected traumas and taboo fantasies, and the focal point of a self-sufficient fictive mythology. Drac and his victims' identities constantly change, but much of the rules and the archetypes behind the vampire mythos Stoker established have remained constant over the last 113 years.
With a whopping 33 titles in its program, BamCinematek's "Bela Lugosi's Dead: Vampires Live Forever" program begins with a couple of eccentric Dracula adaptations that play around with Dracula's identity as an invading menace. F.W. Murnau invests a cartoonishly alien quality to his Dracula in silent German Expressionist classic Nosferatu. By making Max Schreck's Count Orlok a bald monstrosity with elfin ears, jutting filed teeth, claw-like hands and a hideous beak nose, Murnau leaves no way for the viewer to understand, let aloneappreciate, how he's able to charm other people. One has to grapple with the incongruity of Dracula's paradoxical identity as an ugly charmer. He has no chance of assimilating into society, no hope of being able to win over people with anything but underhanded tactics, making him the universal poster child for xenophobic groups everywhere.
Horror of Dracula, the canonical Hammer Horror take on Stoker's story, and George Melford's Dracula, a 1931 Spanish-language production shot on the same sets used earlier that year for Tod Browning's famous Bela Lugosi vehicle, both go the opposite route: Horror's Christopher Lee makes no attempt to conceal his British accent and Melford's Drac, Carlos Villar, speaks fluent Spanish, rendering the Count's foreignness only skin-deep. He already has succeeded in sounding like one of the natives, making it that much more difficult to pick him out as the ultimate sex freak. And speaking of skin-deep, let's not forget Blacula, though the less said about that revanchist blaxtaploitation staple—that sics a black count on a group of unsuspecting honkies—the better.
It's interesting to note that in Stoker's story, Dracula's threat is not initially confronted by someone who can combat his charms, but rather by Jonathan Harker, a weak-willed man effectively turned into a eunuch by Dracula's powers of persuasion. Harker's floundering is especially well-established in Guy Maddin's film version of the ballet Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary. Its Harker stand-in is a character named Guy Maddin , another manifestation of the Canadian director's unique tongue-in-cheek cinematic autobiography. "Maddin" is impotent, confused and possibly gay, though he does allow himself to be seduced by Dracula's harem just as Harker is in Stoker's book.