Meehan, Paul. The Vampire in Science Fiction Film and Literature.
The publication of Dracula by Bram Stoker in 1897 helped provide the foundation for many of the elements of the vampire as conceived through the lens of Gothic horror that would be associated with the creature for years to come. This includes the conception of the vampire as an undead creature that rises from the grave at sundown in order to drain the blood of the living, as well as the vampire's possession of fantastic strength and supernatural powers of the mind. As Paul Meehan observes, over the centuries the vampire has evolved, changing forms through "a rationalizing/secularizing process" (1) and has metamorphosed into new, technological mutations more in keeping with our scientific age" (1), while also noting that "despite their occult pedigree the literary vampire ... has always embodied an element of science fiction" (2). Meehan explores "the metamorphosis of the vampire from religious and magical beings into creatures of science fiction" (3) through a consideration of five themes in vampire literature and film: plague and disease, psychic vampires, vampires as extraterrestrial beings, their connection to mad scientists, and the vampire in response to human technology.
Meehan's study is largely a compilation and summary of vampire literature and film arranged around various themes. The author does not engage in much analysis or argumentation to substantiate his thesis. Instead, his thesis is briefly stated at the beginning, literature and films are cited around themes believed to support the main contention of the volume, and the basic ideas are restated in the epilogue.
Chapter one, "The Scientific Origins of the Vampire Myth," considers the beginnings of the vampire in eighteenth-century Central and Eastern Europe. Some scholars now argue that belief in vampires began as a way of explaining certain phenomena like plagues, diseases, epidemics, and unexplained deaths. Meehan considers how contemporary scientific understanding sheds light on natural processes that were interpreted as supernatural and vampiric in times past. For example, bloating of the body, blood on the mouth, and the appearance of hair and nails growing after death were features that were interpreted as signs of the vampire, but through forensic science, we now understand these as part of the natural process of bodily decay. Science can also help us understand how illness and plague may have fueled the origins of the vampire. This includes genetic blood disorders like porphyria, conditions like anemia, and infectious diseases like the Black Plague, rabies, and syphilis. Meehan discusses other phenomena that may have played a part in the origin of the vampire, including the slowing of the body's vital functions in catalepsy where death was wrongly assumed, premature burial of seemingly dead individuals, and various sleep disorders collectively called parasomnia. Chapter one also discusses other elements that contributed to the vampire myth, including fears of animals that suck blood, as well as the Victorian interest in mesmerism and spiritualism.
The second chapter, "The Science Fiction Vampire in Literature," discusses how the creature moved from folklore and into literature. This includes not only John Polidori's well-known story "The Vampyre" (1819), but also J. Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla (1872), which includes a man of science as a character whom Meehan sees as "the obvious blueprint for Stoker's vampire hunter" (26), Van Heising. Also significant is Phil Robinson's short story "The Man-Eating Tree" (1881), and H. G. Wells's "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid" (1894), both of which feature a vampire plant and may have influenced the blood-drinking vegetable alien in the film The Thing from Another World (1951). Other literary treatments include George du Maurier's Trilby (1894), which involves "psychic vampirism and mesmeric transformation" (28) through the character Svengali, "the first example of a psychic vampire in a major work of literature" (30); Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Parasite" (1894); Mary Elizabeth Braddon's "Good Lady Ducayne" (1896); and Bram Stoker's novel Dracula (1897), which brings the vampire into the scientific age. For Meehan, H. G. Wells wrote a vampire tale, this one through the vehicle of alien invasion, in The War of the Worlds (1898). Another set of alien vampire tales comes by way of Gustave Le Rouge's The Prisoner of Planet Mars (1908) and The War of the Vampires (1909). Meehan also mentions the work of Hanns Heinz Ewers, a German author, who wrote the vampire tale Alraune (1911).
Chapter two continues an exploration of the vampire in literature. Meehan explores the pulp era period in his consideration of C. L. Moore's "Shambleau" (1933), a blend of sf and horror. Other pulp writers of note who incorporated the vampire include A. E. Van Vogt in "Asylum" (1942), Fritz Leiber with the psychic vampire tale "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" (1949), and C. M. Kornbluth's "The Mindworm" (1950). Texts from the 1950s that also touch on the vampire include Richard Matheson's influential I Am Legend (1954), Fredric Brown's "Blood" (1954), and William Tenn's "She Only Goes Out at Night" (1956). Other authors of note mentioned in this chapter include Roger Zelazny, Colin Wilson, Tanith Lee, Whitley Strieber, Dan Simmons, Brian W. Aldiss, George Alec Effinger, and Guillermo del Toro with co-author Chuck Hogan.
Chapter three, "Plagues of Blood," shifts the analysis from literature to film, and here Meehan follows the same pattern of analysis as he has in literary examples, noting how vampires have shifted from early conceptions to more modern ones. He begins by taking up the association of the vampire with plagues and disease, beginning with F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). Differing treatments of Matheson's I Am Legend also pick up on this idea, including The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007). Also mentioned in this chapter are The Bat People (1974), Rabid (1977), Nightwing (1979), The Hunger (1983), Bats (1999), and Daybreakers (2010).
"Mad Scientists and Vampires" are the focus of Chapter four. Films that brought these elements together include The Vampire Bat (1933), The Return of Doctor X (1939) which "contains the first depiction of an actual science fiction vampire in screen history" (96), The Devil Bat (1940), House of Dracula (1945), and the comedy-horror Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Meehan's summary compilation continues with the Hammer film classic The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), Blood of Dracula (1957), The Vampire (1957), Blood of the Vampire (1958), and European films, including Mill of the Stone Women (1960), Atom Age Vampire (1960), and Blood Beast Terror (1967). This chapter concludes with discussion of Thirst (2009) and BloodRayne III (2010).
Chapter five briefly explores "The Psychic Dimension," defined as various "preternatural powers of the human mind" (119) alleged to exist, including phenomena like hypnotism, as well as "[m]ental telepathy, clairvoyance, telekenesis and other borderline experiences" (119). Meehan considers various treatments of the "mental vampire" in literature and film that include these elements, such as Trilby, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), and The Climax (1944), as well as Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1974). Meehan devotes a good deal of space in this section to a consideration of Svengali (1931), wherein he argues that the "themes of hypnosis and mind manipulation are not supernatural and bring the film into the realm of science fiction" (122).
In Chapter xix, "Vampires vs. High Technology," Meehan reminds the reader that "the literary vampire was conceived against a backdrop of the emergence of modern technology during the Victorian Era" (134) and that, over the course of literary and cinematic history, the vampire has continued to interact with the technology of every age. This subject is explored beginning with Dracula (1931), followed by Dracula's Daughter (1936), and The Return of the Vampire (1943). The discussion continues with a consideration of the TV-movie Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1972), Hammer's Dracula AD 1972 (1972), and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). The work of Guillermo del Toro is also featured in this chapter with a consideration of Cronos (1992) and Blade II (2002). This chapter also examines recent franchises, such as the Blade (1998-2004), and Underworld (2003-2012) series, and Dracula 2000 (2000). The chapter concludes with an exploration of Van Heising (2004), Dracula 3000 (2004), Ultraviolet (2006), and Priest (2011).
"Bloodsuckers from Outer Space" is the focus of chapter seven, which identifies the first film treatment of the alien vampire as The Thing from Another World (1951). Meehan also explores Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and Roger Corman's Not of This Earth (1957), It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), First Man into Space (1959), and Planet of the Vampires (1965). Some of the final films discussed in this chapter include Lifeforce (1985), Steven Spielberg's The War of the Worlds (2005), and Bled (2009). The book concludes with a brief epilogue, "The Vampires We Need," that summarizes the author's previous discussion and notes how the vampire evolves with us as our societies and needs change over time.
A few criticisms of this volume are worth noting. First, Meehan describes the book as one that, "examines the metamorphosis of the vampire from religious and magical beings into creatures of science fiction" (3). While this process has taken place, as Meehan documents, the process has also gone in the other direction. In her book Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural (2012), Victoria Nelson has argued that the contemporary vampire has also gone through a process of sacralization, so that the modern vampire may be understood as not only secularized and in keeping with sf, but also religious and magical. Second, in his discussion of the sleep disorder known as night terrors, a topic that Meehan has discussed previously in connection with the UFO phenomenon and alien abduction, he references David Hufford's 1989 study of the phenomenon, The Terror That Comes in the Night. This section would have been strengthened bibliographically and possibly in terms of its connection to vampire legends with the mention of Hufford's more recent essay "Sleep Paralysis as Spiritual Experience" (2005) for the journal Transpersonal Psychology. In one final critique worth mentioning, Meehan's reference to the film Priest as the first "to feature completely digital vampires" (180) is inaccurate. I Am Legend incorporated CGI vampires in 2007, four years before Priest arrived in theaters.
If scholars and fans are interested in adding a thematic summary volume on vampires to their collection, The Vampire in Science Fiction Film and Literature will make a nice addition.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Morehead, John W.|
|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 19, 2019|
|Previous Article:||Allan, Kathryn, ed.: Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure.|
|Next Article:||Brock, Jason V.: Disorders of Magnitude: A Survey of Dark Fantasy.|