The Devil Incarnate: Horror of Dracula (1958)

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In Terence Fisher’s Horror of Dracula (1958), Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) has four distinct traits: deceiver, seducer, thief, and destroyer. This characterization makes him a Satan figure—the Devil in human form.

Dracula is a deceiver like the Devil: “a liar and the father of lies.”1 While escorting Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) to his room, he mentions that the “housekeeper is away”, an obvious lie as no one ever leaves his castle alive, and then he bolts the door, trapping Jonathan inside. Dracula’s deceptions continue in London when he sends a message to Mina Holmwood (Melissa Stribling) to meet her husband at the undertaker. Her husband is elsewhere, and Dracula is waiting in the basement. He deceives Jonathan and Mina in order to transform them into what he is: a vampire.

Dracula is a seducer of women, not unlike an incubus: “a demon in male form that seeks to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women.”2 Sleeping in a coffin lined with dirt, the centuries-old vampire is literally a dirty old man who seduces beautiful women. A buxom brunette (Valerie Gaunt) lives in his castle as his bride, and he later seduces Lucy Holmwood (Carol Marsh) in a sexually-charged scene. She lies on her bed like a bride on her wedding night, eagerly awaiting her groom. As Dracula hovers over her, the look on her face is an equal mixture of fear and delight, the same emotions a virgin might experience when she has sex for the first time. Transforming a woman into a vampire is his substitute for sex.

Beautiful women cannot resist the power of Dracula’s gaze, and they fall under his spell. After returning from a late-night rendezvous with the vampire, Mina greets her husband with a warm glow on her face, as if she just had sex. It is ironic that in draining Mina and Lucy of their life-giving blood, Dracula has reinvigorated them both as women. They have been seduced by a vampire who sucks blood from their neck like a lover’s irresistible kisses. Yet when Gerda (Olga Dickie) sees him, she says in horror, “he looked like the Devil!” Mina and Lucy are seduced by Dracula, but Gerda sees him for what he is: a figure of evil.

Dracula is the physical embodiment of Satan: “the thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”3 Requiring human blood in order to survive, he steals the blood of Lucy and Mina. The idea of blood giving life to a vampire originates from the Old Testament when Moses commanded the Israelites, “You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood.”4 As a blood thief, Dracula is not content with only drinking blood. He delights most of all in stealing other men’s women, putting them under his seductive spell.

Dracula’s seduction of women has two principal aims: to drain them of their blood as a food source, and when they are drained dry, to turn them into vampires. This makes him a thief and a destroyer. Dracula destroys Lucy’s humanity, turning her into a monster, malevolent and evil like himself. By opening the window to her room, Lucy has “turned away to follow Satan.”5 Dracula’s destruction of Lucy’s humanity parallels Peter’s description of Satan who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”6 When he ravishes Lucy, he appears like a lion with his long fangs and gaping mouth. The vampire is a human monster: half-human, half-beast.

As a monster, Dracula is more than just a physical creature. He has supernatural power over his victims. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) says Lucy has been “possessed and corrupted by the evil of Dracula.” Her transformation from human to vampire is like a demon possession that must be reversed. Van Helsing takes on the role of an exorcist, but instead of driving an evil spirit from Lucy’s body, he drives a stake through her heart—a reverse exorcism, destroying her body in order to save her soul.

Because Dracula possesses supernatural power, he cannot be destroyed by human strength alone. When Van Helsing attacks him, he is no match for the vampire. The doctor then turns to the power of nature to destroy his adversary. He pulls down the curtain in the room, shining the light of the sun on Dracula, burning his flesh. This severely weakens him, but he is ultimately destroyed, not by the sun but by the power of the cross. As a supernatural being, Dracula can only be destroyed by supernatural power.

Dracula, as the Devil incarnate, is ultimately defeated by the power of Christ. Van Helsing says the crucifix “symbolizes the power of good over evil.” The crucifix becomes a symbolic representation of Christ, the Son of God who appeared “to destroy the works of the devil.”7 In the climax of the film, Van Helsing forms a cross with two pieces of metal and turns his enemy into dust. The final image of Dracula’s ashes scattered by the wind echoes God’s words to Adam: “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”8

Notes

  1. John 8:44 (New American Standard Version).
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Incubus,” accessed July 21, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/284957/incubus
  3. John 10:10 (New American Standard Version).
  4. Leviticus 17:14 (New American Standard Version).
  5. 1 Timothy 5:15 (New American Standard Version).
  6. 1 Peter 5:8 (New American Standard Version).
  7. 1 John 3:8 (New American Standard Version).
  8. Genesis 3:19 (New American Standard Version).
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