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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Today, while trying to put an ear worm in my friend’s head, I played Bananarama’s “Venus” video because it is an extreme catchy tune and the 80s videos were quite entertaining. However, in watching this video myself, I came across an interesting portion of the video that made me pause for a second. If you’re unfamiliar with Bananarama’s cover of the Shocking Blue‘s hit, they sing about a figure, Venus, who basically serves as her namesake the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Yet what is the most intriguing about all of this is the fact that in Bananarama’s video they show versions of this figure that occupies both the traditional modes of beauty (one of them actually dresses as Botticelli’s Venus from “The Birth of Venus“) and non-traditional dominatrix type figures.

It was in this video that I came across two very different models of the female vampire. One is the innocent in white being let out of her coffin by a savior, who she will invariably feast upon. The other is a sexy capped individual with a bat wing-like cape and tight leather bodice. Additionally, this second vampire has a passel of loincloth clad subservient men.  These interpretations of the vampiric female s are always intriguing because it seems that rarely are there any that exist between this dichotomy. The vampiric female is either the presumed innocent or the sexpot. There is not usually a lot of in between. So there you have the vampires in odd places of today… Enjoy the video, and if you see some vampires in odd places, let me know.

So I’m sure that you’ve all seen Count von Count on Sesame Street. Additionally, we all know his purpose on the show is to teach those tuning in to count. While many may think that this is a compulsion that the Count alone has, the ideology of the counting vampire / fairy creature is one that permeates folklore as a way to impede their progress and keep them from their intended victims. Here, I offer you some info about the matter.

 

The idea behind this counting compulsion is that if a vampire or fairy creature came upon a large number of something like pebbles, salt grains, or any number of other things they would have to count ever last crumb before they could continue.  Due to the minute nature of some products and their innumerable nature, something like salt or sand could keep the vampire busy for a long time allowing the person being chased to escape or to kill the vampire in question.

Count von Count plays upon this ideology to some degree because he must count things that he comes into contact with. While it’s not the massive compulsion that some folklore vampires have, he is still occupied on the show with the necessity of counting, and in doing this, he provides a good role model for children… well, without the folkloric connotation of course. However, I just thought about this and wanted to share with those who love vampires out there. I’m going to continue pondering what ties he has to the folkloric nature of the vampire (because let’s face it with it being a children’s show… things are going to be changed greatly…).

This piece is one that I wrote for my Gothic literature class. I hope you enjoy!

The Auditory Tension of Varney’s First Feast in James Rhymer’s Varney the Vampire

          From the beginning of Varney the Vampire, or, the Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rhymer, the importance of perceived sound by both the characters in the scene and the audience members punctuates key critical moments within the text and creates dramatic tension as a result. The usage of sound in this way is seen clearly in the first episode of the novella where Varney makes his way into Flora’s room and attacks her in order to satiate his bloodlust. Within this moment, the sounds of clattering nails on Flora’s window, her scream of pain as her hair jerked, Marchdale’s gunshot, and Varney’s laughter keep time in the work in such a way that mimics the literal storm occurring just outside Flora’s house, as the vampire’s actions and the sounds that surround him slowly make him into a symbolic storm. Moreover, while these sounds fill the space at many given moments, ominous silences of varying length between each instance of sound develop into points of vacuous and claustrophobic tension which envelop both characters and readers alike. Through this particular attention to sound and its absence, Rhymer produces an auditory complexity in the novella which he collapses into the Gothic space, thereby creating a new level of drama and heightening the overall experience of horror within this vampire story.

To start immersing the audience into this realm of sound, Rhymer uses the horrendous storm as white noise to create a point of isolation for Flora and the reader. Early on, Rhymer shows exactly what is going on outside the mansion as “the storm raged! Hail—rain—wind. It was, in very truth, an awful night” (26). These assertions about the storm continue to enter intermittently throughout the beginning of the narrative as Flora and the reader’s attentions are focused in on various aspects of what the storm is doing, such as “how the hail dashes on the old bay window” or “that lightning [explodes with]. . .an awful, vivid, terrifying flash—then a roaring peal of thunder” fills the space (27). Further still, the storm and its cacophony of sound acts as a force of separation for Flora as she can only gasp or speak “in a hoarse faint whisper cry” while it continues to rage, thereby muffling her voice to the space outside her room (29). Through Rhymer’s juxtaposition of Flora’s quiet voice against the sounds of the storm, her room in the ancient mansion feels more like a Gothic space in which the reader exists as an omnipresent observer because not only is she trapped in a creepy area with a supernatural evil but it appears that no one will be able to save her before it is too late. Hence, even as the storm itself starts to dwindle, Rhymer’s sound-based isolation of Flora and the reader serves as a creator of Gothic space and mood enhancer, especially as the specific storm sounds themselves begin to distort and the familiar becomes foreign.

Further, by relying heavily on the storm sounds in the beginning of the scene to set the mood, Rhymer not only familiarizes his readers with a natural (or potentially unnatural) phenomenon that has become a staple of the Gothic genre, but additionally, he complicates this traditional Gothic element by transforming the associated storm sounds into monstrous analogs. As the storm itself subsides, Flora continues to hear what she thinks to be hail hitting her window; however, she soon realizes that it is the creature Varney outside with “finger-nails upon the glass that produces the sound” (28). The realization that this sound no longer comes from natural occurrences but a gaunt creature with long fingernails eliminates the focus on the literal storm and repositions Flora’s and the audience’s attention of the vampire, the symbolic storm that is coming to ravage Flora. Shortly after this revelation, the patterns of sound within the overall scene of Varney’s feeding start to follow a relationship similar to that of lightning and thunder, as each ominous sound punctuates a sinister or disturbing visual that comes shortly before it. Varney’s entrance and approach is emphasized by his “clash[ing] together the long nails that literally appear to hang from the finger ends” (29). Then, Varney’s stroking and grabbing Flora’s hair resounds with her screams as “Shriek followed shriek” (30). Next, Varney’s feeding on Flora and his retreat are met with Marchdale’s pistol fire which was “tremendous in that chamber” (30). Finally, Marchdale’s movement to check his marksmanship is met with Varney’s “wild terrible shrieking kind of laugh” (31). With each flash of an image or vignette that Rhymer creates, he leaves the audience to count the moments until the sound is issued in order to judge the distance of the monster, much like counting the seconds between the flash of lightning and sound of thunder is used to approximate how close a storm is to an individual. Through this transferal of sounds and the overall way in which the storm has been functioning onto the figure of Varney and the events that surround the attack, Rhymer intensifies the image of the storm and doubly isolates Flora within it and as the target of the vampire.

While the sounds of the literal and the symbolic storm are an important aspect of the opening scene, the moments of their absence is equally powerful as they cause the dramatic tension of Varney’s approach, feeding, and retreat to increase. Between the introduction of the visual and the following sound that reminds Flora and the readers that the monster is getting closer, a moment clearly exists in which they are left to rationalize what is going on within that moment. For example, the foreignness of Varney’s “perfectly white—perfectly bloodless” face, his “fearful-looking teeth—projecting like those of some wild animal,” and his other vampiric accoutrements are introduced for Flora and the reader’s mental consumption before the clicking of the clicking of his nails brings the focus back to him (29). During this brief window of time between the initial image and the terminal sound, Flora and the reader are forced to interpret what is going on via the inherent absence of sound. Yet in this brief span of silence, the knowledge of what is in the dark and the inability of knowing how close or far Varney is from her build the tension of the scene because Flora and the readers do not know where he is or if he will attack until the next auditory cue sounds. Moreover, it is this sort of tension that permeates the other storm-like, lightning-thunder moments throughout the rest of the scene. As Varney “seized the long tresses of her [Flora’s] hair, and twin[es] them round his bony hand,” the audience is left to wonder what will happen to Flora as she is dragged to the bed, and then, she screams alerting the house of her predicament (30). As Varney runs to the window after feeding on Flora, the audience does not know if Varney has killed her or if he will get away, but Marchdale’s gunshot brings them back to the action. Further still, as Marchdale approaches the creature that he thinks is dead or injured, the audience must question whether the vampire is dead or if Marchdale is going to be a victim himself as “The tall form turn[s] upon him” and emits a terrible laugh (32). Within this construct of vignette, silence, and sound, Rhymer strengthens the tension in each moment of the scene by creating this division of sound and its absence but, additionally, by placing the action in a cerebral space that the audience itself must configure and reconfigure to determine the significance of the sound cues and the entirety of the episode.

Throughout this short feeding scene, Rhymer illuminates the true nature of his descriptive power as he uses the perceived sounds and silence to heighten the Gothic space and mood as a whole. Furthermore, his attention to this auditory detail strengthens the overall monstrousness of Varney’s attack and helps define the vampire genre a little more clearly. From the introduction of the storm to the reconfiguration of its sounds into the rest of the scene, Rhymer creates a symphony of sorts that he conducts to great effect, emphasizing every moment within Flora’s room as a line of the score. Additionally, this multi-layering of sound informs a complexity not only within this text but the other vampire stories and movies that followed it, like Dracula (the novel and the multiple versions of the movie), Nosferatu, The Lost Boys, and many more. Thus, Rhymer’s experimentation with Gothic sounds in this novella that come to be considered vampiric results in a foundational text for the vampire genre and functions as a continuation of the Gothic, even as it carves out a distinctive niche of its own.

**I thank you for reading and hope that you enjoyed this stuff about vampires. It must be noted that plagiarism of this work is strictly prohibited. Additionally, the works cited page has been omitted to help avoid this temptation. I’m not saying that my ideas are super-fantastic, but I would like to receive appropriate credit for this. Also, a quick side note, if you found this your professor can too. Thanks all! :)

Posted on Twitter earlier today. I thought that I would share with my vampire fans out there.

While the musical genre may be viewed be some as a niche, the vampire musical is even more narrowly defined even still. Although they deal with many issues that the vampire represents (i.e. sexuality, cultural consciousness, etc.), these musicals also add another layer that movies and books cannot necessarily fulfill because music touches us in ways that printed words or visuals cannot. So my aim here is to introduce you all to a few musicals that have vampires in them and revolve around these creatures of the night.

The first one I want to introduce is Dracula the Musical music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. A take off on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (obviously), the story plays the love story angle up between Mina and Dracula to a degree but ends in much the same way as the novel. While an American version did head into production on Broadway, it was never as successful as its German counterpart. The song I’m giving you a taste of comes from the most recent German revival wherein they overhauled several songs and added six new ones. “Zu Ende” (roughly “It’s Over” in English) is when the confrontation between Dracula and the merry band of vampire hunters takes place. Performed by Uwe Kroger and Thomas Borchert, the song illustrates the battle over the soul of Mina and ultimately what Dracula’s conquering of her would be if he actually succeeded.

The second musical is based on Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers; Or Pardon Me but Your Teeth are in My Neck. If you’re familiar with the film, the musical follows pretty much the same trajectory. Alfred and the Professor are looking for vampires and find them when one absconds with Sarah a girl from a village Alfred and the Professor find themselves in. They go after her and hilarity / horror ensues. Tanz der Vampire (Dance of the Vampire) deals with all this in music and stays true to the source material, partially because Polanski directed the original German production. With the music of Jim Steinman (think 80s power ballads) and lyrics of Micheal Kunze, it’s an 80s-tastic romp through ballads of Bonnie Tyler, Meatloaf, and others. In the following song “Unstillbare Gier” (“Insatiable Greed” / “Insatiable Appetite”) Steve Barton as Graf Von Krolock has an existential crisis about being a vampire with an endless appetite and his ultimate decision to be what his is at any cost.

The final one is from a musical that has never been produced but has been born from the mind of Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. In his Dracula puppet musical, we have a confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing at the end and hilarity happens. If you haven’t watched the movie, you should… it’s hilarious, but warning, you will see penis if you watch the movie. Here is “Dracula’s Lament.”

Hopefully, you will enjoy these musicals / musical numbers about and starring vampires. I know that I enjoy them.