Dracul: The Terrifying Origins of a Horror Classic

DraculEven casual horror readers will likely be familiar with the fact that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a foundational classic in the genre. Over the years, the vampire trope has spawned a multitude of variants from the more civilized ones in Anne Rice’s and Stephanie Meyers’s sprawling series, to the more brutish type found in the works of those by Brian Lumley, and Guillermo DelToro and Chuck Hogan.

In 2018, the great-grandnewphew of Bram Stoker co-wrote with J.D. Barker, Dracul, a prequel to the classic that claimed to draw on “scholarly research of the original, unedited version of Stoker’s 1897 tale of the undead count, as well as Stoker family legends.” The origin legend of the classic contends that the first 102 pages of the original manuscript for Dracula submitted by Stoker were cut, and that in those pages information was included to prove that the story was, in fact, not fiction. The publisher determined those pages too terrifying to include within the work – a thrilling concept and one that would seem destined to intrigue many modern day readers. Additional interesting information can be found regarding the historical aspect here.

The book crafted by Stoker and Barker is intriguing and immediately captured my attention due to the threat of impending kinder-trauma. We are introduced to a young Bram Stoker still living at home with his parents and siblings, and learn that Bram suffers from an unnamed disease that causes him to be extremely weak and in ill health, and which has kept him confined to his room for the majority of his short life. The family has hired a nanny, Ellen Crone, to help take care of the brood of children, and it is this mysterious nanny who is the focus of the book. Ellen has managed to revive Bram several times when he became so sick that it was feared he would die, but her methods are mysterious and extremely secretive, and seem to require her to disappear for several days afterwards. After saving him from one particularly disastrous episode of illness, Bram emerges a changed child. Suddenly he has energy and appetite, and he is able to easily leave his room and participate in lengthy and somewhat arduous investigative excursions with his sister as they delve ever more deeply into the secretive life of Ellen. It is a mystery that is destined to occupy them for many years of their lives, and one that eventually brings the siblings back together as young adults for a final confrontation with Ellen Crone and the dark secrets of her past.

I found many themes within the book that are common to those found in Dracula, and it seems to work well in establishing the behaviors and events that we find in the later classic as existing in part of a larger pattern that has been followed for centuries by the creator vampire. There were many interesting touches that I particularly enjoyed, such as the elusive nature of Ellen Crone’s looks – Bram’s sister finds it impossible to capture her likeness in a drawing, which seemed an interesting play on the idea of vampires not being visible in mirrors. The character development is engaging, descriptions of the settings and scenes are lush and detailed, and I often felt transported back in time as a witness to the frightening situations. 

This book is a great pick for any readers who enjoy period horror and the specific type of vampire created in the classic work. It also looks like it has been optioned for movie rights, so we may see an interpretation of it on the big screen some day.

Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale with Bite

Movie poster for BeastI recently caught up with the movie, Beast, which has been out for a few years and on my list for awhile. Now that I’ve watched it, I can’t stop thinking about it! This movie has a fairly straight-forward plot: girl meets boy; girl’s family is not so great and boy is refreshingly irreverent; girl and boy fall in love. However, in this case, the boy in question is also under suspicion of four rapes and murders that have taken place over the last few years. Is he being unfairly suspected due to his outsider status, or has he actually committed these heinous crimes? The journey to the answers for the girl and viewer is filled with underlying context that makes this movie a rich and satisfying viewing. (WARNING: Spoilers start here.)

The heroine, Moll (Jessie Buckley), is still living at home in a well-off family where there are some strict rules and ideas about behavior and attitude. Her birthday party is upstaged by her sister-in-law announcing a pregnancy, and so she decides to leave and ends up at a local bar where she drinks and dances most of the night away. She is somewhat naive and awkward, and the attentions of a drunken man at the bar spill over into the evening and early morning, when he somewhat predictably begins to attempt to assault her. At this point we meet Pascal (Johnny Flynn), who deftly interrupts the situation – with gun and blood-stained hands – and helps clean Moll up and get her home. We find out that Pascal is a very “country” type guy – he’s been hunting and has some rabbits in the back of his truck and he apparently doesn’t smell the best. Moll’s mother predictably takes a dislike to him immediately, which only serves to increase Moll’s fascination. As the two begin to grow closer and become lovers, another murdered girl is found and suspicion falls more squarely on Pascal. 

Moll’s past is somewhat unclear. At some point there was an incident at school and we eventually learn that she stabbed another girl who had been bullying her. Her continuing effort to deal with this event and part of herself is replayed in dreams in which a faceless intruder attempts to assault her and she has to defend herself. Moll and Pascal eventually end up living together as she attempts to break free from her family. This enhanced closeness allows for similarities and differences to emerge more clearly. In one scene, we see him teaching her to hunt. When a rabbit she shot does not die immediately, she is reluctant to pick it up by the back feet and finish it off as Pascal suggests, but then ends up doing so with the butt of the gun in a most deliberate and brutal fashion. The edge of violence about both of these characters is there throughout, and the viewer is often left questioning what the real story is for each of them. 

Image of Moll from the movie Beast

As the police begin to home in on Pascal as a suspect in earnest, the two lovers’ relationship has gotten to a place where Moll easily and quickly lies about when exactly she met Pascal on the night of her birthday. The murderer is eventually determined to be someone else, and Pascal and Moll seem set to move forward with their attempt at building a life together. But, something keeps niggling at both of them. Pascal asks Moll what she would have done if it was him that was the murderer, and Moll picks a drunken fight with him at the bar one evening that gives her a taste of the true violence that lies beneath Pascal’s exterior. Her decision made, Moll confronts Pascal and confesses that the incident from school – her stabbing a classmate with scissors – was actually done in revenge, rather than self-defense as she has continued to declare. She opens herself up and then challenges him to confess that he was the one who murdered all the girls; she tells him that they are the same. His confession seems to bring them closer, but on the ride home Moll grabs the wheel, wrecks the car, and then finishes Pascal off when the crash doesn’t quite kill him. The last we see of her is an image of an animalistic and vengeful girl, bloodstained and battered.

There are many beasts in this movie. The upper-class family that Moll comes from, along with their friends, behave in ways that we would definitely consider to be “beastly”. Pascal’s roughness alone – working with his hands, hunting, living a less than posh existence – would classify him as a “rough best” in the eyes of the upper class. His dispatching of the girls over the years – raping and murdering them, and then burying them in shallow graves – would most definitely (and most obviously) be considered the acts of a “beast”. However, I think what has encompassed my thoughts about this film the most has been the beast within Moll. She shows it in her survival instincts – whether it’s crying and saying the appropriate things to her disapproving mother in order to more quickly remove herself from the situation, or violently thrashing the golf course green with a club in defiance of being evicted from a party, or picking up a handful of crushed glass and squeezing it in her fist so that she can manage the feelings overwhelming her – there are many instances where we get hints of the beast underneath as we see her behaving in ways that flirt with the edges of socialization.

However, to me the most interesting aspect was that of her vengeful nature. We have a hint of this through the story of the scissor stabbing in school, and we see the scar left on the face of the girl in present day. The fact that Moll chose to stab her in the face is itself shocking – it’s very intimate and personal and hints at a deeper rage than may have been exhibited in just this one instance. Her final act then – crashing the car after Pascal’s confession – it’s one of rage and vengeance. She had given up everything for him, believed him and loved him, and then he betrayed her by being something horrendous. She told him that they were alike, but they actually were not – she was much, much more dangerous.

I really enjoyed Beast and I know that it’s going to stick with me for a long time. It’s beautifully shot and the casting is definitely on the mark. I intent to revisit it again and highly recommend it for those who enjoy this type of layered substance within a film.