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.

Classic Horror: Lucio Fulci’s Zombie

Movie poster for Lucio Fulci's Zombie

Sometimes I like to try to catch up on some of the classics that I’ve missed over the years. So, recently, I sat down and watched Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. Fulci is known for working in both the giallo and horror genres, and Zombie was his major foray into the latter. Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. I love movies from this time period, anyway, and there were plenty of cool things about this one.

The basic plot of the movie is that an abandoned boat shows up just off the shore of New York City. The daughter of the boat owner and a reporter team up to figure out what happened to her father, and the journey takes them to an obscure island, where – unbeknownst to pretty much anyone else – a reclusive doctor has been working to find a cure for a “disease” that’s running rampant and turning the island’s occupants into zombies.

NOTE: Spoilers are pretty the content of the rest of the post. So, if you don’t want to specifically know how the zombies destroy humans in the film, you may want to stop here.

One of the best things about this movie is that there is a zombie pretty much right off the bat. The deserted boat isn’t really quite deserted and the zombie that’s hanging out there is really, just very gross. This is a rotted and bloating zombie, not the super skinny Twiggy style zombies that we see today. From that point on, things just keep going:

    • The medical examiner in New York who is going to autopsy the body of the recently killed policeman (dead due to run-in with said zombie on boat) has a scalpel that is so dull he can’t even make a cut. This delay has unfortunate consequences.
    • The movie cuts back and forth between our two heroes and the crazy island doctor, who is hanging out on an island where there appears to be no way to leave – there are a bunch of sunken boats right off the harbor. Also, his wife is very not cool with the whole situation and loves to hang around the bungalow all day wearing hip 70s clothes, drugging herself with some kind of hip 70s pills, and just standing around in the shower or crying a lot.
    • When our heroes start asking about the island on the mainland, everyone gets real weird about it. No real cause for concern there, though, right? The only people they can find to take them to the island are a bohemian couple who are sailing around on vacation. The couple proceeds to take them onto their boat where everyone hangs out and the bohemian chick scuba dives topless. Some of you might think this is the best part of this section of the film – but you would be wrong! Because, there is a shark encounter – which, understandably freaks the bohemian chick out. But not as much as the subsequent bottom of the sea zombie encounter! Needless to say, there is zombie on shark violence, just distracting enough to allow the bohemian chick to escape. I cannot express HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS HORRIBLE SCENE. (By the way – zombies do not have good teeth and should really not think that they can bite through shark skin.)

Zombie vs. shark

    • Meanwhile back at the island, the doctor has left his drugged wife alone and, yes, the zombies have finally made their way to the bungalow. The wife manages to partially escape into a room, but can’t quite get the door shut all the way, because zombies are strong. There is an excellent scene here where the light on an opposite wall shows the door being slowly forced further and further open. She does finally get the door shut, but makes the mistake of hanging out by it long enough for the zombie to break through, grab her hair, and slowly – oh, so slowly – pull her forward until her eye is impaled on a piece of wood.

Doctor's wife being impaled through the eye with a sliver of wood

    • Our heroes and their bohemian sidekicks finally make it to the island, meet the doctor, and end up going to the doctor’s bungalow while he stays at the hospital to help a new victim. When they open the door to the bungalow – surprise zombie feast(!!) At this point they realize that there may be a serious problem on the island.
    • Of course, they panic, and bad driving = having to walk around where there are lots of zombies, while carrying all their luggage, for some reason. During a rest break, an impromptu makeout session is interrupted in the worst way possible. After more surprise zombies(!!) show up, a throat is torn out with glorious rivers of blood – and then there are only three left in the group. Another great scene here is the slow motion uprising of zombies from their graves, which were cleverly hidden beneath the grass and underbrush. All in all, the outcome here is that this is one irreparably ruined vacation for the bohemian couple.
    • There is a final stand off at the clinic where the survivors hole up and utilize molotov cocktails to great success – all while being inside a distinctly flammable building. Throughout the fight, it is obviously clear that the rules for killing zombies are just not understood. The occasional zombie death due to a head shot does not seem to sink in and there is a huge waste of bullets on zombie limbs. Additionally, it becomes painfully clear that during a zombie fight in a clinic where there may be recently deceased from a zombie creating disease it might be prudent to carefully monitor your proximity to said deceased individuals. And, as always, long hair around zombies is a definite handicap – and this is the 70s.

The ending of the film is gratifyingly dire, and it nicely ties into the first few scenes from the movie. As usual, things do not go well for the humans in these situations.

Fulci’s movie is fun and a great continuation of the zombie genre. If you love zombies and are interested in seeing an entry in a seminal chapter of the cinematic progression of these particular monsters and their associated tropes, I would definitely suggest giving it a watch!