Hundreds of types of monsters exist with plenty of variations for each one. Each monster has a palimpsest composed of its history and the contributions from cultures in the previous years. Typically, pale skin, bloodthirst, razor-sharp fangs, and a suit and tie with a high collar are the main components that make up a vampire. Vampires have been presented in a variety of ways in media. The first appearance of a vampire in media was in the influential film Nosferatu, which inflicted fear and implied a specific point of view on vampires. We then progress to a different portrayal of vampires in movies like Queen of the Damned and Hotel Transylvania. Analyzing the context of these three movies and how vampires are portrayed in each one will help rule out an evaluation of whether or not they should be branded as monsters. Nosferatu portrays vampires in a horrific and unforgettable fashion, while Queen of the Damned plays on emotions and sexual desires to steer away from the reality of a monster, and Hotel Transylvania reinvents the entire concept of a vampire through love and unity.
To begin, one must know the history of vampires. Derived from the famous novel of 1897, “Dracula”, written by Bram Stoker, Nosferatu is a silent film from 1922 that embodies the essence of the creepy creature known as the vampire. At this time in history, German expressionism was the major influence on filmmakers. Expressionism can be defined as the depiction of reality that is widely distorted for emotional effect. Nosferatu is a pristine example of that approach in action. Although the film is mostly deteriorated, it still succeeds in capturing vampire Count Orlok’s ministry. According to Robert Ebert, this film is the original story of Dracula before it was “buried alive in clichés, jokes, tv shows, cartoons, and over 30 more films”. Some of these include but are not limited to movies like Twilight and tv shows like The Vampire Diaries.
Ultimately, Nosferatu relies on distorted style, bizarre sets and locations, heavy makeup and emotion, and unrealistic visuals to convey an inner turmoil and inflict fear on both the audience and people in the movie. The actor, Max Schreck, who played Count Orlok, and the director F. W. Murnau team up to successfully create a world tainted with terror. With Orlok’s distorted hands, rat like face, sharpened teeth, and cadaverous eyes, Nosferatu embodies horror and monstrosity. His disturbing qualities cause him to be unsuitable for any categorization. In reference to the third thesis of Jeffery Cohen’s seven monster theses, he explains that a monster cannot fit into any specific category. “He is the harbinger for category crisis” (6), walking around wreaking havoc throughout the entire film. Cohen continues to write “They are disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic structuration. And so, the monster is dangerous, a form suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions.” An example of this is when Orlok is photographed at very low angles. According to Aristides Gazetas, this is in order to portray him as a “gigantic and sinister figure on the screen” (48). His odd appearance dominates each scene and he is followed by dark shadows and eerie vibes everywhere he goes. there is a somewhat alluring and fascinating aura about nosferatu, because he is so different that we can’t help but become curios and fix our attention on him throughout the whole film. This aspect of the film aligns with Cohen’s seventh thesis which says that “fear of the monster is really a kind of desire”. The movie ends with the defeat of Count Orlok, caused by the stinging rays of the sun which arose while he was attacking his prey. “no monster tastes of death but once” (5). This quote serves to emphasis the notorious one-time defeat that every monster in any movie. Occasionally, monsters will return after defeat.
Later in 2002, the movie Queen of the Damned gives the classic vampire story a twist by giving the alleged monsters a sense of identity and human characteristics like sexual desire and empathy. One of the main characters and narrators of the movie is a lost and lonely, yet alluring vampire named Lestat. He is created by another vampire names marius, who reinforces the rules and serve as a parental figure for lestat. Lestat rebels against marius and his rules and breaks out into a legendary rock legend, admired by many. In relation to this Cohen writes, “The monster also attracts…. The linking of the monstrosity with the forbidden makes the monster all the more appealing” (16-17). In this sense, lestat can be considered a monster because of his captivating spirit. He has die-hard fans who admire him and people who are after him. Curiosity overtakes the people as they scavenge for answers and search for ways to get closer to him.
Despite his blood sucking addiction, Lestat shows remorse and mercy for his victims and craves human interaction. This leads him into trouble when he is introduced to Akasha, queen of the damned. She has a somewhat odd beauty about her, which attracts Lestat and overpowers him. In this sense, the tables are turned because Lestat, the alleged monster, is given human traits; sexual desire and emotion. The vampires are not portrayed as complete antagonistic monsters but instead as attractive, human, and simulants of the sexual and emotional side of the audience rather than fearful side. Unlike nosferatu, their every action is infected with human characteristics.
Another interesting aspect of this movie which alters the image of the vampire is the culture. The whole movie is based in a punk rock atmosphere, switching from concerts to bars. The vampire community dresses provocatively, covered in tattoos and bizarre clothing and makeup. Cohen writes that “the monstrous body is pure culture” (5). Lestat is known for being rebellious and breaking rules, just like in the stereotypical rock culture that this movie illustrates.
The comedy movie Hotel Transylvania of 2012 is the upheaval which reinvented the outlook on monsters by completely destroying vampire stereotypes. The movie plot is based on a vampire, who is named Dracula. He has special powers such as super speed, memory eraser, and the ability to levitate objects. He is a widower due to the murder of his wife by humans, and was left with his dear daughter mavis, who he vows to love and protect forever. Dracula is isolated from the human world in his hotel, due to his hatred and fear of “the evil villains” who stole his lover. His heartbreak leads him to build “Hotel Transylvania” which serves the sole purpose of a getaway for monsters from humans. He claims the hotel is a place for “persecution of humankind, a place to be yourself, peace relaxation and tranquility”. Although he still plays the role of the great Dracula, he reinvents what it means the be a vampire, crushing all stereotypes in the process. He’s welcoming, and has good intentions and the sole desire to fulfill his promise to his wife to keep his daughter safe. Just like any father, he fears for his daughter who at the supposedly young age of 118, yearns to see the world. Ironically enough, an “evil human” stumbles at his hotel door. At first, he experiences anger and fear and feels violated, but soon grows a liking to this kid named Jonathan. Fascinated by what he has stumbled upon, Johnny showers him with questions like “Are you going to suck my blood?” and “is the garlic and wooden stake thing true?”. This relates to the stereotype that garlic will keep vampires away and a wooden stake to the heart will kill them. Irritated, Dracula replies “I used a blood substitute, I can’t have garlic because it makes my throat swell and who wouldn’t get killed by a wooden stake to the heart?” With one sentence, Dracula crushes the evil vampire monster stereotypes in this heartfelt comedy based on love, family, and unity.
Despite his growing love for Jonathan, Dracula is unwilling to put his pride aside in fear of hurting his daughter. Once the hotel customers realize he is a human, chaos breaks out. All of the monsters become fearful of harmless little Jonathan. Dracula and the movie hotel Transylvania put a twist on things by portraying humans as “the real monsters” and “evil villains”. On the other hand, they personify the monsters. These monsters include werewolves, zombies, Frankenstein, mummies, witches and many more. Each monster is given their own personality and are made hard to hate. Instead of a basic horror movie with blood and scary creatures, Hotel Transylvania tells the story of the divinity between two worlds, which in the end overcome their differences, diminish stereotypes, and unite as one to create an atmosphere of love.
In conclusion, one can see that labeling someone or something as a monster is not a simple task. In order to brands a monster, one must evaluate it in its entirety. One must look at its context, character, and actions. Sources like Jeffery Cohen’s seven theses of monsters can serve as a guideline and help with deduction and reaching a conclusion. In Nosferatu, no question lingers as there is crucial evidence leading to the assumption that he is a monster. Not only is he a monster, but the epitome of fear and the original definition of a vampire as well. In Queen of the Damned, the vampires do pertain monster like qualities but also human qualities, which leaves it difficult to rule out. The vampires in this movie can be considered monsters due to their heinous actions or as just a variation of mankind. In Hotel Transylvania, the whole society of monsters is given personality and life. The movie serves to turn tables and diminish stereotypes. In the end, we can conclude that none of the characters in this movie are monsters, due to the fact that they are just like us.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, editor. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. NED – New edition ed., University of Minnesota Press, 1996. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsq4d.
This is a journal on monster theory. The author talks about what makes a monster a monster. I will use this as one of the base scholarly sources as backup and basis of my essay. I will use quotes from this source. I will also use this to help me come to a conclusion in my essay. This source is credible because it is a scholarly source from jstor that was presented to us in class.
Gazetas, Aristides. An Introduction to World Cinema. McFarland, 2008.
This is a book on world cinemas. It talks about numerous films of history, their contributions, and how they came to be. I will use the section written on nosferatu in my essay. I will use this because that movie is one of the main movies I wrote about. This source is credible because the author is profession in his field and has written many books on this. This is also the textbook used for my cinema class at Chaffey.
Primary media sources :
Queen of the Damned (2002)
Hotel Transylvania (2012)