In conjunction with our contemporary media series, Olivia Metcalfe has studied vampirism as a virus in Dracula and American Horror Story: Hotel. Olivia graduated with a BA Honours in English Language and Literature and is now studying an MA in English Studies.
The Vampire is a monster which has existed in our culture for centuries. We are fascinated by its beauty, strength and, more importantly, insatiable thirst for human blood. These factors rarely change, however, it is evident that the image of the Vampire has evolved. In this article I will examine the evolution of the Vampire in popular culture, focussing upon Stoker’s archetypal figure of Dracula and American Horror Story’s Countess.
I will concentrate on gender and the contrast in the vampirism virus in both characters.
Gender is an important factor to consider in this comparison. It would be unlikely for a female of the late Victorian period to command the fear and control that Dracula exerts and therefore, it is relevant that Dracula is male in the novel to represent a true picture of Victorian society. Although there are female vampires present in the novel, they are submissive to Dracula and under his control. The three vampire brides are predatory, yet they are unable to hunt for their own prey relying on Dracula to provide victims.
American Horror Story chooses a female vampire figure to lead and this demonstrates that women can also be dominant and monstrous. The owner of the Hotel Cortez, Countess (Elisabeth), is a century old vampire who is reliant on a diet of blood and sex. The Countess chooses and disposes of her lovers frequently to fill the empty void caused by the loss of her true love, Rudolph Valentino. By exerting violence and control in a seemingly emotionless manner the Countess is a remarkable character. She commands her victims with her sexuality and charm, unlike Dracula who controls with supernatural power. The Countess confesses: ‘I was drawn to the darkness I felt within him. I ached to be consumed by it.’ (Episode 7, Flickers). We can all be attracted to the darkness within ourselves and have the capacity to do monstrous deeds. American Horror Story shows us that supernatural attributes are not necessary; this need may exist in everyone.
Vampirism can be seen as a blood virus. Both Dracula and The Countess embrace their monsters, however, it’s clear that their viruses differ as vampirism has now evolved to suit a new audience. Dracula uses blood to link him to his victims, spreading the disease in order to multiply his race. The infected blood is used as a portal for the disease of vampirism to spread, similar to that of an STI. Dracula is the prototypal foreign other. The spread of vampirism coursing through England is used by Stoker to show the social anxieties of the late Victorian period. On of the anxieties being the idea of the foreign migrant overtaking England, attempting to change the face and cultural values of the country.
American Horror Story reinvents the typical vampire, focussing on vampirism as a similar virus, yet with different symptoms and results. ‘I prefer the term “ancient blood virus,”’ co-creator Ryan Murphy tells EW. ‘It’s not vampires,’ he adds, ‘It’s really a form of hemophilia [SIC] in a way. There are no capes and fangs.’ By drinking the infected blood the virus is spread, however, the modern vampire moves among us using blades instead of the typical razor sharp fangs. This questions the supernatural aspect of the vampire. American Horror Story shows that monstrosity is not solely limited to the supernatural. Although these creatures possess qualities that differ from mortals such as perfect health, vitality, and everlasting life, the vampires are made more human and relatable to us than Dracula ever was. The Countess is the perfect example of this. Although she commits atrocities, she emulates motherhood and female tendencies by creating her own family unit. This questions whether the maternal instinct is embedded into every female being, even those who are monstrous. This is not limited to her barely human child Bartholomew, but to the children and the adults she turns. The Countess states ‘I saved him, like I save all my children’ (Episode 5, Room Service) she claims to have saved her chosen victims from a wasted life allowing them to use their full potential. The vampire children in the basement are treated as her own; she feeds them, provides them with shelter and even entertainment. There is a notable maternal aspect in the Countess which is not present in the character of Dracula. She possesses human aspects such as kindness and mercy, be it rare, it is there. This can be seen with her relationship with Liz Taylor, a trans-woman trapped in a double life filled with self-hatred and despair. The Countess saves Liz and transforms her into the woman she was born to be, allowing her to live and work in her hotel.
Our view of vampires has been shaped and changed. They are no longer archaic ancient beings with uncontrollable bloodlust, they are made more acceptable. It is evident that they are not human but by giving these characters human attributes we are allowed to sympathise and even admire.
Chapman, E. (2016) http://vamped.org/2015/11/15/virus-or-vampires-the-case-for-the-undead-in-american-horror-story-hotel/ [Online source] [Accessed 13.3.16]
‘Flickers’ (2015) American Horror Story: Hotel. Series 5, episode 7, FX, date of transmission
‘Room Service’ (2015) American Horror Story: Hotel. Series 5, episode 5, FX, 4 November.