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Posted on September 2, 2016

Dracula: Body Horror’s Beginnings


In her book, Horror (Routledge, 2009), Brigid Cherry defines “body horror” as “Films that explore abjection and disgust of the human body” (6). Body horror involves a graphic breaching of corporeal borders—the body splitting open, its substances bursting, oozing, out. So, because of the inherent limitations of film techniques (notably special effects) in the 1930s, as well as restrictions imposed by the Motion Picture Production Code, classic horror films are generally not considered part of the “body horror” sub-genre: bodies typically remain intact (and fully clothed). A crucial scene from Tod Browning’s Dracula, however, shows that, even in 1931, at the birth of the sound horror film, body horror was part of the fascination (of the repulsion and attraction) of the film.

The scene occurs after Dracula (Bela Lugosi) has first come to Mina (Helen Chandler) at night. She is sitting on the couch the next day and Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is questioning her about the “little marks” that are on her neck. We do not see them, but the other characters in the film are riveted by them: Van Helsing peers for a while at her neck, loosening her scarf to do so, and the camera cuts to Mina’s fiancée, Jonathan Harker (David Manners), and her father, Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston), both of whom are staring at her neck. Read more

Posted on January 22, 2016

Short Cuts: Ex Machina and Dracula?


Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015) has obvious gothic roots. The eccentric Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), who creates artificially intelligent female “robots” in his isolated compound is a clear descendent of both Frankenstein and Doctor Moreau. A less obvious forebear for the film, though, is Dracula (both Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel and Tod Browning’s 1931 film).

The frame above is centered on programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), who has been whisked by helicopter to Nathan’s compound after supposedly winning a competition. In actuality, he’s there to perform the Turing test on Nathan’s latest creation.

The opening of the film is replete with references to Dracula. As the helicopter pilot drops Caleb seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Caleb protests, “You’re leaving me here?” The pilot replies, “This is as close as I’m allowed to get to the building”—which evokes Renfield’s unceremonious abandonment at the Borgo Pass in Browning’s film, as the driver refuses to get any closer to Count Dracula’s castle.

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