University lecturer by day, vampire slayer – or expert – by night, Dale Hudson is a professor of Film and New Media at NYUAD, who recently published a book looking at the evolution of the fanged monsters in film, Vampires, Race and Transnational Hollywoods.
We sit down with him to talk about his favourite movies, the monsters among us and representing the supernatural on screen
The representation of vampires in Hollywood movies is quite a niche area. What drew you to this topic?
What’s interesting is that the vampire emerged initially in folklore in Eastern Europe, and then it actually became a media figure in Western European poetry and literature.
From the 18th century, it started to appear in plays. In the 1930s, the first Hollywood film was made and it was an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As decades progressed, there would be a new topic that would attach itself to the vampires – so during the civil rights movement in the US, the vampires were African American, and during the war on drugs, the vampires became Mexican.
I became very intrigued by the different ways the figure had been produced in media, and the different ways that people were making meaning for themselves.
From Dracula to Interview with the Vampire, what makes these fanged creatures the perfect medium to discuss sociopolitical issues?
I think it’s fascinating that there’s this figure that is supernatural; it doesn’t exist in real life and you can do whatever you want with it.
It looks human, but it’s not, and it gives that ability to comment on issues, like how particular groups of humans may not be being treated as humans.
Serious issues can be introduced to a wide audience. It makes us think about where the real violence is. Sometimes the human society [in the films] ends up being so much more violent than the vampire, like in Let the Right One In. It makes us rethink our definition of what it is to be human – maybe we’re more monster-like than we give ourselves credit for.
With the recent vampire renaissance, we’re seeing more teen vampires than ever on our screens. What kind of message are films like Twilight trying to put across?
The [teen] movies look at minute differences within a particular adolescent society – it’s focusing on how the vampire can be empowering to young people, who feel awkward and have not been fully recognised. The figure of the vampire has actually been popular in children’s media for a long time – that dates back to 1972 when Sesame Street introduced Count von Count. They’re friendly vampires; they’re harmless and don’t kill people.
Finally, the hardest – and most important – question: what kind of films does a respectable vampire expert such as yourself like?
One of the ones I’ve been intrigued by recently is A Girl Walks Home at Night. It’s by an Iranian-American director [Ana Lily Amirpour]; she made this film all in Farsi and in black and white, but it’s shot in California.
The vampire in the film is a woman; she wears a chador instead of a cape, and she protects women from men that are attacking them.
That’s a really powerful reappropriation of a figure that’s not really feminist, and it bridges that complex history between the US and Iran.
Another one I love is one known as Andy Warhol’s Dracula [Blood for Dracula]. It’s extremely campy; nothing is meant to be taken seriously. It’s a parody of vampire film conventions, but it’s also a satire of society.
To find Dale’s book, visit: vampires-race-transnational-hollywoods.com
WORDS Camille Hogg