The best horror isn’t low-brow schlock; the most effective horror plays on the subconscious anxieties of its audience. Most people need some degree of delusion to get to sleep at night; denial of death, denial of change, the affirmation of safety, the affirmation of identity. Without willful ignorance a person would be overwhelmed by life.
Horror pierces that nerve within the controlled environment of fiction; where the stakes are imaginary but the emotional ride can feel real.
If a child’s greatest fear is parential adbandomnent, and a woman’s greatest fear is sexual violation by an undesirable, a man’s greatest fear is his disposability; a man is only worth as much as the value he is able to contribute- if this value dissipates, the man is rendered worthless.
The unconfident beta-male lives in a constant state of fear that he will be rendered worthless to his woman; apt for disposal and replacement. The beta-male fears the confident, experienced Alpha male. He fears a future where the attractive Alpha may take fleeting interest in his woman, and he fears a past where his woman has experienced what it’s like to be with a real man– she knows the difference and secretly snickers at the beta-male’s pathetic little cock.
Todd Browning’s Dracula thematically served as a cautionary tale for its 1931 audience: keep your women away from the Vampiric Alpha male- he will charm them, use them, and dispose of them. His sexual experience is vast and his powers are great; he is always one step ahead of the naive beta-male and he will outwit the beta-male at every turn.
The Vampiric Alpha threatens the stability of monogamy and the larger cultural framework. The Vampiric Alpha has the ability to ruin a woman, creating in her an addiction to his charm and sexual prowess, before inevitably casting her aside to commence roaming the night in search of his next bit of flesh.
The aristocratic vampire, Count Dracula, is a textbook Alpha male; he carries himself with ease, speaks slowly and eloquently, is deeply present, and creates a balanced sense of both power and warmth in his social interactions.
The plot of Dracula revolves around The Count relocating from his castle in Transylvania to an abbey in England for reasons that are never quite clear; perhaps the quest for new female flesh? In England, Count Dracula is culturally foreign rendering him an invading other; his Hungarian accent and speech pattern contrast sharply with the Englishmen who seem plebeian by comparison.
Dracula finds his way to the London theatre where we encounter our cast of main characters. Mina sits with her beta-male fiance, Jonathan Harkin, her father, and her unescorted female friend, Lucy Weston; the prototypical single girl. Immediately Dracula finds a way to discard the father- remember, it was the father’s duty to protect the virtue of his unmarried daughter.
When Harker suggests The Count’s new abbey will “need extensive repairing,” Dracula maintains a solid frame and asserts his dominance: “I shall do no repairs.”
And that’s the last we hear from Harker in this scene. He recognizes that he is out of his depth; that he is the beta-male to the Vampiric Alpha.
With Harker discarded, The Count is free to charm the women.
Later that night we see Mina and Lucy chatting about their meeting the mysterious Count Dracula in Lucy’s bedroom. Both women admit to having an attraction to The Count, but our prototypical single girl Lucy is especially attracted to him.
While Mina can admit Dracula is “romantic,” she tells Lucy that she would rather prefer someone “more normal,” to which our adventurous single girl sarcastically sneers: “like Jon??”
Innocent Mina doesn’t pick up on the obvious sarcasm and she agrees with Lucy- yes, like Jonathan. Normal, like Jonathan; stable, like Jonathan; beta, like Jonathan.
And, with that, an important distinction has been drawn between the two women. Mina is the innocent virginal girl. She doesn’t know Jonathan is a boring beta-male because she can’t see that Jonathan is a boring beta-male; she doesn’t have the experience to know better. Mina’s sexuality has been successfully contained, an idea that Feminists froth at the mouth over like rabid dogs.
Lucy is the experienced single girl; she understands that Jonathan is boring and unattractive. Lucy’s sexuality has been tampered with and spoiled by promiscuity; she isn’t taken by the Vampiric Alpha as much as she surrenders herself to him, and Count Dracula makes short work of her.
The moral to Lucy’s story arc is clear: don’t be a promiscuous woman; contain your sexuality. A single girl doesn’t have a man to protect her, nor does she have his resources at her disposal. Don’t sneer and laugh at a woman making a wise decision to partner with a stable man; the Vampiric Alpha will only use you and leave you.
We later learn Lucy had become a vampire- the walking undead- and was seen at the park attacking children; in the landscape of Dracula, a promiscuous woman is not fit for motherhood.
With Lucy taken and used by The Count, he sets his sights on the Virginal Mina. Dracula seduces Mina off-screen… perhaps because showing a scene where the Vampiric Alpha takes a virgin was too much for a 1931 audience, or perhaps the imagination would prove more horrific and titillating than anything Browning could have shown.
Mina first lies about the incident with Dracula; it was a dream, it didn’t really happen, and Mina carefully hides her once-virginal neck bearing the bite-marks of male intrusion.
The truth is later revealed to Jonathan after a tremendous display of feminine dramatics.
Does this sound familiar? A beta-male eventually sussing out the truth from his lying, promiscuous girlfriend who made a mistake with a sexy Alpha male?
Some things never change.
In her essay on Dracula, intellectual alchemist Brooke Allen notes:
“If… Dracula owes its success to its reflection of specific anxieties within the culture, why then has its power continued unabated throughout more than a century of unprecedented social change? Late-Victorian anxieties and concerns were rather different than our own…”
Were they, Brooke?
Girls are adorable.
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