Drawn to Drac

October 15, 2007 (JS Online / Jackie Loohauis-Bennett) -- Heavens (or wherever), Drac! It's been centuries since you died, and you still haven't gotten over yourself. But then again, why should you? The rest of us haven't. Because 110 years after the novel "Dracula" first brought chills to the spines of Victorian men and red to the cheeks of their repressed wives, Dracula still hangs at the top of the world's Monster A-List.

More than 600 films and TV shows worldwide have given him big billing ever since he stepped into the limelight (and, unfortunately for him, into the sunlight) in F.W. Murnau's 1922 "Nosferatu."

Elizabeth Miller, president of the Canadian Chapter, Transylvanian Society of Dracula, says: "If you compare novels inspired by Drac/vampires to those inspired by, say, the Frankenstein monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, etc., there is no contest. Drac wins fangs down."

At Erebus, the Guinness world record haunted house in Pontiac, Mich., whom do visitors most want to bid them "Good effen-ing?" Would that be Freddy Krueger? The Wolfman? Frankenstein? Nah.

"It's definitely the vampire," says Ed Terebus, owner of the monster manse.

Drac rules in Milwaukee, too.

At the Halloween Express store at Wisconsin State Fair Park, Cudahy vamp fan Dave Garcia checks out the new line of plastic vampire fangs and remembers fondly his favorite Halloween costume.

"I used to dress up like Dracula," he says. "I liked the whole outfit - the cape and the slicked-back hair. The girls liked it, and it was the scariest costume."

"Vampire movies are better now," says Ernesto Rivera, another Milwaukee vamp fan. "Films like the 'The Lost Boys' give newer generations a feel for vampires."

Milwaukee east sider Kate Dawe votes for Drac as her favorite monster, too.

"They've been able to make vampires more modernized. You can't do that with zombies."
Drac keeps up with the centuries

Scriptwriters also can't get vampires off their minds or out of their storylines. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spinoff, "Angel," warmed the hearts of TV fans. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt made "Interview With the Vampire" a hit. Wesley Snipes both hunted vampires and was one himself in "Blade."

Today, Alex O'Laughlin appears as handsome artery-throb Mick St. John, a good vampire detective gone noir in the CBS series "Moonlight." Running neck and neck, the Lifetime Channel airs its own show, "Blood Ties," about a 450-year-old, shadow-loving shamus.

HBO has just unearthed more vampire plans by picking up the series pilot "True Blood." And a new film, "30 Days of Night," has vampires making a remote Alaskan town their cruise destination. Ah, those long winter nights. . . .

Vampires even transfer their popularity to new media.

A recent survey on the social polling site BuzzDash.com showed 74% of the online voters prefer vampires to werewolves.

At Facebook.com, a vampire application lets you "bite" up to 10 buddies to turn them into creatures of the night. But remember: Friends don't let friends drink - wine.

This may all be humor in a jugular vein, but it shows how much is staked on our continuing love of Dracula. And that's strange because the Count's attraction is as ephemeral as mist flowing under a locked bedroom door. After all, werewolves have haunted world culture at least as long as vampires. The Frankenstein Monster often revealed his sensitive side, a real chick-magnet attribute.

And vampires didn't start out runway-model handsome and sporting seductive Euro-trash accents. They began life as corpses that refused to decompose, says archaeologist and History Channel host Kristin Romey.

"These ideas go back thousand and thousands of years. The real story is that vampires have nothing to do with Count Dracula and more to do with the dead body retaining life force.

"A lot of vampire issues go back to the fact no one understood how a corpse decomposed, and they believed that someone who hadn't decomposed in five or 10 years, they were vampires. Vampires were nasty and gross and sucked blood from victims' ears."

So, as Bob Madison, author of "Dracula: The First Hundred Years," asks: "What is the hold this long undead Transylvanian nobleman has over us, and why do we willingly submit to the cold caress and chilly attentions of the Prince of Darkness?"

Here are the real reasons why we still let Dracula sink his teeth into us:

Love Bite No. 5: His revamped image

Part of the Count's continuing popularity comes from his ability to reinvent himself. Dracula did this courtesy of his "press agent" Stoker, who took a legendary 15th-century Transylvanian despot and turned him into a contemporary aristocrat moving in modern society.

The novel "Dracula" is almost universally known as, well, a groundbreaker. Mentalist and admitted "vampire connoisseur" The Amazing Kreskin says: "Bram Stoker's book is a masterpiece because he took all the characteristics of the vampire and put them into one. The vampire had great wisdom, unlike Frankenstein, where the monster had the wrong brain put in him. The vampire has a greater depth, is handsome, able to infect others."

Love Bite No. 4: Vampires are willing to relocate

They crop up even in Wisconsin, where 19th-century newspaper accounts worried about an Oshkosh woman who slept in her coffin. And there were others.

"The 'Vampire of Mineral Point' was able to leap tall fences in a single bound," says Wisconsin weirdness writer Linda S. Godfrey ("Strange Wisconsin").

Love Bite No.3: Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-toothed man

Vampire love is a forbidden love, which, of course, makes it even tastier. For decades, Drac's been pop culture's top heartbreaker. Just ask the actress who has made a career out of being a man-eater herself, TV's "Elvira," Cassandra Peterson.

Famous for a costume cut deeper than Dracula's vaults, she currently hosts a new digital cable Fox reality show, "The Search for the Next Elvira," and she knows what's on our minds when it comes to Dracula.

"Vampires equal illicit sex, forbidden sexuality. They are so sensual, so dark with that kind of erotic no-no taboo," she says.

Milwaukee novelist Elaine Bergstrom has written several cult-favorite vampire books ("Shattered Glass," "Mina"), and she also recognizes the Count's sex appeal:

"Even if Stoker didn't know it, he was writing good S&M fantasy. 'Dracula' said a good Victorian woman confronted with a powerful, sexy male had no choice, so sleeping with the vamp wasn't bad. You repress people, and this is what you get."

Other Milwaukee vamp fans agree.

"I think it's almost mythological. The stories have been around so long, and the vampires are so hot," says Marquette University student Alise Houserman.

Love Bite No. 2: We'd like to stick around, too

Who is not bedazzled by the lure of immortality? "When the vampire myth was born in the ancient world, people viewed death not as an end but merely a state of transition.

"The notions of a continuance of a recognizably normal life in a corporeal form beyond death all coalesce in the figure of the vampire," says Bob Curran, author of "The Encyclopedia of the Undead."

Love at First Bite: We're a bunch of wannabes

Ultimately we love Dracula because, unlike the Count, we like to look into mirrors. Who wouldn't love to be immeasurably strong, irresistibly sexy and undying to boot?

As Angelina Jolie has been quoted as saying: "When other little girls wanted to be ballet dancers, I kind of wanted to be a vampire."

"Dracula is us, and we are Dracula," Madison says. "I believe that the image of Dracula is forever shifting, reflecting not himself but our own fears and secret longings. It's our own faces we see when we gaze upon the visage of Count Dracula."

Sources: ''The Annotated Dracula'' by Leonard Wolf; Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), Dracula's Home Page (www.ucs.mun.ca/~emiller); Celebrity Quotes.com (www.celebsquotes.com/a/angelina-jolie/).

Fanged Films

Germany, 1930

UK, 1974
Dan Curtis' Dracula / Bram Stoker's Dracula

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?