JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Images from Strigoi:

Opening DVD image of a new take on the Romanian Dracula myth.

First comic image reveals a stark landscape and the body of Florin.

The mob finds new means to kill the Tirescus.

The villagers literally jump for joy in the Tirescu mansion.

Suspicious about Florinís death, Vlad questions the village priest.

Vlad continues his investigation with Octav (Vlad Jipa), the village sheriff.

The strigoi Constantin confronts the corrupt priest (Dan Popa).

Vlad discovers Florinís original land grant.

Villagers dance in celebration of Vladís reintegration into the community.

Vlad prepares to protect the village from the Tirescu strigoi.

Discovering the Tirescu gravesite, Vlad begins the final destruction of strigoi mort.

 

Strigoi and the blood of war

Like The Pack, Strigoi also connects vampirism and its desire for blood with humanity’s mistreatment of the natural world, but this time war and its violent repercussions initiate a monstrous response. In Strigoi, young medical school dropout, Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv), returns to Romania from Italy, and after discovering Florin the town drunk’s mysterious death, he investigates secret post-Communism land deals, forgery and corruption—a conspiracy of silence that has led to the presence of Strigoi. According to The Vampire Book, the Strigoi of the film is closely related to the Romanian word striga (a witch), which in turn was derived from the Latin strix, the word for screech owl that was extended to refer to “a demon that attacked children at night” (586) and drank their blood. In Strigoi, vampirism has its origin in blood. But it is the blood of war over land rather than romantic or sexual desire that transforms some citizens into strigoi mort.

Although Dracula typically survives only in his native soil, Strigoi amplifies this connection between the earth and humanity, demonstrating powerfully the ecological roots of home. With a comic tone that comes close to satire, Strigoi draws parallels between literal vampirism and struggles for land, struggles that comment on the greed of dictators such as Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu who destroy both human and nonhuman nature. As Andrew Dowler of Now Magazine suggests,

“This is a serious and seriously black comedy about land, heritage in the blood and the rape of the country and people from the Nazis onward.”

Strigoi both sets its comic tone and establishes its critique of such greed from its opening title card humorously declaring the film’s setting: “Podoleoi Village, Romania—last Wednesday.” As punishment for crimes against the village, local leaders murder the owners of a large estate, Constantin Tirescu (Constantin Barbelesku) and his wife Ileana (Roxana Gutman), thinly disguised representatives of the Ceausescu family. An unofficial trial led by the village leaders, including their priest Tudor (Dan Popa) and mayor Stefan (Zane Jarcu), sentences the Tirecu’s to death for the murder of Florin for his land, but an executioner’s misfiring gun shifts this violence to comedy.

Estate owners Constantin Tirescu (Constantin Barbelesku) and his wife Ileana (Roxana Gutman), thinly disguised representatives of the Ceausescu family, are arrested and sentenced to death. One of the executioners fumbles comically with his defective shotgun.

Constantin exclaims, “You’re acting like animals… like peasants. I can still buy you though. You’ve never had trouble taking my money,” amplifying the joke. The scene also initiates the connection between the earth, their disrupted home, and vampirism when the blood of a violent death meets the village soil. Blood remains after the Tirescus are buried, as if it has drained into the soil, ultimately transforming them into the strigoi of the film’s title.

The Tirescus’ change into a strigoi mort, or dead vampire, further connects to an earth flowing with blood because the scene also parallels the end of the 1989 Romanian Revolution, a conflict between rich and poor that culminated with the overthrow and execution of long-term dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Ileana. As director Faye Jackson explains,

“The initial concept of the film was inspired by the Romanian revolution of 1989 and the [overthrow and execution of Nicolae Ceausescu]. The idea in Strigoi was that this village would kill their leader because he was corrupt, but by doing so, they become complicit in his corruption” (quoted in Savlov).

The greed associated with this era connects explicitly with the strigoi of the film, vampires driven by an insatiable hunger. As if to illustrate this transfer of greed, the villagers celebrate the symbolic overthrow of power in the Tirescu manor house. Instead of the violent deaths forced on Florin and, in retaliation, on the Tirescus, these villagers hope for an end for themselves that ensures their rise “to the spirit of the sky,” echoing the song accompanying their plundering of the Tirescus’ consumer goods, an end that will leave the earth unbruised and their homes reclaimed. The looting of the Tirescu manor also corresponds with vampirism in the film, as well as the multiple repercussions for greed that it represents. Multiple metaphorical images illustrate this greed, including the feast Vlad’s neighbor Mara Tomsa (Camelia Maxim) prepares for him. This representation of gluttony is amplified by Vlad’s explanation for his decision to quit work at an Italian fastfood restaurant called The Chicken Hut: “All I did was fry chicken,” he tells her, as she piles food in front of him.

The villagers line dance down the mansion hallways, celebrating the Tirescu deaths. The villagers systematically pillage the Tirescus' mansion.
An establishing shot of the Tirescu mansion in longshot while we listen to the revelry of the villagers within. An expensive church tower hints at village corruption.
Our first glimpse of Vlad (Catalin Paraschiv), the filmís protagonist, searching for cigarettes. Vladís grandfather Nicolai (Rudy Rosefeld) is mesmerized by Communist hiking tunes on the television.

Vlad’s uncertainties about Florin’s death expose the villagers’ beliefs about vampirism, as well as connect that vampirism with corruption and desire for land and home. When they toast Florin during the three days they guard his body, however, the villagers on watch discuss the real horrors he survived: the Nazis, the Russians, and finally the Communists. Vlad may believe Constantin has bribed them to ensure that Florin does not awaken as strigoi, but as Matt McAllister’s Sci-Fi Bulletin DVD review explains, the film’s exploration of “how life in post-Ceausescu Romania hasn’t entirely escaped the bureaucracy and corruption that blighted the former regime” takes the genre further. Despite the comic tone maintained throughout Strigoi, the film’s references to Ceausescu and the multiple wars and class conflicts Romanians endured raises a new approach to vampirism that moves beyond conventional Dracula-based narratives.

Vladís grandfather. Vlad searches for his grandfatherís missing dog.
Vlad discovers his neighbor Mara Tomsa (Camelia Maxim) unconscious by her front door. Mara feeds Vlad a feast, a metaphorical illustration of greed.
Vlad witnesses the villagersí looting of the mansion. Villagers watch Florinís body for three days to ensure he does not turn into strigoi.

The blood of war is manifested in several ways in the film. Most obviously, the violent murders of the Tirescus transform them into strigoi, a transformation that further connects them with Ceausescu. The villagers watching Florin’s body offer a different perspective on stolen land and home when Vlad asks them about the deed to Florin’s land, reasserting the battle between rich and poor on which the 1989 Revolution was built. As one of the villagers explains,

“One day you were working on your own farm. Then you were working on it, but it wasn’t yours any more. After the revolution, everyone was supposed to get their land back, but they didn’t have the papers.”

In this post-Communist village, community members must fight to keep their homes, even hiding the deeds to their property to counter corrupt government officials and avaricious capitalists like the Tirescus, a point made concrete by Florin’s murder. Octav (Vlad Jipa), the town cop, connects that evidence with earth more explicitly: “I can’t make a case with dirt under fingernails. Everyone has dirt under their nails, and it’s all the same dirt.” The fights over land produce strigoi in a variety of ways, the film suggests. As Mara explains,

“Some people are born strigoi, and some become strigoi after death. We created [the Tirescu strigoi]. We knew they murdered Florin. We gave them a violent death.”

This fight over property even extends to blood relatives, including Vlad’s relationship with his grandfather Nicolae (Rudy Rosefeld). Nicolae shows Vlad the papers he has hidden, saying, “It’s my land. Mine!” Ultimately Vlad discovers that Constantin and Tudor, the priest, have been working together to acquire deeds to the villagers’ property. Constantin wants the land for money and power. Tudor wants a new tower for his church. They both demonstrate greed and gluttony like that of the strigoi mort, vampires born out of the bloodied Earth around them.

Vlad and Octav pursue leads, questioning the origin of Florinís new fence. In a flashback Vladís grandfather mocks a young Vladís fear of blood.
Constantin returns as strigoi mort. Ileana as strigoi mort, eats Mara out of house and home.
In another flashback, Vlad reveals his continuing fear of blood during medical training in Italy. Vlad and a now living dead Octav search through the town registry for property deeds.

The desecrated home has also transformed Vlad’s grandfather into strigoi, as Vlad discovers when he awakens from a nightmare to find his grandfather drinking his blood. “It’s my blood. I gave it to you,” Nicolae explains ominously. His grandfather’s struggles through multiple wars and across war-torn lands have transformed him into a vampire. He is a living strigoi.

“I went to Russia, to Stalingrad. I had to fight for the Germans. When the Russians won, I had to walk all the way home. Then the Russians occupied Romania. They were even worse than the Germans. And there was a terrible famine. I lost my son… Then the Communists took my land. I still had to work on it. I still had to work on the same land with the same horses, but it wasn’t mine anymore. I was born on this land. My father was born here. My children were born here. I died here.”

The battle for Florin’s deed serves as the film’s climax as it connects the mythical strigoi with its earthly manifestations—the Tirescus, Stefan, and the village priest. As Vlad explains to Constantine, “Strigoi hate the living. You were always strigoi.”

Mara frozen in fear over the presence of the strigoi. To save Vlad, Mara kills Ileana again.
A flashback of Vlad aghast at the gluttony of customers as he works at the Italian ďChicken ShackĒ fast food joint. Vlad discovers the body of Octav, a strigoi.
Vlad overcomes his fear of blood and removes Octavís heart to free him from strigoi. Octavís burning heart.

In Strigoi, the battle for land and home turns violent, with the blood of what Constantine calls “peasants” transforming villagers into vengeful living strigoi who fight back, reclaiming their land and their heritage from dead strigoi like the Tirescus. Ultimately, Vlad and his grandfather reclaim the villagers’ right to their land from those in power in the village—Constantin, Stefan, and the priest. Once Vlad realizes his own connection with the village and its violent legacy, the celebration that opened the film can resume. Vlad may claim he knows nothing about strigoi, but his grandfather Mara and the other villagers do, because they have suffered the violence to both human and nonhuman nature caused by greed for land. With at least a temporary end to this desire, they dance, rejoicing even more with the added knowledge that Vlad is now one of them. To illustrate his own transformation, Vlad returns to Constantin’s grave and digs up his body, seemingly prepared to cut out his heart to finally restore their land and reconnect them with the earth, an ecology they can now truly call home. Strigoi offers a different take on the vampire, offering a horrific version of humanity’s response to a war-ravaged land. In Strigoi, vampires’ greed for blood is both literal and figurative.

Conclusion

The drive to reconnect with the earth as home highlights the interdependence between human and nonhuman nature illustrated by both The Pack and Strigoi, a relation that in the horror setting may produce monsters instead of monstrous eco-trauma. Such a connection brings us back to Ellen Swallow Richards, who viewed humans as part of nature and considered urban problems like air and water pollution as products of human activity imposed on the environment and subsequently best resolved by humans. According to C. R. Hamilton, “Richards … saw the degradation of the urban environment as a distinct threat to human life” (84).  As a field of study, the human ecology movement eventually evolved into home economics, but its grounding in conservation has had lasting effects, including environmental justice movements, health ecology, and urban renewal.

            The environmental threat to humans is both physical and psychological and amounts to an “eco-trauma of Being” (29), according to clinical psychologist Tina Amorok. It includes urban, rural, and wilderness ecologies. According to Amorok,

“When humans are forcibly torn from their family, culture, and land, a violent disruption to and deficit in the realm of Being—individually, collectively, ecologically, and spiritually—are created” (30).

Amorok suggests that we must “connect to the pain of the world” (37) to regain a sense of wellbeing. For Amorok and eco-psychologists such as Eduardo Duran, eco-trauma “is in a state of constant retraumatization with the continual devastation of the land” (30). Amorok and historian Steve Taylor also assert that eco-trauma originated in “harmful effects” of “aberrant human violence,” a violence that continues in our methods of protecting ourselves from a despair caused by our separation from the environment.

            The most powerful of these self-protections is war, a force that not only destroys human and nonhuman nature but also disrupts our connection with the natural environment. Despite this clear interconnection between war and human and nonhuman ecologies, however, few historians have examined the environmental consequences of war. As environmental historians Edmund Russell and Richard Tucker explain, “rarely have we explicitly considered the ecological consequences of warfare as a central, distinctive element of humans’ historically evolving relation to the natural world” despite the fact that “twentieth-century wars have made momentous contributions to the global environmental stress and deterioration of our contemporary world” (1). The Zaatari refugee camp, about ten miles across the border from Syria in northern Jordan, illustrates the ongoing environmental and humanitarian consequences of war. With a population of more than 120,000 people as of September 2013, the camp “is now the second largest refugee camp in the world – and that has put a strain on nearby communities in Jordan, where water is often scarce,” according to a September 7, 2013 PBS Newshour report from Kristen Gillespie. In another report, IRIN explains, “Supplying adequate drinking water, toilets and washrooms to this huge and rapidly growing camp for Syrian refugees in the Jordanian desert … is proving to be a challenge” (“Vandalism Hampers Sanitation”).

The literal and figurative war-torn landscapes in The Pack and Strigoi bear witness to a variety of environmental conflicts,providing a space in which to explore eco-trauma and human ecology through metaphors of vampirism. Although these views of such landscapes to a certain extent draw on the ideals of European Romanticism, by fusing these ideals with vampire horror we hope to have at least begun to turn them on their head. Instead of admiring the natural world from afar or demonizing it in order to exploit it, The Pack and Strigoi at least implicitly illustrate an ecology (a home) that includes humans as part of the monstrous nature they create.

Although The Pack may vilify a landscape that transforms miners into monsters, it blames humans, not the earth, for the change, reinforcing the interdependent relations we share with the environment. Attempts to separate from nature are futile in The Pack. Strigoi challenges Romantic notions even further, exploring the idea of ecology or home through Vlad’s return to his native land, which reconnects him both to the village and the natural environment. In Strigoi, strigoi mort and living strigoi provide a corporeal connection between human and nonhuman nature. But the earth of the comic horror film may bridge the separation from nature caused by humans in gruesome ways. In both The Pack and Strigoi, an ecology abused by the blood of war or greed for mining resources turns monstrous.

Go to Works Cited page


To topPrint versionJC 55 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.