2013, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 55, fall 2013
Earth bites back:
vampires and the ecological roots of home
by Robin Murray and Joseph Heumann
Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath illustrate well the negative effects environmental exploitation can have on humanity. As the deadliest hurricane of 2012 and the second most costly storm in U. S. history, Sandy killed over 100 people (“Mapping Hurricane Sandy’s Deadly Toll”) and left thousands of residents homeless in New York, New Jersey, and New England. It was also at least “enhanced by global warming influences” (Trenberth), according to climatologists. This connection between human-caused climate change and the devastating hurricane that ravaged the East Coast highlights the irrevocable connection between humanity and the natural world.
In another way an August 2013 National Geographic article “Sugar Love” also demonstrates how our exploitation of the natural world may come back to bite us in unexpected but direct ways. An addiction to sugar spread by Western imperialism from the nineteenth century on has destroyed natural environments and enslaved indigenous populations from Hispaniola to Barbados, where, “you can see the legacies of sugar: the ruined mills, their wooden blades turning in the wind, marking time” (“Sugar Love” 87). According to the article, however, that destruction of environments and their people led to a sugar diet that destroys consumers. As Dr. Richard Johnson explains,
“It seems every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar” (87).
This same damaging connection of environmental degradation coming back to harm humans is explored in films from Mountaintop Removal Mining documentaries such as The Last Mountain (2012) to Post-Apocalyptic science fiction films like Tank Girl (1995), but it reaches terrifying levels in the horror genre.
In the horror genre, a direct relation between environmental exploitation and destructive nature comes to the fore in the vampire film, when the living dead literally arise from the grave. In at least a few horror films, human desecration of the earth may create the very monsters that drink their blood. For example, the French black-comedy horror movie The Pack (2010) and the British/Romanian satire film Strigoi (2009) explicitly illustrate what might happen when an environment “bites back.” Although vampires have typically been associated with sexuality, power, evil and the Anti-Christ, fluid boundaries between humanity and the monstrous, and intimacy as conquest, in these two comic-horror films, The Pack and Strigoi, vampirism most readily matches consumption. A greed for resources, land, and blood separates humans from the natural world that provides their home. This separation from earth’s ecology and the home it represents has monstrous repercussions in these two films, transforming into horror the eco-trauma associated with a lost connection with nature and a shattered human ecology. Drawing on the work of early twentieth century human ecologist Ellen Swallow Richards and environmental psychologist Tina Amorok, we argue that these films amplify the real trauma humans experience when their earthly home is destroyed, illustrating the sometimes horrific effects environmental degradation may have on humanity. In The Pack and Strigoi, however, a damaged earth fights back, turning humans into vampires and ghouls, literal monsters who concretize monstrous treatment of the natural world and magnify the actual consequences of environmental exploitation.
At least since the 1897 publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, integral to the vampire myth is the need to sleep in native soil. One of the novel’s narrators, real estate representative Jonathan Harker, remarks on the “earth placed in wooden boxes” (54) and sees while exploring Dracula’s castle that on “a pile of newly dug earth lay the Count!” (54). Later we learn that the Count has transported “fifty cases of common earth” (244) to his new home in England and that it is best to attack Dracula at certain times when he has “limited freedom” (258). A journal entry asserts,
“whereas he can do as he will within his limit, when he have his earth-home, his coffin-home, the place unhallowed, as we saw when he went to the grave of the suicide at Whitby, still at other times he can only change when the time has come” (258).
Such a connection between vampires and their native soil continues in filmic adaptations of the novel such as Nosferatu (1922), Dracula (1933), The Vampire Returns (1944), The Horror of Dracula (1958), Dracula Rises from the Grave (1967), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992); in genre stretches such as the popular Van Helsing (2004, 2012) and Underworld (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012); the coming of age tale, Let the Right One In (2007); or the comedy, Vamps (2012). As in the Dracula novel, these vampire films underline the connection between soil and home, and consequently emphasize their link to ecology, literally the study of homes. Although some popular media representations of vampires eschew traditional vampire mythology altogether, many do include some version of native soil, even as in novelist Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint Germain series, placing it in a hidden compartment within the heels of vampires’ shoes.
Early in the novel Dracula, however, Count Dracula broaches another connection with native soil that extends beyond his need to become reinvigorated in his nation’s earth. When describing some of the “strange things of the preceding night” on the journey to his castle, Dracula connects soil with blood, declaring to Harker,
“there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders” (25).
This direct relation between blood, soil, and vampires is overlooked in most representations of vampires in popular culture, despite its origin in Stoker’s novel. The Pack and Strigoi do examine these connections, highlighting the environmental underpinnings of the vampire myth in relation to a shattered ecology or home and illuminating the interdependence between human and nonhuman nature. The roots of that connection have, in fact, been theorized within the human ecology movement, which grew out of the work of Ellen Swallow Richards, a late 19th and early 20th century MIT chemist who defined human ecology in 1907 as
"the study of the surroundings of human beings and the effects they produce on the lives of men" (Sanitation in Daily Life v).
Destroying that human ecology, then, may lead to what contemporary clinical psychologist Tina Amorok calls an “eco-trauma of Being” (29). In both The Pack and Strigoi, vampires rather than eco-trauma result from this devastated home, soil desecrated by blood of war or exploitation of human and nonhuman nature. In The Pack and Strigoi, a mistreated earth bites back.
Reading the vampire
The vampire has long served as one of horror film’s most prevalent monsters—in silent versions of the Dracula novel and the successful stage play based on the novel in the 1920s, Universal’s great success in 1931 with Bela Lugosi in the lead, and Hammer Studio’s 1950s revisions of the Count’s narrative. Some sub-genres of vampire films have explored sexuality, while others have merged with other genres, including comedy, science fiction, and the Blaxploitation film. Love at First Bite (1979) and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) highlight the comic turn in the genre. Rabid (1976) and Red-Blooded American Girl (1990) illustrate a merging with science fiction, and Blacula (1972), Scream Blacula Scream (1973), and Ganja and Hess (1973) feature Blaxploitation vampires.
Academic research on the horror genre reflects the popularity of the vampire film and its multiple manifestations. Book-length explorations of the horror genre typically include references to the vampire film. The pioneering work of Noel Carroll, for example, examines representations of Dracula and other vampires in The Philosophy of Horror. Studies of pre-World War-II horror such as Reynold Humphries’ The Hollywood Horror Film, 1931-1941: Madness in a Social Landscape again discuss Dracula and the Dracula films in detail, as well as explore the vampire myth. Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.’s Fear Itself: Horror on Screen and in Reality During the Depression and World War II suggests that the horror cycle began with Dracula and Frankenstein (1931). Dracula is also included as one of the monsters George Ochoa examines in his Deformed and Destructive Beings.
Vampires are also examined in relation to their sub-genres. Carol J. Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film explores Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987) from a gendered perspective. Bruce G. Hallenbeck examines comic vampire films such as Blood for Dracula (1974) and Love at First Bite. Monstrous Adaptations, an anthology focused on film adaptations of literary works also includes a study of the vampire myth in Brad O’Brien’s chapter, “Fulcanelli as a vampiric Frankenstein and Jesus as his vampiric monster: The Frankenstein and Dracula myths in Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos.” And an examination of the horror film as a cultural experience, Ian Conrich’s edited anthology, Horror Zone, includes explorations of Dracula and Van Helsing in multiple media. Yet none of these explorations address environmental concerns associated with the vampire.
The resurgence of the vampire in film, television, comic books, and other media has also encouraged a plethora of scholarly studies of media representations of a more contemporary vampire. Research exploring Buffy, the Vampire Slayer film and TV series, the Twilight films, and the True Blood HBO series provides a glimpse of the diverse lenses through which vampire identity is examined. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer resulted in a new area of research, “Buffy Studies,” which has prompted multiple volumes and conferences, including Lorna Jowett’s 2005 book, Sex and The Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan and an annual International Slayage Conference. The focus of research here, however, excludes ecocritical readings of the series, highlighting instead gender issues, aesthetics, family structure, and media and popular culture.
This exclusion of ecological readings continues in recent work addressing the Twilight series. Maggie Parke and Natalie Wilson’s edited volume, Theorizing Twilight: Critical Essays on What’s at Stake in a Post-Vampire World, for example, highlights the film adaptations as pop cultural artifact, explores the film adaptation series as fairy tale, romance, and coming of age narrative; and underscores the film series as texts open to readings from multiple critical perspectives, including patriarchy, white privilege, heteronormativity, rape culture, and religion. None of the chapters includes ecocritical readings of the films, despite their environmental leanings. Melissa A. Click’s edited volume, Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media and the Vampire Franchise
“gives crucial attention to the cultural, social, and economic aspects of the Twilight phenomenon. Building upon the work of feminist cultural scholars who examine girls’ and women’s relationships to the media, our overall goal in this collection is to examine Twilight’s themes, appeal, and cultural impact” (8).
Again the volume highlights theology, romantic love, gender and sexuality, race, and heteronormativity without a nod toward environmental issues broached by the novels and films.
True Blood studies also avoid exploring environmental issues. In “Lesbian Desires in the Vampire Subgenre: True Blood as a Platform for a Lesbian Discourse,”for example, Eve Dufour argues that True Blood addresses human fears of ‘the other’ and reveals the complexity of human sexualities and sexual desires. Maria Lindgren Leavenworth’s “‘What are you?’ Fear, desire, and disgust in the Southern Vampire Mysteries and True Blood” suggests that the sympathetic vampires in contemporary narratives
“are modeled on the early 19th-century Romantic instantations created by John Polidori and Lord Byron.”
In Brigid Cherry’s edited volume, True Blood: Investigating Vampires and Southern Gothic, Cherry explores True Blood as cult television. Part 1 of the volume centers on genre and style in the series, examining, for example, the Southern Gothic milieu in the series (see Caroline Ruddell and Brigid Cherry). Part 2 focuses on myths and meanings in the series, discussing the series as fairytale (Mikel J. Koven), a reworking of the Christ myth (Gregory Erickson), and a Minoritarian Romantic fable (Dennis Rothermel). Part 3 explores character and identity in the series, and part 4 highlights marketing and fandom associated with the series. None of this research, however, broaches environmental issues attached to vampires, the vampire genre, or the series in particular.
Environmental themes in vampire films
Although not often noted, both the Twilight films and the True Blood series are ripe for ecocritical readings. Most obviously in Twilight, the Cullen vampire family shuns human blood, claiming they are vegetarians because they drink only nonhuman blood. In True Blood, vampires are able to coexist with humans, at least initially, because a synthetic blood source has been developed. The cause of vampirism in these films is also sometimes tied to the natural world—a plague or virus. An early version of this “virus as origin of vampirism” theme can be found in The Last Man on Earth (1964), the first of at least three adaptations of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), which also include The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007). The three Blade films (1998, 2002, 2004) also play on this theme, as does the more recent Daybreakers (2009).
Other vampire films highlight the power of blood transfusion either as cause of vampirism or its solution. In Chan Wook-Park’s Thirst (2009), for example, Sang-hyun (Kang-ho Song), a priest working for a hospital, selflessly volunteers for a secret project intended to eradicate a deadly virus. However, the virus eventually takes over the priest. He nearly dies, but makes a miraculous recovery by an accidental transfusion of vampire blood. Dark Shadows (2012) uses this transfusion of vampire blood to comic effect. In Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987), on the other hand, a transfusion restores a young vampire to humanity.
The Pack: when earth fights back
Unlike most vampire films with environmental leanings, the comic-horror The Pack explicitly connects vampirism and its desire for blood with humanity’s exploitation of the natural world. The Pack highlights the sometimes horrific and blood-sucking consequences of mistreating the Earth in relation to exploitative mining techniques, which destroy both the land and its human laborers. Although the film begins as a road movie with illusory romantic possibilities between a lone driver, Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) and a hitchhiker, Max (Benjamin Biolay), both genre and mood change when a drive ends at a café owned by Max’s mother, La Spack (Yolande Moreau), who hides a deadly secret that connects human and nonhuman nature. In The Pack, vampire miners and the slagheap that transformed them seek revenge.
Set around an abandoned post-industrial mine similar to the Lorraine mines of filmmaker Franck Richard’s childhood, The Pack connects vampirism to a ravaged Earth and a desecrated home. In The Pack, vampire-like ghouls are not only produced from a mine’s slagheap but also become an integral part of its byproducts, illustrating the interconnection between human and nonhuman ecologies. The specters arise only when they and the earth they inhabit are fed human blood. Unlike Strigoi, however, The Pack’s attempts at comedy conflict with any serious message the film may be making about mining, miners, and the environment they exploited.
The Pack fuses dark humor with multiple genres in its sometimes ineffective attempts to highlight that message. The opening scenes of The Pack provide little evidence of the grim ecological and human disaster revealed by the film. Instead the film begins as a road movie focused on a lone driver, Charlotte, who plans to go as far as her many CDs of music will allow. The film enters a simulated Wild West, however, when ridiculous outlaws riding motorcycles instead of horses chase Charlotte down a wind turbine-lined lane.
The conventions of the comic road movie and Western turn monstrous when Charlotte picks up the hitchhiking Max to discourage the bikers. Music and setting changes reinforce this change with the introduction of Max, who is played by Benjamin Biolay and recognizable by most French and Belgian viewers as a singer, songwriter of songs such as “Bloodbath.” This song ties him to the horror genre and foreshadows The Pack’s blood-drinking ghouls, especially with the line, “He tells me, ‘You’re a vampire.’”
Horror conventions are cemented when they reach La Spack, the dilapidated café at the end of a dark country lane where any efforts to infuse the narrative with comedy end. The tone grows even more foreboding when Max disappears into the café restroom and does not return. When Charlotte tries to find him behind a hidden door, La Spack assaults and captures her, locking her into one of the animal cages in the middle of a back room. In a makeshift torture chamber that takes Edgar Allen Poe to extremes, Charlotte and Tofu (Ian Fonteyn) are even force-fed their own blood to prepare them for their sacrifice to the vampires on the slagheap.
Connections between humanity and the earth are made explicit when this nightmare turns into eco-horror. At nightfall, the reason for Charlotte and Tofu’s blood diet is revealed. They have been prepared to feed monsters rising from the earth. Now helplessly weak, Charlotte and Tofu are flung into a coal car and pushed toward a slagheap where they are chained by their ankles. Cuts in their calves drip blood into the Earth, luring vampire ghouls dressed in mining clothes out of the soil. Eyeless, fanged and carrying mining tools, they seem to gasp for air but drink the dripping blood frantically, licking Charlotte’s leg and ripping off Tofu’s arm to drain his arteries. These monsters survive only in an earth fertilized with human blood.
The source of these horrific monsters clearly connects human and nonhuman ecologies, however, moving the narrative beyond the extreme gore of the slagheap. As Max explains to Charlotte the next morning, his mother
“hasn’t always been like this. But when my brothers died, she went mad. The authorities would rather see them die in the mine than risk a firedamp explosion…. The village elders talked about a creature born of mud and the blood of the dead, miners who died underground. That always made us laugh. …. I think they dug too deep.”
Max continues talking as the scene changes to an external shot of power lines crossing a large field lined with winter trees, illustrating his claim, “My mother says the earth wants blood. And we can’t refuse it.” Charlotte’s discovery of a photo album of the La Spack family miners killed in a mining accident reinforces La Spack’s claim. On a page adjacent to photos of the La Spack’s now-dead sons, a newspaper clipping declares, “We raped the earth. It’s sending us monsters.”
The horror reaches a climax at the slagheap during a battle between La Spack and a gang that includes Charlotte, Max, and the motorcycle club that followed Charlotte to the cafe. After a gruesome fight that leaves La Spack dead, her blood draining into the slagheap, the ghouls return, slaughtering everyone but Charlotte, who escapes the now-burning house through a window, exclaiming, “So the earth wants blood. I’ll give it some” as she shoots. When she reaches a field, however, the vampire ghouls rise up from the mist and follow her, feeding on her until the moon fades into morning.
The horror of this scene suggests a tragic end for Charlotte and Max and a resolution in favor of monstrous nature. Instead, Charlotte seems to survive, appropriating the now dead La Spack’s role, with Max resuming his own function as a handsome hitchhiker luring drivers in to feed the vampire ghouls they now protect. Quickly, however, the film switches from this dream sequence to a shot of Charlotte hanging on chains over the slagheap, where a vampire ghoul drinks her blood. The wind rocks the chain, and Charlotte’s blood drips into the soil. The sun comes up, and blood seems to cover the light with a hiss and red clouds. Bluegrass music ends the film, with the line “I’m down in that old coalmine,” lightening the frightening mood with perhaps ineffective humor.
This ending illustrates well the conflict between genre mixing and environmental message in the film. The appearance of the monstrous vampire rising from the slagheap reinforces the negative consequences associated with exploiting both human and nonhuman ecologies. But the film’s genre transformation from dreamlike resolution in the café to comic horror above the deserted coalmine dilutes this message, turning eco-horror into “an amusing hodgepodge” that is, as Jordan Mintzer of Variety states, “too uproariously modeled on every late-night classic under the sun to feel fresh or dramatically apt.” The movie may, as Mintzer asserts, soon “be unshouldered to rest alongside its home-video ancestry.”
Despite its weak ending and lack of originality, The Pack highlights the terrible consequences of eco-disasters associated with mining. The slagheap broaches not only the filmmaker’s childhood memories but also the real horrors of the mining industry and its exploitation of resources and labor. In Franck Richard’s own region of Lorraine, industrial medicine studies found an increased mortality from lung and stomach cancer in Lorraine iron miners (N. Chou, et al 1017). Coal mining in the region also had disastrous repercussions. According to a 1985 Los Angeles Times article, “an explosion [in February 1985] in a coal mine in France's eastern region of Lorraine killed 22 miners and injured about 100.” The article explains,
“The blast, 3,450 feet underground in the Forbach mine near the West German border, was thought to have been caused by fire damp, a gas given off by coal and constituted largely of methane. When it explodes, it immediately ignites coal dust nearby.”
The Pack turns these real instances of “monstrous nature” into biting horror.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.” 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.
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.
Amorok, Tina. “The Eco-Trauma and Eco-Recovery of Being.” Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness. 15 (June-August 2007): 28-31, 37. Print.
Blacula. Dir. William Crain. Perf. William Marshall, Vonetta McGee. American International Pictures, 1972. DVD.
Blade. Dir. Stephen Norrington. Perf. Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristopherson. Amen Ra Films, 1998. DVD.
Blade II. Dir. Guillermo del Toro. Perf. Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristopherson, Ron Perlman. New Line Cinema, 2002. DVD.
Blade: Trinity. Dir. David S. Goyer. Perf. Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristopherson. New Line Cinema, 2004. DVD.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins. American Zoetrope, 1992. DVD.
Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Creator. Josh Whedon. Perf. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon. Mutant Enemy, 1997-2003. DVD.
Carroll, Noel. The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart. New York: Routledge University Press, 1990. Print.
Cherry, Brigid. True Blood: Investigating Vampires and Southern Gothic. New York: I.B. Taurus, 2013. Print.
Clarke, Robert. Ellen Swallow: The Woman Who Founded Ecology. New York: Follett Publishing Company, 1973. Print.
Click, Melissa. Bitten By Twilight: Youth Culture, Media and the Vampire Franchise. New York:Peter Lang, 2010. Print.
Clover, Carol J. Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the American Horror Film. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. Print.
Conrich, Ian, Editor. Horror Zone. New York: I.B. Taurus, 2010. Print.
Dark Shadows. Dir. Tim Burton. Perf. Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeifer. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2012. DVD.
Daybreakers. Dir. Michael and Peter Spierig. Perf. Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill. Lions Gate, 2009. DVD.
Dowler, Andrew. “Toronto After Dark Fest.” Now Magazine. 28.50 (12-19 Aug 2009). Web. 2 Feb 2013: http://www.nowtoronto.com/movies/story.cfm?content=170798
Dracula. Dir. Tod Browning. Perf. Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler. Universal Pictures, 1931. DVD.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Dir. Mel Brooks. Perf. Leslie Nielsen. Gaumant, 1995. DVD.
Dracula: Has Risen from the Grave. Dir. Freddie Francis. Perf. Christopher Lee. Hammer Film Productions, 1968. DVD.
Dufour, Eve. “Lesbian Desires in the Vampire Subgenre: True Blood as a Platform for a Lesbian Discourse.” Prandium: The Journal of Historical Studies. 1.1 (Mar 2012). Web. 2 Jun 2013: http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/prandium/article/view/16222.
Ganja and Hess. Dir. Bill Gunn. Perf. Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn. Kelly/Jordan Enterprises, 1973. DVD.
Hallenbeck, Bruce G. Comedy-Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914-2008. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2009. Print.
Hand, Richard J. and McRoy, Jay. Monstrous Adaptations: Generic and Thematic Mutations in Horror Film. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2007. Print.
Harvey, Dennis. Variety. “Strigoi Review.” 18 Jul 2010. Web. 3 Feb 2013:
Horror of Dracula. Dir. Terence Fisher. Perf. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee. Hammer Film Productions, 1958. DVD.
Humphries, Reynold. The Hollywood Horror Film, 1931-1941: Madness in a Social Landscape. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006. Print.
I am Legend. Dir. Francis Lawrence. Perf. Will Smith. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007. Film.
Jowett, Lorna. Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan. New York: Wesleyan, 2005. Print.
The Last Man on Earth. Dir. Ubaldo Ragona. Perf. Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia. Produzioni La Regina, 1964. DVD.
Leavenworth, Maria Lindgren. “‘What are you?’ Fear, desire, and disgust in the Southern Vampire Mysteries and True Blood.” Nordic Journal of English Studies. 11(3): 36-54. Print.
Let the Right One In. Dir. Tomas Alfredson. Perf. Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar. EFTI, 2007. DVD.
Love at First Bite. Dir. Stan Dragoti. Perf. George Hamilton, Susan Saint James. Melvin Simon Productions, 1979. DVD.
McAllister, Matt. “Strigoi DVD Review.” Sci-Fi Bulletin. Web. 4 Feb 2013:
Mannion, A. M. “The Environmental Impact of War and Terrorism.” Geographical Paper. No. 169 (June 2003). Web. 3 Jul 2012: https://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/geographyandenvironmentalscience/GP169.pdf
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book, Second Edition. Detroit and London: Invisible Ink Press, 1999. Print.
“Mapping Hurricane Sandy’s Deadly Toll.” The New York Times. 17 Nov 2012. Web. 12 Sep 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/11/17/nyregion/hurricane-sandy-map.html?_r=0
Matheson, Richard. I am Legend. New York: Tor Books, 1954. Print.
Matthews Jr., Melvin E. Fear Itself: Horror on Screen and in Reality During the Depression and World War II. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. Print.
Mintzner, Jordan. “The Pack Review.” Variety. 20 May 2010. Web. 4 Feb 2013.
Near Dark. Dir. Kathryn Bigelow. Perf. Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen. F/M, 1987. DVD.
Nosferatu. Dir. F.W. Murnau. Perf. Max Schreck, Greta Schröder, Ruth Landshoff. Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johannisthal, 1922. DVD.
O’Brien, Brad. “Fulcanelli as a vampiric Frankenstein and Jesus as his vampiric monster: The Frankenstein and Dracula myths in Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos.” Hand, Richard J. and McRoy, Jay. Monstrous Adaptations: Generic and Thematic Mutations in Horror Film. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2007. 172-180. Print.
Ochoa, George. Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2011. Print.
The Pack. Dir. Franck Richard. Perf. Yolande Moreau, Émilie Dequenne, Benjamin Biolay. La Fabrique 2, 2010. DVD.
Park, Maggie and Wilson, Natalie, Ed. Theorizing Twilight: Critical Essays on What’s at Stake in a Post-Vampire World. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Print.
Rabid. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver. CFDC, 1976. DVD.
Red-Blooded American Girl. Dir. David Blyth. Perf. Andrew Stevens, Heather Thomas, Christopher Plummer. Prism Entertainment, 1990. DVD.
The Return of the Vampire. Dir. Lew Landers. Perf. Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Nina Foch. Columbia Pictures, 1944. DVD.
Richards, Ellen Swallow. The Cost of Cleanness. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1908. Print.
-----. Sanitation in Daily Life. Boston: Whitcomb and Barrows, 1907. Print.
Savlov, Marc. “Vamping on an Old Folk Myth.” The Austin Chronicle. 23 Oct 2009. Web. 3 Feb 2013: http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2009-10-23/898193/
Scream Blacula Scream. Dir. Bob Kelljan. Perf. William Marshall, Don Mitchell, Pam Grier. American International Pictures, 1973. DVD.
Strigoi. Dir. Faye Jackson. Perf. Catalin Paraschiv, Rudy Rosenfeld, Constantin Barbulescu. St. Moritz Productions, 2009. DVD.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Dover Publications, 2000 (1897). Print.
“Sugar Love: A Not So Sweet Story.” National Geographic. August, 2013: 78-97. Print.
Thirst. Dir. Chan-wook Park. Perf. Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim, Hae-suk Kim. CJ Entertainment, 2009. DVD.
Trenberth, Kevin. “Hurricane Sandy Mixes Super-storm Conditions with Climate Change.” The Conversation. 29 Oct 2012. Web. 10 Sep 2013: http://theconversation.com/hurricane-sandy-mixes-super-storm-conditions-with-climate-change-10388
True Blood. Creator: Alan Ball. Perf. Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell. HBO, 2008-Present. TV.
Tucker, Richard P. and Russell, Edmund, Ed. Natural Enemy, Natural Ally. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2004. Print.
Twilight. Dir. Catherine Hardwicke. Perf. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke. Summit Entertainment, 2008. Film.
Underworld. Dir. Len Wiseman. Perf. Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly. Lakeshore Entertainment, 2003. DVD.
Vamps. Dir. Amy Heckerling. Perf. Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Larry Wilmore. Lucky Monkey Pictures, 2012. DVD.
“Vandalism Hampers Sanitation Efforts in Jordan’s Za’atari Camp.” IRIN: Humanitarian News and Analysis. 19 Jul 2013. Web. 13 Sep 2013: http://www.irinnews.org/report/98441/vandalism-hampers-sanitation-efforts-in-jordan-s-za-atari-camp - sthash.LDR0CfCW.dpuf
Van Helsing. Dir. Stephen Sommers. Perf. Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh. Universal Pictures, 2004. DVD.
Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn. Saint Germain Chronicles. New York: Pocket, 1983. Print.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.