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I know vampires don’t exist. They will never show up at my window, floating on some demon wind with their fangs bared, ready to strike. They will never sink their teeth into my neck and suck the life from my veins.
Rather, they are the stuff of nightmares and myths. They lurk among the darkest shadows of imagination and creep through the crevices of our minds. In that sense, they are real. The lore of the vampire has haunted man for generations.
They began haunting me when I was eight, thanks to a particularly unsettling episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark” and a string of creepy coincidences. I called my mom in tears that day, convinced that Nosferatu himself was bumping around in the basement. He wasn’t. My brother fessed up earlier today -- it was him. Thanks for the life-long fear, big bro.
I slept with blankets tucked all the way up to my chin for years, convinced it would keep me safe. In college I was cast in a production of "Dracula," read the book, and promptly resumed burrowing chin-deep in a pile of blankets every night for a few weeks.
So, last week, in attempt to conquer it once and for all, I faced my fear as I watched the legend come to life on a rainy Mischief Night. The lineup: "Nosferatu" (1922), "Nosferatu" (1979), "Bram Stoker’s Dracula," "30 Days of Night," "Let the Right One In," "John Carpenter’s Vampires," and finally, the episode that started it all. “Are You Afraid of the Dark: The Tale of the Midnight Madness.”
As I got started, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe this would finally help me kick my fear. I felt that it was important to understand the cinematic origin of the vampire if I was going to do this right, and you know what? The 1922 "Nosferatu" probably would have been enough to keep me awake all night. The image of the Count standing tall, framed by an arched doorway with his pale hands held menacingly before him, is not one that I will easily forget. It is the ultimate Dracula moment.
I couldn’t let myself surrender to total terror that fast, because the night was young and the melodrama was entertaining. Ellen (this film’s take on Mina) actually clutched her breast in fear. I’m talking boob-in-hand clutched. It didn’t help that she looked like Tina Fey. “Ugh, a maiden pure of heart must distract the vampire until dawn? Blerg!” But every time I let my guard down, Nosferatu was back, and I was still afraid.
The 1979 "Nosferatu" is a nightmare -- an actual nightmare caught on film. This German remake is filled with foreboding and a strange sense of empathy for the Count, who longs to die but can’t. He also longs for love, but no woman will love him. The whole film is eerie and unsettling, but what really did me in was Mina’s sacrifice. I winced as he sunk his fangs into her flesh, and watched as he drank her blood until dawn.
A shout from the street below put me on edge, and I sat quietly as a shadow moved across my wall. This was pushing my luck, which obviously meant I had to keep watching.
Somewhere in the middle of "Bram Stoker’s Dracula," I decided it was time to pull out the garlic. Just in case. Kitchen cabinets were flung open as I convinced myself that it was all in good fun. I rummaged through the kitchen, and quickly discovered that I was woefully unprepared. What little I had would have to do, because there was no way I was about to go outside. As Mina tilted her head back, allowing her “Prince” to take a bite, my phone rang. I screamed, the dog barked and it started to rain. My brother was on the other line, laughing.
Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in silence once again. The rain continued to fall. It was heavier now, steadily drumming on the streets and tapping incessantly at my windows.
“They can’t come in unless you invite them,” I reminded myself.
It was dark. I picked up a clove of garlic and clutched it in my fist, amazed at how deeply a story can affect our lives.
By the end of number three, I was curious to see how the vampire is portrayed outside of the classic narrative. Besides, I was getting tired of Jonathan Harker.
First up was "30 Days of Night." The Count inspired fear with his slow, menacing ways. He lusted after blood and took his time with the hunt. These were an entirely different breed of vampires. They were fast, they were hungry and they're in town for 30 days. They were sharks, constantly hunting and feeding.
The first attack, and my phone rings again. I can feel my heart racing as I pause the film, catch my breath and answer. After catching up with Grandma, I resume and quickly become engrossed in the story. It’s different, which is refreshing, but these vampires are ruthless beasts. There is nothing human about them, and I am convinced there’s one in my hallway. I can practically see him, pacing on the other side of the door, sniffing me out.
“Nope. Nope. Not real, not there, no worries.” I reassure myself, as I hold what little garlic I have.
But someone is screaming in the streets, and images of fangs piercing flesh fill my mind. I move slowly towards the kitchen window, cautiously peering outside. It’s just a guy with his friends -- they’re dancing in the rain. I watch them, temporarily distracted from the blood-thirsty demon on the other side of my door. I was ready to call it quits, but had to at least watch the show that started it all.
As I watch, I remember the pure fear I felt that first night. How sure I was that there was a vampire in my basement, and how silly it sounds now. The episode, still terrifying, reminds me of the power of a good story.
Three a.m. Dead time. The streets are finally quiet, and I’m finally getting ready for bed. The street lights fill the apartment with an eerie glow, casting strange shadows on the wall. I close my fist around a clove of garlic, and climb into bed, carefully pulling the blankets all the way up to my chin. Just in case.