Is Dracula Still Scary?

It’s October and ton of us are looking for something spooky to read. Maybe you can’t think of many modern horror books you’re interested in, or maybe you’ve read them all already. Chances are, you’ll start to think about reading a classic horror story like, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This nineteenth century classic is probably one of the most definitive works in the vampire district of horror. You might be reasonably confident that you can immerse yourself in a period world with period language from gathering up other classic literature, but can this book really scare you?

A poster for an old theater production of Dracula. He's bee around awhile.

A poster for an old theater production of Dracula. He’s been around awhile.

“Of course not! You might think.” This book was written when people were terrified of homosexuals and women’s ankles. I have nothing to fear from this book.” You might say that, but you would be very, very wrong. Stupid, even. I myself would never be stupid enough to think that exact same thought while opening up an old horror classic like, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Nope, never happened. Not to me. This is a hypothetical you we are talking about here. I may have a tradition of reading a highly regarded horror novel every October, but that’s just a coincident. I may have read Dracula way back when I was a naive teenager who often doubted the power of acclaimed classics, but this never ever happened to me.

Anyway, like I was saying, you pop open Dracula and start reading. You become fascinated by the novel’s form. It’s what your English teacher called an Epistolary novel, pierced together from journal entries, letters and medical notes of each main character. They even note how one of the main characters is compiling all these documents to record this strange story as it happens. It’s probably the closest thing to the whole “found footage” genre of horror films this pre-film era could create. Maybe it adds an element of extra intrigue and suspense that you hadn’t anticipated from such an old book.

There’s even horror stereotypes you recognize. There’s the dashing lead and his girlfriend, (Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray-eventually-Harker) the slutty best friend (Lucy, who had the audacity to let herself be courted by three men at once and present some form of romantic and even sexual agency, the nerve!)  a doctor nerd who will bring a scientific aspect to things (Dr. Seward, who works at a mental asylum and loves “slutty” Lucy) the dashing rich guy (Arthur Holmwood, who loves his fancy title and “slutty” Lucy) and the brash type who would be a jock if the cast is in high school or otherwise just a real tough adult, often with weapons experience, (Quincy Morris, the Texan who loves hunting and “slutty” Lucy) and of course the one smart older mentor type who actually knows what’s going on and is the group’s only chance at survival (Van Helsing, who loves vampire slaying and is indifferent towards “slutty” Lucy).

Really, despite the centuries old language and atmosphere, you find yourself connecting with the story in odd ways anyhow. Maybe this vampire guy might even end up being kind of… spooky.

Well sure enough you find out that classics become classics for a reason, and that this dusty old vampire may even have some bite in him left, without help from his various modern and cooler movie incarnations. Maybe there was a reason he had so many movie incarnations in the first place. Maybe, while you are reading this book and also for quite a while afterward, you refuse to go into dark areas first without checking for glowing red eyes. Maybe you start to get a couple nightmares about crazy people and rats. Maybe you start to jump any time you hear a noise while reading this book. Maybe you pick up and throw the nearest object into any darkened corner with lumpy shadows in it. I don’t know. This is, again, all a hypothetical story all about a hypothetical you. Nothing remotely similar ever happened to me. It did not, I say!

After reading Dracula, you’ll probably have a greater respect for classic works of horror. Sure, it may be set in an era that demonizes visible lady ankles, but ultimately it is a classic. Classics become immortalized when they latch onto some deep, inherent part of the human psyche and illuminate it.That’s how people can still get romanced by Darcy or, yes, terrified by Count Dracula years and years after those characters were written. I should know, believe me.

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