Taking Orlok to the Ultimate

Most of you are at least a little familiar with Count Orlok, the vampire in the 1922 film “Nosferatu”, which forever changed the face of cinema.
Nosferatu Self-CheckoutThe story itself may have been an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula”, but “Nosferatu” revolutionized the visual art of cinema. The now-classic “burn-up-in-sunlight” trope started with this film. Count Orlok’s sun-ray immolation is just one of the great, ground-breaking visual effects featured.

Count Orlok himself is, of course, another bold visual statement. What many may not realize is that Nosferatu’s director, F.W. Murnau, intended Count Orlok as a return to the hideous monsters of original vampire folklore, as they were two centuries before Nosferatu’s release.

From TVTropes’ “Looks Like Orlok” page:

History time: In the original folklore, most vampires were short, ugly, Eastern European peasants. Then (in 1819) Polidori creates the character of Lord Ruthven and suddenly they’re all elegant, English, aristocratic and look suspiciously like Lord Byron. Rymer’s Varney the Vampire (1847) gives them fangs and the whole “wandering the world hating what they’ve become” thing. Then Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla was written (in 1871), and vampires suddenly became alluring, bisexual upper-class gothic girls. Then, Dracula was written (in 1897), and they’re still elegant aristocrats, but moved back to Eastern Europe, sexy and deadly, outwardly beautiful yet disguising an inner corruption. Thus, horror turned to fetish, and pop culture… ahem… the world was never the same again. And we all know what happened since.

In the early 1920s, F.W. Murnau had a great idea. Since the German Expressionist movement was all about stylization, why not apply this to vampires? Why not create a vampire that looks exactly like what he is: a parasitic bloodsucker?

In the ninety-odd years since “Nosferatu”, Orlok’s appearance has influenced dozens of characters, vampire or otherwise. From The Master in “The Strain” and the Elder Vampire in “Dracula: Untold” (yes, Orlok has now ‘officially’ crossed over into a Dracula tale!), to Voldemort.

The one thing that’s been missing for all these nine decades is why the Orlok-type vampires look the way they do. We can’t undo three centuries’ worth of humanizing vampires, after all, so there must be reasons as to why the Orlok-type vampires look different from vampires of basic human appearance. This is where most vampire novels and movies drop the ball, usually not explaining this in any detail, or using the “old master” mythos where vampires will eventually age to an Orlok-like appearance.

Until now, the best explanation for Orlok-type vampires comes from the Role-Playing Game “Vampire: The Masquerade”, wherein the Nosferatu are the most ‘vampiric’ of the seven playable vampire subspecies.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Nosferatu

The Nosferatu are one of seven playable clans in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. The damnedest of the damned, the Nosferatu are disfigured and have a frightening appearance. This means that they can only use sewers, and should they be seen by humans, they will violate the Masquerade. Due to this however, the Nosferatu have become very gifted at sneaking and hacking, which means they have information on almost everything and everyone. They gather information not only as a means of survival, but out of pure pleasure as well. The Nosferatu are ostracized by other vampires due to their appearance, but also their ability to dig up dirt on everyone. This doesn’t stop the leaders of other vampire clans to come to them when they need information, however.

When I set about creating the universe for my Vampire Syndrome Saga, I found many of the classic folkloric abilities attributed to vampires (ie. clinging to walls and ceilings, aversion to acidic plants such as onions and garlic, harmed/weakened by ultraviolet radiation/sunlight) would not make scientific sense for my living human Vampires. The human genome has millions of years worth of evolved tolerance of sunlight or garlic, and to undo these would require (basically) a ground-up total DNA rewrite to where the being would no longer be “human”.

So I created planet Sek’Met, and its race of humanoid alien carnivores. With aliens, the folkloric attributes I could not (personally) justify for human vampires became easy to rationalize scientifically for the Sek’Metian race, who evolved on a different planet, under different conditions.

And it follows that alien carnivore humanoids who evolved on a different planet would also have distinct appearance traits of their own. Which gave me the best explanation ever as to why Orlok-type vampires appear they way they do: They’re aliens!

A sketch that captures the essence of my character Syl’Tes 🙂
VTM Nosferatu Waiting by Oharisu

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The Metaphor

One of the many little details hiding in Vampire Syndrome is a metaphor.

Is is the human condition? Well, I do have the alien Pure Vampires, whose DNA bought about the existence of the genetically-mutated human Vampires. The “Humans”, as the Pures call the human Vampires, embrace their humanity with passion, even when they shouldn’t. The “Normals” (non-vampire humans) deem the human Vampires monsters, but of course no human ever considers themselves to be a monster, human Vampires included.

So, we have these beings that are basically human, yet infused with basal, predatory urges, courtesy of the mutations performed to their DNA sequence by the Pures’ DNA.
A metaphor for the human condition?
Yes, and a rather illuminating one (if I presume to say so myself).

But that’s not the metaphor I’m referring to.
The combative relationship between the human Vampires and the Pures is a metaphor for the vampire itself.

How the evolution of culture has shifted the vampire from the grave-escaping revenants of old-world folklore to the sympathetic, revered heroes of romance.
And how the core supporters of the “classic monster” verbally joust with paranormal romance fans.
Vampire versus Vampire. Old versus new. Demon versus angel.
What the vampire was, versus what the vampire is.

Not to worry, my human Vampires are not “totally Twilight”. Damien and Lilith are as twisted as their rocky 253-year marriage. Zetania feels disconnected from Normal humans after the last of her Normal human family died off. And Jack’s battle to be the champion of human Vampires will far exceed even the challenges he faced in becoming a record-setting Special Olympics champion athlete.

Yet each values their humanity. The difference between them and the carnivorous Pures. The two-legged sharks striking terror in the hearts of all human Vampires.
An apex of fear the Normal humans will never know, except in their collective subconscious. The demon monster of old, refusing to die, rising forth once more to challenge its progeny, the human Vampires of today’s stories.

Even mine.

Meet the vampires of “Vampire Syndrome”

Jack Wendell

down-syndrome1-300x252
Physical and Calendar Age: 19

Former Special Olympics champion sprinter and 400-meter sprint national record holder. Now the world’s fastest running Vampire, able to run at over 100mph for long distances. Retains his sincerity and good will towards others while living and interacting with a Vampire population generally not known for these qualities. Jack gets his first girlfriend in my trilogy’s second novel, “Vampire Conspiracy”. Jack’s heroism and unique abilities gradually become known to the world’s human Vampire population… and others. 😈
Bricks

Damien Tepesh

CBAP
Physical age: 39
Calendar age: 267

Chief Venator (law enforcer) of the United States region. Targets Jack for termination, as Venators traditionally do when they discover a new special-needs Vampire. Jack escapes two of Damien’s assassination attempts, eventually causing Damien to reconsider his position about Jack.  Damien enjoys fast cars and fast women. Damien has been married for over 250 years, and has had several mistresses as well.
Bricks

Lilith Morrigan

Jessica Chastain
Physical Age: 44
Calendar Age: 308

President of the world’s human Vampire Community. Breaks with her own Venator past by protecting Jack from her husband Damien. Feels some maternal instinct for Jack, but Lilith realizes she would not make the best adoptive mother for him. The conflicts over Jack push her relationship with Damien to a breaking point.
Bricks

Zetania Vinescu

fortune_teller

Physical Age: 25
Calendar Age: 135

Chief Venator of Romania. Summoned to Colorado by Damien, to help him hunt Jack. Lilith over-rides her husband and orders Zetania to protect Jack from Damien and the other Venators. Zetania gradually realizes Jack’s incredible potential, and discovers that Jack may be the key to help Zetania and the Romanian Vampires end their dispute with their most feared enemy… one way or another.
Bricks

Ronald and Diane Pepper

Ron Diane
Physical and Calender Ages: 40

Ron Pepper, Jack’s former Special Olympics coach, and his wife Diane are the closest that Jack has ever had to a real family. Damien and Lilith come to a rare agreement and choose the Peppers to be Jack’s new adoptive parents. Damien and Lilith turn the Peppers into Vampires and hire them as private investigators. The Peppers’ longtime hobby of investigating cattle mutilations becomes their full-time occupation, as they finally uncover the mystery of who is behind all of those mutilations.

Bricks

Stella Reynolds

StellaKP
Physical Age: 27
Calendar Age: 71

Lilith’s presidential secretary and Damien’s current mistress. Over the last 250 years, Lilith has killed Damien’s previous four mistresses (and several other women who had short-term flings with Damien). The fact that Lilith hired Stella to be her secretary suggests a major change of strategy on her part, in which she plans to heighten her control and influence over Damien.

Bricks

Gl’Ag

Gl'AgPhysical Age: Mature Adult Male
Calendar Age: Over 25,000 years

The human vampires’ worst nightmare. And he realizes Jack’s true potential far more than any human Vampires can.

Bricks

Fred Henderson

Fred HPhysical Age: 41
Calendar Age: 266

Chief Mechanic, the MacGyver of Vampires. Owner of Roman Auto Salvage. His kindred’s predilection towards fast cars ensures Fred’s job security. Enjoys customizing pickup trucks and hunting deer. Owns a large collection of vintage film prints, including an original print of “Nosferatu” acquired during his vacation to Germany in 1922.

Bricks

Tivor Sebestyén

Tivor
Physical Age: 25
Calendar Age: 43

Mute autistic Vampire, native to the city of Debrecen, Hungary. Pursued by Hungarian Venators upon his change to human vampire in 1991, reported “missing, presumed dead” that same year. Confirmed sighted by several U.S. Venators in Colorado twenty years later. Possesses a unique superpower that could be dangerous to the human Vampire community.

Dracula

A great review of a book many haven’t read in years, which is precisely the reason why they should read it! It’s not a coincidence that the first words in the prologue of Vampire Syndrome are “Dear Diary.”

Runnin Off at the Mouth....

Dracula.

The name immediately conjours up fantastical images personal to each of us.

I first read Dracula in high school. I’ve since read it four times: first, third, and fourth times in the version to the left (Dell, ISBN 0-440-92148-1), and the second time an abridged version (by Nora Kramer) put out by Scholastic Books Services (curiously no ISBN is to be found on the book), third printing, August 1975. Since I’m working my own novel manuscript, it has taken me a while to get through it (about 40 days). I started it a week before Hallowe’en. I’ve been wanting to reread it again for years.

And so refreshing a re-reading it was!

Dracula is so well done, and is written from a point of view (POV) that is “outside the [vampiric] box,” pardon the pun. I love how it’s not a straightforward, real-time POV, that the story is woven together through an after-the-fact presentation of diaries…

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Boom Boom Vampire Hunter

The final version of Vampire Syndrome contains a passing reference to Damien’s favorite in-universe anime, Boom Boom Karyuudo Kyuketsuki (Boom Boom Vampire Hunter).

From Chapter 13, scene three, Lilith’s point of view:

“I would say ‘fuck you,’ Damien,” I snap,” but Stella probably is jumping your bones right now.”
“Wrong-o, honey. We’re curled up in bed, watching a DVD of Boom Boom Vampire Hunter.”
Gee, what a perfect show to watch after lovemaking.
“The anime series?” Zetania asks.
“Akane Kitsuni bought all the DVD sets for him in Tokyo,” I reply.
“Yeah, I don’t like the American version, where they cut out some of the language and gore,” Damien’s voice says.

Damien is an obsessive fan of the “Boom Boom Vampire Hunter” anime series. The fearless heroes, 13-year-old Nabeshima and his psychic black cat Otaku, travel all over Japan battling adult Kyuketsuki in the cities, and hunting the reclusive child-like Kappa in the rural areas.

Nabeshima uses fully automatic machine guns, grenade and rocket launchers, and plastic explosives in his Vampire hunting quests. It is never explained how a 13-year-old boy acquires all of these weapons, and the series shows he is never suspected by the authorities of any of the carnage, simply because he is “innocent-looking”. His cat Otaku can read the thoughts of humans and Vampires, and communicates to Nabeshima telepathically in a schoolgirl voice.

The ‘over-the-top’ Anime violence has a natural appeal for Damien, but what makes human Vampires love this series is that the Kyuketsuki and Kappa are shown as pale white, no body hair, slightly forward brows and all of their teeth pointed to sharp edges. To human Vampires, this fictional, over-the-top Anime series ironically has the most accurate depictions of ‘Pure’ Vampires since the famous 1922 film classic ‘Nosferatu’. 😉

Here’s another unreleased excerpt from the original version of Vampire Syndrome, ©2010

Damien:

The pale white Kyuketsuki on the Boom Boom Vampire Hunter DVD box flashes my mind back to 1922. I was in Lilly’s office. Fred Henderson, our chief mechanic, had just returned from his vacation in Europe. He handed Lilly a souvenir. A film can. Inside was a print of “Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens “. Fred’s copy would become one of the ‘surviving prints’ we used to restore this film decades later. If only the Normals knew about that.

That night, Fred screened the film for us in the Presidential Mansion’s theater. I was in the front row, Lilly and Beatrice at my sides. When Count Orlok first appeared, the whole room went into shock. Beatrice screamed and ducked to the floor. Instinctively, Lilly and I drew our pistols and aimed at his image on the screen.

Fred ceased cranking the projector and turned on the overhead lights. We, the entire audience, turned to face him.
“Sure looks like a Pure, doesn’t he?” Fred chuckled, reaching down to grab his beer stein.
“How do they know what Pures look like?” I yelled at Fred as I tucked my pistol back in my chest holster. I couldn’t believe what my eyes just told me. “You did say it was Normals who made this moving picture, correct?”
Fred nodded while sipping his beer.
He rested his stein beside the projector and strolled to the overhead light switches.
“Legends only start when someone lives to tell the tale,” Fred said as he dimmed the lights.