- Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods by Dale Hudson
Dale Hudson. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017, 296 pp.
Dale Hudson’s new book Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods is framed by two vampire capes, as if by curtains: that of Count Dracula in Tod Browning’s 1931 eponymous classic and that of a hijab-clad female vampire in Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). Their black fabric fluttering dramatically in the wind may look similar, but the meanings could not be more different. Count Dracula, played by Hungarian newcomer Bela Lugosi, with his deathly pallor and foreign accent, defined for decades to come the image of a sexy, alluring, and dangerous vampire. Despite his white makeup and masculine virility, he is not-quite-white and not-quite-alive. Alternatively, Amirpour’s heroine redefines the vampire image. She is riding a skateboard alone on the dark streets of fictional Iranian Bad City (shot in Taft, California, near Los Angeles). Count Dracula’s cape lends him the [End Page 107] power of allure and seduction by helping him stand out; her chador, conversely, gives her anonymity. It protects her from the suspicions of her victims and from predatory men. She is a Muslim feminist figure, a vigilante with fangs, liberating the victimized from oppression and marginalization.
Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods talks about these two key figures—and everything in between them. Hudson’s analysis includes some two hundred films, TV productions, Web series, and other media products about vampires, made by Hollywood in the United States or created offshore in Canada, Europe, Mexico, the Philippines, and elsewhere. This staggering scope of the monograph is both an asset and a curse—an asset because the book covers such tremendous ground, a curse because not all of the works can be equally covered. Although key films, such as the ones mentioned previously, are closely read and analyzed, other productions, by necessity, receive only relatively brief analysis, leaving the reader yearning for more. That is because Hudson’s reading of the cinematic and other media text is so rich, precise, and innovative that it makes the reader see even familiar films in a new light.
Unlike most scholarship on vampire films, Hudson’s remarkable new book does not consider them first and foremost as horror films. He explicitly sets out to liberate his approach from the constraints of the genre theory, considering the vampire films as transgenre and transmedia, which allows us to see their rhizomatic connections to other genres and styles. This approach allows Hudson to show how the trope of a vampire has been deployed across different national, historic, and cultural contexts, from Hollywood’s melodrama, romance, comedy, soap opera, and science fiction to Mexican lucha libre films and Latin American telenovelas. Hudson’s discussion covers the oeuvre from the early days of vampire films and throughout the next eight decades, including art-house horror from Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Hunters (1967) and Paul Morrisey’s Blood for Dracula (1974) to Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos (1992), Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995), and Guy Maddin’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2001). The discussion concludes with the products of the new media ecology, such as professional Web series (often linked to television series) and amateur video mash-ups and memes.
The main point of Hudson’s sweeping analysis is the significance of the vampire figure for understanding race and transnationalism. From the outset, Hudson points out uncanny parallels between the category of race and the vampire figure: both are mutable and migrating. Both are supernatural—disproven by science and not recognized by religion, they “don’t exist,” yet both have a tremendous force as social and cultural constructs. Race, like vampires, is neither living nor dead, but “undead.” Hudson argues,
Race persists; it never fades entirely or dies completely. It appears to disappear then resurfaces with an infinite and often unpredictable succession of afterlives that expose always-present traces of slavery and servitude, undying vestiges of colonialism and genocide, and under-acknowledged structural inequalities within US democracy.(14)
Paradoxically, vampire films and media...