By: Kenneth Barwin
“Men do not fear swords. They fear monsters.”
This quote from “Dracula Untold” perfectly emphasizes one key element of fear: the idea of something is always more frightening than the actual thing. And throughout the entire movie, even when the main character isn’t a vampire, he tries to utilize fear in this manner through psychological warfare. For those that are not aware, “Dracula Untold” is a spinoff from the legends of Dracula. From the point of view of the movie, “Vlad the Impaler” was made into a vampire when he chose to live with the curse to give him the power to save his family and kingdom.
Before Vlad was turned into a vampire, he was commonly known as “Vlad the Impaler.” He was given this nickname due to his use of wooden stakes through the bodies of the people he killed. Vlad used psychological warfare to instill a sense of fear into everyone who witnessed the horrific remnants of his victims. He mentions that his enemies were so stricken with fear that he believes his horrific scenes saved countless lives. The entire goal was to create the image of a monster, a human monster. You can kill a human on the battlefield, but a monster is something else entirely.
Comparing Vlad the Impaler to Dracula, the vampire version of Vlad utilizes the exact same framework of fear. In addition to still putting wooden stakes through his victims, he uses “monster-like” characteristics to begin putting fear in the enemy. Among these characteristics are floods of bats, the ability to turn into bats, sucking blood, and the ability to defeat entire armies by himself. The extent of his horror was even having unintended side effects. Although he originally meant to scare his enemies, even the members of his own kingdom began to fear him. They viewed him as a monster too.
Dracula’s enemies tried to counteract the fear that he was instilling among their armies by making the warriors wear blindfolds. They believed that if they couldn’t see how monstrous Dracula was, he would just be viewed as another human they were trying to kill. I believe this is a key point in a lot of horror films. If you take off the mask of a lot of these serial killers, they simply become human murders. It’s much easier to defend yourself against a human who is robbing your place than a supernatural being sent to steal your soul.
This movie captured what horror is all about: fear. Often times the scariest movies are the ones that have realistic, horrific backstories. Obviously, movies that simply have gruesome attributes are horrifying at that instant, but it isn’t likely to have a lasting effect. Compare this to “The Ring.” Every time I turn on the television, only to see black and white dots splattered across the entire screen, I instantly think of the creepy girl with long, black hair covering her face. Both the human and vampire monsters of Vlad and Dracula were the results of a layering of images that he tried to resonate with his enemies. He created the realistic, horrific backstories. Horror films, and Dracula, are scary because in the far reaches of our brain, we believe that this “story” we are being told could have actually happened. Vampires, ghosts, and the creepy girl from “The Ring” could be lurking just around the corner. It is in this possibility of reality that fear terrorizes us all.