Left Behind...Again

by Jess Peacock

In 1995 I was a twenty-four year old conservative evangelical Christian convinced of his own spiritual piety with a laser sharp focus on winning the planet for Jesus. Okay, a slight exaggeration perhaps. Truth be told, as a full-time family minister I was mostly intent on surviving youth group lock-ins and getting culturally savvy teenagers to come with me to the Michael W. Smith concert (“C’mon guys, dcTalk is opening for him. They rap!”) But people accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and savior was a matter I took rather serious.

After reading Left Behind, I went and got real kooky. While I knew even then that the book was not particularly well written, it succeeded in prying open what I thought were my hermetically sealed spiritual eyes, enabling me to see the absolute imperative duty I had to convince as many people as possible to turn toward Jesus or miss out on the rapture and suffer the wrath of the well hidden (coughBillClintoncough) Antichrist who could be revealed at any moment.

And I wasn’t alone. To date, the original novel Left Behind has sold seven million copies, and the series as a whole (Left Behind: The Kids Series??) has sold over sixty million copies. Granted, not everyone who has read Left Behind gives him or herself over to a literal interpretation of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ action adventure eschatology, but what can I say…I was an idiot.

So, as the Left Behind novel does rather ineloquently, let me skip to the end. It is now nearly twenty years after my first reading and I am a very different person indeed. No longer a practicing Christian, but having spent three years studying theology in a masters program, I have become fascinated by all things emerging from the Christian entertainment complex (and it is a complex if the $70 million dollar haul of the recent religious film God’s Not Dead is an indicator). What’s more, Tom Perrotta’s raptureish novel The Leftovers recently premiered as a series on HBO, and a reboot of the Left Behind film lands in theaters this October with Nic Cage bringing a small amount of star power to the Second Coming (rumors from the set suggest Cage wasn’t happy about Jesus getting the bigger trailer).


Long story short, it seemed like an interesting opportunity to revisit the novel. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to do all of the heavy lifting and read the book for you (to steal a line from chapter one, “A crash into the ocean had to be better than this,”). However, any fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 knows that the suffering is much more enjoyable when it’s done together. So feel free to find a copy (apparently there’s seven million lying around) and join me for Left Behind…Again.


UP NEXT: Chapter One – “Fake Poop”

Religious Iconography and the Popular Vampire Narrative

by Jess Peacock

Toward the end of the novel Salem’s Lot, Father Callahan, the lone Catholic priest in the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, and Mark Petrie, the young student who has found himself an unwitting player in the vampiric drama rapidly unfolding around him, have together, suddenly and unexpectedly, come face-to-face with Barlow, the master vampire well on his way to enslaving the entire town.
“And here you are!” Barlow had boomed good-naturedly in his rich, powerful voice. Mark attacked without thought and was captured instantly.
Callahan moved forward, holding his cross up.
Barlow’s grin of triumph was instantly transformed into a rictus of agony. He fell back toward the sink, dragging the boy in front of him. Their feet crunched in the broken glass.
“In God’s name-“ Callahan began.
At the name of the Deity, Barlow screamed aloud as if he had been struck by a whip, his mouth open in a downward grimace, the needle fangs glimmering within.
This scene effectively illustrates a common element of the popular vampire narrative within Western culture; that is the cross of Christ, a primary tool in the technology of salvation, serving as a bludgeon against the undead. The meme found origin and purchase in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, resulting in continued implementation within the established mythology of the vampire for the next hundred years. Susannah Clements writes:
In Dracula, the power of the Christian cross is more than simply a plot device. The cross is a picture of one of the central themes of the novel, and it points to the way Stoker portrays the figure of the vampire. The vampire in Dracula is used for spiritual and theological reflection in a way that is gradually secularized as the vampire genre develops through the twentieth century.
For Clements, Dracula is not just a narrative figure with theological connotations to be discussed and explored. She views the vampire sub-genre as a direct Christian allegory and apologetic bound up in a spiritual morality play where God ultimately defeats the power of sin and death. She continues:
The cross and the figure of the vampire in Dracula are inextricably linked. Once the cross has been understood theologically in the context of the novel, then the vampire must be as well. The vampire – primarily Count Dracula himself – represents all of the forces that the cross must defeat. The figure of the vampire in Dracula is more complex than a force of generic evil. Because the evil is placed in a spiritual context, the vampire comes to represent sin in a theological sense.
While Christian objects are clearly granted a place of privilege in Dracula, the assertion of Clements that the Count serves as a direct equivalence to sin is problematic as discussed in my previous article, Let There Be Darkness: The Vampire as Agent of Theological Dialogue. However, her belief that the vampire should be viewed as a theological figure, and that the consequence of the various sacred accoutrements has as much to tell the reader as the presence of the undead, is an observation rife with avenues of analysis. Doug Cowan writes, “While we might not go so far as to call them Christian allegories, that the power of Christianity triumphs in the end of so many vampire films is not in doubt. Indeed, from the pages of Stoker’s novel onward, the cross has been the preeminent instrument for defeating Western vampires.”

Surprisingly, the film Dracula 2000 is a rare contemporary attempt at explaining exactly why the assorted Christian technologies of salvation are able to impair Dracula, without secularizing the intrinsic religious subtext behind them. In the movie, the Count, surviving into the turn of the twenty-first century, pursues Mary, a distant relative of his arch-nemesis Abraham Van Helsing, while also concealing the surprising, yet logical, source of his existence. Cowan writes:


Presenting the ur-vampire as the epitome of religious betrayal, Dracula is actually the latest incarnation of Judas Iscariot, who died by suicide but was resurrected to an immortal half-life as punishment for his betrayal of Jesus. This is meant to explain his fear of crosses, holy water, and silver, as well as his paradoxical penchant for Christian churches and graveyards.
While Dracula 2000 succeeds at providing a particularly fascinating and imaginative perspective on the Dracula mythos, it also serves as an excellent illustration of the apparent, although often unspoken, limitations of the various technologies of salvation. At one point in the film, a character uses a Christian bible against Dracula, its pages exploding outward in a violent, fiery wave. The holy book, obviously conveyed as a sacred weapon in the presence of the undead, has little effect on the vampire who smiles and mutters, “Propaganda.” In addition, the cross has a limited effect on Dracula, much in the same way the crucifix contains limited potency (i.e. it does not kill a vampire) for the bearer of the symbol in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Mary Hallab addresses this when she writes:
God does not give his Christian heroes much help. The power of Christian symbols and Christian faith is only weakly manifest in temporarily warding off Dracula. Most of the time, the heroes of Christ must combat Dracula’s supernatural physical and psychic powers with only human resources, aided mostly by assorted physical things – garlic, crosses, magic circles, and sturdy stakes and knives…Indeed, the power of virtue or of faith seems to play a very small role, except in keeping the vampire hunters on task.
If we return to Father Callahan facing off with Barlow in Salem’s Lot, we are witness to a vampire held off by the glowing power of the cross of Christ, though most assuredly not defeated by it. Barlow, having captured Mark Petrie, agrees to let the boy go if Callahan will cast his cross aside and face the Master Vampire one-on-one.
“Then fulfill your part of the bargain, shaman.”
“I’m a priest!” Callahan flung at him.
Barlow made a small, mocking bow. “Priest,” he said, and the word sounded like a dead haddock in his mouth.
Callahan stood indecisive. Why throw it down? Drive him off, settle for a draw tonight, and tomorrow –
But a deeper part of his mind warned. To deny the vampire’s challenge was to risk possibilities far graver than any he had considered. If he dared not throw the cross aside, it would be as much as admitting…admitting…what? If only things weren’t going so fast, if one only had time to think, to reason it out –
The cross’s glow was dying…Barlow reached from the darkness and plucked the cross from his fingers. Callahan cried out miserably…and the next sound would haunt him for the rest of his life: two dry snaps as Barlow broke the arms of the cross, and a meaningless thump as he threw it on the floor.
“God damn you!” he cried out.
“It’s too late for such melodrama,” Barlow said from the darkness. His voice was almost sorrowful. “There is no need of it. You have forgotten the doctrine of your own church, is it not so? The cross…the bread and wine…the confessional…only symbols. Without faith, the cross is only wood, the bread baked wheat, the wine sour grapes. If you had cast the cross away, you should have beaten me another night.”
A similar scene is played out in the film Fright Night, when Peter Vincent and Charley Brewster confront the vampire Jerry Dandridge, brandishing the assorted technologies of salvation, including the cross of Christ which Vincent wields melodramatically and commands, “Stop! You creature of the night!” Dandridge joyfully laughs, then nonchalantly reaches out, snatches the cross, and crushes it, explaining, “You have to have faith for this to work on me, Mr. Vincent.”

Both Barlow and Dandridge seem to indicate that the crucifix itself is not the actual weapon used against the vampire, it is within the indefinable locus of faith where the power is rightly manifested, faith translated through the image of the cross of Christ. Clements writes, “It takes faith to begin to fight against the forces of evil…But, more and more as the [vampire narrative] develops, ‘faith’ becomes clearly connected with religion, and the faith that ultimately saves is a faith in God’s power.” However, the previous examples draw stark attention to the problem of symbols diluting the faith of the believer, the reality, or authority said symbols are substituting for, what Jean Baudrillard terms simulacra. He writes:
But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme power that is simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or does it volatilize itself in the simulacra that, alone, deploy their power and pomp of fascination – the visible machinery of icons substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God?
Jean Baudrillard
Both Father Callahan and Peter Vincent seem to have fallen prey to the “visible machinery of icons” that Baudrillard warns of, apparently losing sight of the “supreme power” those icons represent. He continues:
All Western faith and good faith became engaged in this wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could be exchanged for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange – God of course. But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real.
By the time the crucifix has been rendered ineffectual for our heroes, the symbol has transmogrified through the process of what Baudrillard describes as the “phases of the image.” According to him, the image proceeds through four stages: “[It] is the reflection of profound reality; it masks and denatures a profound reality; it masks the absence of a profound reality; it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum.” In other words, religious icons do not intrinsically possess power or authority of its own within these vampire narratives. The effectiveness of the cross of Christ, for Father Callahan and Peter Vincent, solely depends on their ability to allow the symbol of their faith to transcend its visible machinery and immerse them into the profound reality the cross only serves as an agent for. As Clements observes with regard to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “We will see that salvation in Dracula – salvation from Dracula – ultimately comes only through faith.”

Faith in what, however? In some vampire narratives, the “profound reality” of Baudrillard does not necessarily belong to an easily defined God or religion, and attempts to funnel such immense universal cosmogonic power through mere trinkets of religious devotion seem to only deaden its effects. In the novel Hotel Transylvania, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro writes of the duality of power at play in the vampire narrative:
There is a Power, which is only that. It is like the rivers, which nurture us and can destroy us. Whether we are prosperous or drowned in flood-waters, the rivers are still the same. So with this Power. And when it lifts us up and opens our eyes to goodness and wonders, so that we are ennobled and inspired to kindness and excellence, we call it God. But when it is used for pain and suffering and degradation, we call it Satan. The Power is both. It is our use alone which makes it one or the other.
In the works of Yarbro, this Power is neither defined as good, evil, Christian, or Satanic; it just is. At the climax of Salem’s Lot, we discover that this Power may very well have been available to Father Callahan in his confrontation with Barlow, perhaps if he had not relied so much on only the symbol of that Power, placing his faith in the crucifix and not the “profound reality” it poorly represented, as Mark Petrie watches in awe as Ben Mears rips through a door hiding the casket of Barlow, assuming for himself the eldritch power that Callahan only briefly tasted:
Power seemed to have welded his flesh into its present grip. He stood holding it for a moment, looking at the shining blade, and some curious impulse made him touch it to his forehead. A hard sense of sureness clasped him, a feeling of inevitable rightness, of whiteness. For the first time in weeks he felt he was no longer groping through fogs of belief and unbelief, sparring with a partner whose body was too insubstantial to sustain blows.
Power, humming up his arms like volts.
The blade glowed brighter…Mark stared at him, amazed. The cold blue fire had crept down the ax handle and spread up his arms until he seemed to be working in a column of fire. His head was twisted to one side, the muscles of his neck corded with strain, one eye open and glaring, the other squeezed shut. The back of his shirt had split between the straining wings of his shoulder blades, and the muscles writhed beneath the skin like ropes. He was a man taken over, possessed, and Mark saw without knowing (or having to know) that the possession was not in the least Christian; the good was more elemental, less refined. It was ore, like something coughed up out of the ground in naked chunks. There was nothing finished about it. It was Force; it was Power; it was whatever moved the greatest wheels of the universe.
Terence Fisher
However, in some vampire narratives, the symbol of the crucifix stands as its own agency of righteousness, neither dependent on the bearer of the icon, the power behind it, nor where it might rest on the spectrum of the phases of the image theorized by Baudrillard. This is most noticeably demonstrated in the Hammer produced vampire films directed by Terence Fisher. Paul Leggett writes:
The apostle Paul speaks of the cross having cosmic dimensions reconciling all things in heaven and earth to God (Colossians 1:20). For Fisher the cross can be found virtually anywhere. The cross emerges out of otherwise ordinary elements such as candlesticks and windmills. This ubiquitous character of the ultimate symbol of God’s victory in the Christian faith gives Fisher’s work a prevailing optimism in the face of evil. Fisher has insisted that if there is a general theme to his films, it is his emphasis on the ultimate final victory of good over evil.
The ubiquity of the image of the cross in the cinematic world constructed by Fisher (epitomized in Dracula falling under the shadow of a cross cast by a windmill), while undoubtedly reassuring for people of faith, inevitably falls into the symbolic deconstruction Baudrillard warned of, assuming a power and authority within an icon that has no claim on said power or authority, which leads to the cross of Christ as a symbol losing any and all meaning. This is on full display in the film From Dusk Till Dawn where characters create makeshift crosses with whatever is at their disposal, including a sawed off shotgun, echoing the character Van Helsing in the Fisher Directed The Horror of Dracula who uses two candlesticks to temporarily keep the Count at bay.

In From Dusk Till Dawn 2, the presence of the cruciform is taken to ridiculous heights as the vampires within the film are repelled by the cross-section of the bars of a jail cell door, as well as by the red cross on the back of an ambulance. Similarly, in the Terrence Fisher directed The Brides of Dracula, Leggett points out that humans are “able to hold Dracula…at bay using the cross even though they don’t really seem to understand why it has this power.”

The theologian Paul Tillich writes, “The first and basic characteristic of the symbol is its figurative quality…the inner attitude which is oriented to the symbol does not have the symbol itself in view but rather that which is symbolized in it.” With regard to From Dusk Till Dawn 2, Tillich, at this point, might not take umbrage with the ubiquity of the cross, differing greatly with the view of Baudrillard. From this perspective, a makeshift crucifix, by nature of what Tillich would describe as the characteristic of “innate power” of the symbol, would carry with it some form of power or authority. However, Tillich continues:
This characteristic is the most important one. It gives to the symbol the reality which it has almost lost in ordinary usage…This characteristic is decisive for the distinction between a sign and a symbol. The sign is interchangeable at will. It does not arise from necessity, for it has no inner power. The symbol, however, does possess a necessary character. It cannot be exchanged. It can only disappear when, through dissolution, it loses its inner power…In the course of evolution and as a result of the transition from the mystical to the technical view of the world, they have lost their symbolic character, though not entirely. Once having lost their innate power they became signs. The pictorial symbols of religious art were originally charged with a magical power, with the loss of which they became a conventional sign language and almost forfeited their genuine symbolic character.
Tillich here could easily be discussing the gradual erasure over the last hundred years of the vampire as a potent theological symbol. However, in the context of the symbolic power of the cross, he seems to be in slack agreement with the phases of the image. Although, while Baudrillard would argue that at the last phase the symbol has no relation whatsoever to the profound reality it once served, Tillich would assert that, no matter how severe the dissolution of the symbol, some power would always remain. With regard to the popular vampire narrative, it might be argued that the vestiges of this “innate power” is what lingers, a once potent reality now relegated to an ultimately ineffectual (though still painful for the vampire) apparatus that relies solely on the moral agency of the one who bears the cross, and not the power, authority, or ultimate Truth behind it. This avenue of analysis is what ultimately leads to the popular vampire narrative serving, in some sense, as an apologetic for the Christian faith, as evidenced in the novel Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson where Father Joe attempts to convince his unbelieving niece of the veracity of his Christian faith:
“But atheism implies that you consider the question of a provident god important enough to take seriously. I don’t. At heart I’m simply a devout agnostic.”
He pointed to the gold crucifix hanging from her neck.
“But you wear a cross. Didn’t you once tell me you’d die before wearing anything like that?”
“I damn near did die because I wasn’t wearing one. So now I wear one for perfectly pragmatic reasons. I’ve never been one for fashion accessories, but if it chases vampires, I want one.”
“But you’ve got to take the next step, Lacey. You’ve got to ask why the undead fear it, why it sears their flesh. There’s something there. When you face that reality, you won’t be an atheist or agnostic anymore.”
Lacey smiled. “Did I mention I’m a devout empiricist too?”
However, with regard to this apparently logical exchange in Midnight Mass, Tillich goes on to address a perspective on the power of symbols that creates an interesting wrinkle in the vampire narrative epitomized in the Roman Polanski directed comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers. In the movie, a young woman wields a crucifix in an attempt to fend off a vampire who was Jewish before his undeath. He smiles and good-naturedly says, “Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire.” Tillich writes that a symbol, in order to be effective, must be accepted socially for what it represents. The Jewish community writ large does not accept the symbolic meaning of the Christian cross, therefore, according to Tillich, it would not serve as a legitimate source of power for a Jewish person. He writes:
This implies that the symbol is socially rooted and socially supported. Hence it is not correct to say that a thing is first a symbol and then gains acceptance; the process of becoming a symbol and the acceptance of a symbol belong together. The act by which a symbol is created is a social act, even though it first springs forth in an individual.
Tillich raises an interesting question within the traditional vampire narrative: What if the power and authority of the crucifix does not lie within the symbol or even within the alleged influence behind it? What if the power of the cross is a residual psychosomatic response of the vampire, conditioned by his or her own religious, cultural, and social systems at work within their development when they were human? In the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Robert Neville, a survivor of a worldwide viral pandemic that has turned most of the planet into vampires, is explaining to Ruth, another apparent survivor, what he has discovered about the creatures:
“When I showed him the cross,” he said, “he laughed in my face.”
She nodded once.
“But when I held a torah before his eyes, I got the reaction I wanted.”
“A what?”
“A torah. Tablet of law, I believe it is.”
“And that…got a reaction?”
“Yes, I had him tied up, but when he saw the torah he broke loose and attacked me.”
“What happened?” She seemed to have lost her fright again.
“He struck me on the head with something. I don’t remember what. I was almost knocked out. But, using the torah, I backed him to the door and got rid of him.”
“Oh.”
“So you see, the cross hasn’t the power the legend says it has. My theory is that, since the legend came into its own in Europe, a continent predominantly Catholic, the cross would naturally become the symbol of defense against powers of darkness.”
In Dracula 2000, this concept of the vampire as its own moral agent with regard to the effectiveness of various technologies of salvation used against it, is explored further, albeit as a punch line, when Marcus, a vampire, attacks Simon, a Vampire Hunter, who brandishes a cross in defense from the creature. Marcus smiles and says, “Sorry sport, I’m an atheist.” Matheson, through Neville, explains further:
“Why should a Jew fear the cross? Why should a vampire who had been a Jew fear it? Most people were afraid of becoming vampires. But as far as the cross goes – well, neither a Jew nor a Hindu nor a Mohammedan nor an atheist, for that matter, would fear the cross.”
While this fairly modern cultural perception has undoubtedly contributed to the secularization of the traditional vampire narrative that Clements mourns, removing the religious symbolism, metaphors, and analogies for a more pseudo-scientific and psychologically based explanation of the undead might also provide an opportunity for a discussion of religious pluralism in a post-modern society. If the traditional vampire narrative (and the symbolism associated with it) is losing its teeth so to speak, arguably along with religion in society overall, perhaps the vampire might unearth new life as the catalyst for fresh dialogue on what needs to transpire within religious discourse in order to remain relevant to a far more savvy and enlightened audience than existed when Count Dracula first journeyed to England in 1897.

Bibliography

Baudrillard, Jean. 1994. Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Clements, Susannah. 2011. The vampire defanged: How the embodiment of evil became a romantic hero. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

Cowan, Douglas E. 2008. Sacred terror: Religion and horror on the silver screen. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Dracula 2000. DVD. Directed by Patrick Lussier. 2000; Los Angeles, CA: Dimension Films, 2001.

Fearless Vampire Killers, The. DVD. Directed by Roman Polanski. 1967; Los Angeles, CA: Warner Brothers, 2004.

Fright Night. DVD. Directed by Tom Holland. 1985; Los Angeles, CA: Columbia Pictures, 1999.

Hallab, Mary Y. 2009. Vampire god: The allure of the undead in western culture. New York: State University of New York Press.

King, Stephen. 1975. 'Salem's Lot. New York: Doubleday.

Leggett, Paul. 2002. Terence Fisher: Horror, myth and religion. North Carolina: Mcfarland.

Matheson, Richard. 1954. I am legend. New York: Eclipse Books.

Tillich, Paul. 1966. “The religious symbol.” In Myth and symbol, ed. F.W. Dillistone, 15-34. Essex: The Talbot Press.

Wilson, F. Paul. 2004. Midnight Mass. New York: Tor Books.

Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn. 1978. Hôtel Transylvania: A novel of forbidden love. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Let There Be Darkness: The Vampire as Agent of Theological Dialogue

by Jess Peacock

In the 1985 film Fright Night, teenager Charley Brewster discovers that an ancient vampire has moved in next door to the house he and his single mother share in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Out of fear and desperation, Charley approaches Peter Vincent, the aged host of a late night cable access horror show, for assistance in dispatching the fiend. Vincent, misunderstanding the intent of Charley and believing he only desires an autograph, informs the boy that his show has just been cancelled. “Apparently your generation doesn't want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see is killers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.” This condemnation by Vincent of the post-modern horror genre, particularly with regard to the neglect of the vampire sub-genre in the mid-eighties, has proven to be paradoxically prophetic and myopic. While the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer arguably primed contemporary culture in the late 1990s for a vampiric onslaught, it was the advent of the twenty-first century where the mythhistorical beast truly exploded in popularity, from the cultural phenomena of the Twilight young adult book and film series, to True Blood and The Vampire Diaries on television, to any number of video games, best selling novels, and innumerable websites devoted to the undead. Susannah Clements expands on this notion:
Vampires represent something to us as humans. They represent our fears and desires. The reason they have recurred in our stories over the last hundred years is that vampires are rich enough a metaphor to adapt to culture’s changing worldview and interests. We can make a vampire mean what we want it to mean. We can use it for any number of purposes…there is something about the figure of the vampire that attracts us in this metaphorical sense. As a metaphor it hits at the heart of what makes us human. A vampire is a monster that has a human shape, and so it becomes a picture through which we can explore the human condition.
Indeed the vampire throughout history has represented everything from forbidden love, to seductive forces threatening the institution of marriage, to the invasive political other who endangers the very fabric of civilized society. Scott Poole writes of monsters as serving as “’meaning machines’…excavating all manner of cultural productions depending on their context and their historical moment.” This article explores another common trope of the vampire in the history of cinema and literature, the vampire as a theological expression of sin, temptation, Satan, and even God.

The popular representation of the vampire throughout history has stood as a potent theological totem, rife with symbolism, metaphorical power, and religious admonition of failing to abide by the precepts of God. Timothy Beal argues, “The politically and religiously conservative function of the monstrous is to encourage one to pull back from the edge. The monster is a warning or portent, demonstrating what to avoid, and remonstrating with anyone who would challenge established social and symbolic boundaries. They literally scare the hell out of us.” The vampire serves as more than a fundamentalist boogeyman shambling through the conservative religious imagination of moral gatekeepers. It provides the unique opportunity to bestow flesh and vivacity to theological concepts hiding in the shadows and crevices of religious studies.

While some might bristle at the notion of an undead bloodsucker operating as a theological marker, Beal writes, “There are indeed monsters in the Bible, inspiring not a little horror. Indeed, one might say that the Bible is literally riddled with monsters.” It is the often troubling relationships between God and monsters, the sacred and the profane, that shelters questions as to the role of the Divine in the enmeshment of good and evil and the disquieting understanding that “the diabolic is firmly embedded in Christian scripture, mythistory, and worship.” The vampire, then, rests among well-established religious company, emerging from the swirling darkness of creation not only to strike fear within the heart of audiences. It also exists, perhaps unknowingly, as a lens through which to view death, questions of evil and theodicy, the search for transcendent meaning, and even the purpose and meaning of religious technologies of salvation such as the crucifix, the Eucharist, holy water, and sacred space. Foremost among these avenues of inquiry is the relationship between the mortal and the Divine, and how that affiliation transpires amongst a world of evil and monsters.

‘OMG!’: The Vampire as Marker of Divine Presence

At the climax of the novel Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, protagonists Ben Mears and young Mark Petrie have tracked the master vampire Barlow to his hiding place in the basement of a local boarding house. As the sun sets and the showdown commences, Barlow psychically and violently invades the mind of Mears, declaring:
Look and see me, puny man. Look upon Barlow, who has passed the centuries as you have passed hours before a fireplace with a book. Look and see the great creature of the night whom you would slay with your miserable little stick. Look upon me, scribbler. I have written in human lives, and blood has been my ink. Look upon me and despair!
Rudolf Otto
Faced with the overwhelming power of his otherworldly adversary, Mears is sapped of his strength. This devastating response to the presence of the vampire illustrates what theologian Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) described as the mysterium tremendum, “that is, a radically other mystery that brings on a stupefying combination of fascination and terror, wonder and dread,” traits, Otto argued, of religious experience present in the sublime as well as the horrific. The feeling of mysterium tremendum occurs in response to the numinous, another term used by Otto that describes encounters with the Divine, as well as a “feeling which remains where the concept fails.” The stock and trade of the vampire narrative (as well as the horror genre overall) relies on the awe and mystification brought on by the dread of the mysterium tremendum experienced in the wake of the supremacy of the numinous figure. Whether in the guise of Ben Mears, Jonathan Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or Charley Brewster in Fright Night, any of the heroes who have seen fit to directly challenge the supernatural force of the vampire have been brought emotionally and spiritually low by the numinous presence of the undead, achieving a distinct and horrible awareness of their fecklessness against the monster.

Interestingly, the concept of the mysterium tremendum put forth by Otto was meant to convey the effects of a distinctly religious encounter, a brush with the Divine. Poole writes, “[R]eligious experience [is] a kind of horror movie, embodiments of the Divine that evoke feelings of terror. The monsters of the Bible are symbols of that horror.” Such a view of the vampire through the lens of the mysterium tremendum raises a very important question: If the vampire displays traits of the numinous, must we consider it a symbol of the Divine? H.P. Lovecraft believed that the contemporary horror genre has emerged in its present form as a necessary doppelganger to modern religion, a malevolent compartment that the devout have kept at arms length, while using it to compile their unspoken and unrealized fears about the shadow side of the Divine. He wrote in The Call of Cthulhu:
H.P. Lovecraft
The most merciful thing in the world…is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The science, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
The unspeakable reality of the Divine that takes amorphous shape in the Lovecraftian mythos modeled in The Call of Cthulhu may in some ways reflect the equally indescribable horrific elements of God that have been obfuscated and shifted to the outright (and therefore easily dismissed) genre of the monstrous.

The pages of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are rife with the horrific, including cosmogonic chaos (chaogony), mass murder, worldwide disaster, war, rape and cannibalism. This diabolic aspect of scripture, however, has either had its fangs dulled through the need for palatable and civilized religious services, or ignored entirely by contemporary faith communities. Through the horror genre, particularly the popular vampire narrative found in literature and cinema, the monstrous has found an avenue to convey the power of its own religious experience, the horrific divine at work within the mysterium tremendum.

Illustrative of the mysterium tremendum, the biblical model of the angel appears to be an immensely appropriate lens through which to examine the function and consequence of the undead. While the appearance of the vampire is, in fact, a human shell disguising a supernatural being, angelic appearances in the Bible served a similar role. Often in scripture, the visage of the angel is that of a normal human and initially shows no traits of the numinous, as in Genesis 18 when three angelic guests appeared to Abraham, soon followed by two angels visiting Sodom in apparently nothing more than human guises. Similarly, in the popular vampire narrative, the vampire often appears to be as human as members of the general community until the creature is revealed to be a horrific perversion of creation. The typical response of the mortal to the mysterium tremendum of the vampire is indistinguishable from the response of the mortal to angels in scripture: fear, awe, horror, and trepidation. In addition, the reaction of the disciples to an apparently undead Jesus in the upper room could easily model the reaction of contemporary characters in the popular vampire narrative: “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:36-37 NRSV, italics added).

Perhaps the greatest example within scripture of the sway of the mysterium tremendum is to be found in the narrative of Job. The horror at the heart of the story of Job is the shocking ambivalence of the Divine, the promotion of violence, disease, and death by God, working with and through Satan, against a man favored by the Creator. The life of Job is torn apart in every conceivable manner, only to be rewarded throughout his terror and pain with the utter silence of God. Job, however, does not accept his suffering in silence. His cry of “Face me and be devastated” (Job 21:5 NRSV) is very similar to that of Barlow in Salem’s Lot when he commands Ben Mears to “Look upon me and despair!” Both perhaps are aware of the theological terror they are playing a key role in, serving dualistically as a result and an example of the power of the mysterium tremendum at play within their existence.

The nightmarish odyssey of Job is an imaginative starting point for the emergence of the vampire, a motif embodied presciently in the film Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola. At the start of the film, a Romanian Christian knight, Draculea, leaves his bride Elisabeta in order to lead his army into battle against the invading Muslim Turks. Draculea emerges victorious, kissing a crucifix and declaring, “God be praised! I am victorious!” However, through a nefarious trick by the Turks, Elisabeta believes her husband to have died in battle and commits suicide by flinging herself into a river. Draculea arrives home to find her dead body surrounded by a cadre of priests in a chapel.
BISHOP: She has taken her own life. Her soul cannot be saved. She is
damned. It is God's Law.
DRACULEA: Nooo! Is this my reward for defending God's church?
BISHOP: Sacrilege!
DRACULEA: I renounce God! I shall rise from my own death to avenge hers
with all the powers of darkness!
Enraged, Draculea brandishes his sword and violently impales a large stone crucifix atop the chapel altar. Blood gushes forth from the cross and Draculea snatches a chalice with which he fills with the blood and drinks from it. “The blood is the life,” he says. “And it shall be mine.”

Not only does Draculea invoke a chaogony of sorts, aligning himself with darkness in a rant reminiscent of Job (“Let there be darkness”), he also partakes of an inverted communion at the altar of Christ. This inversion of communion in theological horror challenges the sacred order, seeking the solace of chaos as modeled by Job versus the face and order of the Divine. Draculea introduces a new communion, one directly opposed to the communion modeled by Christ, and thereby escorting chaos into the sacred order. Doug Cowan states, “The advent of one unseen order heralds – or at least threatens – the disappearance of another.” In the case of Draculea, not only does the vampire emerge directly out of the mysterium tremendum, he is ultimately an agent of it.

If the vampire is indeed a figure of the numinous, displaying traits of the Divine or at least serving as an agent of the Divine, what are the ramifications for the role God plays in the structure and existence of evil? This is a question that finds its roots in the story of Job and is carried into contemporary life through the avenue of the popular vampire narrative.

Pure Evil Straight From Hell: The Vampire as Agent of Theodicy

Perhaps most explicit in an analysis of what the vampire represents or symbolizes in literature and cinema is that of incarnate sin or evil. And thus, as so often ensues in a discussion of evil, the vampire is exposed as a catalyst for queries of theodicy. Cowan writes, “Why do we fear the chaogonic invasion/inversion of our world, and the apparent powerlessness (or capriciousness) of God in the face of it? In this sense, it is possible that cinema horror is one cultural means by which we confront the classic theological problem of evil.” The vampire, as a courier of the horrific, brings to the fore in a dialogue of theodicy and sin a vital analysis of theological perspectives addressing the often-perceived ambivalence of the Divine in the face of evil.

The disruption of the ordained order is at the core of the mythos of the vampire and of the concept of monsters across the spectrum. The vampire has often been portrayed, theologically, as a creature without reason or explanation, and serves as a prevailing agent of enticement too potent to oppose or for God to prohibit. If, as Beal alleges, the vampire “is a chaos monster who invades the Divinely ordained order of the cosmos,” then the popular vampire narrative presents an inimitable opportunity to discuss theories of sin, temptation, and even religious ethics that attempt to look beyond traditional and often distorted Christian definitions of good and evil. As Jack Crow, vampire hunter and protagonist in the novel Vampire$ by Jonathan Steakley, bemoans, ““I know fucking well there’s a God because I kill vampires for a living. Are you listening? I kill vampires for money…so don’t tell me there ain’t no God. I know fucking well there’s a God. I just don’t understand him.” This cause-and-effect apologetic based on the relation between God and evil is echoed by Seth Gecko in the film From Dusk Till Dawn when he declares, “I’ve always said that God can kiss my ass, but I just changed my lifetime tune about 10 minutes ago. Because I know that whatever is out there trying to get in is pure evil straight from hell. And if there is a hell and those sons of bitches are from it, then there has got to be a heaven…there's gotta be.” Gecko argues that the vampire, by its very presence, is in some manner representing the existence of God, whether that attendance of the Divine is felt or not amidst the evil. However, while Gecko bifurcated his options into good (God) and evil (vampires), the monstrous and the holy often become hopelessly enmeshed, the awe-full and the horrific becoming indistinguishable from one another. Beal writes, “By playing God, does one inadvertently end up playing monster? More radically, does being God end up being monstrous?” Within scripture, one is often confronted with an ambivalent brew of violence, abhorrent sexual ethics, and extreme misogyny that is not only endorsed by God; they are indistinguishable from the nature and agency of God.

Crow and Gecko are in some manner sharing in the philosophical and theological dilemma of theodicy, a difficult mixture of the sacred and the profane. While it might be innate to ask the question, Where is God in evil, it is considered more perilous to ask, Is God the cause of evil? As John Sanford argues, “The specific failure of Christianity is its failure to include the evil side of God in its understanding of the Divine nature.” In the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh encompasses both good and evil, serving as the face of the sublime as well as the terrible. In the New Testament, however, evil is removed from the countenance of the Divine and attributed to Satan. For Crow and Gecko it is the survival of evil itself in the form of monsters that proclaims the existence of a Divine presence. As Cowan writes, “[I]n the unseen order, it is the very shadows themselves that give the pattern depth and texture – that give it ‘reality.’ The angelic means little without the demonic, and vice versa.” In other words, if evil thrives, surely the counterweight of good must also be at work in the philosophical and theological machinations of the universe.

The existence of monsters as apologetic for the Divine is perpetuated even further by Stephen Asma when he writes, “The medievals embarked on a rich speculative tradition that tried to articulate what God wanted when he made monsters…[Monsters] exist in order to fall…the point of being a giant, then, is to overreach and fail, and in that failure highlight their corruption to others, as a cautionary tale and consolation.” To this end, a normative dynamic of the popular vampire narrative is the Vampire Hunter, the hero or heroes who confront the malevolent supernatural invasion in defense of society, the Church, and God. In the popular vampire narrative, the Vampire Hunter can often serve as the de facto apologist for the existence of the Divine as, through the technologies of salvation at their disposal, the monster falls, proving that righteousness is the accepted order of creation.

This viewpoint fails to address, however, that despite the monster allegedly falling short in its bid to molest the created order of God, it still appears to be an integral, even divinely promoted, piece of that order. Behemoth and Leviathan, two monsters described in the Hebrew Bible, seem to have an ambivalent relationship with Yahweh, one that does not necessarily require their destruction. According to Asma:
In some places, such as Psalm 74 and Job 3, Leviathan is described as a frightening monster that threatens order and stability, a giant sea monster that rises from the depths to cause mayhem but who is easily checked by the power and righteousness of Yahweh. In some cases, God is described as smashing Leviathan’s head, but in other places, such as Psalm 104 and Job 40, Leviathan is identified as a part of God’s wonderful creation, a sublime force that reflects God’s overwhelming aspect. In these passages, the giant sea monster is an ally and even a manifestation of God.
Why is God portrayed in scripture as actually reveling in the existence of monsters? And if God can easily dispatch monsters when they do get out of control, are the evil and metaphorical monsters in contemporary society “identified as a part of God’s wonderful creation?” Should we not, in some way, be disturbed by the relationship between God and the monsters at play in the Hebrew Bible? S.T. Joshi asserts that monsters, vampires in particular, “may serve not only as an avatar of the Christian devil but as an avatar of divinity in general. The very nature of the vampire may cause it to stand as a theophany, a manifestation of the Divine.” In other words, the vampire may serve as a window into the nature of God with regard to the relationship God maintains with evil. The mortal, when faced with evil, demands to know where God is amidst that evil. The answer might be as simple as God being represented in and by the evil, in much the same way that the monsters of the Hebrew Bible represented, in some respects, the nature of Yahweh.

All You Have to Do is Take My Hand: The Vampire as Embodiment of Sin

Despite this ambivalence as to the presence of God amidst the proliferation of evil in the natural order, in many respects the spiritual metaphor of the vampire succeeds at cutting to the essence of a common theological view of what it means with regard to the issue of sin. As Clements writes, ”The vampire represented temptation into sin or the forbidden, temptation that attracts us but leads to destruction.” Throughout her book The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero, Clements subscribes to an ethics-based model of sin, one that turns the issue into a personal choice, spiritualizing and privatizing it, transforming the power of sin into a list of unhealthy exploits.

Similarly, in the novel Midnight Mass written by F. Paul Wilson, this view of sin as an ethical choice is reflected in a discussion between Father Joe, a Catholic priest, and Rabbi Zev, two survivors of a vampire outbreak rapidly spreading around the world. Joe, struggling with his apparent impotence as Christ’s representative on Earth in the face of a wave of vampiric conversions and its effect on the people he once knew and served, lashes out in righteous indignation:
“But Zev, we know there’s some of the old personality left. I mean, they stay in their hometowns, usually in the basement of their old houses. They go after people they knew when they were alive. They’re not just dumb predators, Zev. They’ve got the old consciousness they had when they were alive. Why can’t they rise above it? Why can’t they…resist?”
“Maybe the urge to feed is too strong to overcome?”
“Maybe. And maybe they just don’t try hard enough.”
“This is a hard line you’re taking, my friend.”
While this is a common approach to the metaphor of the vampire as sin, or at least as the embodiment of temptation to act sinfully, it can often be a flawed one. What Father Joe is referencing, knowingly or not, is a commonly held Augustinian model of sin (original or otherwise) as a willing transgression of the accepted order. In Midnight Mass and many other vampire narratives, while the vampire may indeed serve as a temptation, being a vampire, or allowing oneself to become a vampire, is a sinful act, one that should be resisted, ideally and most effectively through the various technologies of Christian salvation. As the novel progresses, Father Joe is ultimately turned into a vampire and successfully withstands the urge to give into the “evil” nature of it, while still bound by the rules of the vampiric condition (i.e. needing blood to survive).

Clements argues consistently for the literary character of Dracula serving as a direct metaphor for sin, particularly sin as a knowing disobedience of the law, and there is indeed ample evidence for her stance. Throughout the novel, the vampire often proves impossibly seductive to a number of characters, particularly Jonathan Harker who comes face-to-face with the overwhelming mysterium tremendum of the vampire. Clements writes, “Harker is tantalized by the allure of sin, hypnotized into failing to fight against it, victimized and imprisoned by it, and finally threatened to death by it.”
This view of temptation and sin as a kind of spiritual fly-paper, luring complicit victims into a deadly trap with promises of forbidden pleasure and earthly satisfaction, showcases the power of sin and the seemingly willing powerlessness of the individual, perhaps even God, to thwart it.

This motif is reflected time and again in popular vampire narratives apart from Dracula. Illustrative of this is the aforementioned 1985 film Fright Night. In one pertinent scene, vampire Dandridge corners outcast Edward in an alleyway. As Edward (unsympathetically referred to by other students as Evil Ed due to his love of horror films) cowers in fear, Jerry empathetically looks to him. “You don't have to be afraid of me,” he says. “I know what it's like being different. Only they won't pick on you anymore... or beat you up. I'll see to that. All you have to do is take my hand,” at which point Dandridge reaches out, revealing elongated fingers and sharp nails. Edward, obviously aware of the mortal danger he is in, willingly accepts the hand of Dandridge. This keen acquiescence to temptation is again illustrated in Fright Night when Dandridge ultimately seduces Amy, girlfriend of the hero Charley.

This view of sin as the preference of an individual to turn his or her countenance from the precepts of God is often reflected, surprisingly enough, in the plethora of Dracula-themed films produced by the British film corporation Hammer in the 1950s through to the 1970s. These films, mostly directed by Terence Fisher, a professed Christian, and starring Christopher Lee as the titular vampire, present an overt “Christian worldview in which evil is subtle, beautiful and deadly. Evil is real and it is ultimately supernatural. It can only finally be defeated by the cross of Jesus Christ.”
This view of Christian theology espoused by Fisher, easily traced, however, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is a quasi-Augustinian perspective, emphasizing the allure and power of the vampire within the narrative. However, by presenting the vampire as an independent evil, one separate of the regulations of a God-ordered cosmos, Fisher seems to leave open the opportunity for evil to ultimately win. Margaret L. Carter writes, “If the vampire can damn even souls of otherwise innocent victims, he must be operating independent of Divine permission…[Vampires depict] a Manichean world where Evil seems to be as self-existent as Good.” Indeed, in the Hammer films, while Dracula suffers a form of defeat at the end of each movie, he inevitably returns at the commencement of each successive film, just as sinister and wicked as before.

While Fisher may present an overly dualistic and rather Manichean view of Christian cosmology, where evil is represented in Dracula and righteousness is epitomized in the hero Van Helsing, a continuing component of all the Hammer Dracula films are ultimately the allure of vampiric temptation and the negative effects that yielding to sin have on the human condition. To wit, in the film The Brides of Dracula, Helen, a proper and rather prudish woman, is seduced by Dracula and is ultimately transformed into a powerful and sexually unconcealed vampire. Leggett writes:
Whatever lustful origin may have existed in Helen’s repressed nature has by now been totally dominated by Dracula’s demonic influence. The writhing, screeching figure at the end bears no resemblance to the original Helen. In theological terms, sin has totally defaced Helen’s humanity so that she has now become more a beast than a person like the Gerasene Demoniac in the Bible.
Echoes of this transformation can be found in the film Fright Night as both Evil Ed and Amy experience not only an outward physical change toward the monstrous, they also experience a liberation of sorts. Shy, timid Edward is now powerful and beastly (as represented in his transformation into a wolf), and Amy evolves into a lustful, hyper-sexual woman. Regardless, the vampire apparently presents a theological choice to its victims of evil versus righteousness, one that clearly illustrates the Augustinian dynamic. Or does it?

That’s Why He Came: The Vampire as a Model of Liberation Theology

Vampires are, more often than not, unabashedly sinister characters, admittedly devoid of love and seeking only self-gratification, mirrored in any number of literary and cinematic creations from Dracula, Count Orlock in the silent film Nosferatu, Barlow in Salem’s Lot, to Satanico Pandemonium in the movie From Dusk Till Dawn. Most vampires in popular narratives follow suit, with occasional sympathetic, yet fleeting, glimpses into their plight. For example, the vampire Jerry Dandridge in Fright Night attacks the protagonist Charley Brewster, telling him, “You deserve to die, boy. Of course... I can give you something I don't have. A choice. Forget about me, Charley. Forget about me, and I'll forget about you.” While hearing that Dandridge was turned against his will might give one pause, it doesn’t change the fact that he is fully embracing his current role as an active agent of oppression, versus the response of a post-human Father Joe in Midnight Mass who, rather than perpetuate or take part in the system of vampiric oppression, resists the urge to kill, using his “privilege” as a member of the dominant vampire class to affect change and ultimately destroy the oppressive vampiric power structure.

The vampires of the novel Salem’s Lot in many ways display the magnetism of temptation that Dracula embodies, however they also serve as potential lenses through which to view a more corporate view of sin and redemption or liberation. In the following passage from Salem’s Lot, Danny Glick, a recent vampire convert, visits young Mark Petrie, a schoolmate, in the middle of the night. Danny floats ominously outside of the window of the bedroom, patiently scratching at the glass until Mark wakes up and sees him:
He dragged his eyes away, and it took all of his will power to do it.
“Mark, let me in! I command it! He commands it!”
He was weakening. That whispering voice was seeing through his barricade, and the command was imperative. Mark’s eyes fell on his desk, littered with his model monsters, now so bland and foolish –
His eyes fixed abruptly on part of the display, and widened slightly.
The plastic ghoul was walking through a plastic graveyard and one of the monuments was in the shape of a cross.
With no pause for thought or consideration (both would have come to an adult – his father for instance – and both would have undone him), Mark swept up the cross, curled it into a tight fist, and said loudly: “come on in, then.”
The face became suffused with an expression of vulpine triumph. The window slid up and Danny stepped in and took two paces forward. The exhalation from that opening mouth was fetid, beyond description: a smell of charnel pits. Cold, fish-white hands descended on Mark’s shoulders. The head cocked, doglike, the upper lip curled away from those shining canines.
Mark brought the plastic cross around in a vicious swipe and laid it against Danny Glick’s cheek.
His scream was horrible, unearthly…and silent.
On the surface, this passage seems to bolster the idea that vampires represent an outward one-to-one metaphor of internal temptation and sin, with the only solution lying in the power of the cross of Christ. Yet a reader might wonder, what had Mark done through his own agency to place himself in such dire straits? If, for whatever reason, he were unable to snatch the plastic cross from his model at the last moment, would he have been doomed to roam the streets as a member of the undead, scratching on windows of unsuspecting victims? This question unearths a major problem with using the vampire narrative as a direct religious allegory for sin. While any serious conversation about vampires is undoubtedly a theological one, victims of the undead are often undeserving of their fate, ultimately enslaved by a power far greater and more oppressive than any individual can address. Therefore, the theological implications of the vampire narrative as it pertains to sin hinge less on an Augustinian model and more on a liberationist critique.

With regard to popular vampire narratives, oppression and freedom are a common meme, particularly with regard to the soul. However, physical oppression is a reality as well. Sean Eads suggests that in Salem’s Lot, “Vampirism is clearly a metaphor for power and control,” as the Master Vampire Barlow gradually, yet definitively, enslaves an entire town, while in Midnight Mass, the vampire strikes quickly and overtly in dominating most of civilized society. In the David Sosnowski penned Vamped, as well as the film Daybreakers, vampire domination and oppression is so complete that humanity has become nothing more than chattel, living in factories where they are regularly processed for blood supplies. In this sense, the vampire narrative could easily serve as a shockingly apt metaphor for Latin American, Black, Womanist, Feminist, or even Queer Liberation Theologies, any movement that develops as a response to the subjugation (physical, spiritual, or emotional) of an entire group of people, up to and including the recent Occupy Wall Street movement.

The all-encompassing and powerful invasion of the vampire moves beyond privatized sin into a corporate spiritual oppression with immediate, practical, and long lasting consequences. Liberation Theology, as an answer to vampiric oppression, has both feet planted in the present, with an eschatological perspective that seeks to transform the very structure of society and reversing the oppressive invasion of whatever dominant hierarchy exists. Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez explains that “the present in the praxis of liberation, in its deepest dimension, is pregnant with the future” and that “it means sinking roots where the pulse of history is beating at this moment.” Whether serving to free Mina Harker in Dracula, Amy in Fright Night, the town of Salem’s Lot, or the entire human race in Midnight Mass, the activists serving as the catalyst for freedom embodies the praxis of liberation, serving deeply and fully in the present with a confidence of a transformative future.

Gustavo Gutierrez
In addition, the vampiric takeover of Salem’s Lot was only made possible by the utter lack of communal solidarity within the town before the arrival of Barlow. This is best illustrated by Parkins Gillespie, the town constable: “’It ain’t alive,’ Parkins said, lighting his smoke with a wooden kitchen match. ‘That’s why he came here. It’s dead, like him. Has been for twenty years or more.’” The town, fractured and paranoid, and perhaps still mourning their complicity in the legacy of Hubert Marsten, a dark and unabashedly evil figure in the history of the town, is filled with child abuse, spousal abuse, predatory financial schemes, alcoholism, and murder, all shielded from view by a protective membrane of emotional and spiritual malaise. King provides a lens into the often mundane and hidden horror of small town life, a credible palette from which the otherworldly terror of the vampire ultimately invades. With regard to Salem’s Lot and the liberation motif, when Barlow finally arrives in town with the intent of enslaving its citizens, he must undoubtedly be pleased to find the hard work of oppression a fait accompli.

From this perspective, one could even view Barlow as an agent of liberation in Salem’s Lot, an undead Moses delivering a welcome reprieve or salvation to a people who have long lived under an invisible (and perhaps self-inflicted) yoke of oppression. Judith Johnson writes:
When the vampire strikes, and begins to victimize the town, some of these natural predators become victims, thus receiving a kind of justice…[T]he born victims…now become vampires. They, too, find someone upon whom to prey. Sometimes, the prey they find is the person who victimized them when they were alive. Thus, the victims rise and turn upon those who abused them…By the end of the novel, the whole town has risen in a kind of parodic revolution and become a vampire town, a town of the revolting, in all sense of the word, a town that won’t allow itself to be abused.
This “revolt metaphor” in Salem’s Lot, hearkening back to the Exodus narrative, finds camaraderie with many vampire mythologies both traditional and contemporary. In Fright Night, Jerry Dandridge offers Evil Ed freedom from his bullying, and the opportunity to no longer be victimized. In the HBO series True Blood, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, the vampires can be seen to serve as a metaphor of the LGBT community refusing any longer to accept second-class citizenry from the dominant heterosexual culture. Even in the distinctly non-religious universe of the Blade film series, the vampire is presented as the next level of existence, free from the oppression that occurs from simply being human.

Of course, the theory of the vampire serving as an agent of liberation certainly has its share of flaws. In the case of Salem’s Lot (as most other vampire narratives), once turned, a vampire must create more victims in order to sustain itself. As Johnson points out, previously living oppressors and victims alike are now predators in their new role as vampire. “In their turn, they act out their predatory nature, victimizing others as they used to do when they were alive. But these others, the born victims, victimized again by the predators, now become vampires. They, too, find someone upon whom to prey” (italics added). As compared to propping up the prevailing cultural hegemony at work in society that makes, knowing or otherwise, conspirators of the oppressed with regard to maintaining the dominant power structure, a theology, cosmology or ethic of liberation seeks a radical break from the status quo. In other words, liberation is not about replacing one form of dominance for another. It seeks to erase the dynamic altogether. In most vampire narratives, living hierarchical structures are only exchanged for undead ones, whether it be the authority Dracula has over his brides and the nearby villagers, the undemocratic power structure of the vampire community in True Blood (Kings and Queens rule various territories), or references to Barlow as the Master in Salem’s Lot (a power structure Stephen King fleshes out in The Dark Tower: Wolves of the Calla when Barlow is revealed to be a Type One vampire, most powerful and nearly immortal, with authority over Type Two and Type Three vampires).

Conclusion

Paul Tillich
While an attempt has been made here to expose, collect, and analyze the theological underpinnings of the popular vampire narrative, it must be noted that, while some researchers such as Clements view the traditional narratives as direct allegories and lessons in Christian faith, it can be demonstrated that such a position is perilous at best. Forcing the vampire narrative into any type of systematic theology “is apt to have a haphazard and ambiguous relationship with any specific dogma.” However, it can safely be argued that the traditional vampire narrative consistently draws on any number of familiar religious elements, motifs, and structures, making it a relevant and imaginative symbol through which to discuss pertinent theological topics such as the nature of the Divine, theodicy, the created order, and sin. Paul Tillich writes, “Religious symbols are distinguished from others by the fact that they are a representation of that which is unconditionally beyond the conceptual sphere; they point to the ultimate reality implied in the religious act, to what concerns us ultimately,” a role the vampire undoubtedly fulfills as a form of cinematic and literary expression.

The vampire serves a valuable dual purpose, not only emerging from the swirling darkness of the human psyche in order to strike fear within the heart of eager audiences and providing the reassurance of the power of ultimate Good over absolute Evil (unless, of course, the vampire returns), it also exists as a lens through which to analyze ancient questions about death, the quandary of evil, the search for transcendent meaning, and where exactly God (or the absence of a god) fits into it all. The figure of the vampire is able to traverse and interconnect theology and academia within the larger culture in an entertaining, engaging, and thought-provoking manner as a result of its rich mythistory, cosmogonic (or chaogonic) implications, and its metaphorical potential to lead one into contemplating their role in the created order established in the context of religious tradition.

Bibliography

Anderson, Bernhard W., Bruce Manning Metzger, and Roland E. Murphy. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Asma, Stephen T. On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Beal, Timothy K. Religion and Its Monsters. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula. DVD. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 1992; Los Angeles, CA: Sony Pictures, 2007.

Carter, Margaret L. Spectre or Delusion?: The Supernatural in Gothic Fiction. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1987.

Clements, Susannah. The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011.

Cowan, Douglas E. Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008.

Eads, Sean. “The Vampire George Middler: Selling the Monstrous in 'Salem's Lot.” The Journal of Popular Culture 43 (2010):1 78-96.

Fright Night. DVD. Directed by Tom Holland. 1985; Los Angeles, CA: Columbia Pictures, 1999.

From Dusk Till Dawn. DVD. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. 1996; Los Angeles, CA: Dimension Films, 2000.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. “A Theology of Liberation.” In Readings in Christian Ethics: A Historical Sourcebook, edited by J. Philip Wogaman and Douglas M. Strong, 341-345. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996.

Hallab, Mary Y. Vampire God: The Allure of the Undead in Western Culture. New York: State University of New York Press, 2009.

Johnson, Judith E. “Women and Vampires: Nightmare or Utopia?” Kenyon Review 15 (1993):1 72-80.

Joshi, S. T. "Religion and Vampires." In Encyclopedia of the Vampire: The Living Dead in Myth, Legend, and Popular Culture, edited by S.T. Joshi, 244-53. Westport: Greenwood, 2011.

King, Stephen. 'Salem's Lot. New York: Doubleday, 1975.

Legend. DVD. Directed by Ridley Scott. 1985; Los Angeles, CA: Universal Studios, 2008.

Leggett, Paul. Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion. North Carolina: Mcfarland, 2002.

Lovecraft, H. P. The Call of Cthulhu. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide Library, 2009.

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry Into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.

Poole, Scott. Monsters In America: Our Historical Obsessions With the Hideous and the Haunting. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2011.

Sanford, John A. The Strange Trial of Mr. Hyde: A New Look at the Nature of Human Evil. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

Steakley, John. Vampires. New York: Roc Book, 1990.

Tillich, Paul. “The Religious Symbol.” In Myth and Symbol, edited by F.W. Dillistone, 15-34. Essex: The Talbot Press, 1966.

Wilson, F. Paul. Midnight Mass. New York: Tor Books, 2004.