The Big Idea: Patrick Sheane Duncan
A title like Dracula vs. Hitler kind of explains itself, but even so, author and screenwriter Patrick Sheane Duncan had his reasons for bringing these two villains of the past together for a nefarious confrontation in WWII-era Transylvania. What was it? Read on!
PATRICK SHEANE DUNCAN:
I’ve always been fascinated by the way that popular culture reflects and influences society. It’s been a concern of mine since some pandering politician banned my favorite comic book, stating that they “corrupted” the tender minds of kids like me and turned us into juvenile delinquents. I knew it was bullshit. I became a juvenile delinquent because I was poor. At various times these self appointed censors have condemned rock ‘n’ roll, television violence, “dirty” magazines and lately, video games, always using the same trumped up charge.
(To tell the truth, I admit to being corrupted by all of these – but not in the way those narrow-minded yahoos worried about. They all freed me and my imagination.)
But I do see how popular culture reflects our worries and problems. An obvious example is the science fiction films of the fifties and sixties. I’m talking about how some errant radioactive incident created a monster set out to destroy…well, everything. A fifty foot man or woman, giant insects and our good old buddy Godzilla. Our nation’s fears of an atomic holocaust were made simple in one conquerable but metaphorical creature.
And it isn’t a mental hurdle to jump forward and see the effects of 9/11 on our films. I mean, how many times can we blow up the White House and every other iconic landmark on the planet – just to be saved by someone in Spandex or the President’s handsome bodyguard?
So, when vampires became popular again in a multitude of movies and television series, I was curious. A good many of these, if not all, were aimed at teenagers. I’ve always been a fan of the theory (I wish I could remember who first proposed it) that vampires, and their mythological kin, werewolves, are powerful metaphors for the fraught transition from childhood to adult. The symbolism is pretty blatant and definitely relatable to confused adolescents. With profound, even violent changes in the body, the werewolf has hair sprouting in unexpected places (on the palms of his hands, what was he doing?! Oh my!), profound outsider status, and is wrought with sexual under- and overtones, including sexual aggressiveness after the change, (there are a whole lot of women being assaulted/seduced in their bedrooms by werewolves and vampires alike). And to cap it off, so often these modern fairy tales end in a marriage.
When the latest vampire films rose from the Hollywood graveyard, I went back to some of the originals and found myself watching a lot of great Universal movies from the late 1930s and ‘40s. And I noticed something – there was no mention of the war in these films. Except for one, where a German bombing of a British graveyard disinterred Dracula, the war didn’t exist. Mostly this was done by making them period pieces, but even the present day set films avoided the topic. A pure definition of escapist entertainment.
My imagination made the short leap – what if those two worlds did intersect? Bring the gritty reality of war into that old time escapism? Aha!
I’m a history buff so I knew that at the beginning of WWII Transylvania was given to Romania by the invading Germans. I also knew that Vlad the Impaler, the model for Stoker’s Dracula, was a prince and a patriot. Thusly he would be a natural foe to fight the Nazis. Bam. I had a hero. Actually a super hero. Cool.
Then there was the fact that the Nazis, particularly Hitler, were fascinated by the occult, believers who sent people searching the world for magic relics to use in their cause. So why wouldn’t Hitler, discovering the existence of an immortal and powerful creature, want to be immortal himself and attempt to capture Dracula? Bam, I had a villain.
Dracula versus Hitler.
To bring in the rest of the cast, I had Van Helsing settle in Transylvania after defeating Dracula and I gave him an adult, ferocious daughter (The requisite sexual motif of the genre). These two would lead the partisans fighting the Nazis and be driven by German atrocities to revive the Professor’s great enemy to fight an even worse monster. Harker and Renfield were brought in to make the book as much fun as the title. I then had all the elements needed for a rousing action adventure story with an essence of the supernatural. Using the style of Bram Stoker’s original (diary and journal entries, letters, etc.) was a novelistic exercise for my own enjoyment and a tribute to the book I love so much.
And I did it because it looked like fun and I believe that if you entertain yourself in the writing you have a pretty good chance to entertain the reader.
As for Dracula vs. Hitler’s place and meaning in the gestalt, I’ll leave that to some other fan/over educated analyst in desperate need of a PhD thesis.