Marvel at their pale skin
Wonder how they chew on their pointy...
Teeth and hair are beauty
They know it's their duty
To be countess in their hearts and their...
Minds that have to whisper
See in them a sister
Look into their eyes and you'll become
When reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it’s hard to forget his trio of mysterious and threatening concubines. Dark, seductive and hungry, the brides of Dracula first appear in an encounter with the hapless Jonathan Harker. Harker has ignored Count Dracula’s warnings against exploring the castle by himself, and walks straight into the arms of the tree beautiful brides:
They came close to me, and looked at me for some time, and then whispered together. Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes, that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon…The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. I seemed somehow to know her face, and to know it in connection with some dreamy fear, but I could not recollect at the moment how or where. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear.Dracula’s brides are two dimensional representations of ravenous female sexuality. Stoker uses the word “voluptuous” numerous times in his description of the brides, a word that suggests sensual pleasure. Upon seeing Harker, the fair bride “licks her lips like an animal,” but Harker’s reaction to the brides is less than amorous and he is both “thrilled and repulsed” by their advances.
Harker’s polarized reaction to the trio’s sexuality is evocative of the Victorian struggle with female desire. Here Stoker mingles the idea of a desiring woman with the terror of the undead. The horror of the brides is not that they are vampires, but that they express their sexual desire so openly; a horror on par with the sucking of blood.
The brides are only seen through the narratives of Harker and Van Helsing as objects of extreme desire and fear. This trend is also reflected in the various film versions of Stoker’s tale, as the brides are depicted as either hyper-sexual or hyper-monstrous. In the 1831 version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, the few lines Stoker gives the brides are dropped. Instead of the voluptuous and animalistic women described by Harker, the brides are swathed in drape-like gowns that do their best to conceal their shape. This effort to desexualize the brides turns them in objects of weird horror without making the metaphor explicitly sexual. They also never attack Harker, or even Renfield, who in this particular version is the only one to visit Dracula’s castle.
Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) revisits the sexual implications of Dracula’s concubines and their encounter with Harker, preserving the seductive horror of Stoker’s novel. Harker is enjoying his time with the brides until Dracula bursts upon the scene. In a kind of supernatural coitus interruptus, the sexual encounter turns monstrous and the audience sees that the two dark haired brides are connected at the pelvis. This female monstrosity scuttles away like a crab from Dracula’s wrath as Harker looks on in dawning horror.
Coppola’s version also gives the brides some personality and they are more like the Desperate Housewives of Transylvania than soulless sirens. Their lines from Stoker’s text are spoken with a kind of pathetic emotion stemming from the neglect of their collective husband. While this may be a step up from previous depictions of Dracula’s brides, Coppola’s characterization extends little beyond this point.
Since Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, it has been all downhill for the brides. They made their next appearance in the lukewarm Dracula 2000 as simple T&A window dressing. The Maxim-esque Jennifer Esposito and Jeri Ryan play a scientist and a TV anchor respectively who fall for Dracula’s charms. Nearly bursting out of their snug gowns, the brides of Dracula 2000 have all the personality of a second rate femme fetal. Their scintillating dialogue is embarrassing and the only good performance comes when Jeri Ryan gets the business end of a stake thrust into her perpetually heaving bosom.
The brides’ next film, Van Helsing did little to transform the brides into three dimensional characters. They waver between monstrous bat-like creatures and coy vixens dressed in barely-there costumes reminiscent of I Dream of Jeannie. Despite these shortcomings, Van Helsing does introduce an interesting character motivation of the brides absent from the other films. Instead of eating babies, these gals want to hear the pitter-patter of little wings and get a brood of their own.
Relegated to the margins of Stoker’s novel, Dracula’s brides have never broken through a text that designates them as two dimensional representations of horrific female sexuality--a trend that will continue to plague these ladies in film and beyond.