Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Buffy vs. Nosferatu

(see the video here)

After making the “Buffy vs. Dracula” post/video, I felt compelled to talk about the Master. The Master is the main villain of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 1, and somewhat similar to Dracula in the way he evokes the traditional vampire image. The Master is actually based off of Count Orlock from Nosferatu, a 1922 silent film that was an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula and some would say better than the official one. While Bela Lugosi made Dracula a sexy bad boy, Max Schreck made Orlock a grotesque and nightmarish embodiment of the Black Death.


Some people make Nosferatu out to be a tragic love story—Blue Oyster Cult references this in their tribute song—but I can’t understand this perspective at all. It’s a stalker story. Orlock becomes attracted to Ellen Hutter, the wife of the real estate agent he’s keeping prisoner, and he travels across Europe to prey on her. He moves into the house across from her and feeds off of the town, making it look like the plague, and stares at her from his window. In order to save her community, she sacrifices herself by offering her blood willingly. The rape metaphor of Dracula is maintained with the imagery of the innocent woman and creepy man, so she essentially lets him rape her in order to distract him long enough for the sun to rise and kill him. Incidentally, this is the first vampire fiction to feature this weakness, which is very prevalent in Buffy.

Buffy: “There’s something you forgot about: sunrise.”
(Buffy breaks a window, light shines through, the vamp freaks out, Buffy stakes him)
Buffy: “It’s in about nine hours, moron!”
(Vamp dusts, the light is from a lamp)

While the Master has a big presence in season 1, Buffy doesn’t interact with him very much. Unlike  Nosferatu where there’s one vampire going around killing everyone, the series nature of Buffy has there be several lesser vampires to be minor antagonists for Buffy while the Master rules from the center of the nest. The idea is that he wants to open the portal to Hell, but some kind of holy earthquake left him trapped in a church from which he constantly tries to escape. Though the series ultimately became agnostic and critical of religion, in season 1 it was a pretty Christian show with the good guys displaying the cross and the bad guys making religious references as Judeo-Christian demons.

Christian themes are also present in Nosferatu, where there are many references to Orlock being damned. While in Dracula a cross was enough to keep one safe from the Count, in Nosferatu, the cross appears to have no effect on its own. It takes a sinless maiden to make a Christ-like sacrifice before the people are saved from Orlock’s evil. Buffy also makes a sacrifice. In “Prophecy Girl”, she finds out that it’s prophesized that the Slayer will follow the Anointed One into “Hell”, where the Master will kill her. She at first decides to reject destiny and run away, but she changes her mind after seeing her friend Willow traumatized from seeing what vampires did to their classmates. It’s her duty to slay vampires, and she figures that she might be able to take the Master down with her. As it turns out, killing her is what releases him from his prison. The Master enthralls her, drinks from her, and then drowns her. He goes off to witness all Hell breaking loose, but Xander uses CPR to bring Buffy back to life. The prophecy is fulfilled, but the Scoobies subvert the pessimistic implication and have Buffy continue onward as more than just a victim; she’s the warrior.

Master: “But, you’re dead!”
Buffy: “I may be dead, but I’m still pretty—which is more than I can say for you.”

As I said, Ellen sacrificing herself to Orlock has implications of rape. This is part of what makes the Orlock character so creepy. This kind of imagery is invoked in Buffy. The drinking of blood is sensual anyway and is often used as a sexual metaphor. After the Master drinks from her, he lets out an orgasmic cry of “Oh, the power!” Spike would later confirm that drinking from a Slayer makes vampires sexually aroused. When Buffy goes after the Master the second time, he tries to enthrall her again, and there’s a moment where he holds her and she looks vulnerable. There’s a sense of the vampire’s dark embrace, the twisted eroticism popularized by Dracula as performed by a creature that looks like Orlock.

Buffy: “You have fruit punch mouth.”
Master: “What?”
(Buffy smacks him)

Buffy rejects the old script of the male vampire sexually preying on the innocent girl and beats the guy up. More than that, she slays him. She reduces him to bones and stops the world from ending. This was the last episode of the first season and when it was written, I imagine Mutant Enemy didn’t know if the show would be renewed, so it could effectively function as the end of the series. Not all of the vampires have been killed, but the Master has been. The stereotypical shallow blonde teenage girl met the dreaded Master and was victimized by him, but through the power of love—real love felt by Xander and Angel, not stalker love—she got her second chance to show her foe who’s boss and became victorious. It’s a feminist ending subverting the cliché of male dominance demonstrated by Nosferatu.

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