The form of fire is beneath the cauldron.
The meaning of fire is the soul of the cauldron.
Its form outside, its meaning inside —
The soul’s beloved is within the soul itself,
like blood in the veins.
One of my favorite characters in literature and movies is Count Dracula, the vampire from the Transylvanian Alps of Eastern Europe. Obviously I am not alone since the media is thick with pop Gothic vampire regalia.
My father was Hungarian (and cousins from Transylvania) and delighted us kids from time immemorial by acting out Bela Lugosi. For the uninitiated, Lugosi was the actor who played Dracula in the 1931 movie version that is a classic in its genre, coming down the stairs and chanting in a thick accent “The spider that weaves his web to catch the unwary fly,” while deliberating his next victim and wringing his hands with diabolical delight. Every lizard in our gardens is named Renfield, his sidekick who likes to eat bugs. To boot, my parents celebrated their wedding anniversary on Halloween, so one year I made a card with an imaginative collage of every Dracula photo I could find. From George Hamilton and Christopher Lee to Frank Langella and Klaus Kinski, all in capes with fangs, it was a great hit, to say the least. Let’s just say I never stopped collecting the photos…and with the net at my fingertips, I had a lot of Draculas to choose from.
Dracula is one of the best known horror stories in the world. History is full of ghastly vampire myths and legends of the “undead” that have creeped into our collective unconscious. This is remarkable, given the fact that vampires as we look upon them now, are entirely literary inventions, never existing at all. They first appeared in 1812 in John Polidori’s The Vampyre, where the vampire is truly a Byronesque figure, since Polidori based his vampire character on his former employer, the infamous English poet Lord Byron. The story was thought up on a weekend holiday with Byron and Mary Shelley in attendance and read to each other. Shelley wrote Frankenstein the same weekend.
Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu appeared in 1872 and introduced female vampires as seductive sexual beings. In 1960, Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses was based on Carmilla creating a sensuous romantic vampire film emphasing female homoeroticism that is a cult classic now. In 1897, Irish author Bram Stoker published his groundbreaking book Dracula. Rudyard Kipling wrote a little known poem “The Vampire.” A number of plays and tons of movies followed into the 20th Century, culminating with Anne Rice’s famous novel Interview with the Vampire in 1976,which brought fresh interest to the vampire genre, and the present literary obsession continues with the Twilight series and HBOs True Blood.
Although Stoker’s interest in Slavic vampires is well documented, scholars have suggested that Stoker, an Irish writer, was also inspired by Celtic folklore involving vampiric chieftains and bloodsucking fairies. Originally vampire tales can be traced to places like India, Greece, the Middle East, most especially Scythia, that made their way into Eastern Europe, fueled by the Gypsies or Romani peoples migrating out of India, where the vampire saga gained momentum.
From the ancient Babylonians who believed in apparitions who searched at night for victims right up to the modern Anne Rice novels that have renewed the idoltry of the vampire cults with Lestat rising from under the street wearing a full suit of leathers, riding a black Harley motorcycle and singing in a rock band. The Lamias of Greek mythology were beautiful, ethereal women who lured young men to their lairs, then consumed their blood. But in the beginning the vampire was little more than a shade or a ghost, or at least an energy thief coming in the guise of a vexing spirit. That sunlight was harmful to vampires, their special powers, and that they must partake of blood are all literary inventions. Each film and book has added a dimension to the interpretation and Dracula has become a literary icon. Compared with the neck-biting ecstasies of Twilight and True Blood, the vampires of Hollywood’s past are downright chaste. Not a drop of blood was shown in the original Dracula of 1931, and it wasn’t until the films of the 1950s that the screen flowed crimson. And it has never stopped.
Surprisingly, it is a real-life fuedel warrior prince from this area of Eastern Europe, Vlad Tepes Dracul, a descendant of the first Roman legionnaires who settled the area, who has inspired so much of the legacy that fuels literature and movies. The isolated, dark forests of the Carpathian Mountains of Rumania and Hungary is even today described as an area “untouched by time.” It is the heart of the kingdom of Draculoi, the devil incarnate who promises everlasting life, and Nosferatu, the vampire of ancient superstitious folklore.
Vlad the Impaler of Transylvania was a cruel, maniacal ruler and alchemist who dabbled in black magic after the death of his beloved wife. Under siege from the Turks, he supposedly impaled over 30,000 soldiers during battle and drank their blood, an ancient practice long thought to imbibe into one the strength and spirit of thine enemies and induce immortality. After his death, it is said he roamed the countryside in a horse-drawn black hearse searching for more victims to quench his thirst for blood. Curious visitors to the area today take the legend of the prince so seriously that an entire tourist industry has sprouted up with tours of the “Count’s castle,” a dark, dank mountaintop edifice in semi-ruin, looking down a deep gorge, that perpetuates the grim memories of the past.
As the fatally elegant vampire, Count Dracula could only consume fresh blood, nonetheless he had a reputation as a gracious host and the victim/guests to his countryside medieval castle fared a lot better. Little do they know it is their last meal. In the Bram Stoker novel, the malevolent Count serves Jonathan Harker an excellent roast chicken on a wooden platter, cheese, salad of greens, and a bottle of Tokay wine by flickering nocturnal candlelight. The unwitting Harker would have been wise to avert Dracula’s attention by dipping his middle finger into the blood-red wine, then rub some on his neck. The vampire would be fooled into thinking he had already dined on Harker.
With the Twilight movies, the Eastern European setting has shifted to dank Oregon coast, but all the legendary elements of shape shifting, drinking blood, supernatural powers, and a constant tension with regular mortals is all intact fitted for the young adult set melded with seduction and fascination. I notice there are two cookbooks just out, both titled At First Bite containing Twilight recipes. I think Bella eats pizza, Caesar salad, and chicken nuggets though.
True Carpathian cuisine is colorful, homey, and a melange of many cultural influences due to the many wars that have laid siege to the storybook region. Since garlic and certain herbs, like laurel and tarragon, are deterrents to the vampire, it is not unusual to see doorways and windows adorned with braided wreathes of garlic bulbs and special flowers, pine cones, and herbs.
Babas, the affectionate title given to mothers and grandmothers of Eastern Europe, are known for their wonderful hospitality and superb baking skills that combine Turkish-Mediterranean cuisine with the more sophisticated cookery of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Hence it is the basis for true vampire cuisine. Strudels and baklava meet the kugelhof and Sachertorte, all washed down with some steaming-hot café diable mit schlag, strong coffee with a shot of dark rum topped with sweetened whipped cream.
In the mood of the season, why not have a vampire theme and set a lovely, elegant table for a fete noire: a midnight dessert buffet whose offerings are old-fashioned and lack modern complexity. People love dessert parties and it is much less work to put on than a full dinner. A dozen to 20 guests is a great number for a party. Decorations are fun and whimsical. Vampire accessories are so popular, I noticed a party drink dispenser and candle holders with skull motifs in the new Nieman Marcus catalog. Skull votive candle holders can be found for a buck in the Dollar Store, as well as sorts of other decorations designed for Halloween. I got a few and they look like little human-monkey skulls in ceramic. Set the table with a centerpiece of long-stemmed red roses or potted plants mixed with baskets or bowls of fresh fruit like tangerines and pomegranates, and, of course, a blood-red tablecloth. Pick up some black plastic plates and some complementary colored napkins in 2 or 3 different dramatic colors; it looks very smashing. Mix and match your tableware and platters. Make desserts that are bite sized or served in small portions so that you can taste a number of different desserts. Be sure to set up a separate station for the drinks, a selection of dessert wines and mineral water, and coffee away from the buffet table for easiest access. I always have a bowl of special nuts on the drinks table for a quick protein hit.
The two mandatory components: a chocolate cake of some type and cookies. In the restaurant, I learned always offer a variety of desserts which include cheese, chocolate, fruit and a nut. Then a savory counterpoint like cheese, crackers, and fruit.
Make the desserts for the most part able to be served at room temperature; any warm desserts can be placed in a slow cooker on the table. Here you want a medium slow cooker for the pumpkin lattes and a small one for the chocolate sauce. A common mistake people make when throwing dessert parties is baking too many things on the day of or during the party; have only one item to be cooked to order otherwise you will be in the kitchen most of the time instead of socializing. One subtle touch: Have cookies baking in the oven during the party. The smell of fresh cookies is like culinary aromatherapy.
Serve a dessert with hazelnuts, an infamous deterrent to the undead and certain to garner rapturous praise. Then you are well equipped to deter any visiting vampire with a wooden stake, a mallet, and your wreath of fresh garlic. No vampire would dare enter!
And so, jé étvagyat as they say in Hungarian. Bon Appétit!
Menu (click here for recipes)
Hazelnut Chocolate Torte with Warm Chocolate Sauce
Hungarian Lemon Crêpes
Black Cherry Compote with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream
Vanilla Cheesecake with Bloody Raspberry Sauce
Tray of Cookies-Cranberry Orange Biscotti and Chocolate Pecan Icebox Cookies
The Easiest Apple Tartlets
Fresh Comice Pears and Figs with Bel Paese and a wedge of Hunstman (layered Roquefort and Cheddar cheese)
Late Harvest Zinfandel, Quady Essencia, Sauternes, and Graham Tawny Port
Coffee/Tea/Mineral Water/Pumpkin Lattes
Vampires On the Screen-The 20th Century in Review (aka Vampires we feel we know and love)
A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you or I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair,
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair—
(Even as you or I!)
Rudyard Kipling/The Vampire
Actor Max Schreck plays Count Orlok (Dracula) in this silent classic about the demise of Dracula. The names of locations and characters had to be changed after Bram Stoker’s heirs refused to give permission to make a movie from the author’s book. This is still one of the scariest Draculas with posturing that is reflected in the Herzog film in the 90s.
Hungarian native Bela Lugosi steps into the role of the infamous vampire and immortal stardom after playing the role on Broadway. This film is often regarded as the first legitimate adaptation of Stoker’s novel. His mantra: “Children of the Night”, in the thick Hungarian accent, made cinematic history. He made a followup with Return of Dracula. Lugosi, a morphine addict, internalized the Dracula personification and requested that he be buried in full Dracula costume, which he was. We used to talk about that a lot in my family, completely fascinated.
Horror of Dracula, 1958
What’s not to love about Christopher Lee? Christopher Lee, who is just a wonderful character actor who always looks for out of the norm horror and suspense scripts like Vincent Price (how did Price miss playing Dracula?!), stars in this British version of the Dracula legend, and was nominated for a Hugo award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Note the alchemical configuration floor decoration, which no home should be without.
William Marshall stars as Mamuwalde, an African prince transformed into a vampire and then imprisoned in a sealed coffin by Count Dracula, only to find himself released in the 1970s. Although it received rather pallid reviews upon its release, it inspired a sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream (above) and remains a cult classic. It missed having Pam Grier in it, which would have elevated it immensely.
Transylvania 6-5000, 1985
Geena Davis plays the wonderful vampiress Odette in this campy romp of a movie about a pair of tabloid reporters who travel to Transylvania in search of Frankenstein. Oh Gina..great bod. Every man’s fantasy of being overwhelmed and drained of blood in ecstacy.
The Count, 1969-Present
Though most children are probably unaware of the bloody origins of Sesame Street’s beloved pink-fingered Count von Count, parents are unlikely to miss the covert references to Bela Lugosi’s interpretation of the Bram Stoker character. People who work at my local Safeway dress up like this on Halloween, many looking astonishingly very in character.
Once Bitten, 1985
In this comedic take on the Dracula legend, Jim Carrey, who loves to overplay psychotic characters and hiss, plays the victim of a vampire countess (the gap-toothed Lauren Hutton) who is told that in order to preserve her youthful looks, she must drink the blood of a virgin. Her only problem: the story is set in LA, where virgins are hard to come by.
The Lost Boys, 1987
Featuring performances by Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, and Kiefer Sutherland, hot young brat pack genre stars at the time, this Joel Schumacher film tells the story of two young boys who move to a California town where they fight a gang of teenage vampires. Set to appeal to the teen set (they ride around on motorcycles), I think this one might have missed its mark. It was filmed in Santa Cruz, California, giving the locals a thrill reporting in the local papers and flocks of high school girls drove over the hill from all over the Bay Area to get a glimpse. I think one scene is on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk amusement park and their cave hideout is around Surfer’s Point, where championship surfing contests take place every year.
Vampire’s Kiss, 1989
Playing a yuppie leading an empty life, Nicolas Cage hooks up with a a woman he believes to be a vampire (Jennifer Beals in one of her roles used to finance her years in university). Cage loves to ham it up hissing and gurgling, and is his very own self acting in this. I heard he loves playing vampires. Beals is fun in this as the sex-hungry temptress vampire.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992
Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the classic novel won 3 Oscars, for Best Costume Design, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Makeup. Gary Oldman is remarkable and you can’t take your eyes off him. Ol’ Keanu Reeves plays Jonathon and Wynona Rider his long suffering lover Mina who falls for Dracula. One of the finest seduction scenes is with Oldman manifesting from a hanging bat persona in a burned out abbey flying out to materialize into a steamy fog that appears from under the bed covers to seduce and create Rider as his immortal companion. Tom Waits does the incredible, crazed fly-eating Renfield.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992
Kristy Swanson plays Buffy Summers, an ordinary high schooler who learns that she is destined be a vampire slayer, a role later played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the hit television show. Her struggle to fulfill her other worldly responsibilities (like being a cheerleader) and maintain a decent mundane social life (dating and going to the prom) often turns into a wry meditation on the hell of growing up. Geared again to the teen and preteen set. Not scary or bloody.
Interview With the Vampire, 1994
An all-star cast that includes Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, above, in the adaptation of Anne Rice’s book of the same title. No one could picture Cruise as Lestat, but he ended up doing a great job. Pitt said he hated the entire movie and couldn’t wait until the filming was done. The last scene with Christian Slater in the convertible going over the Golden Gate Bridge with the Rolling Stones blaring Sympathy for the Devil and Lestat morphing into his youthful self, fluffing his lace cuffs, is a classic. Another Rice novel in the same vein, Queen of the Damned, fell short but was a totally great novel with the vampire repose set under Mt Tamalpais in lush subterranean living chambers and fabulous thousands-years-old vampires from ancient Egypt.
This Trinity series stars Wesley Snipes as a half mortal, half vampire who battles vampires like Kris Kristofferson in order to keep the mortal race safe. Jessica Biel adds the seduction element. Guillermo del Toro directed the second film in the set, above, about the lead character’s battle to defeat mutant vampires so consumed with bloodlust that they prey on vampires as well as humans. This is on TV a lot and Snipes is always great. The bloodletting scenes are really gory draining down from the captive into individual spickots delivering to the collective drinkers.
Dracula – Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, 2002
What a fabulous costume giving the character an archetypal charisma. This silent film, based on the Winnipeg Ballet’s interpretation of the Dracula novel, is performed as a dance, and features a cast drawn largely from the ranks of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Originally for Canadian TV, it is now available on Netflix. View at Utube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYroFjMvbWk.
True Blood, 2008
Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball developed this series about vampires living openly among humans who buy their blood V for an intoxicating high for HBO. Based on books by Charlaine Harris, it is called Twilight for adults. This is campy, bloody, sexy, steamy, bawdy, cynical, scary, mythical, and really gives a feel of the humid bayou country. Some of the best character acting I’ve seen in years. Fantastic seduction scenes that meld sex with violence. The character of Russell Eddington, the King of Vampires, is intoxicating. Not for the faint of heart viewer.
Based on the wildly popular quartet of books by Stephenie Meyer, tells the story of Bella, a high school girl, who finds her life in danger after she falls in love with a vampire with a heart and conscience. This is the rage of the young set and is giving a lot of beautiful young actors a venue and chance at special effects. The characters stare at each other with deep meaning a lot.
Recipes and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014.