tape_2046 / beatrice vorster                    © 2023 

audiovisual fusion, narrative data and rendering reality

The onscreen vampire is a dataset; a composite formed through the production-line output of thousands of adaptations which spans audiovisual culture. Duplication is written into the fabric of the vampire as a figure of the undead - grave robbing is part of the narrative - which accelerates the expansion of the hoard into online spaces. Continuous production of the sub-genre which lacks a real ‘source’; collapses the distinction between producers and consumers while the secondary material existence encourages encounters with the fragment on YouTube, and other algorithmic recommendation platforms. As such, the 21st century experience of vampirism onscreen is a collapsed, remixed and generic meeting with the database. Each iteration is knowingly experienced in the schematic of what has already been produced, posing the question: how many versions of the same thing can be produced? Why are we still making vampire movies? It resonates with Simon Reynolds’ discussion of YouTube and its “ever-proliferating labyrinth of collective recollection” while balancing on the cusp of Mark Fisher’s dual indicators of hauntology: ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet’ (Reynolds, 56) (Fisher, Hauntology, 19). In its dual pronged virtuality, the vampire elicits anxiety both in the disappearance of the actual “which is still effective  as a virtuality (the traumatic ‘compulsion to repeat’, a structure that repeats, a fatal pattern)” and in the anticipation of its future actuality (Hauntology, 19). While Fisher and Reynolds posit the hauntological framework as tied to capital and the internet, the obsessive remaking of vampire narratives predates web culture. Each ‘new’ vampire film becomes a part of the archive as soon as it is produced, starting with Georges Méliès’ House of the Devil (1896), or in the case of anticipated releases, even as it is announced.

The summation of the relentless rewriting, redesigning and reproduction of the myth can be imagined as a metaverse in which the aesthetic language of the vampire continuously morphs as it extends beyond the parameters of the screen. The shifting status of the vampire - from frightening, to high-camp, to heart-throb, and back again - is tied to a mutating sonic expression.  One of the earliest lore adaptations - Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror - immediately fuses the vampire with the sonic, even in the era of ‘silent cinema’. The many evolutions of narrative sounding, aligned with broader stylistic conventions of horror, reflect the changing ways in which we hear supernatural terror. What is relatively unique to vampire production however, is the consistency of this audiovisual fusion: specific moments are reproduced using the same sonic and optic signifiers. Recognition of vampiric status through this fusion is tantamount to the filmic reading. They are giffable, sampleable shapeshifters tied to bootleg distribution. The extraction and sharing of particular moments online promotes accessibility over quality, and like Hito Steyerl’s Poor Image, can travel “through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution” (32). These processes equally have audible consequences, accumulating noise, falling out of sync or ‘mashed-up’ as they are shared, yet do not become fully abstracted owing to the potent recognisability of the fusion in the context of the subgenre.

BOOTLEG VAMPIRE takes samples from the ‘anarchive’ to explore this fusion (Reynolds, 75). The narrative rigidity of the subgenre offers a database of parallel moments - recurring scenes such as the bite, the library, the exposition - which allows for paradigm comparison across different times, budgets and formalities. The points of audiovisual analysis selected in this essay looks to formulate a web_folk mode production. This resonates with the hauntological framework posed by Reynolds and Fisher, while tying this internet of the supernatural to ideas of folk storytelling practices and myth-functions. The essay outlines three components of this thesis: the copy as undead; the modification of this (while maintaining its ‘aura’) and the performance of this fiction. This approach is only possible because of the sheer volume of audiovisual data found online and imitates the way in which we encounter fragments of cinema as GIFs, clips or samples in social media or platforms such as YouTube. In their extraction and distillation they become generic, operating in a way which is comparable to silent film scoring practices in which cinematic gestures are tied to replaceable sonic signifiers. The project is hosted on a website, circling a core film. This work is composed of re-enacted moments which isolate, decontextualise and reproduce audiovisual fragments which repeatedly occur across the vampire metaverse. At times, the use of black screen signifies an absence as symptomatic of too much noise - a kind of data overload - which instead recenters the most iconic moments (such as the bite) as a purely sonic experience. The score is composed through creating a ‘music manual’, reminiscent of silent film scoring conventions. Audio matter is extracted from the expanse of vampire output and processes these through tape manipulation, granular synthesis and other modes of distortion. Other elements are ‘remakes’ of moments in James Bernard’s score for Hammer Horror. These musical motifs punctuate the soundscape which is pirated from existing films and internet vampire fragments. The supplementary films submitted - stoker and well-mannered guests - parasite the ‘original’ film, extending this narrative in an imitation of online produsage. These variations seek to explore our uneasy relationship to the idea of the ‘the real thing’: mythmaking and fictioning in online spaces augments our lived experiences, just as stories of ghouls, zombies or vampires previously operated.


Immortality through duplication, mimicry and fidelity

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is central to the vampire media myth, its narrative formula has generated the most copies and the most recognisable icon because of its relationship to film. Much later than its Victorian vampiric counterparts, Stoker’s novel utilises pre-existing literary, folk, and factual material to form an assemblage - a kind of ‘original’ bootleg whose own first cinematic adaptation was unlicensed. What marks Dracula as distinctly different from its predecessors is its engagement with contemporary technology. The numerous references to train travel, Kodak, phonographs, and typewriters all amount to the body's extension and dislocation, each of these loosening the parameters of body and technology. The disintegration of the material body and formation of the filmic vampire (the cinematic dissolve obliteration of Nosferatu in 1922) indicates that the vampiric body is tied to the material reality of the medium it is recorded upon. Moreover, the shift from desynchronised sonic disembodiment in the silent era, to synchronised sound, only further embeds the vampire in cinematic landscapes - offering the sonic qualities of this shapeshifter in a way which gives testament to its existence. Like animated characters, their physicality is rendered through sound. Vampirism is a medium-specific threat tied to recording practices and their distribution.

Thus, Dracula’s source material is intimately related to technologies of duplication and it is presented as the way in which Count Dracula can be defeated. The novel itself uses an epistolary format, a composite of diaries, articles and invoices, merged into a master copy which is itself duplicated and distributed. Although imperceptible, the role of imagined sound is crucial to the novel, offering a firsthand account of Victorian sonic imagination. In this extract, Dr Seward, one of the vampire hunters, who records his diary on a phonograph, agrees to share it with Mina to make a typed version for their database.

That is a wonderful machine, but it is cruelly true. It told me, in its very tones, the anguish of your heart…. I have copied out the words on my typewriter, and none other need now hear your heartbeat, as I did…I think that the cylinders which you gave me contained more than you intended me to know. (Stoker, 209).
depicted in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992

It is clear that at the advent of recording sound, there is a suspicion that this mode of data collection carries with it something extra - an intimate marker of its source which can be paused, rewound and replayed. The ability to replay the tones of heartbreak is presented as one which exposes, makes vulnerable the subject in the separation and documentation of the voice in a particular moment: audio recording has an almost supernatural power in its revelatory capacity. Although the sonic ‘reality’ of this fictional recording was surely distorted; the voice in competition with surface noise and lacking in definition by our standards, our encounter with the imagined sound amplifies the emotional affect and places us (and Mina) in ghostly proximity with the moment. The ghostly quality ascribed to recorded sound - the process of fixing - is tantamount to the anxiety produced from un-human disembodiment in vampirism. Julian Henriques discusses the intersection of the spirit and the human world as a kind of added value (147). He highlights that digital technologies have deepened this intermingling through facilitating the immediate recall of the entire and ongoing history of recorded music - an action of flattening and active dehistoricising in which “the past has all become equally present” (149). Digital immortality dislocates and distorts as it preserves. This fragmentation of the recorded moment is presented by Henriques in the context of Jamaican belief (and the Gothic tradition) as one which becomes interweaved with ideas of folk. His description of the duppy figure as “fly[ing] between these worlds” presents a parallel with the vampire in which the spirit world becomes embedded in technologies (149). Or, as Kittler puts it: the alternative lives of technologies is a place where “the dead and ghosts become technologically reproducible” (10). This however, is reliant on the preservation and resurrection of these fragments.

Myth becomes data once memory is technologised. In Stephan Norrington’s 1998 Blade, the antagonist, Deacon Frost, breaks into a high-tech ‘vampire archive’ - presented in the film as the site of ancient power. As Frost is duplicating and analysing data, Source Direct’s drum&bass track Call & Response is presented somewhere between the rendering of filmic diegesis and desire to make audible: bleeding from his headphones, yet unnaturally amplified for this to be fully ‘real’. Rather it is a post-production auditory illusion which adopts to sonic qualities of headphone amplification as an idea. Although the library is commonly presented in Stoker’s text (and many filmic iterations) as the site which enables The Count’s negotiation of contemporary life as a legacy figure; this rendering of information transfer exhibits the hyper-speed afforded by recording technologies which operate outside of linear chronology. This scene highlights myth-as-data while foregrounding the role of software in the creation and fixing of this moment for narrative film. Aligning Call & Response with the act of illicit downloading foregrounds the music genre's relationship to the sample as fixed sound - the relentless resurrection of the ‘amen break’ carries with it not merely the formalisation of an improvisation, but also the energy exertion that produced it. Like Steyerl’s Poor Image, the ‘aura’ evoked through the duplication of this break is “no longer based on the permanence of the ‘original’ but on the transience of the copy” (44). The vampire is the amen-break-in-motion which, like Fisher’s spectre, “acts without (physically) existing” (Hauntology, 18).

Recording is fundamentally severance and duplication - when propelled into web-space this duplication is exponential and the weight of accumulation is paradoxical: both removed from its physicality and increasingly heavy. This hyper-speed of information and narrative transfer is depicted in Guy Maddin’s 2002 Pages from a Virgin’s Diary in which the near entirety of the novel is cut-up and rearranged as a ballet at breakneck speed. Where Blade projects a futurist techno-vampirism, Maddin’s work reaches backwards, imitating the lost silent film makes use of contemporary technologies. The work utilises the fantasy of early cinema through renderings of title cards, tinting, shadowplay and music by Gustav Mahler. This mimicry is achieved through computer-generated special effects rather than utilising techniques of the silent film era; the selected Mahler pieces themselves incorporate music composed for other works in networked fashion. Maddin’s adaptation is simultaneously one of the closest to the source and the most abstracted due to its desire to show everything - text and subtext. It depicts the chaos of imitation and its awkward relationship to authenticity. The complication presented is one which connects the desire for ‘the real thing’ and the rendering of that. Michel Chion notes that there is “no reason for audiovisual relationships thus transposed to appear the same to us as they are in reality, and especially for the original sound to ring true” (96). He presents the notion of fidelity as one which is inherently complex. In contrast to definition which concerns itself with detailed audiovisual capture, fidelity is rendering which aligns with believability. It is not necessarily ‘real’, but a rendering of it which is convincing and can be recognised as what it is presented to be. Crucial to successful recognition is sifting through the noise, an emptying out to present the audience with a convincing facsimile of the event, however fantastical the content.

There are many qualities of the vampire - such as the bite - which are only rendered ‘real’ in sound design.  While Stoker’s novel contains no actual bite scene (it is inferred and occurs ‘offscreen’) it is surely one of the most iconic identifiers of the subgenre. User Iron Bite’s Vampire bites playlist is one of many on YouTube which contains a mass of bite-data, presenting us with several patterns. The first is that the audio quality of the bite is integral to the moment, relying so heavily on amplification to the point that the foley is even louder than the scream . We know that this sound is artificial as, unlike footsteps or other indicators of life, this certainly was not recorded at the moment of shooting. Knowing does not render us any less repulsed or give us distance from the moment of penetration. This ‘sounding’ of the vampire - particularly of the bite and mouth more generally - is the preoccupation of ASMR vampire videos which populate the online space alongside ‘legitimate’ filmic iterations, propelling listeners to almost inside the mouth. A truly uncomfortable proximity. The second pattern that emerges is that the bite is almost always scored (unless the voice becomes an orgasmic indicator), and the score often pre-determines this bite in an uncertain blend of terror and desire. More than that, the sonic buildup to the bite gives us a clue as to the ‘type’ of vampire in operation. An unidentified fragment extracted from the aforementioned playlist - vampire bites girl 2 Chinese - presents a scene where two young women approach a stylish, moody, sunglasses wearing man in a club. The audiovisual quality of this upload is poor at best, ripped from an unnamed film but presents an interesting case-study. We are located in a club, the saturated 4-to-the-floor kick reassures us of this, however, as one of the characters approaches there is an auditory friction. The man becomes recognisable as a vampire through the emergence of a painfully conventional score - reminiscent of James Bernard’s Hammer Horror pieces - which we hear before we see his elongated fangs. As the moment of the bite approaches, the soundscape is entirely overridden by a stylistic haunting of earlier genre pieces. A chromatic piano crash at the moment of contact confirms the character's vampirism, even more so when combined with the foley bite which is louder than either the club music or the score.

It is evident that the audiovisual encounter with the vampire cannot be based in lived ‘reality’, but is assembled to operate convincingly as a myth vehicle. It is codified through the consistency of its reproduction, a relationship to the poor image which, in its compression, offers a buffer to the fetishisation of high resolution and sharpness. What Chion presents as audio fidelity seems to escape from the chokehold of value judgements and rather can be aligned with the radical potential of the poor image which is not concerned with  “the originary original” but rather, “its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities” (44). It presents a complexity in determining the parameters of the film, not only due to the expanse of duplication, but further in the way that vampire films are often self-referential. Once in the ether, either as an original or a copy, it is already a bootleg. Consequently, the idea of delineating between different modes of diegesis becomes increasingly complex in this saturated filmic universe.


recognition, mutation, remix

Recognition of vampire status is used as a narrative drive in most outputs, playing with the tensions of exposition both within the filmic construct and with the viewer on the other side of the screen. This is achieved both through visual coding and sonic signifiers which, due to the narrative formula, operate by oscillating between the familiar and active defamiliarizing (Gelder, 86). There is an implicit contract which has a very clear payoff in vampire cinema; one which is hinged on the audience accepting the moment of recognition. And, in a way, the vastness of narrative distribution means that we already accept the fictional status of the vampire, we are a part of the metaverse - whether we permit entry or not. This recognition contract relies heavily on fusing the visual aesthetic with sonic indicators.  

Earlier works (pre-1980s) utilise more structural modes of recognition - they operate from within the narrative through constructing a world which, although at times referring to the genre more broadly, do not ordinarily include music from external sources (either diegetic or non-diegetic). Outside of necessary foley, the sonic imagination lies in the hands of the composer. The musical rulebook of western vampire cinema can be attributed to James Bernard’s scoring of the Hammer Horror vampire series. For these relatively low budget films (the studio’s 1958 Dracula film financed for £81,41) the musical world was an investment which enabled the producers to render the seductive yet monstrous presence through sonic suggestion rather than graphic depictions of gore or sexuality - which would have been subject to heavy censorship and damaging to box office success. According to Bernard this was marked by a desire for a quality output: “Hammer liked to have symphonic scores, written by classically trained composers, conducted by classically trained conductors and performed and recorded by players and sound engineers of the highest calibre” (quoted in Hannan 64). These are characterised by chromaticism, deranged (perverted) organ music and dissonant modernist techniques which, like the monster as disruptor, “takes musical shape as tonality gone awry to the point of incomprehension” (65). This mode of sounding is consistent and has become convention through its repeated use - both with genuine intention and as parody or pastiche. Indeed, its use has become so cliche that this outdated sonic dread becomes humorous in its rewatching. It is as formulaic as the narrative, the predetermined structure reaching beyond the Hammer-verse, creating what Michael Hannan describes as a “a musical reference bank”, which enables this act of recognition (71).

The sonic recognition of the vampire in Bernard’s score employs a thematic mode of identification. Hannan describes the distinctive three-note leitmotif as “a setting of the word Dra-cu-la”, versions of which are used unfailingly when the bloodsucker appears (65). It leeches onto the vampire, filling the void of his name, and has the effect of making the plot even more predictable as each appearance is coupled with a sonic indicator. The use of leitmotif is at times met with another formal rather than narrative construction wherein the vampire looks directly into the camera. The penetrating gaze of the undead offers a contract of recognition which operates outside of the film itself. We know. As viewers, we are well-versed in the conventions of the narrative, so much so that the filmmakers trust this moment of recognition to occur. In other works, such as Michio Yamamoto’s Bloodthirsty trilogy 1970-1974, the vampire is tied specifically to an instrument which equally guides our anticipatory recognition. While the trilogy has no narrative continuity, it is tied together only by the vampire threat (and not even the same vampire), each apparition of the undead is coupled with the flute. Composer Riichirō Manabe’s score tracks the vampire, the tonal quality of the flute shifting from eerie, to threatening, to resolve as the narrative unfolds.

Mohammed Shebl Anyab (Fangs) 1981

In more contemporary iterations which operate outside of the mechanics of camp, sonic indicators prove to be a more reliable indication of vampirism than their appearance. They look just like us; what reveals them is their sound. The historic association of vampire = music is used in Michael O’Shea’s 2016 The Transfiguration as a threshold between the natural and supernatural. O’Shea’s film tells the story of a young adolescent boy, Milo, who has become infected through his obsessive consumption of vampire cinema. As the film opens, we are immediately met with Milo exsanguinating and drinking the blood of his victim in a public bathroom. The surging, stomach churning bass is accompanied by detailed sounds of drinking that renders a moment of real repulsion, assaulting the viewer who cannot be comforted by looking away. Margaret Chardiet’s scoring throughout is minimal, relying more on amplified diegetic sounds - a kind of heightened awareness which is anxiety inducing, while placing us in sympathy with Milo as we follow his POV. The sounds of the everyday in the housing projects of Brooklyn are oppressive and sharp, paralleled by the shaky camera movement and we, like Milo, feel distrustful and overwhelmed by the rendered landscape. The ambiguity of urban noise is dizzying and helps to build our complicated relationship to the character. His daily life is punctuated by his compulsive viewing of vampire films, their scores slipping into his (and our) soundscape as a haunting of past media. As viewers, we are never quite sure whose side we’re on. This tension of uncertainty is amplified by the consistent use of this sub-bass and other more musical sounds as a premonition of his vampiric activities in moments of dissociation. In this film, it is unclear whether Milo is a vampire or just behaving like one or whether this is even a meaningful distinction to make. What is determined however, is that bloodsucking behaviour is sounded. Once this connection is made, all scored moments can be seen through this anticipatory framework. It drenches his violent behaviour in the supernatural which, rather than alienating him from the viewer, makes his actions more heartbreaking.

It is significant that Milo’s identity positioning as a vampire is one which is built around the wider distribution of vampire lore; thus, reflecting the mode of recognition in more recent films which refer to the cinematic status of vampires. The exposition is more that they are ‘real’ as opposed to that they exist. This folded expansion of the filmic universe of vampires extends beyond the parameters of the movie with figures such as Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi and Udo Kier becoming fused with vampiric identification. It is rumoured that Lugosi was even buried in his cape. The recognisability, not only of the story, but of actors associated with vampire roles, points towards their remixability. This recognition can be mobilised: a particularly interesting example of the metamorphic identity positioning of a vampire is Pere Portabella’s 1971 experimental film Cuadecuc, vampir. Shot on the set of Jesus Franco’s 1969 Count Dracula, crew members are seen preparing Christopher Lee to become identifiable as Dracula against a backdrop of narrative rendering. Dracula rising from his coffin is cut with Lee being made up, climbing into the coffin, before being covered by crew members with spiderwebs in out-of-date filmstock, the extremity of the black and white polarisation at times totally obscuring the ‘action’. All the while, there emanates from the filmic underbelly a powerful disorienting score by Carles Santos - an “industrial meltdown” - which covers nearly all diegetic sounds with a haunted heaviness (Schtinter, 8). The only moment of synchronised body/sound occurs when Lee, out of costume, reads from the source material that both this film and the outer film is parasiting, Stoker’s novel. This film, symbolically located from within Francisco Franco’s dictatorship of Spain, plays with the identification of the filmic vampire as metaphor. It is an artful, loaded, remake-in-action from a marginal position - the title, Cuadecuc, meaning ‘worms tail’ in Catalan, also describes the unexposed end of a film reel. Portabella hijacks Jesus Franco’s sexploitation ready-made, exploding the margins, and proposes a cut-up. This is reflected in the uncanny audiovisual synchronicity - not in the rendering of reality through diegesis, but rather in the material cracks, fissures and noise of the film stock which parallels the noisy score. It alludes to a kind of expanded diegesis. This echoed in the use of Musique Concrete techniques: the score points somewhere offscreen and actively recontextualizes, inviting the viewer to read the work as a proxy. Through audiovisual extraction and reconfiguration, Santos and Portabella’s remix “allows the formal shapes of expressive units to overtake their narrative meanings and thus highlight some of the means by which those meanings get produced” (Schtinter, 8). It proposes the remix as one which can shed light on what the story is ‘really about’, operating with maximum effectiveness when recognition is maintained. The power of decontextualization is both in its rewriting and its shareability; which fuses new meaning with something of its previous copy.


conspiracy, disembodiment and the internet

In all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of typewriting. 

Jonathan Harker’s journal (Stoker, 402).
Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness (1973)

The uneasy relationship to the original is embedded in the literary relationship to inauthenticity: Victorian Gothic aesthetic recalled a fantasy of medievalism. In Erik Butler’s study of literary vampire metamorphosis, he notes that in 1725 Imperial Provisor Frombald, an Austrian army medical officer, wrote the first records of modern European vampirism in a letter to his superiors. The officer outlines the exhuming, staking and burning of a corpse whom the locals believed had risen from the grave and killed villagers at night. These activities, unfamiliar to Frombald and his colleagues, resulted in their flight from the occupied territories (Butler, 32). The vampire travels from rumour to activity and is documented as fact - a pre-internet example of going viral. The original opening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, presents the accumulation of documents that forms the narrative as verifiable truth:

I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight. All the people who have willingly - or unwillingly - played a part in this remarkable story are known generally and well respected. Both Jonathan Harker and his wife (who is a woman of character) and Dr. Seward are my friends and have been so for many years, and I have never doubted that they were telling the truth.

(Barker and Stoker)

Stoker testifies to the reliability of his fictional creation. The format of the novel relies just as heavily on fictioned ‘official’ records such as newspaper articles, invoices and shipping cargo logs as diary entries and letters which are assembled and re-typed by Mina (and by implication, recovered by the author). Although this literary technique was not unusual for the era, it highlights the way in which the presentation of fact interweaves with gestures of fictioning in the subgenre. For example, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) utilises this slippage, opening with still journalistic images. These grainy, black and white photographs depict American military atrocities in Vietnam, accompanied by a version of Ngủ Ngon, a Vietnamese folk song with a voiceover indicating a lecture. Viewers of this film may recognise these images and know them to be documentation from events which occurred in our reality. The mechanical sound of the slide projector, which punctuates the audiotrack and the male voice of the lecturer, operates as a kind of signifier of brutal authority which overpowers the marginal folk music. The scene is presented as a lecture, yet the body from which the auditory authority emerges is not seen. The power of the disembodied voice shifts with the second use of documentary image which instead is accompanied by a voiceover from our protagonist post-bite. She claims that “there is no history, everything we are is eternally with us”. Through her infection, she has become formally more powerful - her voice can exist outside of herself - while increasingly vulnerable in her body.

These auditory indicators of ‘fact’ are deployed by Peter Watts in his video work, Vampires: Biology and Evolution, which also utilises the lecture format, in this case delivered on behalf of a fictional big-pharma corporation whose new medicine has vampiric side-effects. It is a world building exercise that springs from Blindsight, a novel by the author that re-frames the science fiction narrative as a power point presentation of medical care under capitalism in tongue-and-cheek fashion. Conventions of ‘truth-telling’ are motorised: the echoey, grainy audio reminiscent of low-quality lecture captures, the dry delivery utilising the mechanics of academic language. This is accompanied by the boring and conventional format of the powerpoint with photographic ‘evidence’ testifying to its authenticity. These qualities amount to the documentation of a lecture rather than a restaging of it as we see in Ferrara’s work. The originator of the voice of information cannot be visualised in this context (just as Chion notes regarding radio disembodiment), however this does not relieve the tension so much as fully situate it in an online space where there is not a real sense of origin. Rather, there is an encoded uncertainty in this space where verification is something which can be purchased as a ‘blue tick’ for a monthly fee. Watt’s work captures and reproduces the mechanisms of conspiracy theory videos which permeate online spaces. Just as vampire fiction often insists that there are two levels - our level and the vampiric level - such modes of discourse are co-opted by alt right content creators. Paranoia is symptomatic of decontextualisation: we learn this from fiction.

Have you ever seen a vampire? Well first of all, they’re not romantic. Forget whatever you’ve seen in the movies. It’s not like they’re hopping around in rented formal wear, seducing everyone in sight with cheesy eurotrash accents. They don’t turn into bats, crosses don’t work...

Vampire Hunter Jack Crow, Vampires, 1999

Vampire hunters have shifted from scientists - representatives of the rational - to conspiratorial myth busters to relocate the viewer and allow for larger narrative continuity within the broader subgenre. In the scene above, transcribed from John Carpenter’s 1998 movie, Crow’s vampire-facts are not accompanied by the revelatory and dramatic score (also by the director) which infects most of the film, but rather, the sound is stripped back, realistic as if to indicate a moment of ‘truth’. In The Transfiguration, cinephile Milo, gives value to works which toe this threshold of fiction. His reluctance to engage with parts of the subgenre are expressed as such: “it’s just, I bet the vampires in Twilight aren't very realistic”. By this he means, they cannot be imitated and therefore exist outside of our reach. This update of the vampire is one who is aware of the back catalogue and listens to Bauhaus, reflected in the scoring practices of vampire films in the early 80s onwards. It is described by Janet Halfyard as a process of de-othering, in which the underscore does not demonise the undead but presents the viewer with a complex, sympathetic character by using a popular music soundtrack (171). It has the double effect of aligning us with the vampire at the same time populating ‘their world’ with our music. This merging has further facilitated the transmedial expansion of the subgenre, which calls on us as participants in the lore. Iterations such as Blade Techno (Rave Techno Mix) and Vampire L.A.R.P. groups spill into our lives, mobilising the fiction.

This practice of constantly redefining the parameters of vampirism gestures towards the anxiety felt when estranged from the source, particularly of the body, and poses several questions. What are the edges of fiction? Where are we located when the spread of the lore is so vast that it is wholly a part of ‘our’ world? The vampiric body is not bounded, but totally estranged. They are not limited to the constraints of their body: “He can transform himself to a wolf ... he can be as a bat ... he can come in mist ... as elemental dust” (Stoker, 254). Their shape-shifting, and the consequential paranoia around the status of the body, is audibly reflected through a preoccupation with amplifying the sounds of the body. In Ganja & Hess (1973), the vocal echo is deployed as Ganja becomes a vampire - particularly her scream, the elongation of which spills across cuts, fusing with moments outside of the vocal excess. As she becomes a vampire, she also becomes technologised - the scream capping the limiter either in the process of recording or distribution. There is a double dehumanising at stake through technological mediation. It alludes to a subtle reading of the Gothic by Fisher as “a plane that cuts across the distinction between living and nonliving, animate and inanimate” (Flatline, 2). Embedded within this unreliability of distinguishing between the two, is the disembodiment: a severance of our conception of the ‘real’ vs ‘virtual’.


This project has sought to develop an audiovisual morphology of vampire lore mediated by screen media with particular emphasis on the intersection of folk and the internet. The practice of vampiric world-building is shaped by formulaic synthesis of sound and image on screen. It presents a blueprint for cultural anxiety around ‘aliveness’ in an increasingly cybernetic and augmented experience: the real jeopardy in the lore framework is this loss of mind/body autonomy. It is this disembodied quality of vampirism which enables it to stand in as a useful case study of the way in which, before the aid of user generated content platforms, a cult narrative can become an ‘aesthetic’ through unofficial distribution. It is an echo which is severed from its source while still maintaining its recognisability. The film produced for this project plays with the dynamics of human/non-human through three stages of transformation: becoming vampire, becoming animal and becoming digital. Moments such as the direct address through the vampire’s gaze (explored as a recognition contract above) feels like a future haunting of the vlog, a forced proximity which connects the viewer and the producer. The narrative relies on the splitting of sound and image and their in-tandem rippling, teasing the parameters of offscreen. It is unclear whether what we hear is connected to this film, or the larger lore metaverse, or another work entirely. Moreover, the extensive use of sub-bass sine waves (an auditory convention of contemporary horror cinema) masks all sounds of human activity in the cinema space while vibrating the body, at times, in an uncomfortable way. The silence is artificial and imposed and represents this blurred line between virtual and actual, between animate and inanimate. Moments in which it retreats reminds you of your body. 

The threatening transferability of the vampire is tied to their virtuality, accelerated in online space.  The paranoid relationship to ‘reality’ in vampire films - whether fictional or actual, is similarly constantly redefined in the webspace. Many techniques of ‘truth-telling’ - the sensational ‘reveal’ that everything is not as it seems - are lifted from cinematic production, particularly of genre film. There is, of course, a political valence in this uncertainty of ‘fact’ as a relative term which is not to be underestimated. Although always lurking beneath the mainstream surface, the resurrection of vampiric narrative as a representative of myth-culture is historically aligned with moments of technological concerns relating to corporeal instability and becomes a harbinger for future paranoias. Recently, there has been an increase of high-budget outputs - ranging from Oliva Rodrigos’ pure pop Vampire track (and music video which makes excellent use of running, a formal consistency of vampire movies); to Renfield starring Nicholas Cage, Marvel’s remake of Blade and a personally anticipated remake of Nosferatu by horror auteur Robert Eggers. This resurgence is reflected in both the increasingly conspiratorial internet public, and in creative practices which have shifted to re-engage with the fantastic, aesthetically and conceptually. This project, while concerned with the series of dualities presented - living/nonliving, animate/inanimate, virtual/actual, real/fake - is motivated with the mechanics of formulating fiction in the lineage of folk production. Specifically, the project attempts to understand how Fisher’s thesis that “cybernetics has been haunted by the Gothic'' has been incorporated into the trend machine through analysis of the sonic qualities of vampire output and the ongoing mobilisation of this folk fiction (Flatline, 6). Folk, by definition, has no designated origin - it is an activity, story, idea, which is circulated amongst a people. It implies a lack of authorship and rather promotes collaboration (consensual or otherwise) in which “where creative expression is the property of the community at large” (Miller, 101). The longevity and spread of the Gothic vampire - like folk culture- is its enduring ability to morph, to act as a proxy; as a sample.

Ken Russells Lair of the White Worm (1988)


House of the Devil Georges Méliès 1896

Death by dissolve

Nosferatu: A Sympony of Horror, F.W. Murnau, 1922

The Library

Blade, Steven Norrington, 1998

Hyper-speed narrative transfer

Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, Guy Maddin, 2002 


ASMR Modern Vampire Bite Experience, Cap Bailey, 2022