Sometimes the title is all you need

Ever run into a work whose title tells you all you need to know about the work? Snakes on a Plane, an album titled “Greatest Hits” or “Live!” or John Dies At The End.

Of course, there’s still surprises, the title cannot communicate the entirety of the work, but sometimes the title tells you the big picture of the work succinctly.

With the right title, an audience can know if the work is a perfect fit or not. I found one recently that turned out to be a perfect fit for me: Dracula vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane Duncan.

DraculavsHitler.jpgThe slightly-gonzo premise is borne out by the book itself. An aging Van Helsing, living quietly in Romania with his “bon vivant” daughter, sees the brutality of the Third Reich up close when SS troops crack down on his town. Desperate for a power that can tip the scales back in favor of the resistance movement, Van Helsing opts to awaken and release Dracula from where he was entombed.

Didn’t Dracula die at the end of that most famous of works? (120-year old spoiler alert!) Indeed, he did, but Dracula vs. Hitler presents Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a sensationalized, exaggerated account of the battle between Van Helsing and the immortal vampire, sneered at by Van Helsing for its melodrama and inaccuracies. In this telling, Dracula never crumbled to dust, although he did have his throat slashed by Harker and was stabbed through the heart by Quincey’s Bowie knife. Van Helsing subsequently recovered the body of Dracula, and had it sealed away, until the time comes to release him.

The character Dracula is portrayed mostly sympathetically, as royalty devoted to the Romanians and quickly falling in line to protect them. He is assisted by Van Helsing’s daughter and a young OSS agent, Jonathon Harker, who is the grandson of the solicitor from Bram Stoker’s tale.

The book is told epistolary format, in homage to Stoker’s work, with Van Helsing, his daughter, and Harker all keeping notes and writing letters about their exploits.

Focusing on the action, this book could be summed up as “The Dirty Dozen but with a vampire”. The decision to get Dracula is reached quickly, and he is released early on in the tale. From there, there’s a series of raids by the partisans assisted by Dracula, interspersed with his wonder at the changes in the world. Of course, their newfound success draws the attention of Berlin, and the other titular character gets involved.

Dracula is more of an action-movie monster than a horror monster, much like Imhotep in the Brendan Frasier-starring Mummy movies. And considering such, I kept thinking that the book would make a fascinating movie, thrusting the original Dracula into WWII Romania and watching him fight Nazis armed with armored vehicles and machine guns. Given the author’s connections to Hollywood (he wrote the screenplays for Mr. Holland’s Opus and Courage Under Fire), the stylistic choice seems obvious and points to at least the possibility of the work ending up on the silver screen.

Although the story gets a bit repetitive in the middle (the author probably could have cut out one of the vampire-assisted raids), the book moves swiftly and has enough variety in POV characters to build up to a thrilling climax in a SS-occupied castle.

One weird sensation is to find oneself rooting for the vampire. Not just “a” vampire, but “the” vampire, the original himself, Dracula. While I like action-movie vampires, and knowing the trend of casting them as outsider-heroes (think of the Underworld series, not to mention Twilight), it’s a little strange that such a villainous individual is compared favorably to Hitler. I’m unsure if that tells us more about our views of vampires, Nazis, or both (and I’m sure an English doctoral candidate is furiously writing about it somewhere), but the book itself is light and breezy enough that one can just revel in the spectacle of Dracula fighting Nazis and not worry about subtext. Steven Spielberg famously said he could never again do Nazis the way he did in Indiana Jones movies; the emotional toil of Schindler’s List made the evil too real to make them Saturday serial foils. Duncan, however, makes the Nazis despicable, cruel, evil, and thoroughly deserving of having their blood drank. A worthy addition to the new modern pulp, and one I’d gladly spend beer money on to see at the movies.

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