This is the third in a series of occasional posts by writer and filmmaker, Rob Walker, whose YouTube series, ‘Victorian Cut-out Theatre’, celebrates the esoteric, strange and downright weird Victorians by animating contemporary illustrations in the tradition of Monty Python.
‘It is the eve of St George’s Day. Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?’ She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting. It was all very ridiculous but I did not feel comfortable. However, there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it. I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go. She then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me. I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind. She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck, and said, ‘For your mother’s sake,’ and went out of the room.’—Dracula, Chapter 1
This scene from Bram Stoker’s novel, lays the groundwork for terror as Jonathan Harker enters the Carpathian Mountains, hoping to locate the man who hired him. First, however, Harker is introduced to strange food, strange landmarks and even stranger people. The opening of ‘Dracula’ plays a little like a travelogue, as Harker tries his best to reconcile his new surroundings with his ‘modern’ Victorian upbringing. This scene would proliferate hundreds of copycats in horror literature and cinema. We see it adapted in the film Nosferatu (1922), the first screen adaptation of Stoker’s novel. The German solicitor, Hutter, plans to find the castle of Graf Orlok after a short meal at an inn, only to be told by the proprietor that ‘You can’t go any further tonight. A werewolf is roaming the forest.’ It doesn’t matter what language you speak, or culture you’re from, there is always a place where the food tastes funny and the people are strange. We even have a version of this scenario in the American West, where I grew up. It always begins with ‘You ain’t from ’round here, are ya?’
Being raised on Universal horror movies, I always felt a little kinship with these tiny villages, as my own town was remarkably similar. However, while the angry mobs of Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolf Man (1941) deal perpetually with the supernatural, my hometown deals with who’s planning that year’s ‘Huck Finn Day’. Reconciling these Hollywood caricatures with my own upbringing inspired me to look at these gothic, provincial settings from a new perspective. Every monster has to have a village to terrorize, don’t they? A place where fog persistently hangs thick on the countryside, and provincial folks still hold to old world superstitions. A place where being ruled by a vampire lord is, well, normal?
‘Local Customs’ was inspired by my fascination with the opening chapter of Dracula, along with my upbringing in a small town. I wanted to explore the idea of an Eastern European village that was plagued by the supernatural, but also had to negotiate a burgeoning tourism industry. I would discover later that my idea of Transylvania and tourism, while a humorous one, is also a reality for those currently living in ‘Dracula Country’. So art imitates life imitates art, I suppose.
I also have to give thanks to writer, performer and producer, Stephanie Yuhas, who lent her voice to the production as Magda, the innkeeper’s mother. Stephanie is best known for her work on Nerd vs Geek, Project Twenty1 and is quite familiar with Transylvania, since that is where her family is from, as detailed in her short film Nagymama.
Being a stranger in a strange land is difficult. The locals aren’t always welcoming, and the weather can be hard to deal with. However, a good cabbage and potato stew will help you put up with almost anything, even being cursed with raccoons for hands.
Rob Walker is a writer and filmmaker, probably best known for the comedic, animated web series Victorian Cut-out Theatre produced by Cinevore Studios. He studied Theatre Performance and Education at the University of Northern Colorado where he began writing plays and short stories. His work has been featured on Kotaku and Nerdist. He lives in Colorado with his wife and their two socially inept cats. You can follow him on Twitter or on his website robwalkerfilms.com.