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Michael Arnzen: Vampires Again!

Award-winning author, poet, and professor of English, Michael A. Arnzen, has always enjoyed vampires. Last week, he talked about this love and gave some recommendations for vampire books and short stories. This week we continue our conversation with Arnzen about bloodsuckers.

One of Arnzen’s interests outside of vampires is the idea of the uncanny. Many may be more familiar with this being called the uncanny valley. The idea of the uncanny comes from what some people might consider a strange place, Sigmund Freud. Even stranger, it has nothing to do with your mother. (I used to be a psychotherapist, so this joke is hilarious to me.) The vampire, according to Arnzen, fits into the uncanny. “If you’ve felt the “creep” factor of the vampire, then you’ve felt the uncanny,” he says.

Those things that are not quite human fall into Freud’s idea of the uncanny. “Anything dead or inorganic that ‘moved on its own accord’ — any object that seems to have a will of its own, from a rocking chair with no one in it, to a dismembered hand that crawls along the ground — could be categorized as “uncanny” in fairy tales and literature,” Arnzen explains and continues. “[Vampires] are dead, but also alive; some are sexual and dangerous. But even more so, they are us and they are not us, human and yet something supernatural, and they all have past traumas that destroyed their humanity… and I think that means they have an uncanny identity, too, which is more complex than just a spooky creature. Plus, with some vampires, they are attractive as much as they are repulsive, and they speak to our fascination and wonder, laced with a sense of threat which I think the feeling of the uncanny always triggers.”

Films might be the best way to understand the uncanny nature of the vampire without meeting one. Books can do a very good job of making the vampire terrifying but seeing them in the imagination is not the same as seeing them in life. Arnzen has some recommendations for very good and maybe scary vampire movies.

Firstly, he says that the Count Orlok-type from 1922’s Nosferatu is his favorite movie vampire type. “The monstrous Otherness about them appeals to me. It is interesting that no matter how other-worldly they might be, they are entirely dependent on us. Which means they are just like us. And the weirder they are, the better,” Arnzen says. Secondly, he is okay with mixing of vampires with other genres like romance, even Twilight. “I try not to judge fans of Twilight and stories of that ilk too harshly. Those domesticated and relatively safe vampires a gateway drug to the good stuff,” he continues. Lastly, Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of his favorite vampires. “I find her corrupt soul and craven mind quite beautiful in it way.”

Arnzen makes these movie recommendations. His top recommendation is the Swedish version of Let the Right One In. His take on this film is: “[It’s] a classic story and definitely must-see fare. It’s based on a good book, too, but the performances of the teen actors are stunning, and there are scenes that will make your heart drop as much as your gut, and the movie succeeds at making you rethink your assumptions about human love and vampire need.” He says that he’s found many people enjoy the original Fright Night and Near Dark.

If you have an interest in vampires, Arnzen wrote an “experimental” Dracula sequel called Murmann: A Tale of Van Helsing. You can also keep up with him at his website

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