Sinking his teeth into Dracula
Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow is a vampire, horror scholar
John Edgar Browning owes his love of Dracula — and much of his scholarly career — to his family’s VCR.
Growing up in Tennessee during the 1980s, he watched the movies his family taped off television. Horror was his favorite. He was likely one of the few kindergarten students familiar with the oeuvre of Freddy Krueger and Jason from “Friday the 13th.”
Today Browning is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Literature, Media and Communication who is an internationally recognized vampire and horror scholar. He has published nearly a dozen books and his latest, “The Vampire in Europe: A Critical Edition,” comes out this month.
This semester Browning teaches “Fashioning Monsters, Preserving Normalcy,” which examines the way we construct monsters and otherness in literature, film and society. For example, his class discussed why Leatherface from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” became more horrifying after putting on lipstick.
“Monsters tell us a lot about society,” Browning said. “In a way, monsters are just like politicians. They show us who is powerful, who should have power and who is powerless.”
Of all the monsters out there, Dracula captured Browning’s fascination. He watched the 1979 movie starring Frank Langella over and over again. But it was the 1992 version directed by Francis Ford Coppola that made a lasting impact.
“I stopped thinking of Dracula as this fictional thing,” Browning said. “He was Vlad Dracula, a person who had a real history. The movie turned some switch on, and I really honed in on vampires and Dracula.”
He sometimes wears a replica of the silver ring Dracula wore in the movies in the 1940s. The center of the ring is a blood cornelian stone about the size of a half dollar. On top of the stone sits a crest containing a crown, a bat and the letter “D.”
The 34-year-old cuts an imposing figure at 6’4”, but his soft-spoken nature and quick smile reveal an easygoing, scholarly side.
A film theory course during his junior year at Florida State University showed he could have an academic career because of his love of Dracula.
For part of his doctoral dissertation, Browning conducted ethnographic studies of people who identify themselves as real-life vampires. For his book Dracula in Visual Media, Browning documented more than 700 Dracula films, television programs, documentaries, animations and video games.
Next semester he’ll teach “Vampires and Zombies across History and Culture.”
“I was always someone who liked to ask questions and notice changes,” he said. “You can see culture evolve by looking at Dracula.”
When society goes through economic crises movie studios turn to horror, especially vampires, so villains can get their comeuppance.
“What’s strange now is that we want our vampires to live,” he said. “We’re rooting for the monsters, while it’s normalcy or the people who created the monsters who are being killed off.“