Blade is one of the older successful superhero films, appearing at a time when people had renewed interest in vampires. But, there has always been one thing that bothered me about the portrayal of vampires in Blade—they were weak.
Much of the fear regarding vampires relies on the idea that they are nearly unstoppable forces, requiring groups of people to dispatch even one. But, the opening action scene of Blade shows a club full of hundreds of vampires easily dispatched by Blade using an arsenal of weapons. Yes, the weapons are specially designed with vampires in mind, including stakes, silver bullets and blades, ultraviolet lights, and garlic-infused “mace.”
When struck, the offending area of the vampire (often the heart or head) simply disintegrates, melting away into nothingness. Blade is a one man, vampire-slaying army, whereas, in other portrayals, a single vampire could cause the same level of destruction among humanity by shrugging off nearly every weapon known to man.
So why did the writers of Blade choose to weaken vampires? Well, obviously, this is a box-office action flick, but I think there’s a deeper story going on. I think Blade has a subtle, hidden fight of mythology vs. science.
In describing the weapons to Karen, Whistler characterizes them all in scientific and medical language. Garlic causes anaphylactic shock. They have an allergy to certain woods and silver. Their fangs inject venom. And, it goes on. Whistler and Karen have an intense discussion about the medicine of vampires. Whistler states authoritatively, “Their blood can’t sustain hemoglobin.” When, exactly, did Whistler get his M.D.? (He even identifies vampires as homines nocturna!) Karen, then, suggests gene therapy as a means to cure vampirism with a retrovirus.
Again, fear of vampires has always been that it’s a one-way trip. There is no cure, no going back to being human. Science takes the fear out of vampires. They can be killed easily; their bite can be cured. Armed thusly, vampires really don’t stand a chance against humanity, especially after Karen shows Blade that sodium citrate, an anticoagulant, can be used on vampires with explosive results. The real zinger is that sodium citrate is not an exotic, hard to find compound. It’s also used in food preparation, which means you can do a quick internet search and buy it online (though I wouldn’t trust it to kill vampires).
None of these scientific modernizations to vampire mythology really bothers me. I’m not even bothered by sparkling vampires in other works. Usually, an attempt to take the magic out of vampires is purely to make it more appealing and comprehensible to a modern audience, but Blade is doing something different.
While Team Blade is using science, Team Frost is translating and fulfilling prophecy. Because the focus on the movie has emphasized the importance of science so heavily, it’s understandable that the result would be to show that Frost’s efforts are fruitless. The prophecy and powers of the elder vampires are proven to be superstitious nonsense. But, they’re not.
Frost follows through. He puts the temple and the vampire elders to use fulfilling prophecy and becomes the blood god La Magra. Here, we see mythology proven true! Powers beyond normal science come into being. The power that flowed through the elders and into Frost defy conventional explanation.
We are purely in the realm of magic. Frost’s entire body is composed of blood and is not vulnerable to Blade’s weapons. Whereas, a vampire’s flesh is vulnerable to silver and wood, Frost’s is not. Garlic, likewise, can’t cause anaphylactic shock as there are no organs.
And then, there’s the sodium citrate. In some truly awesome moves, Blade injects the anticoagulant into Frost, and there’s a clean-up on Aisle 9.
What the film has done is pit science against mythology and determined that science will be the definitive winner. Even the vampire god with vast and indescribable powers cannot stand against a few grams of sodium citrate. Blade just scienced vampires.
Or did it?
The movie did a good job of converting myth to science. The garlic is adequately explained as causing anaphylactic shock, a normal medical reaction to certain allergies. Likewise, the sunlight of myth is focused in on ultraviolet rays, the ones science has identified as being damaging to skin cells. This is why we have sunblock against UV rays, a fact Team Frost capitalizes on.
However, the “silver and various woods” are not adequately explained. The reaction is described as allergic, but there is no medical allergy that ever results in complete and instantaneous disintegration of tissues and bone. So what’s going on there? The film skips over them. There’s no explanation given. Yet, there is an interesting clue in Whistler’s words: “various types of woods.” This means something—not all wood, but specific wood. Which woods are they, and why?
The silver and wood of the stakes are left as unexplained mythological elements. The film introduces them, but doesn’t follow-through on reassigning them to scientific explanations. If the film had set itself up to be completely one-sided in favor of science, with mythology false, then we could assume that there was a scientific explanation; the film just didn’t cover them. However, with the vampires’ mythology proven as viable, we are left wondering about these elements and what their mythological significance is.
The shift of vampires from mythology to science weakens them to the point where, despite Blade claiming otherwise, they are not difficult to kill. Moreover, even if bitten, science has provided a cure. And, there’s no time limit on it, so people can try vampirism on to see if it’s for them with no consequence. All of this takes the bite (pun intended) out of vampirism. With so many ways to overcome them, they are no longer a threat.
Andy Adams is an adjunct professor of English at various colleges in the Phoenix area. He has an affectation for fedoras as they complement his villainous goatee. He’s been known to poke his head onto Twitter @A3Writer, but he’s never been big into birds. He blogs at A3writer.com about writing, teaching, and the conquest of fictional worlds—they’re more fun than the real world.
Read all posts by Andy Adams for Criminal Element.