When reality is stranger than fiction

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Count Dracula is perhaps the most well-known pop culture horror icon. From Bela Lugosi in the 1931 adaptation to the more recent Hotel Transylvania, the canine-tooth steely eyed Dracula has successfully horrified and captivated generations of audiences. But what if I told you that the personality that inspired Bram Stoker to create Dracula was orders of magnitude more horrifying? That’s right. Dracula is said to be inspired from a 15th century Romanian prince known as Vlad III of Wallachia, also called Vlad the Impaler.

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Vlad, while known to historians for ruling much of eastern Europe and regularly locking horns with the Ottomans, is famous for his favourite method of execution: Impalement. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, impalement involves piercing the entire human body with a stake, as if you were sticking a marshmallow on a twig. Yikes!

Vlad seemed to enjoy his gruesome escapades a bit too much. He has been described as “creative” in his ways to torture and execute people, as if human life and death were a medium for creative expression. Unsurprisingly, he is described as a sadistic psychopath of the worst kind.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that our Count pales in comparison to his real life counterpart. The original Dracula is well-dressed, charming and intelligent, just with a unique thirst for blood and a desire for world domination. Sure, his shape-shifting can be off-putting and he can get a bit bitty at times, but he’s probably as disgusted as you and I by Vlad’s macabre deeds.

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Still think you have got nerves of steel? Presenting to you, the guy, possibly the only in the world who can give Vlad a run for his money, in terms of being the most gruesome. Ed Gein. Some may argue that it is because of better news conveyance in the recent years. But I think it was just too much horror to contain. That’s why he went on to inspire not one, not two but as many as five film plots, after him, and counting.

From the suspense novel Psycho to Bill in the ‘Silence of the Lambs, when you need a muse to depict a serial killer, he’s your man. Searching his house, the cops found human skin waste baskets, human skull bowls and many more. Talk about Feng Shui!

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Is there a lesson here? Writers, especially in the horror genre, try their best to shock, disgust and horrify their readers. By devising outlandish plots and inhuman characters, they attempt to captivate their readers by placing them in a world that they’ll probably never experience.

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Often, that tends to insulate us from actual evil in the world. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that evil only exists in books and stories, that in the real world, no one is truly evil. What accounts of people like Vlad tell us, however, is that you don’t need to look farther than real life to find truly repugnant, viscerally repulsive human beings.

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Hardly the line of thought we can sign off with.  It is funny how evil finds its way through relatively easier. But the other stories get around too. Tom Sawyer, for instance, is a well known adaptation of the real namesake. So is Huckleberry Finn. Jolly good fellas they both were. Yet another surprising read is about Alexander Selkirk, who is believed to be the muse of Robinson Crusoe. People are ephemeral. They are born and they die, inevitably. But legends prevail. Fortunately not all of them need be horrifying.  It is human tendency to obsess over rarities. so here’s to hoping that, while Vlad and Gein may prove to be exciting readings, their karmic counterparts are just way too many to mention.

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PS. Not to present a parody, but Gein has 16 works of art and fiction based on him!

– An Article by Mayank Mallik and EP Shanmuga.


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