Occult films participate and can influence the direction of such discourse as a continuation and transformation of the discourse in literature regarding the occult and the literature regarding film as communication and discourse.
The occult is found is books. The occult is found in small, darkened shops off the beaten path. The occult can be hiding in plain sight as part of institutions or traditions that we make find safe, free of the occult -- a safety upon which we may take for granted, as implied by the films referenced in this paper. The occult is what is revealed when a person pulls back the proverbial curtain on reality displaying unknown yet influential powers at work. The occult tradition is one of secrecy and masking. The occult is present in everyday reality, no matter how modern or simple, as in the Name of the Rose, where the occult mystery takes place within the setting of an abbey amidst monks and other members of the clergy/church. In this film, the Inquisition is another serious factor at play amidst all the mystery. The Inquisition was led by the church, a key link between the occult and the church, specifically is public opposition, and private connection. If the church is not directly linked to the occult in an occult film, then the characters of the occult in the film are some time of secret group that behave similarly to those who are heavily religious, in the traditional sense of the word.
There are instances within occult films, there are parallels drawn between the occult and religion, specifically Christianity, in western films. Not only similarities drawn between the occult and religion, but also, the occult is used as a strategy to question and/or expose clandestine elements of religion. Polanski's Rosemary's Baby is an example of an occult film that is linked to literature and literary representational traditions of the occult, as well as is a film that aligns secret occult groups or societies with traditional religious groups and goes on to interrogate the practicality of blind, unquestioning, religious devotion in the modern age. The film was released in 1968, an extremely pivotal and critical year in not only the history of the United States of America, but also to the history of the world.
While some will consider Rosemary's Baby to be nothing more than a scary movie playing on the sensibilities of devout Christians and young mothers, others see it as Roman Polanski's courageous exposition of high society's occult mind state. Many however see the movie as an occult manifesto, heralding a new era. Rosemary's Baby is Aleister Crowley's "Child of the new Aeon," or Horus the son of Isis -- the bringer of a new era in world history. Whether it was intentional or not, Rosemary's Baby did appear at the brink of a new era and became part of an important social change…Society became the equivalent of Rosemary who has learned of the evil nature of her baby, but nonetheless accepted the responsibility of mothering it. Today's debased pop-culture is simply the evolution of this system. (TVC, 2011)
The Vigilant Citizen considers that one of Polanski's intentions was to show a weakness in those who are religiously devout. Perhaps it was Rosemary's devotion to her Christian, heterosexual, normative lifestyle that left her vulnerable to and susceptible to manipulation by the secret group using her to bring forth the anti-Christ. There must be some intentional irony in that a wholesome, blond, blue eyed, American, Christian heterosexual woman births the anti-Christ. It may seem more intuitive for a member of the occult to be developed and sacrificed as a vessel through which the anti-Christ figure enters the world. In Polanski's film, it is the all American blond Christian girl next door who is the mother of the anti-Christ. Even this kind of question the film asks of Christianity is occult, or at least implies Christianity in the occult as well as draws very basic similarities between Christianity and the occult, in addition to the symbols of each, respectively.
What is more, the Maltese cross is a direct allusion to the various orders that used this cross as a symbol, orders that were connected to the Holy Land, the Crusades, etc. This one image in the film thus transmits to the audience multiple layers of meaning, even if the reference to Constantinople…as it is part of the West's historical unconscious. We are dealing instead with the subliminal dimension of the film and its animated images. The medium is the message more than the message itself, or the message qua message is entirely determined by the medium, as Marshall McLuhan has argued. As such, we are led to "read" Coppola's film in light of his postmodern theory since its religious meaning is purely subliminal, expressed not so much in its words but rather in its images alone. And by not being expressed in words but rather in the simple swapping of religious symbols atop a place of worship that we are supposed to recognize -- which could even promote an Islamic reading of this scene, as I will discuss later on -- Coppola avoids choosing sides. (Bak, 2007-124)
Coppola maximizes the potential for communication and critical thinking in the media of film and in the occult example of Dracula. Films, like literature, are texts to be read, as they are, at least the most notable and effective ones, have just as much attention to detail, structure, aesthetics, and style just as much as a classic and revered novel. Again, current focus is upon the opening sequence, taking place in the 15th century, as Dracula keeps the Christian soldiers at bay. The cross falls and there is a transposition of religious symbols. The chose of imagery, the angle at which the cross was shot, the lighting, the motion, as well as the placement in the frame, in addition to the object being a very well recognized symbol already, impacts the viewer in a way that words do not. The cross is the first image of the film. The film begins with darkness, such as in the Christian narrative of the beginning of time -- at first there was nothing. The first image is of the cross atop a large church. It is an extra wide shot, an establishing shot -- the shot establishes the world of the film and the most critical information a reader of the film should have in order to analyze it effectively. The music is creepy, yet beautiful, just as Dracula is. There is some kind of military struggle on the ground, although we cannot see it. There are flames that are raising high to the top of the church, where the cross stands, and there is a lot of that smoking that is rising fast. Then there is a close up of the cross. The lighting is such that we do not know exactly what time of day it is. It could be sunrise or it could be sunset. It could be what is called "magic hour" between evening and night, or dawn and morning. The light could be from the explosions happening on the ground. It is all intentionally ambiguous and unclear, indicating chaos and instability. Then we see the cross from above. The cross falls, in somewhat slow motion to the stone ground. When it lands, the impact shatters the cross into pieces. Dust flies up from the ground to indicate that it was a hard fall and to imply that Christianity is old and dusty. The voice over begins and it is a strong male voice. The image of the broken cross dissolves in the symbol of the Islam (crescent and star), and then there is another dissolve into the map of the world and the burgeoning Muslim empire.
Before we even get to Dracula and his role in all this, we are presented with the fall of Christianity. A traditional reading would argue that the rise of the occult comes with the rise of "heathen" (from the Christian perspective) religious powers in control over the world. Film, depending on the vision and agenda of the director, can make seemingly infinite connections and associations among topics, including the occult. Even though Dracula harms people and can be considered a scary figure, he is, for example, passionate and romantic. Thus while the occult may be associated in films with what is against Christianity, which implies what is wholesome, natural, and right, films can also question Christianity by what is not aligned with it, but rather, what is aligned with the occult such as passion, romance, and sexuality. This alignment to the occult indirectly implies Christianity lacks these things. Coppola is among a community of directors of films, as mentioned in this paper, that use the medium to communicate semiotically with alert audience members.
The occult has been around for a very long time. It exists, as represented in the film here, parallel to, in opposition…