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When Jonathan Harker first encountered Dracula early in the novel by Bram Stoker, his “nails were long and fine, and cut to a sharp point.” Above and beyond the role this description had in emphasizing Dracula’s animal-like quality, these nails would become functional later in chapter 21 when they would be used to open a wound in his chest from which he would force Mina Murray to drink. The fact that his nails were noticed at all possibly derived from some of the widely circulated reports of the vampires of eastern Europe. Among the characteristics that vampire hunters looked for in the bodies that they exhumed, in the belief that they were possibly vampires, were nails that appeared to have grown since the burial of the person. Fresh nails, or occasionally no nails at all, were a common item mentioned in reports from Germany, and both northern and southern Slavs. Fingernails have not been emphasized in most post–Dracula vampires. Graf Orlock, the Dracula figure in the 1922 film Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens, had extended fingers with elongated nails that added to his rodentlike appearance. However, when Bela Lugosi brought Dracula into a British home, neither hands nor nails appeared abnormal in any way. Occasionally, however, when only the audience could see him, he stuck his hands in front of him like an animal about to pounce on a prey. After Lugosi, only a few vampires that had been altered into a demonic form had clawlike alterations in the hands, though they appear briefly in Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, in a scene in which Coppola pays homage to both Nosferatu and Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr. Dracula, of course, calls upon his sharp finger nails to cut himself in order to allow the blood to flow for Mina to drink.
Fingernails became a characteristic of the vampire to which Anne Rice paid attention in her vampire novels. Louis, Lestat, and their companions develop fingernails with a distinctive glassy appearance that once noticed easily distinguish them from the average human. Thus, they would make an effort to hide their fingernails.
Hong Kong movies often (but by no means always) picture the hopping vampires with long fingernails. These not only become part of a menacing appearance when the vampire lunges at someone with his hands protruding forward but can on occasion become a knife-like weapon for stabbing someone.
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