Oct 19: 30 Days of Night (2007)


On this date in 2007, the polar night descended on Barrow, Alaska, the setting for 30 Days of Night, a horror film based on the comic book miniseries of the same name. Barrow, Alaska is preparing for its annual month-long polar night when a stranger rows ashore from a large ship. When detained, the stranger (the Harbinger archetype) taunts the townsfolk, telling them that death is coming. The mysterious visitor is the reincarnation of Renfield, the chosen one who prepares for the coming of the vampire scourge in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.


The vampire genre found its popularity with publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Texts such as An Extraordinary and Shocking History of a Great Berserker Called Prince Dracula served as inspiration for Stoker’s monster. Stoker’s working papers for Dracula were discovered in the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, confirming that he knew about the existence of Vlad Dracula, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. While the vampires in 30 Days of Night have features reminiscent of Nosferatu, the film pays homage to Stoker’s seminal novel. For example, when investigating the power outage, Eben goes to the telecommunications center and finds the operator’s head on a spike. Stoker’s eponymous character being killed with a spike through the heart was inspired by Vlad Dracula’s impaling thousands of the Sultan’s men on wooden stakes. With the creation of the vampire inspired by “Prince Dracula,” the apex predator then serves as a metaphor for Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) given that the Count demonstrates reckless disregard for and violation of Jonathon Harker’s and other’s rights.

The town of Barrow succumbs to “30 days of night,” making the movie an allegory of Major Depressive Disorder with seasonal pattern (Seasonal Affective Disorder). This condition manifests with depressive symptoms at characteristic times of the year (episodes usually begin in fall or winter and remit in spring). Since the characters’ behavior is significantly influenced by the vampiric plague, with vampires serving as metaphors for APD, then 30 Days of Night may be interpreted as a case of “Secondary Depression;” a condition characterized by depressive symptoms thought to be caused by an underlying (e.g. antisocial) personality disorder.



One morning in 1940, the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire disappeared. 572 people left behind all of their possessions and walked together up a winding mountain trail into the wilderness never to be heard from again. A search party dispatched by the U.S. Army eventually discovered the remains of nearly 300 of Friar’s evacuees. Many had frozen to death while others were slaughtered. Over the years, a quiet cover-up operation managed to weave the story of Friar into the stuff urban legends are made of. The town has slowly repopulated, but the vast wilderness is mostly untracked, with the northern-most stretches off limits to local hunters and loggers. In 2008, the coordinates for the “YELLOWBRICKROAD” trail head were declassified.

The first official expedition into the sick and twisted wilderness will attempt to solve the mystery of the lost citizens of Friar. The researchers’ hopes to turn a legend into an item of recorded history are jeopardized when their equipment fails; leaving them lost and at the will of what evil lurks in the woods.


In our curriculum at Rutgers-RWJMS, we relate episodic illnesses (such as Delirium and Major Depressive Disorder) to ghost stories. In their quest for discovery, the ghosts from 1940 Friar will haunt a group of researchers, allowing for YellowBrickRoad to be discussed in the context of Delirium. Serial mental status examinations by Walter (a psychologist) reveal progressive cognitive decline in the group that is abrupt in onset. One researcher, Daryl, demonstrates alterations in cognition and consciousness incident to his discovery of a hat that bears a resemblance to that of Elphaba’s, but is more appropriately comparable to the (Mad) Hatter’s in Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Hatter is a principal character who is portrayed as mad, asking unanswerable riddles and reciting nonsensical poetry. His reality parallels that of the expedition in that he is trapped in a never-ending tea party; time having stopped, keeping him and the March Hare at 6:00 pm forever. While the Hatter is portrayed as mad, the phrase “Mad Hatter” doesn’t appear in Carroll’s works. Instead, it refers to a delirium caused by mercury poisoning that can be traced back to the 19th century when mercury-based compounds were used to make fine hats.

Daryl’s delirium however is not caused by mercury poisoning but is likely due to anticholinergic toxicity from deadly nightshade. Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade) is an anticholinergic alkaloid amine (plant metabolite), and is one of the 3 subgroups of alkaloid amines which also include the hallucinogenic alkaloid amines and the stimulant alkaloid amines. The film may therefore be conceptualized as a depiction of delirium due to the direct physiologic effects of Atropa belladonna, i.e. anticholinergic toxicity.

In addition to serving as a case study of delirium “spread” through mechanisms of Shared Psychotic Disorder (versus mass poisoning), YellowBrickRoad also references Jungian theory by teaching the archetypal warning of “losing oneself in the wilderness.” This may be taken both metaphorically, as the characters stray from their own rationality, as well as literally. The original townspeople’s abandonment of Friar has less to do with what they were walking towards and more to do with what they were leaving behind and has its roots in manifest destiny. Accordingly, Yellow Brick Road should be viewed along with other rural gothic narratives such as The Shining (1980) and its own reference, the ill-fated Donner Party (1846’1847).

Last week’s movie: Carrie (1976)
Next week’s movie: Wolf (1994)