THE MENACE IN QUESTION: A hypnotizing immortal who drains the life from his victims.
THE THREAT: Having your body drained of blood; becoming a creature of the night like him.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.
You know you’ve made it big when you officially have your own brand of cereal.
Such is the case of our beloved Count, who since his introduction in the late nineteenth century, has seen hundreds of different interpretations throughout the decades. Yes, everything from video games to cartoons: from feature length films to the stage; from television shows to comic books.
The good Count has been around the block, yet he doesn’t look a day over 900.
This all began with Bram Stoker’s novel, which debuted in 1897. The story tells that of a Transylvanian Count who travels to London, where he then proceeds to leave a trail of horror in his wake. Certain people are driven mad and begin to ingest insects. Others, most notably women, are slowly drained of their life force and infected with vampirism.
Luckily, a group of heroes, led by non-other than famous vampire killer Van Helsing himself, devise a plan to stop the Count’s evil ways. Even though Dracula does not survive the end of his tale, his legend lives on to this day.
There are myths of vampires that span the globe, and each culture generally has their own take on what constitutes a true vampire. However, the folklore that is most popularized today is due in part to Stoker’s novel.
A vampire abhors daylight and spends the day asleep in a coffin filled with earth from their homeland. They have increased speed, strength, and sight; and they must drink the blood of the living in order to keep their immortality. A vampire can control beasts and shapeshift on command (a bat being the most iconic). They fear the cross, garlic, holy water; and they can be killed with a wooden stake through the heart.
And how do vampires make others like them? I’ll let Buffy Summers explain: “to make you a vampire they have to suck your blood. And then you have to suck their blood. It’s like a whole big sucking thing. Mostly they’re just gonna kill you.”
By chance, the greatest adaptation of Stoker’s novel happened fairly early on. Universal Pictures’ 1931 film of the same name is a horror classic that is still held in high regard to this day. Bela Lugosi astounded audiences as the Count and he is now regarded as the definitive Dracula because of his portrayal. The slicked back hair and flowing cape are now synonymous with the character.
Dracula did so well that it ushered in a wave of horror films, which later became collectively known as the Universal Monsters. This included the likes of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. Bela Lugosi reprised his role in several sequels, including some crossover films alongside these fearsome monsters.
In 1958 we saw the start of what is now known as the Hammer Films, a series of movies centered around Dracula starring the late great Christopher Lee. The first film was praised for Lee’s charismatic performance as the Count, as well as succeeding in being a more gothic version of the original story. The popularity lead to eight sequels, the majority of which Lee reprised his role in.
Of course, not all portrayals of the Prince of Darkness are complete doom and gloom. Take the recent Hotel Transylvania films for example. A surprisingly charming animated story about Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) running a hotel and also trying to connect with his teenage daughter.
Another hilarious pick is Mel Brook’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Starring Leslie Nielsen as Dracula, this film is filled with slapstick and is a laugh-out-loud parody of Stoker’s work. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Nielsen’s face superimposed onto a bat.
The next film you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be laughing with or at, but that’s what makes it all the more entertaining. Love at First Bite is a rare Dracula centered romantic comedy that transplants the Count to 1970s New York City. It also has the distinction of being dubbed “Disco Dracula” due to a dancing scene done to the tune of Alicia Bridges “I Love the Nightlife.”
Back to a far more sinister version of the Count, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is highly regarded as one of the most lavish and visually stunning adaptations. A true horror film, this movie features some extremely elaborate special effects makeup. We see the Count, played by Garry Oldman, take the form of a withered man, a wolf, and a hideous man-bat all throughout the course of the story.
A new aspect that this film touches on is the supposed history behind the legend of Dracula. It is thought that Stoker was inspired by tales of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia. History knowns him as Vlad the Impaler, the brutal ruler who impaled his enemy’s heads onto spikes. In Coppola’s film, the movie starts out depicting just that. Vlad Dracula renounces God after returning from battle to find his wife has committed suicide. He is then cursed as the immortal prince that is known today.
There are two other things that Coppola’s film changes from the original novel. The first being that the character of Mina is actually Dracula’s wife reincarnated. The second is that Mina is the one to kill Dracula, as opposed to Van Helsing. I think both of these enhance the story for the better. Dracula pleading with Mina to finally help him find peace after all of these years is one of the more well-acted and touching scenes in the film.
Also, if you simply want a good laugh, Keanu Reeves stars as Jonathan Harker and delivers his lines in a terrible English accent.
The early 2000s brought with it versions of Dracula featuring six pack abs and also a heavy dose of CGI.
Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000 holds a special place in my heart for being the first R rated film I was allowed to see in the theater. Other than that, I can’t praise it too highly. A schlock fest with an eclectic cast, Gearard Butler stars as the Count and seems to have a problem keeping his shirt buttoned.
In 2004 we were gifted with both Van Helsing and Blade: Trinity. The former was an extreme CGI overload, featuring a Dracula that transformed into a giant bat, but it was fun none the less. The latter has a Dracula who goes by the name Drake and is portrayed by Dominic Purcell of Prison Break fame. It’s actually my favorite film out of the Blade series. How can you not like WWE superstar Triple H as a Pomeranian loving vampire?
Since Dracula has been around in pop culture for so long at this point, it was kind of inevitable that we would eventually see him in space. Dracula 3000 is a low (low, low) budget film that shows the count stalking a crew aboard a salvage ship in the far future. I was expecting this movie to be on par with that of Dracula 2000, but somehow it was much worse. I recommend it if you’re a fan of “so-bad-they’re-good” flicks.
I’ve mainly touched on film adaptations in this article, as that’s where the character of Dracula has been reimagined over and over again. That being said, he has made appearances in other mediums throughout the years.
The Count has been animated alongside the likes of Scooby-Doo, Batman, and The Simpsons. He’s also appeared on our television screens in The Munsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Penny Dreadful. In 2013, NBC attempted to reimagine Dracula starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but the show was canceled after one season.
Surprisingly, Dracula has also graced our comic book pages, appearing in several issues of both Marvel and DC based properties. He has also entered the digital age as well, appearing in both the popular Castlevania and Dracula video game series.
2014’s Dracula Untold was Universal Studios latest revamp (pun very much intended) of their classic movie monster. However, this film was vastly different due to the fact that it strayed completely from Stoker’s novel. It instead focuses on Vlad Tepes (AKA Vlad the Impaler) and his transformation into Dracula.
The character in this adaptation is portrayed far more as an anti-hero, as opposed to a flat out villain. Vlad seeks out vampirism as a way to win the war against the Turks and protect his family. He’s really a nice guy deep down. He didn’t want to have to impale all those heads onto spikes. He’s a sensitive soul!
That being said, while the film succeeded at the box office, it received low critical praise. It currently sits at 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film struggled with an inconsistent plot (there were numerous re-writes) and the story faltered because of it. There’s the possibility of a sequel in the works, but that has yet to be seen.
At this point, it seems like Dracula has been re-imaged more than a hundred times over. Knowing Hollywood, they’ll find a way to keep the character going for years to come. What do you suppose we’ll see next? I would personally love to see the Count tackle space again. Although, perhaps with a bigger budget the next go around.
What’s your favorite portrayal of the Prince of Darkness? Do you think being a vampire is all it’s cracked up to be? Let us know in the comments!
Also, make sure to join us next week for another installment of Frightening Fables!