Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us D is for Dracula! The bats have left the bell tower The victims have been bled Red velvet lines the black box Bela Lugosi’s dead Undead undead undead — Bauhaus Bela Lugosi’s Dead “His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.” — Description of Count Dracula from Bram Stoker’s Dracula Dracula, the character, first came to life in 1897, a creation of Bram Stoker. Since then, according to IMDB, the character has appeared over 400 times in film and television. No doubt that number would double, possibly triple, if you took into account the number of video game and literary appearance in the same time frame. It would be an understatement to say that Bram Stoker’s creation is merely popular. Arguably, Dracula redefined – or possibly introduced – the concept of vampires in popular culture (a topic in and of itself, to come later this month). However, more so than even Stoker, I contend it was Bela Lugosi who defined Dracula. While a creature like Nosferatu’s Count Orlock is more closely aligned with Stoker’s original concept, it was Lugosi’s portrayal of the charming nobleman in a silk cape with slick black hair that took root in our conscience. Even now, after 80+ years and hundreds of film and television variations, most people’s concept of Dracula involves saying “I vant to suck your BLOOOOD!,” in a quasi-Romanian accent and pretending to pull a cape over their face. In many ways the image of Dracula as portrayed by Lugosi has become as common as Kleenex and, quite possibly, equally generic. If you need proof then look no further than Count von Count from Sesame Street or Grandpa from The Munsters. Yet, almost in spite of these generic, or safe, variations, Dracula continues to be a rich source of inspiration. In roughly a week Dracula Untold will be released to theaters. And, in spite of the amusingly ironic name (how much is truly “untold” at this point?), invoking the name of Dracula will once again bring adoring fans to the box office (myself included). I originally discovered vampires, and most movie monsters, via Power Records Monster Series. I subsequently found and checked out all the books my school library had about the Universal Movie Monsters. However, the first time I saw vampires, the non-cartoon variety, on a movie screen was The Lost Boys and I don’t think I saw Dracula on screen until 1992. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t actually seen the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula until I began preparing for this article. Initially I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen that film, primarily because I felt like I was already so familiar with the film and Lugosi’s portrayal. However, as I watched the film I realized that what I actually knew was pastiche of Dracula comprised of Lugosi’s legacy and Stoker’s novel. I’ve always been enamored by vampire mythology and Dracula in particular. Therefore, as part of Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober Celebration, I volunteered to jump into the story of Dracula. My original intent was to explore the depths of Lugosi’s influence and how Dracula has played out since that portrayal. Why is Lugosi’s version so pervasive and Max Schreck’s Count Orlock a footnote by comparison? Why was my own vision of Dracula so strongly modeled on a portrayal from a movie I had never seen? I wanted to examine why we all seem to be so enamored with The Count. That’s what I wanted to do. However, given the expansive catalog of films and the fact that I’m not a full-time Dracula researcher, I realized I had to tame my desires a bit. Therefore I decided to focus on a few specific eras: The Bela Lugosi 1931 version of Dracula, the original. (Dracula) The 1958 Hammer Films produced Horror of Dracula, starring Christopher Lee. (HoD) Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a semi-modern version from 1992 (and my first experience with Dracula in film), starring Gary Oldman. (BSD) “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” — Count Dracula (novel, 1931, 1992) In general all three films have essentially the same core characters and plot. The Basic Plot: Count Dracula moves away from his Castle to a new location where he finds a woman to become his next bride. He is discovered to be a vampire and, after nearly succeeding in taking his new bride, is vanquished by Doctor Van Helsing. The Cast (according to the novel): Count Dracula, a Transylvanian nobleman and vampire. Jonathan Harker, a solicitor doing business with the Count and Mina’s fiancé. Mina Murray (soon to be Harker), Jonathan Harker’s fiancée and object of Dracula’s affection. Abraham Van Helsing, a Dutch professor, teacher/colleague of Jack Seward and a vampire hunter. Lucy Westerna, Mina’s best friend and Arthur’s fiancée Arthur Holmwood, Lucy’s fiancé. Jack Seward, Renfield’s psychiatrist and a one of Lucy’s former suitors. Quincey Morris, an American cowboy and the third of Lucy’s suitors. Renfield, a patient at the asylum where Seward works and the harbinger of Dracula. The Bride(s) of Dracula, vampire women who live with and are obedient to Dracula. Most of those characters appear in all three films in some form or fashion, the notable exception being Lucy’s suitors in Dracula. HoD is the only one in which Dracula doesn’t travel to London, instead traveling to Karlstadt in Bavaria, Germany. Incidentally, for being the only film that doesn’t take place anywhere in Britain, everyone, including Dracula, has a British accent (which, after watching Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder fumble through their “accents,” was probably a wise decision on the part of director Terence Fisher). It seems much better to have British actors stick to their natural accents than force them to adopt accents for which they might be incapable. Before jumping into the specifics of Dracula, let’s take a look at the character differences across the three films. For instance, Jack Seward is Mina’s father in Dracula, a family doctor in HoD and one of Lucy’s suitors in BSD. Renfield is completely absent in HoD, while being a combination of the character from the novel and Jonathan Harker in Dracula – stealing the show in the process – and, is more closely aligned to the novel version in BSD, played brilliantly insane by Tom Waits. Poor Quincey only makes an appearance in BSD. Jonathan Harker is all but useless in Dracula and is just confusing – thanks in no small part to Keanu’s abysmal portrayal – in BSD. The strongest portrayal of the character is, sadly, the film in which he has the shortest amount of screen time. In HoD Jonathan is a vampire hunter working alongside Van Helsing and infiltrates Dracula’s castle in the guise of a librarian. He kills Dracula’s bride but fails to kill Dracula, resulting in his own death and sending Dracula into a fit of vengeful rage, effectively damning both Mina and Lucy. The characters of Lucy and Mina are always friends, while having their roles reversed in HoD as well as being sisters-in-law. Additionally, in BSD, Mina is the reincarnation of Elisabeta, Dracula’s dead wife (we’ll get to that later). Van Helsing is fairly similar across all three films; however his knowledge of vampires is much more reserved initially in Dracula. He seems to be merely be knowledgeable on the topic, but he is not actively hunting them down. Generally any character changes are somewhat inconsequential to the outcome of the story. The climax of all three films is a showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula culminating in the rescue of Lucy or Mina, whichever woman is left alive. However, the roles of the women and the small differences in the portrayal of Van Helsing do quite a bit to inform Dracula’s characterization. Without a doubt, Count Orlock from Nosferatu most closely resembles Stoker’s description of Count Dracula. However, that is not the vision of Dracula that we expect, or possibly would recognize, today. It was Bela Lugosi in Dracula who introduced a more regal, well dressed, version of the Count. His appearance reflected his stature as a nobleman. He was impeccably dressed, his hair thick and black, and never out of place. Christopher Lee’s portrayal is similarly regal, his towering stature (standing four inches taller than Lugosi, at 6’5”) making him seem even more imposing. One of the notable differences between 1931 and 1958 was Dracula’s castle. Castle Dracula is very run down in the first film. It is covered in spider webs and dust, as well as fallen and/or generally dilapidated walls. It looks like it is from a different time and has gradually succumbed to age. It creates a sharp contrast to its proprietor, with his gleaming, hypnotic eyes, pressed suit, silk robes and slicked back hair. In HoD, Castle Dracula reflects Dracula’s position, it is an estate fitting a nobleman. It is finely decorated, relatively well lit (for a vampire’s home) and adorned with rugs and hunting trophies, the latter of which become more ominous than decorative as Dracula’s true nature is revealed. Coppola opted to go with a combination of both the regal and the ramshackle. The castle is almost otherworldly, with laws of physics being suspended (as noted by Coppola in the director’s commentary of the film). Dracula’s visage is a throwback to Count Orlock, but his clothes are lavish, bordering on garrish. As an aside, I enjoyed that Coppola brought back the top hat, something that I missed in Lee’s portrayal. Perhaps even more notable than the differences in the castle was Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Dracula in the midst of bloodlust. We don’t see Dracula’s teeth and are only told about bite marks in Dracula. In HoD Dracula is much more of an animal than a man when he attacks. His glare is no less hypnotic, but it is much crazier. Christopher Lee looks like a wild animal when he barges in on his bride during her attack on Harker. His hair is tousled, his cheeks are stained bright red and his teeth are in plain view. While this might not seem earth-shattering in 2014, I imagine it had to be terrifying in 1958. Similarly, the blood is a silly color of red, looking more like smeared lipstick than blood, when watched on a high-definition screen today. However, at the time, it was the perfect color to stand out against Dracula’s pale skin, making it clear that he was drinking from his victims, and doing so with wild abandon. It is an image that is reflective of a wolf, or any beast of the wild, looking up from a fresh kill. Somehow, both Lugosi and Lee seemed to act without acting, in spite of the fact that they both chew through the scenery when they’re on screen. Lugosi in particular seemed to borrow heavily from his silent film contemporaries, with sweeping gestures and contorting his face in ways that would rival Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. Christopher Lee actually has very few lines in HoD, almost all of which are spoken to John Harker at the beginning of the film. Dracula is discussed more often than he actually appears throughout the middle of the film. Most of Lee’s screen time is at the beginning and end of the film. Yet, with his imposing stance, his swinging cape and frightening gaze, his shadow is cast over the entire film, making the audience swear he was a part of every scene. I actually found myself wondering if Spielberg used this film as a reference when he was forced to use the shark sparingly in Jaws. So much of what makes Lee’s Dracula frightening are those things that we impart to the character in spite of how little we see of him. In contrast, Coppala seemed hellbent on eschewing any forms of subtlety. Oldman’s portrayal of Dracula’s bloodlust culminates in a scene where he becomes a werewolf and rapes both Lucy and Mina while in that state. Rather than acting like a wild animal, Coppola chose to actually have him be a wild animal. Everything about the film is over the top, particularly the sex and violence. In 1931 the sexual tension was, understandably, underplayed, but remained omnipresent. The standards and practices of the time simply wouldn’t allow for overt sexuality on screen, let alone mixed with the violence of murder. I think this might actually be the reason why Lugosi’s portrayal was more attractive and regal. No one would believe that a young woman could be attracted to a beast like Count Orlock. But a dashing nobleman from a strange and foreign land, with his strange speech patterns and hypnotic gaze is much more appealing. The eroticism was equally downplayed in the 1958 film. HoD introduces vampirism as if it were a drug, and the victims suffering addicts. The abduction of Tania, the housekeeper’s young daughter, teases at the seduction of a child, inappropriate affairs (incest/pedophilia) and plays on fears of parents that still resonate today. However, it does so in an indirect way, with sideways glances and menacing smiles. By contrast to 1931 it is slightly more overt, but it pales in comparison to the bare breasted pit of vampires and multiple scenes of rape-by-wolf depicted in BSD. I can’t help but wonder if, when presented with decades and decades of vampire lore and depictions of Dracula, Coppola decided the best way to make his movie stand out was to make the more subversive parts of the original story more blatant, gruesome and over the top. Of the three films, BSD is easily the most visually stunning, but the gorgeous imagery comes at the expense of a believable acting, pacing and nuance. It is the longest film with the slowest pacing. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Dracula is very splintered, running the gamut from Count Orlock to Werewolf in London to the love-child of John Lennon and Slash from Guns’n’Roses. Oldman is an actor I respect and really enjoy in other films, but I struggled with him in this role. While it could be argued that this version of Dracula was designed to be an amalgam of the performances that came before, it comes off disjointed and confusing. Adding to the confusion was the decision to link the events of the real life Vlad Tepes to that of Count Dracula. Stoker alluded to such a connection in his notes on the book, so this isn’t new territory. However, it’s always been more of a case of inspiration than an actual namesake. There is little evidence to indicate that Stoker was attempting to write a fictional account of the actual Vlad Tepes, but it is likely that Dracula was informed by Tepes’ reputation and certainly his patronymic name, Dracul. In BSD, Tepes becomes Count Dracula due to a broken heart over the suicide death of his wife. The rest of the movie hinges on the audience having sympathy for the heartbroken vampire as he pursues Mina Harker, whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his dead wife. I actually wrote those sentences three different ways and this is the least soap opera sounding way I could explain that part of the story. As one of the hosts on the Castle of Horror podcast noted, it’s like being told to sympathize with the plight of Joseph Stalin. In short, Coppola’s vision of Dracula was a heartbroken dictator who curses God and rapes women while in wolf form. Did I mention the wolf rape? Because, I’m not sure I can drive that point home enough. It’s as disturbing to witness as it is to discuss, with a major scene being punctuated by a blood splatter effect that doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s meant to resemble an ejaculation. After having watched all three films in as many days I quickly found that any fondness I had for Bram Stoker’s Dracula was due entirely to youthful ignorance and excitement at having a big screen version of Dracula to call my own. However, after watching Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, my opinions on their greatness remain steadfast. Watching Grand Moff Tarkin Van Helsing and Alfred Pennyworth Arthur Holmwood battle Count Dooku Saruman Dracula in the final act of Horror of Dracula was orders of magnitude more tense than the drawn out carriage chase scene in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Not to take anything away from Anthony Hopkins, whose performance was one of the few shining lights of the film, but Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing was such a fitting adversary to Christopher Lee’s Dracula that the dynamic elevated the stature of both characters. Dracula’s lingering close ups on Bela Lugosi’s painful grimace are still haunting today, and I can only imagine what they were like for an audience who lacked both our familiarity with vampires and our post-Twilight cynicism toward the genre. In my opinion, even so many decades later, the performances of Lugosi and Lee hold up, in spite of the differences from the source material and each other. Both men added a great deal to the character and vampire lore in general. Coppola added Keanu Reeves’ British accent and wolf-rape. Random Thoughts: I would have loved to have seen an entire movie about Renfield based on his depiction in Since Christopher Lee was Count Dooku and Peter Cushing was Grand Moff Tarkin, I’m going to go ahead and just believe that Van Helsing and Dracula are canonical parts of the Star Wars Related to that thought, has anyone looked into how much the character of Darth Vader was informed by those classic performances of Dracula? I’m almost certain that Lugosi used an early version of the Force Choke on Renfield. I used to think that some of the flack Keanu Reeves took for his acting ability was harsh and unfair. I realize now that I was simply being naive. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 3 Responses Kelvin Green October 7, 2014 Have you seen the Spanish-language version of Lugosi’s Dracula? It was filmed on the same sets at the same time and makes for interesting viewing. My favourite adaptation so far is Hammer’s Dracula. It tears the original text apart but I find it more effective as a result; that initial twist as we discover that Harker is there to kill the count is brilliant. Log in to Reply ABCs of Horror Day 26: U is for Universal Monsters - Psycho Drive-In November 9, 2014 […] There isn’t anything I could say about Tod Browning’s Dracula that hasn’t already been said (waaaaaay better) by Psycho Drive-In’s own, Sean Reid. His review can be found right here. […] Log in to Reply ABCs of Horror Day 27: V is for Vampires - Psycho Drive-In November 9, 2014 […] I thought tackling Dracula’s cinematic adventures was a daunting task, then you can imagine how I felt when I started researching vampires. The […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.