Editorials Scream Waffle

Dracula on Film

Now we are well into the throws of October and swathed in the pumpkiness of Autumn, what better time to talk about all things spooky and kooky? This first article of Scream Waffle looks at the history of the most cinematised vampire of all time, Dracula.

The most famous vampire of all time is, of course, Dracula. The count was created by Irish author Bram Stoker in 1897. Stoker is said to have studied European folklore for a number of years, and it is claimed he was heavily influenced by Emily Gerard’s Transylvania Superstitions, an essay she wrote in 1885. Despite rave reviews, Stoker made little in the way of money for his novel and it was only when Nosferatu was released that his story gained more traction. (NB. Dracula is not strictly a novel, it is a story told by a collection of letters and diaries). Nosferatu, a German silent film featuring Max Schreck as Count Orlock was released some ten years after Stoker’s death and is generally considered to be the first filmic reiteration of the novel, but despite it’s obvious borrowing, Prana Film never credited Stoker. As a result, Stoker’s widow, Florence Balcombe, took the case to the courts which led to the studio declaring bankruptcy in order to avoid the cost of copyright infringements. As such, Nosferatu is the only feature Prana Film would ever produce, despite its hopes to create supernatural and occult films.

Max Schreck’s shadow creeping up the stairs in Nosferatu (1922)

How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.

Bram Stoker, from Dracula (1897).
Dracula (1931) [Tod Browning]

In 1927, Stoker’s novel was adapted into a Broadway stage play, featuring the Hungarian Bela Lugosi as the titular character alongside Edward Van Sloan who played Van Helsing. Their roles were revised when in 1931 Universal Studios released Dracula, as a follow up to their film Frankenstein. Lugosi would go on to be type casted as the vampire, and as a result ended up performing as Dracula in thousands of individual performances. In 1936, Universal Studios released Dracula’s Daughter [dir. Lambert Hillyer] and the studio also released Son of Dracula [dir. Robert Siodmak] in 1943. Lugosi’s last performances as Dracula for Universal was in Abbott and Costelle Meet Frankenstein in 1948.

Sloan’s Van Helsing [left] and Lugosi’s Dracula [right] in Dracula (1931)

The 1931 film strays most from Stoker’s original plot, only really paying homage to the characters and settings. The film’s produced, Carl Laemmie, Jr. cited Nosferatu as an inspiration for Dracula, and this can be seen in some scenes which are almost identical to those in Nosferatu. Unlike Nosferatu however, Carl Laemmie, Jr. legally obtained the film rights before production.

Dracula did not receive an original soundtrack until 1998, instead featuring music from Schubert (Unfinished Symphony in B minor), Wagner (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), and perhaps most famously, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (Act II) which has gone on to become quite synonymous with Lugosi’s character.

House of Dracula (1945) [Erle C. Kenton]

After Dracula (1931), Dracula’s Daughter (1936), and Son of Dracula (1943), Universal Studios released House of Dracula in 1945, which was a monster rally film that actually served as a sequel to House of Frankenstein, which came out a year before in 1944, rather than any of the Dracula films. It starred Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster, John Carradine as Count Dracula, and Lon Chaney, Jr. as Wolf Man.

John Carradine in Universal Studios‘ House of Dracula (1945)
Dracula or Horror of Dracula (1958) [Terence Fisher]

The next big Dracula appeared in 1958 in the form of Christopher Lee in Hammer Film’s Technicolor Dracula (titled Horror of Dracula in the United States). Lee co-starred with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, and luckily neither of the actors fell victim to the same experience of Lugosi’s type casting. The plot of this classic horror is a lot closer to Stoker’s novel, and is the first in the Hammer Horror film series. The film had a budget of around £80k and turned over $3.5m at the box office worldwide, which works out as about $31m in today’s money.

The chill of the tomb won’t leave your blood for hours… after you come face-to-face with DRACULA!

One of Hammer Films’ tag lines for the promotion of Dracula (1958).
Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in Hammer’s Dracula production (1958)

Lee’s Dracula was quite the reinvention when compared to Lugosi’s Count. Dracula introduced the prolific vampire imagery of sharp fangs, bloodshot contact lenses, and the spectacle of freshly splattered red blood. These elements would go onto become staples of vampiric imagery, and were enhanced by Hammer’s use of Technicolor processing.

The Return of Dracula (1958) [Paul Landres]

The Return of Dracula, sometimes titled Curse of Dracula in the US or The Fantastic Disappearing Man in the UK, starred Francis Lederer as Count Dracula. The plot of the film is a world away from the original story, and is instead set in small town in California. Although The Return of Dracula came out before Hammer’s Dracula, the latter film completely overshadowed The Fantastic Disappearing Man.

Since then, films featuring the infamous count have been produced hundreds upon hundreds of time. In 1977, the BBC screened an adaptation, Count Dracula, featuring Louis Jourdan as Dracula and Frank Finlay as Van Helsing. The television-movie is truer to the novel than the Universal and Hammer productions, and generally received positive reviews.

In 1979, John Badham directed Dracula, starring Frank Langella as Count Dracula and Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing. The 1979 film reshaped Stoker’s novel into a love story in order to sell itself as a romantic horror picture. Unsurprisingly, romance and horror are not the most harmonious genres and the film garnered mixed reviews.

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) [Werner Herzog]

Nosferatu, the illegitimate Dracula, appeared on screen again in the late seventies as Klaus Kinski. Herzog’s film plays homage to the 1922 picture, Nosferatu, so really it is semi-inadvertent retelling of Dracula. Nosferatu the Vampyre is a German film, and was actually titled Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night in its native tongue. Herzog’s film received excellent reviews at the time of its release, and still stands at an impressive 95% on Rotten Tomatoes today.

Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) [Francis Ford Coppola]

The next big reiteration in the telling of the classic gothic story came in 1992 when Francis Ford Coppola directed Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman as the count and Anthony Hopkins as his adversary, Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Coppola’s version is very closely based on the novel, as suggested by the film’s title. The film generally received good reviews, but unfortunately there was a lot of negative criticism regarding Keanu Reeves’ performance, with some even saying claiming he provided the worst accent in recorded film. Winona Ryder was also criticised for her British accent, but despite this, the film was a box office success, grossing almost $216m worldwide.

Gary Oldman as Vlad Dracula (1992)

Since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there haven’t been any major developments in the Count’s cinematic journey – despite more films have being made. The most recent retellings, such as Dracula Untold (2014) and Dracula 3000 (2004), have done little to develop Stoker’s legacy and are generally regarded as critically poor films. Dracula has also featured in anime series, such as Hellsing (1997-2008) and Hellsing Ultimate (2006-2012). Count Dracula has even made his way into animated family films, such as in Hotel Transylvania (2012). Dracula has also appeared in many TV shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Buffy vs. Dracula 2000) and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula 1977). In 2005, even Batman faced off against the vampire, despite both of their penchants for the chiropteran.

Who was your favourite Dracula? And what film do you think providing the best retelling of Stoker’s classic novel? Let me know in the comments and fangs for reading!

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