It Is a Nefarious World: Bram Stoker’s Dracula on Film*

         Little did he know when he wrote his 1897 novel Dracula, Bram Stoker had created one of the most well known villains of all time. The Dracula character has transcended the literary world and made his way on to the screens of millions across the globe. According to the Internet movie database the cinematic reference to Dracula in film has reached over 600 films.

         The first screen incarnation of Stoker's character was F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). Even though the characters' names were changed the international release of this film, it is undeniable that it is based on Stoker’s novel. The Dracula figure was renamed Count Orlok and was played by Max Schreck. Orlok is still considered by many the most frightening screen vampire with his bald, bulbous head, disgusting, rat-like face, hunched posture and long, claw-like fingers.

         Like Stoker's Dracula, Orlok can barely contain his animalistic thirst behind the civility so often later ascribed to Dracula. ”Nosferatu” is considered the source of the aspect of vampire legend that vampires die if exposed to sunlight, as the resourceful Mina-like Ellen (Greta Schroeder) thus destroys the villain. Stoker's Dracula loses some power to daylight, but it is by no means fatal. Because there was no credit given to Stoker, his widow sued director Murnau.

         The first talking vampire film came from Universal Pictures under the direction of Tod Browning. Dracula (1931) was also one of the first films to actually use the character name of Dracula. In this version of Stoker’s classic Bela Lugosi takes a bite at the infamous character. Lugosi brings to the part the flavor of his homeland, Romania, making him more believable as Dracula. This otherworldly aesthetic helped to make his performance what many consider the ultimate incarnation of Stoker's Dracula. Having played the Count in Hamilton Deane's Broadway version of Dracula, which started in 1927, Bela Lugosi was more than prepared for the role when it was time to commit it to film. Still struggling with the English language, however, he had to learn his lines phonetically. European accent intact, he was able to deliver such memorable lines as, "I bid you welcome," "Listen to them. Children of the Night. What music they make," and, of course, "I am Dracula." Lugosi would later reprise his role as Dracula in the 1948 farce, Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, also from Universal Pictures.

         Another highly-regarded adaptation of the Stoker tale came in Terence Fisher's Dracula (1958). To many, this film the best of the many horror films made in England by Hammer Studios. Here the Count is played by Christopher Lee, who turned the character into a monster full of feral sexual longing and rabid, red-eyed fury. In the film when matched to an imposing Van Helsing, Lee's Dracula is overtaken by the light of the sun, like Count Orlok. Lee would return to the Dracula role ten times, more often than any other actor. After the first few sequels, everyone acknowledged (including Lee himself) that the Lee as Dracula films declined dramatically in quality. One Lee as Dracula film tried to return somewhat to Stoker's tale, Jesus Franco's Count Dracula (1970), but it is considered far inferior to Fisher's film.

             By the 1960s and 1970s, Dracula had been reduced to a mockery, showing up in films like Blacula (1972) and even popping up on cereal boxes as Count Chocula. Many grade-Z pictures featuring Dracula were made around this time, frequently with John Carradine playing the Count. One of the most interesting versions, Carradine's Dracula pictures may be William Beaudine's Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966). With the tagline of “The West's deadliest gunfighter! The world's most diabolical killer!” it is obvious that the Character of Dracula has been taken to many extremes.

             In 1970, Dracula played by Zandor Vorkov, made a visit to a modern California beach community in Al Adamson's famously bad Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1970). Andy Warhol took a stab at Stoker’s story in Blood of Dracula (1974), where Udo Keir's sickly Dracula goes to Italy and gets into dalliances with handsome young men and women.

         I think one of the more important adaptations of Stoker's book came in Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). Coppola's version is much closer to Stoker's book than other big-screen versions. Billy Campbell's Quincey Morris, who is often omitted in movie versions, returns to the story. Two primary changes from Stoker occurred in this version: Dracula's past as Vlad III is shown; and an out-and-out love story with Mina was added. In this lavish version, Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder are star-crossed lovers, turning Dracula into some sort of a romantic hero. When his bride and true love (Ryder) is deceived into killing herself, Oldman's Vlad III renounces the God he had served as a warrior and becomes a vampire, thus turning into Dracula.

             Dracula continues to be a prominent muse for films in recent years. In Dracula 2000 (2000), Gerard Butler's Dracula hunts a house full of young people looking for a descendant of Van Helsing. This version claims one of Dracula's former identities or life’s was that of Judas Iscariot, doomed by God for his betrayal of His Son, which I think is a very interesting twist.

             In Van Helsing (2004), Dracula (played by Richard Roxborough) is hunted down by the son of Abraham Van Hesling, Gabriel (Hugh Jackman), who was hidden by his father in the Catholic Church to protect him from Dracula until adulthood. Gabriel is able to destroy Dracula by turning into a giant werewolf. This film takes not only the character of Dracula but also places other classic horror villains within the same story. As innovative as it was, this film was a bit disappointing.

         In Blade: Trinity (2004) Dracula shows up with the far more inconspicuous name of "Drake" (Dominic Purcell) and engaging in battle with vampire-hunter Blade (Wesley Snipes) in the third installment of the “Blade trilogy.” When Drake turns into a giant dragon-like monster at the end, Blade kills him by using vampire-blood bioweapon, which intern kills all of the other vampires.

         Dracula has proven himself to be a character that will never disappear. From Germany to Hollywood, Nosferatu to Van Helsing, Bram Stoker’s unforgettable anti-hero has brought fear and laughter to millions globally. On screen, more than any other character before, Dracula has been reincarnated into a diverse component of hundreds of storylines. The diversity of this character makes him truly unique in the realm of global cinema.

         Stoker’s widow won two lawsuits (1924 and 1929) in which she demanded the destruction of all copies of the movie; luckily copies of it were already too widespread to destroy them all.

Kimberly Marks

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