Since nearly the very beginning of cinema itself, audiences have been enthralled by an ancient evil living in a giant, lonesome castle in the Carpathian mountains. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897 and was perhaps the first and last horror novel to be both of the Victorian era and of the film era, though it would take 25 years for the novel to get its first (unofficial and illegal) adaptation in the form of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Since then, Dracula has been adapted dozens of times to film and later television and the vampire count has appeared in thousands of pieces of media.And naturally, that’s too many to actually talk about, so instead we’re picking eight of our favorite versions of the Count in film and television. Some are certainly more Stoker-accurate than others, but they all have that certain je ne sais vamp.
Rudolf Martin – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy did a lot of work to make vampires both sympathetic and terrifyingly bestial in its run, and the show took great pains to make the supernatural and demonic threats feel relevant and modern. And then they took the actual mickey out of the most famous and, some might say, dated version of vampires with its fifth season premiere, “Buffy vs. Dracula.” The actual Count Dracula is just as he’s usually depicted: as a handsome, aristocratic charmer who can turn into mist and use powers of persuasion to get his way. Writer Marti Noxon basically places the basic plot of Stoker’s novel in Sunnydale, and even turns poor Xander into a Renfield surrogate. And Rudolf Martin’s portrayal of the Count must have clicked with someone since he starred in a TV movie about the “real” Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, on Halloween of that same year.
Allen Swift – Mad Monster Party?Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass made for a household name in the ’60s and ’70s with their string of insanely popular stop-motion and 2D-animated Christmas TV specials. They became an institution and they’re still run pretty much every year. In 1967, the duo went mad with power and tried to parlay some of that Christmas good-good into Halloween howls with their feature length horror-comedy Mad Monster Party?, complete with unnecessary question mark. Boris Karloff voices Baron von Frankenstein who wants to retire as the figurehead of monsterkind and invites silly riffs on all the classic monsters to his castle so he can elect a replacement. Allen Swift, who voices literally every other male character, plays Dracula as a monocle-wearing pompous clown that’s definitely more endearing than menacing.
Shin Kishida – Lake of Dracula
When you think of Gothic vampire movies, most people think of Eastern Europe, or perhaps old English castles. But vampire films are made and set all over the world. Some of my favorites are a trio of vampire movies from Japan by director Michio Yamamoto. While Asia has its own vampire mythology, Japan specifically does not, and so turned to cinema for vampires. Yamamoto’s movies are very clearly European-style Gothic vampire movies, and the second of the two, Lake of Dracula, brings the vampire count’s Japanese counterpart (played with wonderful menace by Shin Kishida) to modern day Tokyo. Kishida played the vampire again in the third of Yamamoto’s films, Evil of Dracula.
Carlos VillarÃas – DrÃ¡cula
While Bela Lugosi’s performance in the 1931 Universal picture is quite good, the movie surrounding his performance is not the best. A lot of the integral story elements were cut out and a lot of the dialogue lies flat. But the Spanish-language version of the movie, shot on the exact same sets at night while the English-speakers were in bed, is actually a much more faithful, much better adaptation, and Spanish actor Carlos VillarÃas’ performance as Dracula himself might also edge out Lugosi’s. It’s a toss-up at the very least.
Klaus Kinski – Nosferatu: Phantom der NachtWerner Herzog decided to remake Murnau’s Nosferatu in 1979, using much of his visual style and especially the look of the vampire. Herzog, unlike Murnau, was able to freely adapt Stoker’s novel (gotta love the public domain!) and so his best fiend Klaus Kinski looked like Max Shreck’s Count Orlock, he’s named Count Dracula. Much like in the novel, Kinski’s Dracula is ratlike and gaunt and brings a terrible plague with him wherever he goes, and yet he still manages to enthrall those around him, showing the vampire count’s true terrible power.
Gary Oldman – Bram Stoker’s Dracula
When Francis Ford Coppola decided to make an adaptation of Dracula, he went all the way out, bringing in elements of Stoker’s novel, specific film versions, the actual history of Romanian despot Vlad Tepes, and wove it into a Gothic romance that’s no less bloody than your usual vampire fare. Gary Oldman’s performance has to do a lot at once, starting as a decrepit and cackling ghoul with the most ridiculous hair on the planet and transitioning with every gulp of blood into a suave and debonair playboy…with the most ridiculous hair on the planet. While some of the other actors who shall remain nameless don’t quite do the text justice, Oldman keeps the whole movie afloat, along with the lavish visuals.
Duncan Regehr – The Monster Squad
I didn’t grow up with The Monster Squad like a lot of people my age did, so when I finally saw it for the first time a few years ago, I was certainly not expecting it to have the nearly quintessential versions of so many of the classic monsters. Topping that list is Dracula, the film’s main villain, portrayed with extreme menace by Canadian actor Duncan Regehr. While he doesn’t have too much dialogueâ€”but really, does he ever?â€”Regehr’s Dracula conveys refined evil like few others, and feels at all times like a coiled snake ready to strike. When he truly lets loose at the end of the movie and takes down several police officers without breaking stride before picking up a little girl by the face, it’s maybe the best Dracula moment committed to film.
Christopher Lee – So many movies
No matter how many new versions I watch, the best in my opinion will always be Christopher Lee, who played Dracula in seven films for Hammer between 1958 and 1973, and his version became the first to truly instill a sexuality and a sensuality to the character, upping the “lust” part of bloodlust. While he rarely had any dialogue, his mere commanding presence was enough to ensure the audience was watching only him. Lee’s own personal favorite performance as Dracula actually came in Spanish director Jess Franco’s 1969 film Count Dracula, a very faithful adaptation which the learned Lee loved to bits. Still, Hammer’s Horror of Dracula remains Lee’s most popular turn as Drac.And there you have it. Some of our favorite versions of Dracula. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
Images: Universal/Hammer/Sony/Rankin & Bass/Toho/Fox