Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Saturday, April 4, 2020

DRACULA, A CENTURY OF THE VAMPIRE



DRACULA, A CENTURY OF THE VAMPIRE - Dracula, the novel, was written by Bram Stoker in 1897. Years later, it appeared in silent films and then talking films. TV shows and streaming series came afterward. At present Blumhouse Productions, a film studio, announced a new treatment of the material. In 2020, director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body), is working to bring a fresh perspective to the tale. Why has the character endured, while so many others have faded away? Because the character has so much potential for retellings, depending on the desired outcome. Count Dracula can be: a hero, a historical figure in a period piece, an ugly monster, a PNR love interest, an antihero/ villain, or even a straight man for puns or jokes. This post will provide sample actors, scripts and renditions which have been released over nearly a century. Which one of these subjectively deserves to be considered the best, or the worst?

Max Schrek - Nosferatu (1922)
As thinly veiled plagiarism, Stoker's widow sued the film studio and won a judgement. The studio went bankrupt, and all copies were ordered to be destroyed. Somehow one version of this silent film survived and was reprinted. Technically this was Count Orlok, but nothing had been altered from novel to script. The vampire is animalistic: slumped back, sharp ears, jagged teeth and long fingernails. This is Schreck’s most famous role. His acting was so convincing legend persists to this day he was a real vampire.


Bela Lugosi – Dracula (1931)
When asked to imagine Dracula’s appearance, this is the image that comes to everyone’s mind. The widow’s peak, the tuxedo, the red lined cape, the pale skin and long fingernails. His furtive movement, the rhythm of his voice, and the way he swept his cape over his face. Lugosi never again played a part so well, but that’s why his performance has been copied so many times.

Lon Chaney Jr. – Son of Dracula (1943)
Lon Jr. could never have lived up to his father: legendary actor and makeup artist, The Man with 1000 Faces, Lon Chaney Sr. The other problem with this film is Lon Jr. attempted to copy Lugosi. Another man whose shoes he could never fill. This film fails on both accounts, as a poor and lifeless imitation. Sadly reductive it brought nothing new, compared to better versions.

Christopher Lee – Horror of Dracula (1958)
I’d like him to be known as the Technicolor Dracula. He was presented in color for the first time in this version. Hammer Horror devoted themselves to the genre, whereas Lee played the title role his entire life.  It became his signature role for good reason. Filmed on location in real chateaus, the atmosphere of lurking dread is marvelously authentic, especially in the studio’s early films. For me, Lee is the best at this part. 

Frank Langella – Dracula (1979)
This version portrays our hero as a romantic lead. Including a tagline "a love story" incorporated into the title. This iteration created space which modern vampire versions would later occupy. Such as Twilight, Vampire Diaries and Interview with a Vampire. Frank Langella is quoted as saying he “wanted to show a man who, while evil, was lonely and could fall in love."

Gary Oldman – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
A bit hokey at points, the film is successful overall in the performances, sets and costumes. The result is a convincing portrayal of the count from Transylvania. It’s a romance between Winona Ryder as Mina and Gary Oldman in the title role. He’s lavishly costumed, strange, dramatic, intense, and sexually alluring. Somehow this film is still fresh, when compared to less successful versions. Francis Ford Coppola does a great job of creating a period paranormal romance.

Richard Roxburgh – Van Helsing (2004)
Bad early CGI, unrealistic hairpieces, clunky dialog, fake accents, and wooden overacting. What’s worse is it’s riddled with cliché movie monster references. Not to mention full-on explanations on the backstory, along with labored “how to kill vampires” sequences. Nothing works, the whole thing is canned and over produced.  As I prepped to write this post, I wondered. Why hadn’t I ever watched this movie? After forcing myself to sit through it, the answer became clear.

Claes Bang – Dracula (2020)
This concept strays far, far away, from the original source material. Reviews are mixed, pertaining to Netflix’s version of the vampire. But in my opinion, this version works well enough. I liked the fresh take on storytelling. It included satisfying, daringly dark humor. Most horror comedy doesn’t work, but this one does. It’s dark enough to be shocking sometimes. Bang is a dashingly handsome man, possessing enough elegance to bring believability to the character.  His mannerisms are reminiscent of Lugosi, which makes him well-suited to the part.

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