Monday, October 14, 2013

Dracula A - Z

Dracula. Is he literature’s most terrifying, most deathless villain? Is he the fanged heavy in countless international motion pictures? Or is he a star of the stage or perhaps radio or TV? Could he be a figure of ridicule? A cartoon? A toy? A puppet? A breakfast cereal spokesman? Surely he is all these, otherwise, how could there be a thing of such unspeakable horror as…
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 Our story begins—as all discussions of our topic should—with Abraham “Bram” Stoker. Although Stoker would achieve his most enduring renown as the Author of Dracula, he was invested deeper in the theater than the printed page during his lifetime. He managed London’s prestigious Lyceum Theatre and saw to the personal requirements of the theater’s temperamental star, Henry Irving (see H below). He was known to hobnob with such major figures of his time as Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, and by the speculation of writer Jim Steinmeyer, Jack the Ripper. Stoker’s writing was essentially a sideline gig. His first book was the decidedly non-Gothic, though not totally unterrifying, The Duties of the Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, a government handbook published in 1879. Two years later he released Under the Sunset, a somewhat tedious collection of children’s fairy tales with a heavy Christian bent. Despite its title, his first novel, The Snake’s Pass (1890), was not a horror story but a romance. Following several other books, Stoker drew on the folklore he learned from “Transylvanian Superstitions,” an essay by Emily Gerard, to pen his epistolary masterpiece. Published in 1897, Dracula was well received by critics, but it was not a major seller. Adaptations on stage and screen boosted its reputation considerably over the years.

Stoker’s subsequent works never enjoyed a fraction of Dracula’s lasting appeal, though such books as The Jewel of Seven Stars and The Lair of the White Worm would be adapted into motion pictures as well, the former inspiring Seth Holt’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb in 1971 and the latter being improved infinitely by Ken Russell in 1988. Published in 1911, White Worm was Stoker’s final novel. He died the following year on April 20 with “Locomotor Ataxy” being given as the primary cause of death. There has been much speculation over the precise cause, particularly since Locomotor ataxia, the loss of control over one’s limbs, is a symptom of tertiary syphilis. This theory has never been proven definitively. What has been proven is Stoker’s incredible influence on vampire fiction, not only conjuring its most famous creature—a literary character rivaled only by Sherlock Holmes in terms of cultural influence—but introducing numerous new twists to the folklore, including the vampire’s need to slumber in its native soil and its aversion to mirrors and crucifixes.

Only Bram Stoker had a more significant influence on Dracula’s place in our culture than Béla Ferenc Dezsö Blaskó. More succinctly known as Bela Lugosi, the Hungarian actor began embodying the count in 1927 after theater director Jean Williams discovered him at the Harvard Club. While Williams was most impressed with Lugosi’s presence and charisma at their initial meeting, Horace Liveright was less enamored with Lugosi’s audition after taking over for Jean Williams. A main issue was that Lugosi had learned his lines phonetically. Little did Liveright know that this stilted, heavily accented delivery would come to be one of Drac’s key calling cards. Lugosi also had little leading man experience. When Liveright voiced his concerns to the six-foot-plus actor, Bela Lugosi glared at him with the menace and intensity that would make him our most memorable Dracula. Another element the actor brought to the character was his hitherto untapped sexiness. Lugosi’s dark good looks were a far cry from the odious character Stoker described.

While Liveright’s Broadway production was a major success, Lugosi was not Universal Pictures’ first choice to play Dracula in his official screen debut. Lon Chaney was a natural choice to vamp it up for Tod Browning, but his death in August 1930 put a sad end to that dream. Ian Keith, William Courtney, Joseph Schildkraut, Chester Morris, and Paul Muni were also under consideration. Lugosi remained determined to snare the part, lobbying so relentlessly—even stating his plea in a letter to Florence Stoker— that Universal’s cash-strapped Laemmle family (they’d lost $2.2 million in revenues in 1930) sussed the actor might take the role for a considerable pay cut. Lugosi ended up earning a piffling $500 a week for the film’s seven-week shoot.

Dracula revived the flagging Universal, sparking the cycle of monster movies that would bring it amazing success throughout the thirties. Lugosi was less lucky, finding himself type-cast as a monster. Though there would be a couple more leading roles in classic horror films such as White Zombie, The Black Cat, and Murders in the Rue Morgue, Lugosi would soon find himself in numerous diminished roles and a lot of less fondly remembered pictures. Some, such as Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster, would be fondly remembered for reasons no actor would wish. Despite his association with Dracula, Bela Lugosi would only play him on screen one more time in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. His two screen portrayals of the count are so utterly iconic that every other performance by the myriad actors who followed him into the cape would feel lacking in comparison.

What parent wouldn’t want his or her kid to play with a remorseless, blood-drinking demon that shrinks at the sight of a crucifix? For more than half a century, kids all over the world have had uncountable opportunities to do just that. Dracula toys started flooding the shops amidst the Monster Kid craze of the 1960s, appearing as an Aurora model in 1962, a little plastic figurine by Palmer in 1964, action figures by Mego and AHI in 1973, a rubber “House Haunter” doll by Ben Cooper that same year, and 9-inch and 3 ¼-inch figures by Remco in 1980 (I had them both!). Kids could also create their own monstrous scenes with the Castle Dracula Fun House by Colorforms (had that one too), pairing Drac up with the Mummy, the Gill Man, the Frankenstein Monster, and other old pals. In more recent years, companies such as Placo, McFarlane, Premiere, and Diamond Select have made increasing sophisticated Dracula toys to ensure kids will continue pretending to bite, kill, and brood for many years to come.
 


Full disclosure time: there probably would be no “Dracula A-Z” if not for David J. Skal. His book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen was a main source and it is essential reading for all monster enthusiasts. So is my favorite of his books, The Monster Show, which covers the entire horror genre with illuminating historical breadth and brilliant insight (his Mad Doctor book Screams of Reason and his Halloween history Death Makes a Holiday are wonderful too). As a filmmaker, Skal has written and directed a series of short documentaries on Universal’s finest fright films, while also proving a charismatic screen presence himself as the tour guide of his films Back to the Black Lagoon: A Creature Chronicle, The Frankenstein Files, and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Monsters! Skal has dipped his fangs into all of horror’s main veins, but he seems to have a particular affection for Dracula and his ilk, beginning his career with Hollywood Gothic and publishing Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, V Is for Vampire: The A to Z Guide to Everything Undead, compiling the Vampires: Encounters with the Undead anthology, and writing, directing and appearing in the doc The Road to Dracula. According to his site www.monstershow.net, our leading Dracula authority is currently at work on a new book related to his favorite topic called Bram Stoker: The Final Curtain.
In 1921, Karoly Lathjay brought the name to the screen for the very first time in Drakula halála (trans: The Death of Dracula), in which an institutionalized musician believes himself to be the famed vampire. The following year, F.W. Murnau became the first filmmaker to actually adapt Stoker when Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (A Symphony of Horror) was released. Bram had been dead for a decade when the landmark horror film debuted, leaving his widow, Florence, in charge of his legacy. Florence Stoker was unaware of the adaptation until receiving an invitation to the British Incorporated Society of Authors that also included a program for a screening of Nosferatu. Although writer Henrik Galeen fiddled with the specifics (Dracula was renamed Graf Orlok; he now terrorized Bremen instead of London; he now died by sunlight—for the first time in vampire lore—instead of by knife wound, etc.), the plot was unmistakably lifted from Bram’s book. Livid, Florence did everything in her power to put this unauthorized adaptation back in its coffin. Although she never even bothered to see the film, she sued for copyright infringement successfully and commanded that every print be destroyed. It has since come to light that Florence never had a legal leg to stand on because an error in the copyrighting paperwork meant that Dracula had been in the public domain the whole time. Fortunately, a print managed to survive Florence’s purge, resurfacing in the seventies. It would be tragic to think of a world without this iconic horror film featuring perhaps the most frightening Dracula ever brought to unlife, courtesy of actor Max Schreck. Nosferatu is also often rated as a landmark of German Expressionism, although some scholars contend that Murnau’s film is not a true example of the cinematic movement best exemplified by Robert Wiene’s far more phantasmagoric, distorted, and cartoonish Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

On the pages of Stoker’s novel, the zoophagous lunatic R.M. Renfield is a minor character whose main function is to allow his master access to Dr. Seward’s asylum so he can have his way with Mina Harker. Screenwriter Garrett Fort expanded the fly-eating henchman’s role considerably, giving actor Dwight Frye a juicier role to sink his teeth into. In Tod Browning’s Dracula, Renfield took over the entire visit to Transylvania from Jonathan Harker. This had beneficial effects in that David Manners was a pretty nondescript presence. Dwight Frye consumed the screen. He is charming and chummy and quite palpably terrified before Dracula gives him the half-vampire treatment. After being bitten, he exudes a heady mix of wacko humor, terrifying madness, and terrified humanity. Floating amid an often dead-eyed cast, Frye brings googly-eyed excitement and humanity to Dracula. His death at the hands of the Count is the most unintentionally moving moment of an icy film. His wonderful chemistry with Bela Lugosi may have something to do with their previous experience co-starring in the Broadway comedy The Devil in the Cheese, though horror historian Greg Mank suggests the two actors were “wary” and possibly “jealous” of each other.

Dwight Frye made such an impression in Dracula that he soon found himself cast in similar henchman, though comparatively reduced, roles in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, and even smaller parts in The Invisible Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. In a career of 60-something films, a tiny percentage of them actually featured monsters and ghouls, yet Frye still felt boxed in by his monster movies for Universal, longing to return to the less horrific roles he played before becoming primarily known as a loony lackey. He nearly got the chance to take a small but significant part in the presidential biopic Wilson as Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, but a fatal heart attack on November 7, 1943, intervened. For better or worse, Dwight Frye would always be best known as Renfield, and shock rocker Alice Cooper would further immortalize him in the luridly crazed “Ballad of Dwight Frye.”

One of my earliest memories was trying to will myself to wake up at 6AM every Saturday morning. Sleeping in on weekends was a luxury I could not afford since I was so determined to catch “The Groovie Goolies” before the sun even came up. Tragically, more often than not, I slept right through the show, determined to have better self-control the following weekend. On the occasion I managed to catch Filmation’s typically low-rent cartoon, I ignored the avalanche of corny puns and simply delighted in seeing all my favorite monsters brought to vivid life in a “Laugh-In” inspired variety show complete with laugh-track and bubblegum pop song breaks in which the Goolies played in their very own band with Frankie on the bone drums, Wolfie on some sort of electric harp, and Drac on the pipe organ. As head of Horrible Hall, Drac led the group and also had the honor of being voiced by “F Troop” veteran Larry Storch (there was also a vampiress tellingly named Bella La Ghostly). The Groovie Goolies got their start as sidemen on the “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” cartoon in 1971 before branching off on their own. In 1978, “The Groovie Goolies” went into syndication, which is where it wound up at the ungodly hour I watched it.  With the 2006 release of the Groovie Goolies: Saturday Morning Collection DVD, weird kids of every age could watch their favorite cartoon anytime they want to.

Henry Irving was the actor responsible for productions at the legendary Lyceum Theatre. Bram Stoker was responsible for managing the legendary Henry Irving. They shared a close relationship, though the balance of power was in Irving’s favor. According to author Jim Steinmeyer in Who was Dracula?, “Iriving could treat Stoker as a servant, depending on him for menial tasks and carelessly dismissing him from important decisions.” In turn, Stoker tended to Irving’s desires tirelessly. Many Dracula historians believe that Stoker got back at his brutish boss by portraying Irving as one of literature’s nastiest villains. His gaunt features, belittling ways, and diabolical performance as Mephistopheles in a lavish production of Faust may have affected Stoker’s creation of Count Dracula, though there is no actual proof supporting the theory. Stoker also apparently intended to get Irving to play Dracula on stage, but when the actor heard bits of the character’s monologue during a reading staged for copyright purposes, he sneered it off as “dreadful.” Despite that harsh criticism and a rocky relationship, Stoker published the worshipful, two-volume Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving a year after the actor’s death in 1905.
Henry Irving’s alleged influence on Dracula is mostly known among Dracula scholars. The influence of Voivode Vlad Dracula — aka Vlad III, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Vlad Țepeș — is much more widely known. Because of his name and his gruesome habit of popping the heads off his enemies on towering spikes (hence “The Impaler”), Vlad is regularly cited as the prime influence for Count Dracula, even working his way into the best scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s otherwise crappy Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In truth, there is almost as little proof that Stoker based Dracula on Vlad Tepes as there is he based him on Henry Irving. Indeed, Stoker refers to the Wallachian prince when Van Helsing speculates that his nemesis “must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk.” However, Steinmeyer contends that Stoker actually knew little of Vlad Tepes, possibly only picking up stray bits of information from the Hungarian adventurer Arminus Vambery or possibly books on the history of Transylvanian, the site of some of Vlad’s bloodiest raids. Ultimately, Vlad Dracula only seems to have loaned Dracula a name, a crumb of back story, and possibly, a moustache.

Bela Lugosi was already a ripe 49 when he played Dracula for Tod Browning. With the passage of another 13 years, he was in considerably frailer form and Universal, perhaps disrespectfully, looked elsewhere to refill the Count’s cape for his reappearance in the studio’s first all-out Monster Rally, House of Frankenstein. The part went to John Carradine, an actor who’d worked for such lauded bosses as Cecil B. DeMille and John Ford, but was also known to slum in small parts in the Universal Monster cycle. He appeared uncredited in The Invisible Man, The Black Cat, and Bride of Frankenstein. In House of Frankenstein, he finally received billing as Dracula, though Edward T. Lowe, Jr.’s, fun but lopsided screenplay meant he wouldn’t get to romp with the Wolf Man or the Frankenstein Monster. For the opening segment he dominates, Carradine insisted his Dracula would look closer to Stoker’s, which meant a moustache and long grey hair (the studio nixed the length, but not the color, of his hair). Mustachioed, grey, gaunt, and scarecrow slender, Carradine’s Dracula was a sharp contrast to Lugosi’s, and his American basso tone was an equal shift from Bela’s iconic accent.

Despite a long and extremely varied career, John Carradine too would find himself in the Count’s thrall for decades to come, most notably returning the following year in House of Dracula, but also reprising his role in NBC’s 1956 production of Dracula on the “Matinee Theatre” series, in the 1966 trasher Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, and in the 1979 softcore “Disco” flick Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula, which co-starred fellow vampire Yvonne “Lily Munster” DeCarlo. He’d also appear as a butler in 1969’s Blood of Dracula’s Castle, as Radcliffe in 1978’s Doctor Dracula, and as “Loren Belasco” in a 1977 episode of “McCloud” called “Dr. Dracula.” I’m sure it’s no accident that that last character’s name is so reminiscent of Bela Blaskó.

They both wear capes, they’re both associated with winged mammals, they both prefer to do business at night, and they’re both creations of guys with the initial B. Bram Stoker has his Dracula and Bob Kane his Batman. The connections between this most famous villain and hero run deeper than all that.

Batman had his first run-in with the undead in 1939’s “Batman Vs. The Vampire” from Detective Comics #31 and 32. Though this particular vampire wasn’t Dracula—he was known as The Monk—he did introduce an important element of vampire lore. According to Liisa Landouceur in her book How to Kill a Vampire, this was the first instance in which a vamp was harmed by silver. In 1976, Batman went cape-to-cape against a vampire who closer resembled Dracula in Detective Comics #455, though this cat’s name was Gustav Decobra. In the interim, Batman and the bat man had a few unofficial encounters. In 1964, Batfan Andy Warhol made the campy film Batman Dracula on the hush-hush from D.C. Comics. Three years later, Filipino director Leody M. Diaz made Batman Fights Dracula, another flick that apparently never got Bob Kane’s approval. In more recent years, the Dark Knight/Prince of Darkness feud finally went legit with D.C.’s graphic novel Batman & Dracula: Red Rain from 1991 (which sired sequels in 1994 and 1999) and 2005’s direct-to-DVD animated film Batman Vs. Dracula. And a final nugget to chew on is the suspicious similarity between the bat in the opening credits of Browning’s Dracula and the insignia on Batman’s chest. Perhaps Kane was directly influenced by Dracula after all.


The vampire’s curse had already dogged Lugosi and Carradine, but no actor was staked to Dracula as securely as Christopher Lee. The towering, melodious Londoner wore the cape in a record ten films, which includes a cameo in the 1970 Jerry Lewis comedy One More Time. Of course, the majority of those films were produced by Hammer Films. Hammer was to the fifties and sixties what Universal was to the thirties and forties, grinding out monster movies at a blinding rate. Lee was a regular presence in them, also playing the Frankenstein Monster in the studio’s 1957 flagship Curse of Frankenstein and the title shuffler in 1959’s The Mummy. As iconic as those monsters are, Christopher Lee will always be known as Count Dracula, commanding the lead in Hammer’s greatest film, 1958’s Dracula (known in the states as Horror of Dracula), and appearing in a succession of increasingly schlocky though unfailingly fun sequels, including Dracula-Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, the wonderfully titled Taste the Blood of Dracula, and the outrageously camp Dracula AD 1972. Because most of these films aren’t exactly the manna of cineastes, Lee is more than a bit embarrassed by them, even insisting that he refused to speak any of his lines in Prince of Darkness (screenwriter Jimmy Sangster said he actually hadn’t written any because “vampires don’t chat”). Dracula didn’t have much to say in any of his subsequent outings, quite possibly because of Lee’s ongoing mortification, and the actor refuses to answer any questions about his most famous role today. On the one hand, one might understand and sympathize with his Dracophobia, considering he’s done such stellar work in a variety of other memorable parts, including Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, the title sleuth in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movies. On the other hand, Christopher Lee has to give himself credit where it’s due: he made one hell of a great Dracula.

Perhaps the most famous Dracula spin-off is a little guy made of purple felt who does his best work when a hand is thrust up his bottom. Patterned on the voice and visage of Bela Lugosi, Count von Count has helped many child learn how to count “Von, two, three!” The Muppet with a perpetual fanged smile is the brainchild of writer Norman Stiles, though puppeteer Jerry Nelson did all the heavy lifting and heavy laughing (“Wha-ha-ha-ha!”). The Count, as he is more commonly known, made his debut in the fourth season of “Sesame Street,” where he imparted his mathematical lessons with such vampiric intensity that anyone who attempted to interrupt him would be hypnotized into silence. Allegedly, this aspect of the Count was soon sanitized away because it freaked children out. This seems like the kind of overprotect insanity that caused the first two seasons of “Sesame Street” to receive an “Adults Only” rating on DVD because Alistair Cookie of “Monsterpiece Theater” liked to eat his pipe. That’s one habit you really don’t want your kids picking up. 

Around the same time the Count was hypnotizing and tallying his way into your nightmares on “Sesame Street,” the program’s biggest rival, “The Electric Company,” was horning in on the PBS action. This program too had its own Count, though he was of the flesh and blood variety and looked suspiciously like Morgan Freeman. Closer in felty spirit to Count von Count was Count Blah from the kiddie-show parody “Greg the Bunny” and Dracula, a product of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, from Jason Segel’s puppet rock opera “A Taste for Love” in the 2008 comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

“Among the rugged peaks that crown down upon the Borgo Pass are found crumbling castles of a bygone age.”

These are the first words spoken in a Dracula film (not to mention the first words spoken in any horror film, period). The film is—big surprise—Universal’s 1931 adaptation. The speaker is—big surprise—someone with the last name Laemmle. Carla Laemmle was just one of seventy Laemmles on the Laemmle payroll, she being the Niece and semi-namesake of Universal’s head honcho, Carl Laemmle. Though she appears in the film for a total of fifteen seconds, her fate has been forever entwined with Dracula, co-authoring the book Growing Up With Monsters: My Times at Universal Studios in Rhymes, being featured in the book Confessions of a Scream Queen, and hosting David J. Skal’s (see D above) documentary The Road to Dracula. Rick Atkins’s Among the Rugged Peaks: An Intimate Biography of Carla Laemmle gets its title from the quote that begins this entry. As of this writing, Carla, who celebrates her 104th birthday on October 20th, is the last living cast member of Dracula and its fellow monster classic Phantom of the Opera. In that film, Carla appeared as a dancer, which was closer to her area of expertise than acting. In fact, in Dracula, she read directly from the book she was holding to save her the trouble of having to remember her one line!

Nearly four months before he unconsciously created mayhem with his broadcast of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, Orson Welles adapted another scary literary classic with his Mercury Theatre troupe for CBS radio. Fortunately, this broadcast didn’t cause any panicking goofballs to speed off to the nearest church to load up on holy water because no one mistook Orson Welles’s Dracula for a news report. For the inaugural episode of The Mercury Theatre on the Air (July 11, 1938), Welles used his dark tones to voice both the title character and Dr. Seward, while Martin Gabel played Van Helsing, George Coulouris played Jonathan Harker, Elizabeth Fuller played Lucy Westenra, and Agnes Moorehead played Mina Harker. Though heavily condensed, the adaptation is quite faithful and atmospherically staged.

The stroke of genius to put Dracula on the stage may have belonged to Bram Stoker (see H above). Bram never officially accomplished that in his lifetime, leaving it to a number of enterprising Playwrights to twist and mangle his text into a concise piece fit for the theater. The first known performance of Dracula happened in 1917, and that’s about everything that’s known about it. Much better documented is the 1924 version adapted by Hamilton Deane. This is the rendition that would end up with director Horace Liveright in 1927, providing Bela Lugosi with his first opportunity to suck blahd. For this revival, John L. Balderston revamped the script considerably. Deane had already rejiggered the novel with wild abandon for his Florence Stoker-approved production. Among Deane’s major changes were losing the Transylvania scenes and giving Quincey Morris a gender reassignment. Balderston’s additional changes included axing Quincey entirely, making Dr. Seward Lucy’s dad, switching Mina and Lucy’s names and having Mina’s death go down before the play begins, and giving Renfield a stay of execution. While many of the changes would be reversed to suit Stoker’s intentions, Garrett Fort’s screenplay would have more in common with the Deane/Balderston stage play than the novel. The success of his revision would land him much screenwriting work for Universal. He’d have his fingers in the classics Frankenstein, The Mummy, Bride of Frankenstein, and Dracula’s Daughter. As for his play, it would enjoy an incredibly successful revival in 1977 with Frank Langella in the title role, inspiring yet another screen adaptation two years later.

Hamilton Deane made him a woman. John L. Balderston gave him the boot. Garrett Fort didn’t feel it necessary to bring him back. Murnau and Hammer’s Jimmy Sangster ignored him too. So did most other Dracula adapters. Perhaps it’s because few characters feel more out of place in Dracula than Quincey P. Morris. In a quintessentially British novel, this American yahoo seems like he stepped off the pages of a Zane Grey novel. Yet, Quincey does play an important role in Dracula. He is the one member of the fearless vampire hunters who dies and the namesake of Jonathan and Mina Harker’s son, who is born on the date Quincey died. According to at least one vampire theorist named Erik Butler, Quincey may have also been working for Dracula on the sly! Not a popular theory, nor is Quincey a popular character. Although a character based on him was present in an early Balderston treatment for Dracula, the part did not survive long enough to make it to the screen. He has made his way to the screen in a few adaptations, including Jesús Franco’s underrated and surprisingly faithful 1970 Count Dracula starring Christopher Lee and Coppola’s overrated and surprisingly unfaithful Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the generally faithful and well-done adaptation for the “Great Performances” TV series, Quincey was unceremoniously fused with Arthur Holmwood for an all-new character named Quincey P. Holmwood. No respect for the yank.

Max Schreck. Bela Lugosi. Christopher Lee. Louis Jordan. Jack Palance. Judd Hirsch. One of these guys is not like the others, but one thing is true: they all played Count Dracula. A year after he started starring in the classic sitcom “Taxi” as disapproving straight man Alex Reiger, Judd Hirsch played the king of Monster Town in the Emmy-winning 1979 TV special The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t (aka: The Night Dracula Saved the World). Though he must be the least imposing actor to ever play Dracula, Hirsch actually managed a pretty good Lugosi impersonation in this charmingly dated, character-actor-studded 1970s time capsule. Dracula gathers the world’s most famous creeps to resurrect Halloween’s innate scariness at a time when the monsters have become laughable (a reference to the Monster’s dance routine in Young Frankenstein is held up as exhibit A!). Ironically, this kiddie flick isn’t remotely concerned with scaring. We see Hirsch transform into a bat by repeating a mantra of “Teeny tiny bat! Teeny tiny bat!” and we see him dressing up in John Travolta drag to disco dance with Mariette Hartley’s witch among other silliness. See for yourself:

After four seasons of using Mr. Pointy to stake vampires that no one has ever heard of, Buffy Summers finally met a vamp worthy of her gift/curse at the start of season five of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” In “Buffy Vs. Dracula,” everyone’s favorite mass-murdering teen met the famed Count. Buffy and her cohorts all react to Dracula in comically star-stuck fashion, even though he looks more like a Marilyn Manson fan than anything Stoker, Lugosi, or Lee conceived. Nevertheless, Buffy falls under the spell of the only vampire in Sunnydale who can actually transform into a bat (which Willow admits is “awesome”). Realizing that her powers have their limits when she meets the baddest blood-biter of them all actually has a lasting effect on Buffy, haunting her throughout a season that will end with her dying (one of many times Buffy dies). Still “Buffy vs. Dracula” is primarily concerned with goofy gags and lampooning Dracula tropes, as when Xander becomes a fly-eating, Renfieldian servant of the Dark Master—errr—bator.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a TV classic beloved by many unbelievably faithful followers. “Dracula: The Series” is “Huh?” bait. Few people watched and fewer remembered this Canadian syndicated series from 1990 that only managed to squeeze out 21 episodes. The show borrowed a corny old joke from 1943’s Son of Dracula in which the vampire pulled a fast one on his mortal food sources by passing himself off as Alucard (though the Dracula in the series varied the cliché a little by calling himself A. Lucard). “Dracula: The Series” starred Geordie Johnson, whose Aryan blonde/blue-eyed looks veered further from Drac tradition than even the guy who played him in “Buffy vs. Dracula.” The show focused on a quartet of vampire hunters led by Gustav Van Helsing that included a teenage girl (played by a pre-“L Word” Mia Kirshner) who might have provided some inspiration for Buffy Summers if Joss Whedon was Canadian.


There have been more than a few sequels to Dracula: Kim Newman’s book Anno Dracula and Paul Witcover’s Dracula: Asylum, the films Dracula’s Daughter, House of Dracula,, Son of Dracula,Dracula: Prince of Darkness, etc., etc., etc. However, Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Dracula the Un-Dead has the distinction of being the first sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be officially sanctioned by the Stoker estate. The name of that first co-writer should be a big tip-off why. Dacre is Bram’s great grandnephew. For his take on his great granduncle’s cultural landmark, Dacre and partner Ian bring us up to date with Mina and Jonathan Harker’s son Quincey, who has grown up to become an amateur actor awed by renowned thespian Basarab. Jonathan is an obnoxious drunk who wants his son to follow in his lawyery footsteps, and Mina is not-so secretly pining away for the Count twenty five years after her husband and his merry band of vampire hunters put Drac to rest. Or did they? Obviously, they didn’t, or there wouldn’t be a Dracula the Un-Dead (The Un-Dead being one of Bram’s working titles for Dracula). There are references to Elizabeth Bathory and Jack the Ripper; minor characters named after Dracula-portrayers Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, and Louis Jordan; and appearances by Hamilton Deane and Bram Stoker, himself. Such touches may suggest that Dracula the Un-Dead will develop into a freewheeling, imaginative, post-modern cartoon along the lines of Anno Dracula, but Stoker and Holt’s book is played with a general lack of humor. The writers also re-imagine Dracula’s motives and personality, robbing the character of his menace and mystique. Dracula completists will probably want to give Dracula the Un-Dead a look, but they will most likely want to purge the liberties it takes with Bram Stoker’s original novel from their memories as soon as they finish it for fear they’ll start thinking of Dracula in a new and less terrifying light.

Every villain worth his salt needs an equally formidable heroic adversary. Count Dracula got his with Abraham Van Helsing, a Dutch scientist that has since become as synonymous with vampire hunting as Dracula is with vampires. Stoker gave Van Helsing a rare honor in Dracula by actually describing his physical characteristics: his build, bone structure, eyes, poise, even the size of his head (since you were wondering, it’s “well-sized”). A common theory is that Van Helsing was based on Teddy Roosevelt’s uncle Robert, who looked similar to Stoker’s description and allegedly “hated vampires.” Author Jim Steinmeyer suggests that Stoker actually based Van Helsing on himself in part, borrowing his own research and problem-solving skills, gallantry, and first name for the vampire hunter. Regardless of who inspired Van Helsing, it is certain that he is one of the most indispensible characters of the story. Unlike Quincey or Lucy or even Renfield, he is one character who is very, very rarely left out of Dracula adaptations (Nosferatu is the rare Dracula picture to skip him). He has been portrayed by an impressive array of actors, most notably Peter Cushing, who played a record five Van Helsings, but also Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, and Edward Van Sloan, the very first screen Van Helsing  and the only Dracula cast member to carry over to Dracula’s Daughter. Hugh Jackman also played Van Helsing in the character’s very own movie. The less said about that the better.
While Lon Chaney was still alive, viable, and the ideal choice to play Dracula, Universal gave the actor’s frequent collaborator Tod Browning a multi-picture deal. Even after Chaney’s death, Browning’s background as a carny and the director of silent freak shows The Unholy Three, The Unknown, and the pseudo-vampire flick London After Midnight still qualified him to helm Dracula. His work on the film remains controversial. Many viewers (not me) find the London portions of the film to be stagey, talky, and draggy. Less controversial is James Whale. He was the unchallenged master of Universal Horror, putting his auteur stamp on four of the studios’ greatest films— Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein—with his trademark pathos, gallows humor, and proto-noir aesthetic. Whale was not crazy about his status as a monster wrangler, and his filmography is indeed an assorted lot of intimate drama (Waterloo Bridge), period drama (The Man in the Iron Mask), comedy (Remember Last Night?), musical (Show Boat), and war (The Road Back). Yet the spectacular success of his horrors ensured his primary role at Universal, so when a sequel to Dracula entered development, Whale was an obvious choice to direct it. The only thing he hated more than making a monster movie was making a sequel to one, and a popular theory is that he purposely sabotaged the script to get himself booted from Dracula’s Daughter. He prodded his screenwriter, R. C. Sheriff, to go nuts with a pair of gay heroes, S&M scenes, and a nutso flashback in which a Yoda-like creature transforms Dracula into a vampire! That did the trick. James Whale got to make Show Boat instead, and the less outrageous Lambert Hillyer directed Dracula’s Daughter… ensuring viewers would mourn Whale’s exit from the project for generations to come.    
An uncountable number of Dracula movies makes it possible to watch an uncountable number of Dracula slayers in action. But if you want to actually be a Dracula slayer, you probably won’t get a better simulation than playing one of the numerous Dracula video games… at least if you don’t want to go to jail for staking someone. Almost as soon as there were home video game consoles, there were Dracula games. In 1981, you could play Adventure International’s text adventure game The Count, in which a torch-carrying mob of Transylvanians hire you to bring down the Big D. 1986 saw the release of another text game simply called Dracula. A more enduring and less wordy product was Konami’s Castlevania. Once again the player is a vampire slayer— Simon Belmont specifically— on the trail of Dracula in his castle. The game was such a hit that it spawned a long running series that would include Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (1987), Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989), Castlevania: Dracula X (1995), Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997), Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (1999), Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (2003), and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005) among a lot of others. Other less popular games include the Castlevania rip-off Master of Darkness (1992), the interactive movie Dracula Unleashed (1993), the motion picture tie-ins Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1994) and Van Helsing (2004), and the pc game Dracula Resurrection, which I can say from first hand experience is really fucking hard.
As the poem goes, a Dracula by any other name would smell as undead. Intertitles made Nosferatu the story of  “Count Orlok” in an unconvincing effort to skirt copyright infringement (see E above). Many other obvious Draculas have gone by other names over the decades. Now, all vampires obviously aren’t Dracula, but there are clear criteria for distinguishing the pretenders. Long black cape? Check. Bela Lugosi accent? Check. Widow’s peak? Check, although this particular criterion is where it starts getting muddled. In fact, Lugosi’s Dracula did not have a widow’s peak. His Count Mora in Mark of the Vampire did. Photos of Lugosi as Mora have led many to associate the widow’s peak with Dracula because Mora so obviously is Dracula (even if he isn’t a real vampire). The same is true of Lugosi as Armand Tesla in Columbia’s Return of the Vampire. Basically, Bela plus vampire plus cape equals Dracula.

You don’t actually need Bela Lugosi to have a phony Dracula. Ed Wood knew this well when Lugosi died before he could complete Plan 9 from Outer Space and the director simply replaced him with chiropractor Tom Mason in a Dracula cape. Similarly, when Christopher Lee refused to appear in Hammer’s sequel The Brides of Dracula, the villain became Drac-stand-in Baron Meinster played by David Peel. Although Count Yorga, The Vampire (which began life as a soft core sex flick) didn’t feature a character named Dracula, Robert Quarry’s vampire is so obviously patterned on him that the film was retitled Yorga: Junges Blut für Dracula (trans: Young Blood for Dracula) in Germany. Other Draculas were subjected to name changes simply because they were just a tad too African (Blacula), fabric-based (Count von Count, Count Blah), breakfast-centric (Count Chocula), or zany (Count Floyd, Grandpa Munster—apparently sometimes known as “Sam Dracula”) to qualify. Which finally leads us too…

A villain as infamous as Dracula must inevitably get slapped off his pedestal. Many have stepped up to the pedestal to take their shots. Zany spins on Dracula aren’t quite as plentiful as sincerely scary ones, but they aren’t far behind. We’ve already lighted upon quite a number of them: Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (though Lugosi plays the role totally straight in contrast to Bud and Lou’s capering), Drac in “Groovie Goolies,” Christopher Lee’s Dracula in One More Time, Judd Hirsh’s in The Halloween that Almost Wasn’t, Count von Count, Count Blah, cereal mascot Count Chocula, sitcom star Grandpa Munster, and Count Floyd, a “reeeally scary” recurring character on “SCTV” invented by the brilliant Joe Flaherty (who got the chance to wear his Floyd cape again years later on the Halloween episode of the brilliant “Freaks and Geeks”). Let’s not forget about the feature-length Dracula parodies Love at First Bite and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (eh… on second thought, go ahead and forget them). Perhaps the funniest Dracula parody of all is “Bart Simpson’s Dracula,” a segment of “The Simpsons’” fourth annual “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween episode in which evil millionaire Mr. Burns plays the evil count and Homer Simpson attempts to slay him by staking him in the crotch. That’s as good a note as any on which to end Dracula A - Z.
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