Tuesday, October 07, 2008

BITE DOWN HARD: An Overview Of Dracula In Films By Bethany Ruthven

Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. As usual, we're all considering various Halloweeny items to post for our 31 Days Of Halloween, and since our Mad Doctor has already done an overview of various Stephen King films, I thought I'd check in today with my own overview about the most well-known vampire among humans, Count Dracula. Many of you may wonder why I've not previously dedicated a blog article to the Big D before, but you must understand that for vampires, Dracula is a bit like Elvis. Only a few of us have ever actually seen him or been in his presence, and if those of us who claim to have done so were gathered together, the line would be around the block as well as three deep. For myself, I find many vampires' stories about Dracula quite tiresome, but humans' tales are decidedly more interesting.

The legend of Dracula first began, of course, with Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, first published in 1897. Though several vampire tales had already come before it, Stoker based his characterization of Dracula on legends of a Wallachian prince, Vlad Tepes, whose main rule of the place was from 1456 to 1462. All accounts view him as a dreadful, atrocious person who was quite fond of impaling his enemies on stakes. Of course, the truth about Vlad Tepes is something I would never reveal (sorry, darlings), but Stoker did base his writing on the historical records of Tepes. The novel enjoyed much critical praise and has gone on to be the most favored Gothic romance of the period.

Of course, such a novel was ripe for adaptation into film when the movie industry came about, and the first film about Big D was F.W. Murnau's German-Expressionist Nosferatu (1922). Due to Florence Stoker's draconian hold over rights to her husband's novel, the film is largely an unauthorized version of the novel, omitting many of the secondary characters (which other films would do also) and changing the names of more important ones. Dracula, in this film, was called "Count Orlok," and was played by a German actor named Max Schreck. The word "schreck", before being absurdly misspelled and mostly identified with a green Scots-accented ogre, was another German word meaning "terror," and quite suitable for the clawed, rat-toothed visage of Orlok.

he Big D would not receive a more palatable treatment until 1931's Dracula, made for Universal Pictures and starring Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, who had portrayed the character in theatre and contributed much to how humans view the character today. Dark, charming, and compelling, Lugosi's gentlemanly yet thoroughly evil portrayal was lauded by critics and unfortunately typecast this talented actor, whose authoritative presence still causes many to view him as the definitive Dracula. Though Universal would make several more films featuring Dracula (such as Son Of Dracula (1943), House Of Frankenstein (1944), and House Of Dracula (1945)), Lugosi himself would not portray the Big D again until 1948's Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein, now regarded as a classic and the most successful of Universal's "monster rally" pictures, which all established that Dracula, Frankenstein's Creature and a "Wolf-Man" knew of each other and kept company. Of course it's well known by monsterkind that such a meeting of powers really didn't happen until several years after the release of all these movies... but again, I digress. Better you not know everything.

Dracula resurfaced yet again on the big screen in 1958, due to the efforts of a little British studio called Hammer Film Productions, which had decided after some lucrative experiments (such as their Quatermass series) to create some Gothic horror films. Stoker's novel was only lightly touched upon in the resulting Horror Of Dracula, which starred actor Christopher Lee in a bestial and manic portrayal of the Big D, and Peter Cushing as his long-running opposite number, Professor Van Helsing. The success of Horror paved the way for a much-loved series of sequels, including Dracula, Prince Of Darkness (1965), Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968), Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1969) and Scars Of Dracula (1970), all of which portray Big D as an increasingly violent and animalistic character who speaks very little, mostly hissing and snarling at his victims and opponents. Hammer Films eventually tried to move Big D into modern times with 1972's Dracula A.D. 1972, which is remembered for its view into the British hippie culture and its oddly discoid dramatic score music.

Today, Dracula still enjoys popularity in films, as evidenced by recent works such as 1992's maniacally overblown yet sympathetic and compelling semi-adaptation of the original novel, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the millenium's attempt to capitalize on the horror-teen market, Dracula 2000 (which even spawned a couple of sequels on its own). While none of the films I have mentioned here are actual cinematic connections to the Big D himself, they are surely better than the absolutely unforgivable Dracula 3000 (2004) which I mention here only because I am completely convinced that you should avoid it at all costs. (I mean it. I've often considered that our Mad Doctor John had the most appalling taste in films, but even he couldn't stomach this one.) We will round out our overview of the Big D by mentioning the quite pleasant and often overlooked Shadow Of The Vampire (2004), which purports that the filming of 1922's Nosferatu involved a real vampire hired by F.W. Murnau himself to portray the character of Count Orlok.

The only thing I can say about it is that it's practically a documentary... but again, I've probably said too much. Anyway, this post should provide you with a good selection of films on one of history's most enduring vampires to enjoy during our festive Halloween season, so cheers all round.

By the by, about that Elvis thing? Well, there are some vampires who have on occasion stated that Dracula and Elvis were one and the same... and the truth is, they're very, very confused.

Bethany Ruthven