Dracula: 10 Notable Versions from Bela Lugosi to Buffy

As news arrives that Sherlock's creators are working on a Dracula adaptation, here are 10 screen versions of Bram Stoker's character...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Dracula is one of the classic monster stories. It’s the quintessential vampire tale. Most of our ideas about what a vampire is, what a vampire does, and what a vampire can be killed by come from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. And while elements of the story have been woven into countless other vampire-themed books, films, and TV shows, it’s Dracula that we keep coming back to, over and over. With news that Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are developing a new miniseries about the bloodsucker, let’s take a look back at ten other versions of the world’s most famous vampire…

Nosferatu (1922)

Who plays Dracula? Max Schreck.

What’s the story? It’s a pretty faithful, if pared down, version of the Dracula story: a clerk is sent out to meet a mysterious client in a spooky castle, realizes he’s a monster, and tries to flee, only for his own wife to fall victim to the vampire’s spell. It’s silent, black and white, and gorgeous.

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What makes it special? What’s kind of amazing about this film is that it almost didn’t survive. The production didn’t have the approval of Bram Stoker’s estate, and despite changing a few details – the vampire here is known as Count Orlok, not Dracula, and the other names and locations have also been altered – it’s close enough that when the Stokers sued, a court ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed.

Luckily for us, one survived. It’s incredibly creepy, all weird angles and lurking shadows, and Schrek plays the vampire as a proper monster. There’s nothing seductive about him, he’s just terrifying. Even now. Especially now that we’re jaded and cynical about special effects and CGI. Because this film looks scarier than anything created on a computer, and it’s all real.

Dracula (1931)

Who plays Dracula? Bela Lugosi.

What’s the story? Based on a popular stage adaptation of Dracula, this is another mostly faithful adaptation, though the characters have been shuffled a bit. Here, it’s Renfield, not Jonathan, who goes out to meet Dracula in his castle in Transylvania. Jonathan and Lucy get shunted off to the side of the story, with Mina taking center stage, while Dr. Seward, head of the lunatic asylum, is recast as her father. Lugosi is a much sexier Count than Schreck, and the subtext about Mina’s sexual awakening is, er, pretty much text here.

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What makes it special? Oh, everything. It’s beautiful to look at, for one thing. It’s got a bit of a sense of humor, though not enough to stop it from being insanely creepy. Lugosi makes the role completely his own; when people think of Count Dracula, this is the version most of them imagine. Interestingly, this version also does a lot more with Renfield’s story than the original novel, and Dwight Frye is fantastic in that role. Even if you think you’ve seen too many Dracula parodies to enjoy Lugosi’s rendition of the Count, this film is worth watching for Dwight Frye alone.

Dracula (1958)

Who plays Dracula? Christopher Lee.

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What’s the story? It’s Dracula, but slightly wonky. It starts with Jonathan Harker setting off to visit Castle Dracula – but this time, he knows what he’s in for, and is planning to kill the Count. He fails, leaving Van Helsing to take up the hunt. Most of the characters have been shuffled around: Jonathan is engaged to Lucy, who’s Arthur’s sister, and Arthur is married to Mina. It’s not obvious why that reshuffle had to happen, because it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to how things play out. It’s still Mina who has to fight to extricate herself from Dracula’s clutches in the end.

What makes it special? Dracula was one of the first Hammer Horror films, and it was massively successful. It spawned eight sequels, including The Brides of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, and Taste the Blood of Dracula, and it basically shaped the horror genre for a good couple of decades. But what’s special about it today is the cast. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are always good value, and here, as the evil Count and the scholarly vampire hunter determined to kill him off, they’re brilliant.

Sesame Street (1972)

Who plays Dracula? Originally Jerry Nelson, and now Matt Vogel.

What’s the story? Okay, this is kind of a cheat. Count von Count isn’t actually called Dracula, but he’s so clearly modelled on Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of the great vampire that I couldn’t just leave him out. The character appears to be based on the idea that vampires are obsessed with counting – folklore from all over the world has it that if a vampire encounters a pile of rice or other grains, they won’t be able to do anything until they’ve counted it all. The Count loves to, er, count.

What makes it special? The fact that Sesame Street included a vampire character is kind of amazing, and the fact that he speaks in a parody of Lugosi’s accent, and wears that cape, well, it’s just sort of brilliant. The earliest incarnations of the Count were a bit spooky, but apparently kids found his maniacal laughing and tendency to zap people who interfered with his counting a bit scary, so he was made cuter and goofier. He’s basically the most adorable incarnation of Dracula you’ll ever find.

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Blacula (1972)

Who plays Dracula? Charles Macaulay.

What’s the story? This film is about one of Dracula’s protégés, rather than Dracula himself. After an African prince approaches Dracula for help dealing with the slave trade, he gets bitten and sealed in a coffin for centuries. Popping out in the 1970s, Mamuwalde – dubbed “Blacula” by the Count – sets about trying to win the heart of a woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his dead wife.

What makes it special? Isn’t the idea of a blaxploitation take on Dracula special enough for you? William H. Marshall plays the first ever black vampire in this movie, and since there haven’t been all that many since, that’s still pretty notable. The fashion is glorious, and the music is wonderful too. The plot is, well, kind of flimsy, and pretty slow, and it actually verges on being kind of boring, but there’s something pretty cool about it nonetheless.

Blood for Dracula (1974)

Who plays Dracula? Udo Kier.

What’s the story? A sickly Dracula is starving to death due to the lack of available virgins in Romania, so he travels to Italy in search of a bride. Unfortunately, the family of impoverished aristocrats he ends up staying with employs a rather rapey handyman, and there may not be any virgins left for him.

What makes it special? Produced by Andy Warhol, this is definitely one of the strangest takes on the Dracula story. Many of the established tropes are present – Dracula doesn’t have a reflection, and can’t stand garlic – but rather than being powerful and seductive, Kier’s Count is almost pitiable. He spends much of the film in a wheelchair, which is an oddly creepy image, and he’s kind of… whiny. It’s hard to know where your sympathies should lie, and it’s peculiar to see a mother actively throwing her daughters at Dracula rather than trying to save them from him. The accents are occasionally baffling (especially Joe Dallesandro’s Brooklyn drawl) but maybe that’s all part of the joke.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Who plays Dracula? Gary Oldman.

What’s the story? Back in the fifteenth century, Dracula’s wife kills herself after being told her husband has been killed in battle. Knowing suicide is a sin, Dracula figures she’s damned and turns against God himself, becoming a vampire. After skulking in his castle for centuries, he decides to move to London, where he meets Mina Harker – a woman who looks exactly like his dead wife. The rest of the Dracula story is intact, but with a side of overly dramatic tragic romance.

What makes it special? It’s one of the most faithful adaptations around, in terms of how much of the book it conveys to the screen. Characters are shown writing letters and diary entries, as per the book, and Lucy’s three suitors are all present and correct, which is rare.

Unfortunately, some of the performances are pretty terrible (Keanu Reeves is an easy target, but he’s truly awful here, and Cary Elwes is in full smirk mode). There are so many famous people crammed in that it gets distracting, and the set design is too stagey to be effective. But it gets points for keeping all the characters in their places.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2000)

Who plays Dracula? Rudolf Martin.

What’s the story? To kick off the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy went up against the most famous vampire of all time. Yup, they actually wrote Dracula into an episode of Buffy. There’s no real messing with the character, apart from dropping him into modern day California, and he uses pretty much all of his tricks: he turns into a bat, he dissolves into mist, he uses mind control to turn Xander into a slavering minion, and he seduces Sunnydale’s women, including Buffy herself.

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What makes it special? There’s something about crossovers that’s always oddly irresistible. Fitting the Scooby Gang into the Dracula story is fun because of the cognitive dissonance it causes: they’re all-American teenagers, and he’s a character from a gothic Victorian novel, so there’s no reason they should ever encounter one another, and the fallout is genuinely funny. (Spike’s indignation is a particular highlight.) There’s also a serious side to the story, as Dracula tells Buffy she’s a creature of darkness, but that’s something that really developed over the rest of the series. This episode is mostly just fun.

Dracula 2000 (2000)

Who plays Dracula? Gerard Butler.

What’s the story? Despite Van Helsing’s best efforts, someone has let Dracula out of his prison, and he’s determined to track down the one woman who might be able to stand up to him. (Who just happens to be Van Helsing’s daughter.) Bringing Van Helsing and Dracula into a modern day setting requires a bit of sleight of hand, but it just about works, and the film has an ace up its sleeve: an explanation for Dracula’s true identity that finally explains why he’s so averse to silver and crucifixes.

What makes it special? It kind of shouldn’t be, because it’s so silly. It’s got that self-aware, slightly camp late-90s horror thing going on, and it’s never actually scary. But it is a lot of fun, with some sharp dialogue (“I don’t drink… coffee”) and loads of geek-friendly faces popping up, including Jonny Lee Miller, Nathan Fillion, and Jeri Ryan.

Blade: Trinity (2004)

Who plays Dracula? Dominic Purcell

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What’s the story? Dracula, or “Drake,” is an ancient vampire summoned by modern day vampires looking for an upgrade. Blade has been killing off too many of them, and they want to walk in daylight, which apparently Drake’s blood will let them do. Drake is a bit of a rubbish Dracula, as they go; he’s just a really old vampire, and none of the usual Dracula plot elements are present.

What makes it special? Let’s be clear about this, Blade Trinity is a pretty terrible film. It has two redeeming features, though: Ryan Reynolds and Parker Posey are fantastic, and every scene they have together is wonderful; and it includes a scene in which Drake wanders into a vampire-themed shop and terrorizes the snarky goth assistants. Those things just about make it worth watching, but for Dracula super-fans, it hasn’t got much to offer. Purcell’s Dracula is apparently meant to be charismatic, but he just comes off dull and thuggish.

Other Notable On-screen Draculas

Countess Dracula (Ingrid Pitt stars as Elizabeth Bathory, so not really Dracula at all, except in the title); Count Duckula (an 80s cartoon about a vampiric duck); Count Dracula (a low budget horror from 1979, directed by Jess Franco and starring Christopher Lee despite not being part of Lee’s Hammer Dracula franchise); Dracula: Dead and Loving It (Mel Brooks’s daft spoof); Dracula AD 1972 (a reteaming of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing that brings Dracula into the 70s); Dracula Sucks (a hardcore porn adaptation); and Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D (which is pretty terrible.) 

This feature was originally posted in October 2013.