Why Can't Anyone Make a Good Dracula Movie?
Editor's Note: Originally presented at my site Jack Lord's Hair, way back in 2015.
After watching Taste the Blood of Dracula (a bizarre but apt title once you watch the movie), I began wondering, why can't anyone make a good Dracula movie anymore? It's been over twenty years since Bram Stoker's Dracula, a film which has its moments but never really clicked for me. I'll be generous to Keanu Reeves (who I think gets a lot of unjust criticism) and ignore his awful English accent and focus instead on Francis Ford Coppola's take on the characters. I could have done without Van Helsing being portrayed as a psycho, Keanu Reeves' atrocious British accent, or Winona Ryder sleepwalking through her role as Mina Harker. Still, the film is beautiful to watch if you like period pieces and while it's not a bad film, it's not a great one either.
Getting back to the good Count, why the lack of good films about Dracula? Anyone who's read the Bram Stoker novel knows that it's ripe for film adaptation. Dracula makes a great villain and the story of Victorian gentlemen battling for the purity of their women against a foreign invader is wide open to interpretation. It should come as no surprise that the character has appeared in over 200 films (eclipsed only by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes). While there is some debate over what was the first film adaptation of Stoker's Dracula., film historians generally agree on the 1922 German Expressionist film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. Nosferatu (which renamed Dracula and other characters in order to avoid accusations of plagiarism) set the stage for Dracula films. Its use of sharp angles and shadow were perfectly matched for the tale of the vampiric Count Orlok.
That crazy Count Orlok.
From there came Dracula, an authorized film version of Stoker's story that became an immediate smash hit. Bela Lugosi (who played Dracula onstage) would become synonymous with the character of Dracula but pay for it by being typecast for the rest of his career, despite the fact that he only appeared as Dracula twice. Nosferatu and Dracula are considered to be ground-breaking films. Nosferatu is consistently listed as one of the top foreign films of all time while Dracula enjoys appearances on various lists of the top scary movies. However this isn't to say that they hold up well to scary movies of today. While both films have their creepy moments, they're really not scary to modern film audiences. Still, their contribution to the art of film-making cannot be overlooked because of this.
The film version of Dracula got a shot in the arm in 1958 when Hammer Film Productions made The Horror of Dracula, a fairly faithful adaptation of Stoker's novel which starred Christopher Lee as the Count. The film would go on to spawn a number of sequels, some of them very good (Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Taste the Blood of Dracula) and some of them very bad (Dracula A,D, 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula). Again, these films may not be terrifying to modern audiences but they have a creepy vibe to them and even the worst of the Hammer Dracula films have interesting plots.
Christopher Lee's Dracula is arguably the best film version to date.
Since the Hammer films, there hasn't been much to write home to Mina about in the way of Dracula films. Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of Nosferatu is arguably the best Dracula film made in the last thirty five years. Unfortunately there just hasn't been much competition. The BBC produced an ambitious and faithful adaptation (Count Dracula) in 1977 and 2006 (Dracula) but as much as I like Marc Warren's work as an actor, his 2006 interpretation of Dracula was (like Jack Palance's TV version) just a bit too different.
Marc Warren's role as Dracula was interesting to say the least.
Why the problem with bringing Dracula to TV or the silver screen? One reason is that I don't think that writers know what kind of Dracula to write. On one hand, there's the animalistic vampires of recent films such as Thirty Days of Night while at the other end of the spectrum, there's romantic vampires such as the ones in the Twilight series. Screenwriters don't know if they should portray Dracula as an animal like he was in the original Nosferatu or a more sympathetic character in the Nosferatu remake.
Believe it or not-Jack Palance as Count Dracula.
Personally, I think that screenwriters should have a look at the original source. Dracula was an evil creature, not a romantic figure. While he certainly exuded sexiness and could be charming, this was part of his façade, much like that of some serial killers (which Dracula certainly is). The Hammer films captured the essence of the Stoker Dracula. Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula was aristocratic to be sure but he was downright evil.
Bram Stoker's Dracula. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Hollywood has yet to find a version of Dracula that really clicks for me. Apparently it hasn't found one to connect with a good number of filmgoers given the failures of Dracula films after Bram Stoker's Dracula. Dracula is a strong character, he only lacks someone who has the vision to bring him to a modern audience.