Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Count-ing to Five

It's no secret to anyone who reads my work or follows this blog that I'm a big fan of vampires. I've blogged about them before, written a vampire novel, 100,000 Midnights, which will be the first in a series, and long been addicted to vampire novels, movies, etc.

Of course, one of my favorite characters in fiction, and certainly my favorite in the vampire genre, is Dracula, created by Bram Stoker for his novel of the same name. Stoker's book is one of my favorite novels and I've read it many times and will probably find an excuse to read it again soon.

But what about other depictions of Dracula? The count has appeared in hundreds of other novels, movies, and comics over the years. So I was thinking it might be fun to try to narrow down all those post-Stoker Dracula appearances to my favorites. I've picked the number 5 for this little exercise, since any more would make for too long a blog post! Having whittled the candidates down like Van Helsing preparing a stake, here is my list of my five favorite Draculas outside the original novel. I look forward to hearing what others think, whether they agree or disagree with me.

5. DRACULA (1931 film)
I couldn't possibly leave Bela Lugosi off the list, could I? For many people, he's the first image that comes to mind when they hear the name "Dracula!" It's a good movie, even if it seems tame compared to many of the later Dracula films. Lugosi was an excellent actor who often doesn't get enough credit. The film's story strays very far from Stoker's novel, but it's still entertaining and has the classic charm of those glorious old Universal horror movies. I recently viewed the movie with the Phillip Glass score that was added to certain editions of the DVD not long ago. The new music made it seem like a different film and added something refreshingly eerie to a movie I'd watched a dozen times before. I'd recommend it with the Glass music or in its original version.

4. NOSFERATU (1922 silent film)
This German horror film, directed by FW Murnau and featuring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlock is, like the Lugosi version, loosely based on Stoker's novel. Nosferatu is one of the strangest, creepiest things ever put on film. It pulls you in and drags you through a black and white nightmare. In my opinion, the best way to watch this movie is late at night with the sound turned off. No music I've heard added to the film does it justice, but silence in the background adds to the eeriness of the experience.

3. HORROR OF DRACULA (1958 movie)
The first in the classic Hammer Productions series of Dracula movies, this is the best. Christopher Lee as Dracula, the great Peter Cushing (possibly my favorite actor ever) as Van Helsing, this is a good one. There's a certain atmosphere and look that was specific to the Hammer horror movies and this is perhaps the best example. Like the last two movies I mentioned, this one goes way off track from being a real adaptation of the novel it was supposedly based on, but that doesn't make it any less worth watching.

2. COUNT DRACULA (1977 TV movie)
In 1977, British television aired this two and a half hour adaptation of Stoker's novel and this time it really was an adaptation! I saw this for the first time about a year ago and was completely blown away! This is Stoker's novel brought to bloody, creepy life. Louis Jourdan (who deserves a villain of the century award for playing not only Dracula, but a Bond villain and a murderer matching wits with Lt. Columbo) plays Dracula and does an admirable job. Van Helsing is played by Frank Finley.
The movie made a few minor changes from the novel. Lucy and Mina are sisters instead of friends, Quincey and Arthur are combined into one character, and the final fight sequence is slightly altered (but I'm not saying how, in case you haven't seen it yet). Other than that, this version hits all the stakes on the head and is, finally, a very good adaptation of the book. The special effects, despite the limitations of 70s TV, are chilling and work well because they don't try to go too far.
I highly recommend this one!

1. TOMB OF DRACULA (Marvel Comics, 1972-1979)
This may surprise some people, but my Number One choice here is not a movie but a comic book series. This is also not an adaptation (tight or loose) of Bram Stoker's novel, but a continuation of the story of Dracula.
Running 70 issues, this series was brilliant from start to finish. Drawn for its entire run by Gene Colan, whose art style was perfect for the subject matter, and written, except for the first few issues, by Marv Wolfman (an appropriate name for a writer of horror comics), it began with Dracula's resurrection in the modern world and followed the count's activities, as well as the adventures of a group of vampire hunters pursuing him.
Interestingly, Gene Colan based the look of his Dracula on actor Jack Palance before Palance actually played the count in a 1973 movie!
The series is available in inexpensive reprint form as part of Marvel's Essentials series of books. Every fan of Dracula, even if not normally a comics enthusiast, owes it to him or herself to read Tomb of Dracula.    

So that's my countdown of favorite post-Stoker Dracula depictions. Of course, Dracula is just the tip of the vampire iceberg. I've enjoyed other vampires in many books, movies, and TV series, but that's a subject for another blog.
If you have any strong opinions on my choices, good or bad, I'd love to hear them.

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