Bela Lugosi portrays the fabled count in the classic 1931 film Dracula . Universal Pictures AP
Bela Lugosi portrays the fabled count in the classic 1931 film Dracula . Universal Pictures AP

Arts & Culture

Take a closer look at ‘Dracula’ — if you dare

By Brett Weiss

Special to the Star-Telegram

October 13, 2015 12:47 PM

Although he’s been shot, impaled, burned, beheaded and otherwise killed off many times, the daylight-dreading Count Dracula remains alive and well, thanks to our morbid obsession with things that go bite in the night.

Before you go see Texas Ballet Theater’s version of Dracula at Bass Hall this weekend — and before little bloodsuckers start ringing your doorbell on Halloween — brush up on your knowledge of Count Dracula, one of the most famous fictional characters in the history of popular culture.

Just be sure to have some garlic and a few crosses handy in case you feel a nibbling at your neck.

Dracula in print

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Irish author Bram Stoker unleashed his fang-tastic creation on an unsuspecting world in 1897 with the release of Dracula, a book that has never been out of print and has inspired more film and stage adaptations than any other novel.

Drawing inspiration from the centuries-old vampire myth, and from ruthless 15th-century Wallachian Prince Vlad III, “the Impaler,” Dracula tells of a Transylvanian count who travels to London, pierces the necks of his victims with his fangs to drink their blood and is pursued by a group of Victorians, including his real estate agent, Jonathan Harker. A fearsome, preternaturally strong creature, Dracula mesmerizes his victims with hypnosis and can morph into a bat, a dog, a wolf and fog.

In V is for Vampire (1996, Plume), horror expert David J. Skal says Stoker’s Dracula is an ugly creature who bypassed the “romantic, Byronic image of the vampire that dominated the page and stage in the early part of the 19th century” in favor of the “Darwinian superman who blurs distinctions between humans and animals.”

An epistolary work told in journal entries, memos, letters and newspaper articles, Dracula influenced countless other novels, including Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape (first released in 1975), which is told from The Count’s point of view, Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula (1992), C. Dean Anderson’s I Am Dracula (1993), Elaine Bergstrom’s Mina: The Dracula Story Continues (2000), Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (2005). (There’s also Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, of course, but it’s not about Dracula.)

I wondered…what would happen if Dracula came back in the 20th century, to America.

Stephen King, author of ‘Salem’s Lot’

One of the best Dracula novels to sink your teeth into is Salem’s Lot (1975) by Stephen King. Although the antagonist is called a “master vampire” instead of Count Dracula, the book is clearly a modern, small-town take on Stoker’s novel, as King, a former schoolteacher, states on his website: “One of my high school classes was Fantasy and Science Fiction, and one of the novels I taught was Dracula. I was surprised at how vital it had remained over the years; the kids liked it, and I liked it, too. One night…I wondered…what would happen if Dracula came back in the 20th century, to America.”

Dracula on the big screen

Bram Stoker’s widow, citing copyright violation, successfully sued to have ‘Nosferatu’ destroyed.

F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), one of the earliest and best Dracula adaptations, stars Max Schreck as Count Orlock, a hideous creature who ravages innocents in the German town of Bremen. Despite the name change (“Dracula” to “Orlock”), Bram Stoker’s widow, citing copyright violation, successfully sued to have the film destroyed. Fortunately, some prints survived, and you can even watch the creepily atmospheric film on YouTube.

Every self-respecting vampire fan has seen Universal’s Dracula (1931), directed by Tod Browning. While modern audiences may find it slow and bloodless, it remains a cinematic treasure, thanks in large part to the timeless performance of Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi.

The original 1931 Lugosi version is still one of my favorite movies. Especially the first act at Dracula’s castle.

Kerry Gammill, who edits an anthology comic book series called ‘Bela Lugosi’s Tales From the Grave’

“Lugosi is definitely my favorite movie Dracula,” says Fort Worth resident Kerry Gammill, who edits an anthology comic book series called Bela Lugosi’s Tales From the Grave. “He has an otherworldliness about him that most of the others just don’t have. The original 1931 Lugosi version is still one of my favorite movies. Especially the first act at Dracula’s castle.”

Universal, a dominant studio for horror films during the 1930s and ’40s, kept the “Dracula” franchise going with Dracula’s Daughter (1936), Son of Dracula (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

A good Dracula education is incomplete without exposure to at least some of English studio Hammer’s nine Dracula films, most notably the first, Horror of Dracula (1958), starring the recently deceased Christopher Lee, who played the Count many times.

Dracula devotees should also see The Return of Dracula (1958), Blacula (1972), Dracula (1979), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), The Monster Squad (1987) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), which adheres to the original novel more closely than any other American film. Younger fans will enjoy Mad Monster Party (1967) and Hotel Transylvania (2012).

Dracula on the small screen

Dracula has appeared on countless TV shows, ranging from ‘Gilligan’s Island’ to ‘Superboy’ to ‘Supernatural’ to ‘Doctor Who.’

Dracula has appeared on countless TV shows, too, ranging from Gilligan’s Island to Superboy to Supernatural to Doctor Who. In the fifth-season premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) battles the Count (Rudolf Martin) in “Buffy vs. Dracula,” in which Buffy’s pal Xander (Nicholas Brendon) falls under the thrall of the Dark Prince (similar to Renfield in Stoker’s novel).

In 1990, Count Dracula got his own show, Dracula: The Series, but it only lasted one season. In the made-for-TV movie department, there are two essential films: Dracula (1973), featuring Jack Palance in the title role, and the BBC’s Count Dracula (1977), starring Louis Jourdan as the undead bloodsucker.

Perhaps the most endearing Dracula-style character on television is that of Grandpa from The Munsters, followed closely by The Count from Sesame Street. These kid-friendly creatures are best viewed when accompanied by a heaping bowl of the sugary sweet cereal Count Chocula, which General Mills introduced in 1971.

Battle Dracula

If you want a more interactive experience with Dracula on your television screen, check out some of the better video games in the long-running “Castlevania” series. We recommend Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse (Nintendo NES), Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Nintendo DS), Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation) and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360).