Film Adaptations of Bram Stoker's Dracula Over The Years
The stuff of legends in Eastern Europe, vampires have become a staple of the horror film industry. From Max Schreck's Count Orloff in 1922 to Lugosi's Dracula in 1931, to Lee's unforgettable performances with Hammer studios during the 50's and 60's, the vampire has been primped, gussied up and redressed with every theatrical incarnation. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, Gary Oldman dons the fangs and cape and delivers one of the most incredible performances, the count has ever seen. Visually stunning in every detail, Dracula, tells the story of a Romanian prince who slaughtered many in the name of the church only to cradle the broken body of his wife at the conclusion of his conquests. A wife he knew would be safe because of his service to the church. Seeds of betrayal and rage bloomed and in a fit of madness brought on by the sheer pain of grief, Dracul renounced all things holy and set his sights on destroying that which he once fought zealously to protect. The twists in the story and derivations from the novel are plenteous but the overall texture of the film is pleasing to both the eyes and ears. (Higashi, 1978)
Many centuries later, Dracula sets his sights on what appears to be his deceased bride in the semblance of Lucy Westerna (Winona Ryder). Upon his arrival in Great Britain, his sole purpose is to win her hand by the manifestation of his undying love for her as opposed to controlling her mentally and forcing her to bend to his will. This is something of a new concept in Dracula lore. Instead of the general heavy villainous bloodsucker, we are presented with a conflicted soul whose heart was broken but is now mending with the anticipation of re-establishing his connection to what would prove to be a soul mate. Mind you, the story of Dracula would not be much fun if he were a meek kitten seeking out his girlfriend's attention. Bram Stoker's Dracula is full of all the tricks of the trade any good vampire film bears. (Murphy, 1979)
Ultimately, Dracula is bound by this affair of the heart and will stop at nothing to make Lucy his for all eternity. With Dr. Abraham Van Helsing on the trail and a host of newly trained vampire hunter-killers (Nod to Peter Vincent) fast on the hoof, a confrontation of incredible size is soon to take place. Visually, there is no better vampire film. Gary Oldman's performance is nothing short of inspired. There are sights in this film that have never before been attempted. If they have been put to film, they did not bear even an inkling of the panache Coppola imbued this movie with. From set design to costumes and transformations, Bram Stoker's Dracula is at the head of the pack. Not since Tim Curry's Lord of Darkness in Ridley Scott's Legend, has there been a sinister presence so captivating.
Dracula, another popular monster at the matinees, was a vampire played by Bela Lugosi and based on the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker. Vampires were the "undead" (Stoker, 1997) who had great power on the one hand, but on the other hand were subject to very simple detection and elimination. Vampires, being susceptible to sunlight, can only move about after sunset. During the day, they sleep in coffins which must contain dirt from their native land. They cast no reflection in a mirror and their power is greatly diminished by a cross. They are generally charming, attractive and are constantly recruiting others with promises of eternal life. The only way they can exist is by sucking the blood of the living. (Hogan, 1986)
Sexual decadence permeated 1994's Interview with the Vampire. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt wore dandy duds, dwelled in great houses in New Orleans and Paris, and cavorted their way from the 18th century to the present day. As the ravishingly libidinous Lestat, Cruise seduced most everyone along the way, but Pitt's Louis fought his vampire nature. When at last he drank the blood of a young girl, a gorgeous -- but lethal -- family was born. (Hogan, 1986)
Dracula is a lot like Barbie. On film, there have been so many variations, incarnations and transformations - including the unauthorized clone, "Nosferatu," and other assorted generic vampire flicks - that it is a bit overwhelming. One of the earliest films was George Melies' French-made vampire movie, "La Manoir du Diable" ("The Haunted Castle"), released in 1896. It is safe to say that vampires in movies have been around about as long as movies themselves, and of all the bloodsuckers to stalk through films, Dracula remains the one with the highest - and most frequent - visibility.
Bela Lugosi: is the actor most closely associated with the role, having created the role in a 1927 Broadway production and then in the 1931 Universal/Tod Browning film version (after Lon Chaney, the studio's original choice, had died). Surprisingly, Lugosi played the role only twice. An excellent actor, Christopher Lee had a more successful career as Dracula than Lugosi, playing the role in nine films and bringing a disturbing sexuality to the part. The classically trained stage actor, Frank Langella had his greatest personal success as Dracula on Broadway in 1977 and in the 1979 Universal/John Badham film version, both of which stressed the superstar sex appeal of the night-crawling character.
The personification of a female sexual threat to the nuclear family was firmly established in the early silent cinema in the guise of Theda Bara. Her portrayal of "The Vampire," the sensuous siren who entices "The Husband" (John Schuyler) in the highly allegorical A Fool There Was (1915), left an indelible mark on her career and the future of silent cinema as the persona of "The Vamp" was created. Though called "The Vampire," Bara's character was far from supernatural but in her own words, "a neurotic woman gone mad" (Higashi, 60). The aggressive sexuality of Bara's neurotic "vamp" represented a serious threat to the social stability of the family unit, yet in much of the early silent cinema, the appearance of a sexual threat of supernatural or neurotic origin is not represented solely as a danger to the family unit, but more importantly as a threat to male sexual power and authority. The manifestation of this type of threat, and society's reaction to it, can be clearly seen in the first screen adaptions of Bram Stoker's F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) illustrates challenges to patriarchal sexual authority from horrifying "others" who must be eradicated in order to preserve the restrictive codes of sexual purity.
Murnau's vampire Orlock is a sexual variation of the "other" which John Stevenson aptly calls "a convenient metaphor to describe the undeniable tendency to separate 'us' from 'them'" (140). The physical characteristics are grotesque and the sexual interests voyeuristic and perverse, yet according to Stevenson, the greatest threat Orlock represents to male sexuality is the fact that Orlock, is a "man who will take other men's women away and make them his own" (144). David Hogan points out that the idea of these "others" having sexual "designs on a lady is doubly repellent, sexually and culturally" to the invariably Anglo heroes who regard women as "the rightful property of worthy men," namely themselves. Hogan concludes that the sexuality of these "others" "is not primarily feared because of the damage it may do to the hapless woman involved, but because it is an affront to male sexuality" (93). This affront to male sexuality is in reality an attack on the patriarchal sexual codes which reinforce male sexual authority and can only be resolved by the violent removal of the offending "other" and a return to the status quo.
F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922), presents a great challenge to male sexual authority. In this first film adaption of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the vampire Orlock (Max Schreck) illustrates an inhuman sexuality which is both repellent and powerfully seductive. Stevenson's conclusion that "the ironic thing about vampire sexuality is that for all its overt peculiarity, it is in many ways like human sexuality" (142), seems applicable considering that although Orlock's sexual presence is radically different from that of the young real estate agent Hutter (Gustav van Wangenheim), their sexual desires are both directed by their wish to possess Ellen (Greta Schroeder), Hutter as a husband, Orlock as a lover, but both as a master.
Similar to the characterization of the Phantom, Murnau maximizes the physical difference between Orlock and his human counterparts. Arthur Lenning illustrates that "Murnau does not draw upon Stoker's rather full characterization of the vampire, but depersonalizes him so that he is less of an individual and more of a type. Nosferatu is more of an it than a he" (quoted in Murphy, 6). Orlock's pointed ears, claw-like hands, and jutting fangs establish him as a beast-like variant of the "sexual other" whom Hogan calls "coldly repellent almost insectoid in appearance" (138). When compared…