A big part of the popularity of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is the knock-on effect from the popularity of some of its film adaptations. These films were able to enhance the experience of the novel by dramatizing in detail its actions, and providing embellishments where necessary. Great performances and costumes, as well as refreshing additions to the plot, helped enhance this experience.
F.W Mumau’s ‘Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror‘
Nosferatu is notably the first vampire film production, and given the outsized cultural stature of Stoker’s ‘Dracula‘ in the genre, it was not surprising that the first vampire film was an adaptation of Stoker’s work. The Silent and Black and White film saw wide-ranging changes to the characters’ names and location due to a failure to secure rights to film the novel. Count Dracula becomes ‘Count Orlok’ and the home country of the protagonists becomes Germany rather than England. The novel’s setting is dragged farther back to 1838 rather than the 1890s as was in the novel.
These changes were not enough to satisfy Stoker’s Estate as they still saw too many similarities to consider the film as essentially an unauthorized adaptation of the novel. As a result, they were able to successfully sue for copyright infringement, leading to a court order for all copies of the film to be destroyed. However, some copies have been able to survive, although they are generally of poor quality.
The defining feature of Mumau’s adaptation is how scary it made Count Dracula. While Dracula shifts between being a repellant monster and an attractive gentleman throughout Stoker’s work, Nosferatu retains only the scariest physical appearance possible. The character was played by Max Schreck who embodied a rodent-like Vampire with pointy ears, a bald head, and extremely long nails. His appearances are barely human and his movements on the screen are creepy.
Tod Browning’s ‘Dracula‘
In 1931, Tod Browning directed a Black and White film which was the first licensed adaptation of Stoker’s “Dracula”. The film starred Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Lugosi had earlier portrayed Dracula as a stage version in New York. This film is remarkable for Bela Lugosi’s performance as Dracula, which helped establish the character as a popular cultural icon. Lugosi’s thick Hungarian accent and aristocratic black cape came to be associated with Dracula in popular culture for decades to come.
Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘
In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola directed a big-budgeted adaptation of ‘Dracula‘ starring the likes of Gary Oldman and Keanu Reeves. It took several departures from the original ‘Dracula‘ story by Bram Stoker. The film provided a backstory for Dracula the character by linking him explicitly to the infamous Wallachian ruler, Vlad the Impaler.
It departed radically from Stoker’s work again by having Mina be a reincarnation of Dracula’s wife before he became a Vampire. Featuring an ill-fated love story between Dracula, portrayed by Gary Oldman, and Mina, who is played by Winona Ryder, It presents Dracula as a simultaneously seductive and villainous entity that you both root for and get scared of.
In the film’s ending, Mina prevents the men from killing Dracula so that she could do it herself at his request. The film attempted to make Dracula a more relatable and sympathetic character implying that he had only turned into a vampire and done his evil deeds because of the tragic loss of his wife.
Terrence Fischer’s ‘The Horror of Dracula’ (1957)
This 1957 adoption of Stoker’s novel is a classic of the horror genre and one of the better-done ‘Dracula‘ adaptations over the years. Like Stoker’s novel, it starts with Jonathan Harker’s visit to Count Dracula’s castle, although this time around he arrives as a vampire hunter, intent on destroying Dracula, although he poses as an applicant for the librarian position at the Castle. Harker’s plans are foiled by Dracula, and it eventually falls onto the more knowledgeable and resourceful Van Helsing, together with Arthur Holmwood, to kill the Vampire.
Dracula is a menace who is able to turn the likes of Harker and Lucy into vampires. His desire to transform Mina into not just a vampire, but also his bride, is ultimately foiled by Van Helsing who is able to get the count to stay out long enough by sunrise. Directed by Terence Fischer and written by Jimmy Sangster, it is the first of Great Britain’s Hammer Studios’ vampire films. The film is regarded as one of the best films out in Britain, as a 2017 poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers, and critics for Time Out magazine attest.
Terrence Fischer’s ‘Dracula-Prince of Darkness‘ (1965).
‘Dracula–Prince of Darkness’ is a 1965 horror film directed by Terence Fischer. The plot follows a group of Englishmen who were stranded in a remote castle housing the remains of Dracula. When an overzealous disciple of the Count resurrects him by pouring the blood of his ashes, the stage is set for a haunting and terrifying period where a rather one-dimensional Dracula embarks on a bloodlust. The film is highly lauded and regarded as a true gem of vampire cinema.
This film sees the vampire stripped of any charm and pretensions of gentlemanliness as he focuses strictly on satisfying his lust for blood. Dracula’s great nemesis here is no longer Van Helsing, but rather a Father Sandor, who stalks the vampire to his castle and destroys him.
Who did the first stage adaptation of Stoker’s ‘Dracula?‘
Stoker himself arranged a slap-dash theatrical performance of his book some days after its publication at the Lyceum theatre which he was managing. He did this to secure theatrical rights to the book.
What is the most iconic Dracula portrayal?
Bela Lugosi’s performance as Dracula in the 1931 film adaptation of Stoker’s popular vampire story has been lauded as the best to date.
How popular is the character Dracula?
Dracula is second only to Sherlock Holmes as the character with the most appearance in the film. More than 200 films have featured the character in a major role, while more than a thousand books featuring him have been written.
How did Stoker revolutionalize the Vampire?
Before Stoker, Vampires were repulsive, repellent creatures. But Stoker started the trend of imbuing vampires with an aristocratic charm and gentlemanliness.