Vampires are one of the single most prolific monsters in all of cinema. There have been many variations on vampires, from tortured romantics to grotesque monsters. But no matter what the version is popular at any given time, there is one vampire who stands above the rest: Count Dracula. Bram Stoker's landmark novel and titular character have been the basis for over 200 films. Not all of those films have been winners, but there are ones to enjoy this Halloween.
When most people think about Dracula they're thinking about Bela Lugosi. Between his regal apparel and unsettling -- and completely legitimate -- accent, he became the definitive version of the character in the minds of most audiences.
Lugosi actually had some trouble securing the role despite earning great praise for playing the part on Broadway for years. His quiet intensity and predatory gaze burned its way into the collective consciousness and hasn't left since. The dark, gothic qualities of the film give Lugosi the perfect stage on which to perform. Another highlight Dwight Frye's marvelously over the top performance as the count's minion, Renfield.
This film is considered to be one of the classic anime horror pictures to come out of Japanese animation. It's a Dracula story in a roundabout fashion, set in the distant future where vampires no longer hide in the shadows but instead lord over humans as the new aristocracy. Humans don't usually care for this, and if they can scrape together enough money they may hire a vampire hunter; the mysterious D is the best. He is pitted against the powerful Count Magnus Lee, who is very much in the Dracula vein. Dracula also factors into the story in other unexpected ways by the conclusion of this action-horror hybrid.
This silent film from German expressionist master F.W. Murnau was actually the first adaptation of Bram Stoker's book. However, it was an unauthorized version since the rights were not secured. Various superficial changes were made to the locations and names but it's still very clearly the story of "Dracula."
What remains most iconic about this film is the unique look of actor Max Shreck playing Count Orlock. Unlike the more suave and upper-class airs given to the character in later films, this version is simply monstrous, with a bald head, elongated ears, and massive fangs.
This film was one of the first features of Roman Polanski, who directed, wrote, and starred in the horror-comedy. While the name "Dracula" isn't used for the vampire played by Ferdy Mayne, the character is still clearly the template being used. The count isn't the butt of the jokes, but the heroes most definitely are. Despite the title, the pair of vampire hunters who are meant to be the heroes spend most of their time running away or generally screwing things up. It borders on intentional camp but it's a well-realized blend of humor and classic gothic horror
While Lugosi remains the most recognized Dracula, there is an entire generation of horror fans for whom Dracula was embodied by Christopher Lee. Lee truly reveled in the character's wickedness, and his 6'5" stature made him the most physically intimidating actor to take on the role. Lee would continue to portray Dracula multiple times for Hammer Films, though the Count was frequently underused in those subsequent efforts. This also marked one of Lee's many pairings with Peter Cushing, who played Dracula's nemesis, Van Helsing.
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