John Byrne talks to author and movie critic Kim Newman, who is curator of Stoker on the Square, a series of Dracula-related films that will be shown at Dublin’s Meeting House Square as part of the capital’s upcoming Bram Stoker Festival.
Kim Newman is a well-known and respected author and movie critic who has won the Bram Stoker, National Horror Guild, British Fantasy and British Science Fiction Awards and been nominated for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. His new novel, Johnny Alucard, is the long-awaited next instalment in his award-winning Anno Dracula series. No better man to curate a series of films for the Bram Stoker Festival, which takes place in Dublin over the October Bank Holiday weekend.
John Byrne: So, Kim - what about Bram Stoker, Dracula and all of that? It’s basically become an industry . . .
Kim Newman: Obviously Dracula displaces a lot of cultural weight, which is to say that there are lots and lots of books and films - all springing from this one original novel. It wasn't a huge success in his lifetime and picked up steam when it started being done as a film or a play, and became really popular. The book’s not been out of print since.
What’s the attraction?
There is so much in Dracula. We wouldn't still be doing so much books and films if there wasn't so much there in the original. And one of the reasons why Dracula has endured is the original novel still feels sketchy and incomplete.
There are so many takes on Dracula and certainly the movies I've picked are a real range from x-rated, sexy violence to stuff for kids. Dracula is one of those figures - like, I suppose, Sherlock Holmes, the Frankenstein monster and the Three Musketeers - who’s gone beyond whatever they started out as, and belong to the world.
Several actors are associated with the role on-screen. Who’s your favourite?
I think Christopher Lee’s a better actor and gives a better performance but Bela Lugosi was the first. Actually, Max Schreck did it first, in Nosferatu, and I think he still has the best look for Dracula. Bela Lugosi, because it was the first talkie, he got the voice. It’s interesting that a film from 1931 has had such resonance. One of the other films we’re showing, Hotel Transylvania, was only made last year and Adam Sandler - who plays Dracula in that - impersonates Bela Lugosi. So 80 years on, that’s still Dracula’s voice. When people want a Dracula, his voice is what they hear. It’s remarkable.
What first attracted you to Dracula – a film, a book or what?
I saw the Lugosi film when I was 11 and it kind of directed the rest of my life. Dracula became a big thing in my life - but so did horror and monsters. I started out as a fan of that, but that led me to read the books and it made me a life-long film fan. I t made me read wider. I still think it’s a good way-in for kids to culture.
I can talk about the literary tradition and all of that, but deep down, we all like monsters. And I'm glad that this event [The Bram Stoker Festival] has got a lot of fun stuff as well. There are some serious people talking about literature, and solid movies. It should be a fantastic weekend.
Stoker on the Square, a series of films curated by Kim Newman, will be screened at Meeting House Square in Dublin from October 26-28. For more information go to www.bramstokerfestival.com.
Dracula (1931) Tod Browning’s early talkie classic starring the great Bela Lugosi
The Brides of Dracula (1960) A Hammer classic starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing
Blood for Dracula (1974) Paul Morrissey’s elegant yet gruesome vampire pastiche
Dracula Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002) Guy Maddin’s ballet version is both bizarre and faithful to the novel
The Monster Squad (1987) An homage to the 1950s’ monster flicks that somehow works
Hotel Transylvania (2012) Adam Sandler hams it up Lugosi-style in this affectionate comedy