Bren Murphy takes a look at five of the horror icon's portrayals in cinema and television.
This month, Dublin celebrates the legacy of Dracula with the Bram Stoker Festival. But what about Dracula on-screen? Who is the most accurate? Who was the most influential? Let’s look at some of the most memorable portrayals of Dracula on screen.
Bela Lugosi – Dracula (1931)
Tod Browning’s Dracula was not based on the novel, but a successful theatrical version. In both the film and play, Hungarian heartthrob Bela Lugosi took on the title role, establishing many tropes of character - the black suit, the slick black hair, the high collar and of course, dat thick eastern European accent. Unlike the book, Dracula is always the slick debonair gentleman and never the withered creature who first meets Jonathan Harker in the novel.
Max Shreck – Nosferatu (1922)
Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s stunning silent film about a bloodsucker named Count Orlock, has a story remarkably similar to Dracula - causing Stoker’s widow to sue and order all the prints destroyed. Thankfully one print survived because this film is genuinely a milestone in horror cinema. It also introduced the idea that Dracula can be killed by sunlight, (nope, that was never in the book)
Christopher Lee – Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) (1958)
Count Orlock may have had those pointy incisors but it was Christopher Lee who added the iconic fangs - previous Draculas really had to chew at their victim’s neck to get a good flow of blood going, so this is a handy little timesaver.
Dracula is a real nasty piece of work here ramping up what Lugosi had previously established to eleven, a brutal and aggressive technicolour Dracula.
Gary Oldman – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Orson Welles once lamented that nobody would ever show the full evil that is Dracula, who is known to carry sacks of snatched newborn babies. That was until Francis Ford Coppola’s faithful take mirrors the epistolary style of the novel and all the characters are in their place. Aside from adding a (perhaps) ill-advised love story, this is truly Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He is introduced as a withered slivery creature (and yes, a baby-snatcher) at first, Gary Oldman is extremely particularly convincing as he glides around followed by a shadow with a mind of its own. This film reintroduced the notion from the novel that Dracula is not killed by sunlight, he just goes into a low power mode, like a dishwasher.
Claes Bang – Dracula (2020)
This post-modern BBC mini-series explores a Dracula so surrounded by legend and myth, he barely even knows what's fact and what’s fiction himself. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s adaptation starts off in familiar territory before it veers off course in some really interesting ways. The second instalment concentrates entirely on Dracula’s journey to England on the Demeter, a fantastic portion of the book that reads like a 19th century version of Alien and is rarely portrayed on-screen. Claes Bang is truly a fantastic Dracula, who absorbs the traits of his victims, winding up as a smug scenery chewing "geezer" Dracula who wouldn’t feel too out of place in EastEnders.