October means horror movies, for me and for so many. This year I have been participating in a month long horror movie marathon in which the theme is Creature Features, and I have watched more Dracula movies this month than in my entire life. Everything from the classics like “Nosferatu” with Max Schreck and Lugosi’s 1931 “Dracula” to more modern fare like Wes Craven’s “Dracula 2000”.
Dracula is such an iconic character with so many legendary actors who have played him onscreen. I have come to appreciate each one for different reasons, but as everyone else does, I have my favorites.
“Nosferatu” (1929) – This black and white silent film set the standard by which all other Dracula films are measured. Max Schreck’s Nosferatu is lingering, creepy, and at times feels like a Peeping Tom. The nature of the film, with Nosferatu stalking his prey, feels at times more like a found footage movie that could have actually happened than fiction. He is remarkable and the film still holds its own today. Max Schreck’s performance is so eerie, that he was the basis of the film “Shadow of the Vampire” from 2000 starring Willem Dafoe, in which Schreck’s method acting takes on new levels on the set. “Nosferatu” is highly recommended for film geeks, vampire lovers, and cinemaphiles. It’s classic cinema at its best. Currently streaming on Netflix.
“Dracula” (1931) – Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is considered by many to be the penultimate version of the character. After all, he played the character for Universal’s classic monster movies and therefore is the first Dracula that everyone thinks of. Unfortunately though, he comes across as more camp than creep, with the lighting that enhances his over-exaggerated eyes. He stands menacingly though, but that’s about it. Though Lugosi’s Dracula is legend, he’s more fun than frightening. Currently streaming on Netflix.
“The Horror of Dracula” (1958) – The resurrection of Dracula by Hammer Films had Christopher Lee in the role of the iconic character. Christopher Lee’s Dracula is tall, powerful, strong, and fear-inducing. The bright red blood drips off his fangs, and one swipe of his arm sends foes flying across the room. When other Draculas might seem weak, Lee’s Dracula is just the opposite. He’s a pure joy to watch onscreen, and continued the role for Hammer Films in ten different Dracula movies. Available on DVD.
“Dracula” (1979) – One of the lesser seen Dracula films stars Frank Langella as the titular character. Langella’s Dracula is mysterious and romantic, taking the time to seduce Lucy instead of forcefully taking her. This film is based on the stage play rather than Bram Stoker’s novel, in which Langella received a Tony nomination for his performance of Dracula on Broadway. Watching a sensitive Dracula may not seem ideal, but Langella is captivating. The art direction in this film is mesmerizing, and the score by the legendary John Williams is fantastic. This version of Dracula can now be found on DVD, and I encourage you to seek it out.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) – Francis Ford Coppola directed the ultimate tribute to Bram Stoker’s novel with this instant classic starring Gary Oldman as Dracula. Every aspect of the story is here, and fleshed out in detail. Oldman’s Dracula is terrifying in his ability to change with the environment and people around him. One minute he is old and ugly, the next he’s shapeshifted into a wolf, and when he’s courting Mina, he is young and handsome. This movie came out when I was in junior high, and the scene that stuck out the most to me then is still the scene that scares me the most: when Dracula lures Lucy out into the maze garden and sexually attacks her on a stone alter. In this scene, he is a gruesome wolf/human hybrid and it’s unfathomable why Lucy wold be attracted to him, let alone enjoy herself as she appears to. Even after Mina marries Jonathan Harker, his powerful abilities lead her to cheat on her husband. A concept that my junior high self just couldn’t understand. Oldman embodies the seductiveness, scariness, and evil-ness of the character in a way that none have. As much as I would love to say one of the classic actors are my favorite, I have to go with Oldman. His performance is fearless, ruthless, and perfect. Available on DVD.
“Dracula 2000” (2000) – This version of Dracula is often overlooked, but hear me out. It provides a very cool backstory for the centuries old villian, one that explains Dracula’s aversion to silver, crucifixes, and daylight. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen the movie yet. The movie also features a really fun cast, including a very young Gerard Butler as Dracula. The only downside to his shaggy, modern look is that he resembles Jasper from “Twilight”, but other than that, he’s great. He’s commanding without taking the role too seriously, handsome, and fun to watch. The rest of the film is a hoot too, with generous amounts of gore and several gross out moments. Available streaming on Netflix.
This Halloween night, why not consider watching a film about one of the first horror icons, Dracula? Whatever movie mood you happen to be in, there’s a Dracula film to fit. Which is your favorite?