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A Bloody Batch: Draculas We Have Known

November 15, 1992|Michael Wilmington

Through the years, there have been many film Draculas. Here are some of the best, most memorable and silliest. . .

Nosferatu (1922). Still the greatest movie ever derived from "Dracula," F.W. Murnau's free adaptation--written by Henrik Galeen ("The Golem")--shifts the locale to Bremen, renames the characters (Dracula is Orlok, Harker is Hutter), and adds a horrific plague as the climax. It's dreamy, spectral, eerily poetic--and, as Count Orlok, pale, skeletal Max Schreck (the name means "Shriek") is the most terrifying of movie vampires.

Dracula (1931). "Nosferatu" was better, but this is the version that passed into pop legend. The reason: Bela Lugosi's sinister, full-bodied performance. Tod Browning's direction, early-talkie primitive, still has a wonderfully morbid, nightmarish quality. And Dwight Frye's Renfield, laughing like a drugged banshee, is as unforgettable as Lugosi.

Dracula's Daughter (1936). Mid-range sequel, with Gloria Holden as vampiress Zaleska and Edward Van Sloan back as Van Helsing. It was based on "Dracula's Guest," a fragment cut from Stoker's novel and published as a short story.

Son of Dracula (1943). Dracula's other offspring turns up in Louisiana, whimsically calling himself "Count Alucard" and played by the notably unsuave Lon Chaney Jr. (whose father had been first choice for Lugosi's '31 role). Silly, but stylishly directed by Robert Siodmak.

House of Dracula (1945). Both Dracula, now played by hungrier-looking John Carradine, and the Wolf Man try to go straight, but the Count, who has eyes for a mad doctor's nurse, is only kidding us. Erle Kenton's movie was intended to finish off all the monsters for good, but . . . Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). By the late '40s, Universal had revamped Dracula so many times, he'd become something of a joke. Bela Lugosi proved willing to join the fun, along with the studio's cross-talking clown stars, in Charles Barton's terrific comedy about brain-switching in a wax museum. Also around: Chaney as the Wolf man, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster, Vincent Price as the Invisible Man. (Boris Karloff caught up with the pair a year later.)

Horror of Dracula (1958). Of all the Hammer Studio riffs on Dracula, with Christopher Lee as a more elegant and Anglicized Count, and Peter Cushing as a lean, mean Van Helsing, this is the best--also the only one that sticks partly to the book. Directed by the poor man's Roman Polanski, Terence Fisher.

Dracula Has Risen From His Grave (1968). You just can't keep the Count in his coffin. Lee pops up again, takes over a church and hypnotizes a priest into scaring up fresh blood. Directed by Freddie Francis; maybe the spookiest of the Hammers.

Dracula (1973). A posh, good-looking TV version, directed by Dan ("Dark Shadows") Curtis, which, once again, tries to innovate by going back to Stoker. Jack Palance plays Dracula--and he's one vampire you really don't want to mess with.

Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974). Lots of blood in an otherwise low-key version, directed by Warhol Factory protegee Paul Morrisey and starring Udo Kier as a young, effete Count; his accent is odder than Lugosi's.

Old Dracula (1975). Dracula, fallen on hard times, rents out his castle to Playboy magazine and then bothers the bunnies. Well, David Niven had to do something to keep busy. Directed by Clive ("What's New, Pussycat?") Donner.

Dracula and Son (1976). From Eduard Molinaro, who later made "La Cage aux Folles": Dracula (once again, Lee) is banished from Transylvania by the Reds and wins horror-movie stardom in England. Blood will tell: His son winds up in Paris (where he can critique the films).

Dracula's Dog (1978). We're nearing the nadir. Dracula's pet dog Zoltan, back from the dead and yapping for blood, goes on a neck-nipping rampage across America, pursued by Transylvanian Inspector Jose Ferrer.

Dracula (1979). The Balderston-Deane play, with sets by illustrator Edward Gorey, was a hit all over again on Broadway, with Frank Langella as the ultimate Byronic aristocrat: the slickest and prettiest of all the Dracs. So, Langella was put in a movie and Sir Laurence Olivier, in the embarrassing part of his career, was hired as Van Helsing. Under John Badham's hand, another talky bloodfest resulted.

Nosferatu (1978). A remake of the Murnau classic, shot in Delft, which makes the story both more concrete--rats swarm in the square--and more mysterious. Werner Herzog tries to catch the poetic mood of German silent cinema and often succeeds; the cast includes Isabelle Adjani and Klaus Kinski (the only actor who's played, superbly, both Dracula and Renfield).

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