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Friday, September 9, 2011

Greatest Film Dracula?

     Maybe it's a nostalgia thing, but I've been all about Count Dracula lately. I'm not sure what started the kick, but I've recently whizzed through not only the classic novel itself, but five of the most famous film versions as well. And I've honestly enjoyed every minute of it all. I've had so much fun with the old guy lately. The character of Dracula is such a rich, iconic character anyway- you can go anywhere on the planet, mention the name, and they will immediately know exactly who you mean. Kids today seem to know who he is and why he is without ever seeing a film or reading the book. It's cool, yet kinda weird. Same with Frankenstein. They are truly iconic.
     So, I was recently asked which Dracula is my all-time favorite, and honestly, that's a difficult question. I don't think I could pick a favorite. I mean, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee were like Ronald McDonald and Big Bird to me growing up. They were icons to me at ten years old. Dracula is the most filmed character in film history, so there are certainly plenty to choose from. I chose to narrow it down to these five...


     1.  Bela Lugosi made film history with his legendary performance as the suave, sophisticated, and cultured Count Dracula. His Hungarian accent and weird speech patterns set the tone for the stereotypical "vampire" we all grew up with and came to love, and made it all believable. This is probably the most well-known of the Dracula films. Lugosi's performance was so influential that it spawned an entire series of classic monster films from UNIVERSAL studios.


     2.  Right up there with Bela Lugosi is Christopher Lee and his interpretation of the Count in the wonderfully retro Hammer films, which I love, by the way. There is something undeniably creepy about the weird Hammer films, especially the Dracula series.  I found Lee's Dracula rather menacing and scary the first time I saw it, and even remember having a couple of nightmares as a child about this particular incarnation of Dracula. HORROR OF DRACULA, released in 1958, was actually the first Dracula film to incorporate fangs, red eyes, and blood in a vampire movie, not to mention being the first Dracula to be filmed in color.
     Although greatly deviating from the original novel, many horror fans consider 1958's HORROR OF DRACULA to be the all-time best Dracula film. i wholeheartedly agree. To be fair, this outing does boast a much more brisk pace than the somewhat stodgy Universal classic, and offers lush cinematography, sets, and color. Lee would go on to star in a handful of "Dracula" films for Hammer, and while not all on the same par as the original, the first two or three are quite good. Lee also created an extremely iconic and memorable portrayal of the character.


     3.  By the late 70's, the Hammer films were long gone, and it seemed those old hoary monsters were gone for the second time, as Christopher Lee had hung up his cape for good. But you can't keep a good count down, and in 1977, the BBC brought Dracula back as a mini-series. For many years considered the most faithful and accurate version of the Stoker novel, it's developed quite a fervent fan following.  And for good reason. I had never experienced it until recently (thank you Netflix...), and I'm pleased to report that I found it most excellent. I enjoyed every single minute of this version.

      Louis Jordan breathed new life into the role, and delivers a fine and eerie performance. I personally think if you're a fan of the book, this may be the version for you. This is a first-rate production, and deserves a spot in every serious Dracula collection. There are some moments of true horror in this Dracula film- some of the spookiest scenes I've ever seen in any Dracula film, for that matter. It's got a very unsettling and menacing tone running throughout the film, and some damn creepy music to boot.

                                         FRANK LANGELLA

     4.  Just two years after the lush BBC production of Dracula, Hollywood decided to follow suit and offer up its own version. Frank Langella inherited the role after perfecting it on Broadway first, and although he plays the role quite well, there's just something off about this version. And honestly, maybe I just need to watch it again. Because I don't remember liking it much at all when I first saw it. For those who thought Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA strayed from the novel, wait til you get a load of this one. Transylvania isn't even in this one, for starters!  The whole thing takes place in England. Not that I'm carping about it being faithful to the book, either. Most film adaptions of books differ greatly anyway. I just found this version somewhat cheesy and I just couldn't get into it.
      Dracula was made much more romantic and sexy this time around, which turned many hardcore fans off. Langella, a great actor, does comes across as extremely classy and debonair. But he refused to wear fangs or special contact lenses- he wanted to make Dracula, um, more human in his portrayal... Frank, that's fine and all, but the character you're playing has been dead for hundreds of years and drinks human blood. NEWSFLASH- he's NOT human! Meh.

                                     GARY OLDMAN    

     5.  Fans were beginning to think that Dracula was dead once and for all by 1990. However, Francis Ford Coppola decided it was time yet again to resurrect the count and unleashed his over-the-top BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA in '92. Gary Oldman definitely delivers one of the most unusual portrayals of the Count, and when this movie came out I loved it.  A lot.  But then, something funny happened.  I found myself in the mood for it one night recently and popped it in, and found to my disappointment, that I just couldn't get into it.  I tried to watch it again another time- and the same thing happened.  My opinion of Coppola's take on Dracula has done a complete turn-around.
     Yes, it's a gorgeous film to look at.  Sure. The special effects, the editing, the costumes, all of it is spectacular.  Coppola chose to sidestep the classic vampire trappings and go for a more artistic approach to the material.  But I just found myself bored with it all...  The words overblown and bloated came to mind. And what's with that title? A bit deceiving, if you ask me. If you're going to call a movie "BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA", why would you drastically change crucial parts of the story?  In the book, there was never any love between Dracula and Mina. "Dracula" was never meant to be a romance.  The casting seems a bit off as well- Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder? Nothing against them as actors either- but for a Dracula film?  Oldman is the best thing in the movie, and definitely makes the role his own- although Anthony Hopkins devours any bit of scenery he can get his hands on.  Even though this film is visually stunning,and there are some great scenes sprinkled throughout,  it now seems nothing more than a jumbled, tedious mess. I would have to say the score is excellent, though.

So, which Dracula is your favorite?


Anonymous said...

Christopher Lee is my favorite Dracula. Tall, aristocratic, sensual, athletic....very menacing, as Dracula should be. Cheers to the others, but Lee IS Dracula.

J ROCK said...

I agree with you. Lee is very menacing and creepy.

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