In my weekly hunt for new movies around town earlier this week, I stumbled upon a great deal to own the Blu-Ray of DRACULA UNTOLD for $5 bucks. Considering how many reinterpretations there are of DRACULA, coupled with the fact that I was blown away by Bernard Rose’s update of FRANKENSTEIN, I figured… why the hell not?
The movie itself is fine. It’s well made, has some intense action, and a good cast including Charles Dance, Dominic Cooper and Luke Evans as the infamous title character. But it doesn’t really resemble the various horror movies I know and love that have featured the famed king of the vampires. It’s more of a sprawling fantasy epic, which is fine, but as a seasoned horror fan, I want my Dracula to be scary! Or at least a menacing and smooth mofo.
While I can appreciate them, I’ve never personally understood the need to transform some of cinema’s most bad-ass monsters into action heroes or villains ala the UNDERWORLD movies. I like gothic horror when it comes to those characters. And DRACULA UNTOLD made me think of the original trio most famous for portraying him.
Sure, there are plenty of notable actors that have donned the cape of the Count over his 85 year history on the silver screen. But there’re usually only 3 actors that come to mind when you say the words “Count Dracula.”
Bela Lugosi is the actor most synonymous with Dracula as he originated the role in Tod Browning’s 1931 Universal Pictures masterpiece. Prior to the film, Lugosi had portrayed the stage version of Dracula in a play, along with Edward Von Sloan as Van Helsing and Herbert Bunston as Doctor Seward. A Spanish language version of Dracula was shot simultaneously with the American one, and was lensed by night utilizing the same sets with Carlos Villarias in the title role. Some people cite the Spanish version as being better than its American counterpart, but regardless of your opinion, it’s Bela Lugosi who forever became associated with his on-screen persona. Ironic, considering he only played Dracula on film one more time for the 1948 comedy classic ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. He was buried wearing his Dracula cape.
Christopher Lee is the actor that’s portrayed the Prince Of Darkness more times on screen than any other performer, clocking in a total of 10 (!) appearances as Dracula, starting with the Hammer production, HORROR OF DRACULA. Though reluctant to do subsequent sequels, he often claimed he was blackmailed into reprising the role over and over again, because he didn’t want to put any of the crew out of work. Outside of the Hammer movies, he also played the Count in Jess Franco’s 1970 COUNT DRACULA, as well as in Jerry Lewis’ ONE MORE TIME and in Edouard Molinaro’s DRACULA AND SON. His various turns as Dracula differed only slightly from film to film, and sometimes his dialogue was minimized to nothing like in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. But most consider his first turn in HORROR OF DRACULA to be his definitive take on the titan. Played equal parts gracefully and terrifying, Lee left an indelible impression on horror cinema with his portrayal of the fanged villain.
For me, I have a very clear memory of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 interpretation of DRACULA. The film makes the best possible use of in-camera tricks, and showcases some impressive FX for the various forms that Dracula takes, but it’s really Gary Oldman’s performance during the absolute height of his craft that make this version as memorable as it is. Oldman’s got an incredible group of actors to play against, including arch nemesis Van Helsing portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder as his true love Mina and Tom Waits as Renfield! But all that aside, this is one of the few on screen adaptations where we get to truly see Dracula in his many forms. As a wolf, as a creature of the night, as an old vampire and a young lover. And in every incarnation, Oldman absolutely rocks it. If you haven’t seen this one in a while, I strongly recommend revisiting it. It’s one of my go to Halloween season movies.
Of course, there are plenty of other performers that have played various interpretations of Dracula that aren’t going to be listed here because of space, but in our poll below, I’ll leave an “other” slot if you really, really think Frank Langella’s Dracula trumps all 3 of these guys. Otherwise, let us know your thoughts! Of the 3 actors most associated with Dracula, which one is YOUR favorite?