How a Century of Filmgoers Fell in Lust With a Blooksucking Monster
In classic works of horror literature, such as John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic novella Carmilla (1871), vampires were monsters….but very sexy monsters.
In Carmilla, the female vampire is described thus:
She was slender and wonderfully graceful. Except that her movements were languid–very languid–indeed, there was nothing in her appearance to indicate an invalid. Her complexion was rich and brilliant; her features were small and beautifully formed; her eyes large, dark, and lustrous; her hair was quite wonderful, I never saw hair so magnificently thick and long when it was down about her shoulders; I have often placed my hands under it, and laughed with wonder at its weight. It was exquisitely fine and soft, and in color, a rich very dark brown, with something of gold.
From John Polidori’s THE VAMPYRE
His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house; all wished to see him, and those who had been accustomed to violent excitement, and now felt the weight of ennui, were pleased at having something in their presence capable of engaging their attention. In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint, either from the blush of modestly, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection:
In contrast to these alluring vampires Stokers Dracula is not a romantic creature at all.
From Bram Stokers DRACULA
“His face was a strong—a very strong—aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.”
Not too pretty, right? An avid reader in his youth, Stokers Dracula is based partly on stories he read of Vlad Tepes (or Vlad Dracul the Wallachian Voivode from around 1436), and vampire folklore, so obviously he would have seen the printed woodcuts of Vlad Tepes. Apparently his description of Dracula also partly came from Henry Irving, the manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, where Stoker worked at the time.
So how did this questionable-looking beast become the romantic anti-hero of pop culture of the past century? Though Stoker was not the first writer of vampire gothic fiction, he wrote a story that has had a much more enduring legacy, that transcended into pop culture making it as popular today as ever, and making it one of the most famous novels ever written.
So what caused it to become such a sensation? Well that sex sells, and I think that one part of it was the sexy title. Just one word: DRACULA
Amazing when we realise that Bram Stoker was going to title the novel “The Undead” and decided on Dracula at the last minute! Good one Bram! 😊
However, it is not the novel that has endured, it is actually due to the movie industry and its depiction of Dracula that has had us swooning for a century. This depiction of Dracula comes directly from the suave Hungarian charm of Bela Lugosi. And why not? Lugosi’s cape-wearing aristocrat has sold over 300 films and a century of merchandise.
Lugosi’s Dracula was so iconic that it has been everywhere for the past century. Cartoons, puppets, animation, TV shows, etc. This is how iconic Lugosi made this image. But let’s go back for a second because this image of Dracula might never have happened.
Only 25 years after Dracula was published Prana Films released the amazing NOSFERATU (another great title) in 1922 directed by FW Murnau. Nosferatu was certainly based on the Novel Dracula but they had to change a lot of details due to copyright issues with Stokers Widow. So Count Dracula became Graf Orlok, played by:
Now, there is no doubt that Max Shreck’s ratty depiction of Orlok is still one of the creepiest depictions of Dracula ever and the film is amazing to watch, even today.
So, Let’s go back to Stoker’s description of Dracula
His face was a strong—a very strong—aquiline, with a high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere
“an old man with a long, white mustache; a thin nose; a domed forehead; bushy eyebrows; and a “cruel-looking” mouth with “peculiarly sharp white teeth.”
Yep, this sounds about right. So, they certainly got the look of this Vampire beast right in Nosferatu, even if they had to compromise on everything else.
The director, Tod Browning had earmarked Lon Chaney for his 1931 portrayal of Dracula as Browning had worked with Lon Chaney for a few years. Now, in case you didn’t know, Lon Chaney was given the nickname “Man of 1000 Faces” and for good reason. As well as being a great actor, he was an amazing self-taught make-up artist and was known for creating some pretty gruesome looks for his characters. Sadly, Lon Chaney died in 1930. Who knows what Dracula would have looked like if Lon Chaney had played the role instead of Bela Lugosi?
I think Chaney’s Dracula would have been amazing, but much more horrific than Lugosi’s portrayal and I don’t think it would have been as iconic. Chaney would still have appealed to horror fans like me, but Lugosi appealed to everyone and this is what gave Dracula its longevity.
I think Lon Chaney would have done something like his London After Midnight (L) or The Phantom of the Opera (R) make-up for Dracula.
While Browning was working on films with Chaney, Lugosi was actually already playing Dracula on Broadway. In 1924, Dracula premiered on stage in London, adapted by Irish actor and playwright Hamilton Deane. This production introduced the world to a charming, dark-haired tuxedo wearing Count Dracula, as portrayed by Raymond Huntley, not at all like the Dracula of the book. This Count Dracula’s sophisticated demeanor and seductive nature were created for the stage. This is the origin of Dracula as we know him.
When the play was brought to America in the late 1920s, Bela Lugosi played the title role, a role and as he had worked with Browning in 1929 on the film The Thirteenth Chair”, he ended up with the role of Dracula. So the iconic image of Dracula was invented on the London Stage, but through Bela Lugosi and a romantic icon was born.
Dracula became a commercial and critical success which lead to the film being rehashed many times by Universal and even made a big hit with Hammer House of Horror films with Christopher Lee in the every-so-sexy role. Since then every decade has had a version of this alluring monster – all of whom seduce the young woman in the most sensual way, before getting back to the point of Dracula – drinking her blood.
So who knows what portrayals of Dracula would exist if Lon Chaney had played the role? I think, that like most of the Universal Monsters this beast would have resurfaced now and again, but without Lugosi’s sophisticated portrayal the current version of Dracula as the sexiest of all the horror film beasts would not have existed and would not have spawned over 300 films and doesn’t show signs of stopping, on the contrary Dracula is evolving. Just like the count himself, Dracula never dies – and it is all due to the allure of the master himself, Bela Lugosi
Feast your eyes on some of the sexiest Dracula’s on screen:
Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula 1958
Udo Kier, Blood for Dracula 1974
Frank Langella, Dracula 1979
Chris Sarandon, Fright Night 1985
Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Dracula (series) 2013
Luke Evans, Dracula Untold 2014