In celebration of Bram Stoker Festival, we here at Film In Dublin decided to conjure up a list of the 4 most quintessential Dracula films, from the 1920s through to more recent depictions.
1. Nosferatu 1922
Nosferatu directed by F W Murnau is ‘not’ a Dracula film because they failed to secure the rights to Bram Stoker’s story. It was not the earliest Dracula film created but it is the earliest surviving one, even though the film was court-ordered to be destroyed. Like the Count, the film has weathered the ages and it’s still stunning.
The use of shadow in Nosferatu is truly beautiful. Anyone who usually doesn’t enjoy older movies should watch this film. The set of the film is full of Expressionistic angles which play with the light and delight the eye. Nosferatu stays within its limits, using fantastic lighting and costuming to create a claustrophobic atmosphere.
Speaking of costuming. In silent cinema, it can be difficult for an actor to leave a lasting impression without resorting to slapstick. Max Schreck’s performance is no laughing matter. With a surname that translates as horror and fright, he was born to play Count Orlak. His wonderful portrayal sparks sexual tension with Thomas Hutter which unfortunately would have fed into contemporary anxieties towards homosexuality. But Murnau was gay, and Orlak’s life lived in the shadows may have been an expression of anxiety rather than a vehicle for it.
Is it obvious I studied Film? It may well be, but Nosferatu is still alive and kicking in popular culture all these years later.
Buffy fans will see a lot of Count Orlak in the character design of The Master, an ancient vampire so powerful he manages to drown Buffy. The Master is like a hybrid of Nosferatu and the later, more refined and hansy Draculas.
Gamers, does this Resident Evil zombie not owe anything to Nosferatu? The way this zombie turns to look at the player and slowly moves towards you is Orlak to a tee.
2. Dracula 1931
Dracula directed by Tod Browning spawned many of the tropes we now associate with Dracula. This Halloween, you’re sure to hear kids saying “velcome”, sporting widow’s peaks, and wearing silken capes that they swoop around like Bela Lugosi.
Lugosi loved the cape so much, he asked to be buried in it. Spoopy!
This film is like a sleeker version of Nosferatu. It keeps the chiaroscuro lighting, Expressionist angles and overall drama of the older film but it brings new blood to the story. Count Orlak was animalistic and seemingly predominately motivated by hunger, but Lugosi’s Dracula brings sexual potency to the character. When he taunts Johnathan, telling him that his blood runs through Mina’s veins, it’s as though he’s saying that he has impregnated her.
3. Dracula or Horror of Dracula 1958
What Draculist would be complete without the late Sir Christopher Lee? He played Dracula many times over a twenty year period with Hammer Pictures but his best appearance is definitely Horror of Dracula. In this film he is a proper villain, whereas in later roles Lee is reduced to hissing and cowering.
You can see why Dracula has to resort to hypnosis to get the ladies’ attention. This film is just the right amount of camp without being out-and-out ridiculous. Horror of Dracula would be a great one to watch with kids, it’s pretty tame as Dracula films go.
4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992
Francis Ford Coppola, director of cinematic masterpieces such as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, directed the most nineties, off-the-rails version of Dracula you can imagine.
Just look at Gary Old man if you need convincing. Nevertheless, this film is suprisingly stylish. It takes full advantage of colour, washing everything with deep red light as often as possible.
But Bram Stoker’s Dracula maintains a sense of continuity with its predecessors through the use of old-fashioned filmmaking techniques. What Coppola lacks in narrative restraint here he makes up for by resisting the urge to litter this film with CGI.
The way that Dracula’s shadow descends on Mina (played by Winona Ryder) during a party at Lucy’s mansion is the kind of masterstroke you would expect from Coppola.
It’s a true testament to Bram Stoker’s talent that his story is still hypnotising audiences all these years later. If you enjoyed this list, be sure to check out the events of Bram Stoker Festival 2016. Dracula 1931 is being shown in the National Concert Hall tomorrow, Saturday the 29th.