Since Dracula first appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name in 1897, the character has been depicted in books, graphic novels, cartoons TV, films and even audio dramas. Here, Jonathan Barnes, author of Dracula horror sequel Dracula’s Child runs down his top ten best Draculas in popular culture…
Christopher Lee in Count Dracula (1970)
Lee is perhaps the actor most dedicated to Dracula, playing him a total of ten times over several decades. Long after he had stopped performing in the role, he still seemed inextricably associated with the part – consider the fate of Lee’s Saruman the White in Peter Jackson’s The Return Of The King (2003). Lee always found new ways to play the Count, from a cool despoiler of women in Dracula (1958) to suicidal super-villain in his last tilt at the role in The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973). I’ve picked this rather stodgy version of the story shot in Spain by Jesus Franco to represent his contribution, mostly because it finally allowed Lee to play the part much closer to Stoker’s original. It is also included, at long last, that most rarely glimpsed of Dracula’s accoutrements as described by his creator – a long moustache!
Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922)
This bootleg version of the novel features a vampire who is a world away from the enigmatic nobleman of the book. Schreck’s rat-like killer is at once a visceral and a dreamlike threat. He is unforgettable and, in spite of his almost century long ubiquity in popular culture, still rises above cliche.
Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula
The long run of Marvel’s flagship horror title (from 1972 to 1979), written mostly by Marv Woflman and drawn by Gene Colan, positioned Dracula as the protagonist rather then antagonist. He becomes an increasingly sympathetic figure, not only in his Richard III style quest for power, but also as he confronts (and defeats) evildoers who are even worse then he, those who act out of petty greed rather than biological necessity.
Gary Oldman in Dracula (1992)
Others have played a romantic version of Dracula – Frank Langella; Louis Jourdan; – but Oldman’s is the best and most nuanced performance of this kind. It’s a big, splashy, scattergun film but Oldman’s chemistry with Winona Ryder’s Mina is unforgettable. Oldman at his best is a profoundly transformative actor and his approach is ideal here for a character who is, amongst his other abilities, a literal shapeshifter.
Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)
No list of this kind would be complete without mention of Lugosi. His performance may strike us now as mannered and old-fashioned but there’s still power to be found in it as this theatrical actor relearns his craft for the screen.
The Count in Powers of Darkness.
This fascinating new translation of the Icelandic version of Stoker’s book (first published in 1901) has huge variations from the English language original. Dracula here is a distinctly different figure to the one with whom we’re most familiar – somehow a more ambitious, a more lustful and a more elusive villain.
Alan Moore’s version in Vampirella/ Dracula: The Centennial
An oddity this one but well worth seeking out. In just a handful of pages in a 1997 anthology devoted to a campy vampiress (who doesn’t even appear in this tale), comics titan Alan Moore demonstrates brilliantly how to update the novel to the present day. Dracula is only glimpsed in the shadows, a predatory force descending at speed from the East upon an oblivious West.
Mark Gatiss for Big Finish Productions
Together with his regular collaborator Steven Moffat, Gatiss has gone on to produce his own version of the Dracula myth for BBC/ Netflix (with Claes Bangs as a vividly sardonic vampire king). In 2016, however, Gatiss portrayed the Count himself in this faithful audio adaptation of the original novel, playing him as a ruthless, softly spoken creature of power. Full disclosure: I wrote the script for this one (though it was often just a case of copying and pasting the best bits from Stoker!)
This staple of late Eighties children’s TV, made by a team fresh from creating the original Dangermouse, gave a whole generation a loveable Transylvanian vegetarian Count, expertly voiced by David Jason. It also introduced them to the iconography of Dracula, with a look and style drawn primarily from the Universal series.
Thomas Kretschmann in Dracula 3D (2012)
This is by no means a great film. It’s fact it’s not even a good film. In many ways, in spite of the pedigree of those involved (Dario Argento; Asia Argento; Rutger Hauer) it’s downright dreadful. Yet somehow in spite of its many oddities, there’s a spooky sort of weirdness to it all. There’s certainly a febrile sexuality to the piece – and to Kretschmann’s handsome Count – of which I think Stoker might, secretly, rather have approved.
Dracula’s Child by J.S Barnes is out now from Titan Books.