20 Great Dracula Movies: Cinema that Sucks

DraculaEver since making his feature film debut in the 1922 masterpiece, Nosferatu (admittedly under a different name), Count Dracula has been a staple character in the horror genre. By now, there have been literally hundreds of adaptations of Bram’s Stoker powerful Victorian novel, and the titular character has also had the added impact of popularising the modern concept of vampirism. It is a testament to the significance of this character in the popular imagination that these adaptations continue – the current Dracula television series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers is perhaps the most obvious recent example.

And so, in honour of everybody’s favourite bloodsucker, here are twenty of the great adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Nosferatu (1922)

Released in 1922, F. W. Murnau’s silent, Expressionist, brilliant, and entirely unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel transposes the hideous Count Orlok for Dracula, and Germany for England. Still considered by many to be one of the definitive adaptations of the Dracula mythology, Nosferatu was nearly wiped from existence when Stoker’s heirs successfully sued Murnau for copyright infringement and the court demanded that all copies be destroyed. Luckily, one slipped through the cracks.

Dracula (1931)

Based on a popular stage play at the time, Tod Browning’s adaptation of the Dracula story looks a little rickety in retrospect. This is an early sound film, and as a result there is a kind of stale and frustrating silence throughout, combined with a less than innovative approach to camera-work that can make for tedious viewing at times. But for many – even those who have not seen it – Bela Lugosi’s performance as Dracula is definitive.

Dracula (1931) Spanish

When Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi left the set of Dracula each day, they were replaced by director George Melford and actor Carlos Villarías, who shot a Spanish version of the film by night. More dynamic camera-work, warmer performances and (perhaps predictably) a little more sexy – I’d rate Melford’s version as the better film by a significant margin.

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Loosely (very loosely) derived from a short story by Bram Stoker entitled Dracula’s Guest, this film kicks off where the Lugosi classic ends. We’re introduced to Dracula’s daughter, who spends much time attempting to fight her vampiric impulses with the help of Dr. Garth, who believes the condition can be cured with modern medicine. Tragically, the doctor is wrong and things deteriorate quickly. Perhaps now most renowned for what some perceive to be a lesbian subtext, this is actually an interesting and worthy addition to the Dracula canon.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Despite the title, the popular American comedy duo don’t just encounter Hollywood’s favourite man-made monster in this horror-comedy classic. The whole Universal gang come together, with both Dracula and the Wolf Man also making guest appearances. It’s worth noting that, despite the fact that Lugosi is considered to be the archetypal Dracula, this is only his second and final appearance as the Count. This is a classic by any measure, and it’s no suprise that the American Film Institute named it the 56th Greatest Comedy of All Time in 2000.

Drakula İstanbul’da (1953)

In 1928, Ali Riza Seyfi wrote a Turkish (significantly altered) translation of Dracula entitled Kazıklı Voyvoda or Impaler Voivode. The title and novel explicitly connect the identities of Vlad the Impaler and Count Dracula, something that was suggested less directly in the orginal Stoker novel. But the biggest change replaces Stoker’s Victorian repression with something more overt –the ‘Mina’ character is nothing less than a showgirl.

Horror of Dracula (1958)

In 1958, Hammer Film Productions released this, the first of their nine Dracula movies, after borrowing the rights to the titular character from Universal (something they had already done previously with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957). Christopher Lee stars in the role that would soon make him a horror icon and Peter Cushing satisfies as Dr. Van Helsing in what was perhaps the sexiest and most gruesome version to date.

Night of the Ghouls (1959)

Admittedly, this isn’t a Dracula adaptation at all. But the ridiculous inclusion of a character named – without any obvious sense of irony – Dr. Acula, marks this as an unavoidable addition to the list. Ed Wood makes movie anti-magic once again.

Count Dracula (1970)

Christopher Lee dons the cape one last time, but notably it’s without the involvement of Hammer Film Productions. He’s a little weary this time around, as is much of the film. But this version, directed by Jesus Franco, can claim two minor victories. The first being that it employs the device, described in the book, of having Dracula become younger each time he feeds. It also contains an exceptional performance from Klaus Kinski as the mad Renfield, who would later go on to play Dracula himself in the 1979 Werner Herzog adaptation.

Countess Dracula (1971)

Many will be familiar with the 16th and 17th century crimes of Countess Elisabeth Bathory, who was convicted, with several cohorts, of torturing and murdering hundreds of young girls (possibly as many as 650) in her native Hungary. Her punishment was to be immured – the act of walling up a prisoner in a space without doors or windows until the day they die. This is strong stuff, and the subject of the suitably titled Countess Dracula. The narrative of this Hammer classic revolves around the actions of the Countess, taking the narrative angle that she is able to hold back the ageing process with the aid of young women’s blood. Definitely an underrated gem in the Hammer canon.

Blacula (1972)

This amusingly named film might never live up to the potential implicit in the title (on either a comedic or horrific level), but it’s impossible not to warm to the Blaxsploitation genre’s uneven entry into the Dracula legend. Here, Prince Mamuwalde (William H. Marshall) seeks Count Dracula’s help in bringing an end to the slave trade, only to have Dracula murder his wife and lock him up in a coffin. Two hundred years later the coffin shows up in Los Angeles, and Count Blacula hits the streets.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974)

This made for television film is admittedly a fairly lacklustre affair, but who could resist the allure of Jack Palance in the title role? Anybody? Exactly.

Blood for Dracula (1974)

In Blood for Dracula, a camp, violent and rather over the top film from Paul Morrissey, Dracula (Udo Kier) requires the blood of virgins to survive, but the introduction of modern liberal values has thoroughly limited his options in his native Romania. As such, he travels to Italy where he believes that the local populace’s adherence to Catholic ideals will expand his options. The unavailability of good blood has made this a sickly Dracula, frequently wheelchair bound and prone to seizures. Much sex and bloodletting ensues, and Morrissey’s use of these devices to make a conservative point is as jarring and interesting as ever.

Count Dracula (1977)

It may not be the flashiest version of the story, but this BBC mini-series is probably more faithful to Bram Stoker’s book than any other you’re likely to see. The performances of all involved are impressive, but some modern viewers will have to adjust their expectations when it comes to aesthetic. Shot on BBC sets, mostly on video (except for occasional exteriors), this is fairly minimalist stuff. But anybody who’s sat through some of the Shakespeare adaptations that the BBC have produced over the years will know that once you let go of all that, the performances will carry you the rest of the way.

Hound of Dracula (1978)

That’s right, a vampire dog. It’s probably not worth going into the details on this one, but here goes. A couple of hundred years ago, a dog saves a woman from Dracula’s clutches only to be turned into one of the undead for his troubles. Flash forward, the dog and a couple of other vampire minions are awakened in twentieth century. As it turns out, the deceased Count still has one last relative in sunny California, currently on a camping trip with his family. The undead gang make their way to the USA, where the Hound of Dracula starts converting the local canine population into four-legged vampires. Carnage ensues.

Nosferatu (1979)

Werner Herzog’s difficult working relationship with the notorious Klaus Kinski is infamous, as is the incredible output that this relationship produced. Kinski plays the count in a near-perfect ode to F. W. Murnau’s 1922 German film of the same name. Keeping some of the original’s aesthetic elements, but directing them more towards a kind of stark, cold, and minimalist tone, this is one version of Dracula that will get under any viewer’s skin. Kinski is typically brilliant, of course, extracting every last ounce of evil out of the material.

Dracula (1979)

Frank Langella stars as the undead royal, and Laurence Olivier as Dr. Van Helsing, in this rather grandiose and majestic take on the material. Admittedly, Langella’s character oscillates so jarringly from the charming to the grotesque and back again that it’s hard to stick with it at times, but there is something very… well… gorgeous about this film that earns it a place on the list. 

Count Duckula (1988 – 1993)

For those who grew up watching cartoons in the late-80s and early-90s, Count Duckula was prime after-school viewing every afternoon. The premise? A vegetarian vampire duck and his band of macabre misfits embark on a range of bizarre adventures, often encountering the Count’s arch nemesis, Doctor Von Goosewing (Von Helsing for those not paying attention).

Dracula (1992)

The merits of Francis Ford Coppola’s addition have been hotly debated ever since the film was released more than two decades ago. Is it an ingenious piece of cinema from a master auteur, crafted as a hyper-stylised homage to all that had come before? Or is it an overly-enthusiastic reworking of old material, clumsily cobbled together by a director whose work shows only the occasional glimmer of brilliance that once saturated his work? I tend to oscillate depending on my mood – but what cannot be contested is the power of Gary Oldman’s performance as the undead Count.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)

Mel Brooks’ comic adaptation of the Dracula mythology might not necessarily be Leslie Nielson’s finest hour, but it is great fun. Relying on a series of comic set pieces that pull randomly from a multitude of more respectable adaptations (most prominently the Coppola version), Brooks manages the unlikely task of staying relatively faithful to Stoker’s source material.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

10 thoughts on “20 Great Dracula Movies: Cinema that Sucks

  1. My favorite will always be Herzog’s Nosferatu. The atmosphere, including Popol Vuh’s music and the gypsy non-actors, is other-wordly. But, yes, Kinski’s mad performance is the glue.

  2. I had to walk out of The Hunger lest I pass out, but I was able to get through this without fainting. I do love Dafoe in Shadow, especially, when he says “I don’t think we need the screenwriter.”

  3. Great list, James, and your insights are right on, as usual, though I have to (very) respectfully (and apologetically) disagree with your assessment of Herzog’s Nosferatu, which I found static despite a few hallucinatory moments. The original, of course, is great, and I like what you have to say about the 1931 Lugosi Dracula, which is definitely seminal but doesn’t hold up so well today. Fun, fun list.

    Now how about one on Frankenstein’s monster? 😀

  4. A good call James, and a couple I haven’t seen. Got to go with the original Nosferatu, ‘Twins of Evil’ (two cracking girls!), and ‘Shadow of The Vampire’, with Willem Dafoe. Not forgetting Bowie and Deneuve in ‘The Hunger’!
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

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