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Bram Stoker, author of legendary vampire novel Dracula, died exactly 100 years ago this April 20th. The tale of an evil vampire count on the loose in Victorian England has spawned countless horror films from the silent Nosferatu in 1922 right up to Dario Argento’s upcoming Dracula 3D and our obsession with all thing vampiric shows no signs of abating.

The first film adaptation of Stoker’s novel was called Nosferatu and was released in 1922. Starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok, this was an unofficial adaptation which was banned and sued by Bram Stoker’s estate for copyright infringement. The film was ordered to be destroyed but fortunately copies survived and Nosferatu is now highly regarded as a true gothic classic.

In 1931 Universal Pictures released their own adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Bela Lugosi as the titular count. This version was actually based on the successful stage play and made a massive star of Lugosi who went on to star in numerous classic horror films over the next few decades before his untimely death in 1956. Universal released a sequel Dracula’s Daughter in 1936 which was loosely based on Bram Stoker’s short story Dracula’s Guest. In 1943 a further sequel Son of Dracula appeared starring Lon Chaney, Jr as Count Alucard who is actually Dracula himself. The count made further appearances in both House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945).

The Mexican vampire film El Vampiro (1957) was obviously influenced by Dracula and was the first movie to actually show a vampire with fangs! El Vampiro is often quoted by film historians as the link between the Universal and the Hammer representations of movie vampires.

Britain’s Hammer Films had already burst onto the horror scene in 1957 with Curse of Frankenstein and quickly followed this up with their own adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (known in the US as Horror of Dracula) in 1958. This full colour version ramped up the sex and gore and made a horror superstar out of Christopher Lee with his iconic interpretation of the legendary count. Hammer continued to make Dracula sequels throughout the sixties and seventies moving further and further away from the source material with each successive release.

During the seventies the blaxploitation film genre emerged in the States, which were films made specifically for an urban black audience, usually focusing on crime, action/martial arts, comedy or horror. One of the most successful blaxploitation films was Blacula (1972) a bastardization of the Dracula legend featuring an African prince (played by William Marshall) who is turned into a vampire by Count Dracula himself. This was followed by a sequel Scream Blacula, Scream in 1973.

The 1974 comedy Old Dracula (1974) also known as Vampira tried to blend blaxploitation with the spoof style comedy of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974). It featured David Niven as Count Dracula trying to revive his vampire bride with the blood of a group pf Playboy Playmates living at his castle.

A more serious attempt to bring Dracula back to the big screen took place in 1979 with director John Badham’s Dracula starring Frank Langella as a romanticised version of the count. Like Universal’s original 1931 production, this is also an adaptation of a successful Broadway play for which Langella was nominated for a prestigious Tony award. Also in 1979 was Nosferatu The Vampyre, Werner Herzog’s critically acclaimed remake of the 1922 silent classic.

Other notable Dracula adaptations and spin-offs include the BBC’s stunning Count Dracula (1977) a three-part television mini-series; Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1978) a cheesy but fondly remembered exploitation classic featuring a canine vampire; Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Hollywood remake starring Gary Oldman and Dracula 2001 (2000), a cult film “presented by” Wes Craven, which attempted to update the Dracula legend to the present day.

 

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