Ghost Stories: Dracula in Popular Culture
Yesterday, Zodi went through the history of Count Dracula. Today, I’ll tackle part 2, that being Dracula in popular culture.
Dracula has become as iconic in pop culture as Jason Voorhees. Used as a villain in various movies and even the protagonist at times, he is well known for being the premier vampire.
Beginning in 1897, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, which really was more of a love story than a gothic horror. Dracula walked the earth looking for his long lost love. That aspect of romance has stuck with the old boy, and it’s one of his talents to woo young women with his charms.
The first Dracula film was in 1922, but Dracula was somewhat changed. As described in an earlier blog post of 31 Days Of Ghosts, the film was called Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. The Stoker estate sued and won, and all prints were destroyed, only a few pirated copies survived until this day. The film was later redone in 1979, by Werner Herzog.
The first production that received permission from the Stoker estate was a stage play directed by Hamilton Deane, with Deane himself taking on the role of Van Helsing (sound familiar). In 1927 the play opened on Broadway with Bella Lugosi in the role of Dracula.
The first on screen presentation came in 1931, with Lugosi taking the role of the Count once again. During the 30′s and 40′s, Hollywood made Dracula a household name, having him appear in various movies as the villain, and even appearing with other monsters. Who can forget Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It was in this movie that Bella Lugosi played the Count for only the second, and final time. One 1944 film is called The Return of The Vampire, which has rescue workers revive a staked vampire. Bella Lugosi plays the role of the vampire, named Armand Tesla. Essentially, Dracula in everything but name.
The Universal Studios films in which Dracula (or a relative) appeared (and the actor portraying the character) were:
- Dracula (1931 – Bela Lugosi (collectively the most famous interpretation)) (A second version was filmed simultaneously in Spanish, with Carlos Villarías as Dracula)
- Dracula’s Daughter (1936 – Gloria Holden)
- Son of Dracula (1943 – Lon Chaney, Jr.)
- House of Frankenstein (1944 – John Carradine)
- House of Dracula (1945 – Carradine)
- Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948 – Lugosi)
- Dracula (1979 – Frank Langella)
- Van Helsing (2004 – Richard Roxburgh)
After Universal, came Hammer Films. Hammer Films took up the classic vampire into it’s film stable during the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. Christopher Lee was the actor who took up the role of Dracula. But quite possibly the most revered of the Lee portrayals was not a Hammer Film. Count Dracula as directed by Jesus Franco, was a low budget film, but kept closer to the originalbook of Stoker’s. While the look is called a classic by cult fans, the movie took huge liberties with Stoker’s plot.
Outside of many films, stage productions and musicals (yes, even musicals), Dracula has been inspirational to many books. This list includes Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, Wendy Swanscombe’s erotic parody Vamp, Dan Simmons’s Children of the Night, and Robin Spriggs’s The Dracula Poems: A Poetic Encounter with the Lord of Vampires, just to name a few. Even Loren D. Estleman and Fred Saberhagen had the Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes match wits against the Count.
Dracula has even appeared in comic books. During the 1970′s, Marvel Comics released The Tomb of Dracula. The Curtis imprint even ran Dracula Lives. And as recent as a couple of years ago, the X-Men did battle with Dracula in X-Men: Apocalypse vs. Dracula. Other vampire books which can be attributed to Dracula may also include some of Marvel’s Mid Night Heroes which included a vampire that teamed with Ghost Rider, Vampirella the sexy vamp from Harris Comics, and the manga version of Vampi.
Video games were next, as the most prominent was Vampire: The Masquerade, which was based on White Wolf’s pen and paper RPG of the same name. Castlevania is another, which has the protagonists battle Dracula in his castle, of which includes a character named Alucard (Dracula backwards).
Dracula has even made it onto the small screen.
- Dracula appeared in the commercials for Energizer in 1993. He emerges from his casket to get the battery off the Energizer Bunny only to be locked out of his castle when the wind blows the front door close. When he gets his spare key, the sun comes up and Dracula is vanquished.
- Dracula has also appeared as a villain in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in an episode called “Buffy vs. Dracula.” Dracula admits to Buffy Summers that he is intrigued and charmed by her legacy as she is of him. He also clarifies the origin of her powers, regardless of his attempt to lure her to evil. Buffy, having “seen his movies,” waits after first killing him, noting that he “always comes back.” He reappears in the canon post-finale comics Tales of the Vampires: Antique, and later the Season Eight story “Wolves at the Gate” (both written by Drew Goddard.) Outside the canon, Dracula appears in Spike vs. Dracula, which reveals that Dracula has connections to the gypsy clan that cursed Angel with a soul. As established by his appearance in “Buffy vs. Dracula,” he is an acquaintance of Anya Jenkins, and Spike claims he is a sell-out of the vampire world, fond of magic and Hollywood. The vampire popularized by Bram Stoker in the Dracula novel is also used as a basis for the ideas in the show, primarily the methods in which vampires are killed.
- The enormous house in the Nickelodeon game show Finders Keepers occasionally featured a room entitled “Dracula’s Den,” which was constructed to resemble a room in a castle with windows with boards nailed across them (presumably to keep out the sunlight), cobwebs, bats, and a Gothic-style chair and roll-top desk. The room also featured a full-sized coffin, in which a cast or crew member usually hid dressed as a mummy or as Dracula himself.
- The cartoon series Aqua Teen Hunger Force features a recurring television program called Assisted Living Dracula which features an elderly Dracula’s life in a retirement home. In one episode, the real Dracula visits MC Pee Pants in his latest incarnation as an old man named Little Brittle and bites him. MC Pee Pants leaves the hospital as a newly-made vampire, only to die from exposure to sunlight. Dracula suffers the same fate.
- In the television series The Munsters, the character of “Grandpa” Sam Dracula, a vampire, clearly identifies himself as being the Count Dracula at one point. Though assuming he is Dracula, he has found a way to sustain himself without blood and is no longer vulnerable to sunlight. He is portrayed as a friendlier mad scientist-type. He still retains his abilities to turn into a wolf or a bat. Instead of the quasi-Eastern European accent usually associated with Dracula, Grandpa Munster speaks with a Brooklyn accent.
- Gilligan’s Island had an episode entitled, “Up At Bat,” in which Gilligan is obsessed with the idea that, after being bitten by a bat, he’s actually turning into a vampire. The dream sequence in the episode portrays Bob Denver as Dracula.
- In 2006, a successful UK children’s comedy, Young Dracula, started on CBBC, featuring Dracula and his two young children trying to live discreetly in rural Wales.
- At the end of the holiday TV special The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, Count Dracula (Judd Hirsch) gets into a disco suit similar to Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever after the witch (Mariette Hartley) transformed into a realistic person resembling Stephanie Mangano from the 1977 disco film of the same name.
- In several episodes of the TV show Scrubs, the main character J.D. makes references to a movie he is writing called Dr. Acula, the story of a “vampire doctor.”
- In the show The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Dracula (voiced by Phil LaMarr) is portrayed as an African-American man who tends to speak in third person. He lives in a retirement home and really gets angry when he is referred to being “old.” This version more closely resembles Blacula
- Dracula appeared in the self-titled 1990 syndicated series Dracula: The Series. The series lasted only 21 episodes and featured the adventures of Gustav Van Helsing and family versus vampire/business tycoon Alexander Lucard.
- Count Dracula made two appearances in the live-action superhero show Superboy.
- A mysterious vampire called Dracula appears in the Brazilian telenovela Os Mutantes: Caminhos do Coração. In fact, he is a mutant vampire created by mixing his DNA with vampire bat DNA. Unlike in the novel, this Dracula is neither invincible nor undead, but he does possess superhuman strength and the ability to fly, and he also transforms some female characters into his vampire brides. His lieutenant is a ghoulish vampire called Bram, in homage to the original author. His archnemesis is psychokinetic (and psychotic as well) vampire hunter Christiano Pena, who is bent on destroying Dracula, even if he has to kill innocents to do so.
- In the episode of The Brady Bunch “Two Petes in a Pod,” Peter dresses up like Dracula for a costume party.
- In the Sid and Marty Krofft series Lidsville, one of the Evil HooDoo’s Bad Hat Gang was Bela the Vampire Hat, a bat-eared top hat with a fanged cowl.
- An episode of the British TV series Demons called “Suckers” tells the future story of Mina and Quincy.
With all the various spoofs, appearances and adaptations of Dracula over the years, one question remains. Where did Bram Stoker get his ideas. Well, before writing Dracula, Stoker spent several years researching European folklore and stories of vampires. Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as collection of diary entries, telegrams, and letters from the characters, as well as fictional clippings from the Whitby and London newspapers. Stoker’s inspirations for the story, in addition to Whitby, may have included a visit to Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, a visit to the crypts of St. Michan’s Church in Dublin, and also St Mary’s parish church in Hendon, London.
I believe it’s easy to say that Dracula has made a major impression on popular culture in our society.