Alas, poor Dracula

04 January 2022

Pity the poor Count. Has it come to this, in the end, for the once-greatest of all the Undead, indeed the archetype of the vampire? To be sure, vampire legends have existed for a long time, and not just in Europe, where the modern notion of the vampire coalesced into its present form. At least, if you consider Britain part of Europe. It was there that the Irish novelist Bram Stoker achieved literary immortality with one book - 'Dracula' - published just as the 20th century loomed ahead. All right, I'll stop pretending I know how to write and get down to business. Right after I observe (blame my Asperger's) that while I refer to Stoker as a novelist, he did write a bit of non-fiction. 'Famous Impostors' (1910) is interesting and possibly entertaining.

Oh yeah, on the subject of horror, his book 'The Lair of the White Worm' (1911) is pretty good. Nothing like 'Dracula', although it (more or less) adapted to film in 1988 by Ken Russell. It's rather a bit on the campy side, but fun. I actually watched it a few times during a run on one of the movie channels a few years back, and might watch it again if I was really bored. It's notable mostly for the appearances of Amanda Donohoe and Hugh Grant (in pre-fame status) and the lovely Catherine Oxenberg (Die-Nasty). The latter, by the way, is the daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. Like you really, really needed to know that. OK, now you know whom we have to thank for the gift of Count Dracula, who has made a lot of money for a lot of people (some more that others, of course, but as Remo says "That's the biz, sweetheart". (you'll have to get that one on your own - it's not hard).

OK, so Mr. Stoker's has book has been adapted to film many times (over 30 if Wickedpedia is still reliable on dry historical (and non-political) matters) more or less closely following the book. Sometimes considerably less, using little more than that name. But, that's the biz. And inevitably it has been exploited in every available medium - television and film, books, music, comics, and video games. And breakfast cereal.

Hmmm. Where was I and do I really need to keep working on this? I hear a Red Baron pizza calling. Alright, the original work, by the way, is well worth reading, in case you haven't. I was a teenager, probably a young teenager, when I read it (I have two older siblings, the eldest six years older, like me voracious readers. As they say. So I was always well ahead of my peers in the matter of reading. It was pretty scary, especially reading it alone in my room at night. It's still creepy fifty years later. I was always intrigued by vampires, Dracula-style anyway, in part because they are to some degree plausible in terms of actually existing. There are creatures that subsist solely on blood, including mammals. So some transition of the human body is at least feasible. And they look just like people - until they open their mouths. Of course the supernatural aspect is another matter.

My first few exposures, beyond reading the book, were movies. There were one or two, closely following the book, that were pretty scary. And through the 70s and 80s, maybe later, when I had a lot time to read and bookstores to browse, I found a lot of pretty good books on the subject. Most were somewhere close to the Dracula model, but some moved into other areas. Most involved romantic relationships, whether with a vampire or another character.

Along with vampire novels, we had in those days the wonderful Hammer films. Hammer was a British film company that made a lot of mostly B movies - a lot of monster films, some dinosaur flicks, and general horror movies. Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy accounted for a couple dozen, with Dracula getting the most attention. Almost all the Dracula films featured the great duo of Christhoper Lee (Dracula) and Peter Cushing (Van Helsing or sometimes a descendant of the vampire hunter) in the lead roles. Most of them had wonderful atmosphere for the subject matter. I watched all of them numerous times, so unless you chose to make your escape now, I will share my thoughts.

Here we go:
Dracula (1958) Mostly true to he book (it was rather low-budget) it introduces the to-be iconic Lee/Cushing team. For all that they mostly made this type of film, both were wonderful actors. I always enjoyed watching Cushing, whose role offered a little more flexibility. Lee was pretty much limited to looking menacing and biting beautiful women. And being staked and turning into dust on the wind. Sorry guys.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) Pretty typical of what would follow for another seven films. Except that Dracula doesn't appear in this one. Not bad, a couple of suitable creepy moments. The one with the locked coffin is good.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) So-so. Nothing remarkable but enjoyable. Chris and Peter are back together.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) Still in eastern Europe (presumably the Transylvania region) with Dracula being revived from the previous death. Bites one or two pretty girls. Wonder if Job Bob Briggs ever hosted these movies and gave the drive-in totals. "We got one vampire, zero vampire hunters (Peter was a no-show), two priests, and an unknown number of villagers." Dracula perishes again, dust, don't know what the wind conditions were. I believe it just kind of fell into a pile, to be revived later with a blood donor to be named later.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) Dang. Peter still isn't back. I was probably beginning to feel like a Van Halen fan having to endure Van Hagar. This time, an acolyte of Dracula (from what I can gather) tricks some sons of Belial into reviving Dracula from the ashes from the previous episode. They soon come to regret it, and a pretty girl gets bitten, while his designs on another are foiled by her intrepid lover and soon Dracula is toast. Or ashes.

Scars of Dracula (1970) This one gets a little too silly. And Peter still isn't back. But there are comely east European wenches to be rescued (or staked if they were so unfortunate as to be bitten before the locals caught on) and of course, at the end, Dracula is toast. Literally this time, set ablaze by a timely lightning strike. Continuity won't be right when we meet again, but when did that ever matter.

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) Actually, I liked Van Hagar. I liked Eddie a lot, awesome guitar player. David's OK, but while I was never a big Van Halen fan, I listened to them more with Sammy. He was great on his own as well. But then, by time I started to like Metallica some of the fans were calling them sellouts. I assume, perhaps erroneously, that the songs I liked were the ones they didn't. But as Remo said...

Alright. In much the same way, this film and the next were criticized more than the previous ones, but I like them. (Apparently Chris was getting a little put out as well, and they had trouble getting him to do them). Anyway, the scene now moves back to London, in the present day. At least it was the present day in 1972, when it was made. I found it rather charming, and more creative than the previous entries. Dracula is again revived by a worshiper, who tricks a group of thrill-seeking young people into providing the blood to revive the most recent set of Dracula-ashes. The lovely Carolyn Munro perishes in the process. Soon Dracula is alive - well undead at least - and at large in contemporary London, and he's out for revenge. And Peter is back, finally. He is evidently a third generation or so descendant of the original, given the passage of time. And he has a beautiful grand-daughter, Stephanie Beacham, who lives with him and is hanging with the aforementioned group. Dracula's first objective is to avenge himself by turning Jessica Van Helsing into a vampire. He doesn't actually transition any delectable maidens into vampires, however. His disciple, Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards) does convert a one of the guys into a vampire (after persuading Dracula to make him one as well) and the two capture Jessica and escort her to meet her fate. Luckily grand-dad Helsing shows up and takes care of business, and Dracula reverts to ashes.

The opening scene (after the retcon showing how Dracula got here from his previous demise) shows a party for a nerdy young man with the band Stoneground entertaining. I'd never heard of them and thought they were just actors. Apparently most people aren't familiar with them. If you saw their performance you'd know why.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) Sadly, we are now at the end of our tale of the Hammer Dracula franchise. But a lot of things have changed, even since I was that age, and it's now the same world any more. These films now seem like me to reflect our lost innocence, strange as that may be. But when we look at the role of vampires in literature and film today, it is a very different world indeed. So, let us take a look at the final installment, with the Chris and Pete in action once more.

This is a short time after 1972. Actually in film time is's a year, but there is no continuity this time so apparently Dracula got right back to business somehow. One of the things I like about the last two films is the imaginative scenarios. This one has another, this time opening with a group of apparent devil-worshipers conducting a ritual. Again it ends with the blood of a hapless lady providing the wakeup call to Dracula. It turns out that an undercover agent of some agency (maybe Scotland Yard) is has been compromised and is a prisoner in the lair of the villain or villains. He escapes and is rescued by his employer, who examine a roll of microfilm he made while inside. It contains photos of various high-ranking personages in British society and government, but one is a picture with no person in it.

Further investigation reveals that Dracula has made several vampires. Two or three are chained in the basement of the house were the devilish shenanigans were going on. Jessica Van Helsing is again involved and narrowly escapes getting nailed by the confined vampires when she goes into the basement. She escapes but is later captured while surveilling the house. Dracula again intends to make her his consort, while he unleashes a deadly engineered strain of bubonic plague that will destroy humanity. With no blood left, he will finally die, apparently what he wishes. Jessica's grandfather shows up and saves her and humanity (this time getting him entangled in a hawthorn bush AND driving a fence-post through his heart). The virus is destroyed when the place burns down. And that's about it. For the Hammer Dracula anyway. The company ceased production in the 80s, and the brand was sold a couple of times. It appears to have been revived around 2007 or so and made a few films, but I haven't seen any of them. That was another part of my life.

Hammer reminds me a little of American International Pictures. They produced a huge number of films in the 60s and 70s. It seemed like every time we went to a movie it started with 'A Samuel Z. Arkoff Production' (Arkoff was one of the founders). They made a lot of action films, some horror, science fiction, and sword-and-sandal films, among others. Like the Hammer films, they were B movies but well made and fun to watch. Maybe I can find something to write about them. I wonder if they were responsible for 'The Giant Spider Invasion'? (Not as bad as you might think) OK, on to other things Draculacal.

They made some other vampire films, possibly some with Dracula in them, or at least with the name in the title. Some films may be referenced by different titles. One really good one, in the style of the Lee/Cushing films (19th century Transylvania, castles and graveyards, some beautiful sets and period costumes) is 'The Vampire Lovers' (again possibly appearing under another title) based on the the novella 'Carmilla' (by another Irish author and predating Stokers 'Dracula'.

Drac gets a break, sort of
A long time ago in a bookstore far away, at least in time, I was as usual browsing the SF section. Note that I have not to my knowledge ever uttered the sound "seye-feye", and I am not going to make the Paula Deen error of yeah-well-i-guess-i-probably-did-at-some-point-or-whatever. Any more than I will ever fail to be offended by the whole 'tarmac' thing. There is no excuse for allowing error to not only go uncorrected but allow it go become accepted as correct. The late Senator Daniel Moynihan (not a bad guy for a lib) coined the term 'defining deviancy down' to describe the practice of allowing incremental ruin by excusing each transgression against normality, each time allowing a worse one to become normalized, until eventually nothing can be considered wrong. Rush Limbaugh referred to it in speech as 'losing the language'. Thus the word 'tarmac' goes from being an archaic road paving process to a place at airports where aircraft are parked. Park a 747 on tarmac on a warm day and the landing gear will soon be axle-deep in tarmac.

And getting back to the whole SF thing 1) the use of sci-fi would suggest that that it is short for sc-eye-nts feyek-tion. See the problem. When I became a SF aficionado about 50 years ago the term existed and was in some use, but the serious ones among us (with thousand-volume libraries in a spare bedroom) called it SF. Because you see, it doesn't just mean 'science fiction'. It covers a variety of sub-genres, with fantasy being often being consumed alongside science fiction by the same consumers. And a mix might be called science/fantasy. Then, a lot of stuff in the SF world that has little or nothing to do with science (e.g. dystopian stories). So the best way to describe it has been, for a long time now, 'speculative fiction'. But if you want to know what really annoys people like me (you do, don't you? c'mon man, you know you do) is that back in the day, in high school and college and even as a youngster in the Air Force (lots of geeks there) the guys on the base wherever you were would have informal clubs for various things, and we would have an SF club. Now we were guys who read Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, Zelazny, Brunner, Pournell, Niven and fourteen dozen other guys, and a trekkie would join up. They knew about nothing else, and it wasn't much fun. Of course, Star Drek, sorry Star Trek not only got revived and expanded, and everhowmany movies, and then along came Star Wars. Now there are two classes of pseudo-SF types. Nice.

I'M JUST KIDDING! I just enjoy a nice verbose rant now and then for a little fun. Correction, I am not kidding about the tarmac thing. No excuse for that kind of stuff. And I actually do like Star Wars. The original three, at least. One of my favorite SF writers, Leigh Brackett, who wrote some great stuff in the 40s and 50s, was asked by George Lucas to write the screenplay for 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Sadly, she died before the film was made. And even though I didn't care much for the other ones, but I like to browse Wookieepedia now and then and see all the fun stuff there. And I don't hate Star Trek. I watched the original series as a kid in the 60s, and it was enjoyable enough, but there is so much to discover in the world outside of ST/SW that beyond the very charming original Star Wars trilogy, I don't have time for them.

So, wanna talk about Dracula some more? Be warned that I may start to rant at some point. But probably not until we get to the latter-day (2000 onward) treatment. So with no more delays, here's the next bit.

Fred Saberhagen's Dracula
Fred Saberhagen was a well-known and popular SF author beginning in the 60s. Along the way he (fortunately for us) found time to write a series of novels about Dracula, with a slight twist. Looking at the list in Wickedpedia, I suspect I may have missed one or two. I'll find a synopsis and include it. So, here we go:

The Dracula Tape (1975) The great-grandchildren of Mina and Johathan Harker are trapped in their car by a snowstorm. How it happened I don't remember, but it seems they were unconscious, likely made that way by the infamous Count, who wishes to perhaps be a little less infamous by acquainting them with the truth about himself, as he regards Bram Stoker's account as false and slanderous. He then dictates a tape, informing them that he is not a bloodthirsty monster and doesn't go around biting people and turning them into vampires. At the end of the story he adds that great-grandmum Mina, whom he had bitten in the original account, was not in fact cured, since he was not killed, or rendered un-undead or whatever, in the attack by Van Helsing and his comrades. And Mina has over the years been reconstituted into a vampire and will be joining him to happily un-die ever after. Very enjoyable read, and luckily there are a number of imaginative sequels.

The Holmes-Dracula File (1978) Dracula, in 1887 London, joins Sherlock Holmes in tracking a serial killer leaving a trail of bloodless corpses. I'll dig these books out and add a more detailed synopsis if there is sufficient demand. Or you could just read the book

An Old Friend of the Family (1979) A member of a prominent Chicago family is attacked and turned into a vampire. But is isn't Dracula. She is a pawn in the scheme of an old enemy to get to Dracula himself.

Thorn (1980) I remember this one being rather strange. It involves a lost (for centuries) of Dracula, and his friends from Chicago are along for the ride.

Dominion (1982) Apparently Dracula is still hanging out in Chicago. If he could see it today he wouldn't want to. Although there is a lot of blood being liberated, but he probably wouldn't like the taste.

A Matter of Taste (1990) I don't remember this one. Must be one I missed. Apparently he likes Chicago though, as he's still there for this one.

A Question of Time (1992) Sure don't remember this one. Sounds interesting though. I'll get the collection together and see what's missing.

Seance for a Vampire (1994) Guess I missed this one as well. Seems Dracula is back in London to rescue Sherlock Holmes from something.

A Sharpness on the Neck (1996) Wherein past and present are interwtined, the past part being the French Revolution.

A Coldness In the Blood (2002) Again ancient history comes to haunt Dracula in the present day.

Just a few more things - recent vampire movies I enjoyed (not necessarily involving Dracula, but all things vampirical owe him)
I've included only films I have seen and were made in the last 30 or so years. OK, how about 40? I forget how old I am, and mostly stopped watching new movies - at least at release time, maybe see them years later if they seem interesting. Don't ask why I don't watch new movies any more. The main reason will be another rant. And I've only included the ones that are close to the Dracula-type - not the stuff with only sanguinary predation. A couple of humorous ones are included. I'll come back and add some notes later - all the sane people were in bed about two hours ago. Luckily I'm not one of them.

The Hunger (1983) Featuring an appearance by David Bowie, this is based on a novel by Whitley Strieber. Catherine Deneuve is the lead, Bowie is dispensed with early, and a young Susan Sarandon replaces him as Catherine's new lover (she can turn people into vampires but they start to age after an century or two, so she stores the aged undead in coffins in the attic. She's been around for a few millenia, so there's quite a collection. Susan Sarandon's husband (or maybe ex by then), Chris, is the cool, sophisticated blood-sucker in 'Fright Night'.

Interview With the Vampire (1994) Based on the first of Anne Rice's vampire novels, with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. It was OK but I wasn't especially impressed. The book was genuinely scary at times. She went on to write about a dozen sequels - I started reading the second one and lost interest. My preference in series runs to lighter stuff, usually action/adventure. Nick Carter, The Executioner, The Destroyer, etc. In other word, latter-day pulp. Not that it's trash - the Destroyer books feature an incisive running commentary of society from the 70s up to the present, and the Nick Carter (James Bond on steroids, without the twerpishness) books, written by a number of very good ghostwriters, offer a lot of historical and geopolitical information. Probably my failure to follow the sequels of books lately is not having enough time. I like George R. R. Martin a lot, but his switch to fantasy and the very long GOT books were a little much for the time I had available.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Francis Ford Coppola's excellent presentation of the original story. Follows the book closely, with visually stunning presentation. Worth watching for that alone. The cinema hotties du jour (Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Gary Oldman) are featured, with Anthony Hopkins very good as Van Helsing.

Fright Night (1988) This is where Susan Sarandon's ex Chris takes a shot at playing the vampire. He's suave, cool, and arrogant. Perhaps he shouldn't have been, as he gets done in by a teen horror movie fan and a retired television vampire hunter. A bit of humor amongst the horror.

Fright Night Part 2(1985) Charley and the old TV horror show host are back. Not bad, but sequels rarely measure up, and this is no exception.

John Carpenter's Vampires (1998) Based on 'Vampire$' by William Steakley. Enjoyed the book, and while the film departed considerably from the plot I enjoyed it too, thanks primarily to James Woods. The book had a group of mercenary vampire-hunters (apparently a lot of vampires from somewhere were annoying people who paid well to have the nuisance removed - kinda like termites or roaches only worse) while the film has them commissioned by the Vatican. Gallows humor and James' general bad-assery make it fun.

The Lost Boys (1987) This is a comedy/horror mix - there are a few scary parts but the real attraction is the antics of the two Coreys (the revelations of the bad things of what tragically happened to them in real life still in the future) and their eccentric grandfather.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) Strictly for humor, and the lovely Kristy Swanson. Worth watching for that reason alone. And it's funny, so while it has nothing to do with Dracula, here it is.

Succedant claudendo
Actually, there's not much more.   I have in recent years not watched a lot of television or gone to see movies.  Partly because of a lack of time, but more because the cultural/societal effects on the business (and that includes books) makes even some otherwise good work unwatchable.  The requirement for political correctness and pandering to certain segments of the population, among other things.  As for the current crop of vampire and zombie works, most seem to be oriented towards young people, and I'm an old guy.  And this is actually about Dracula, and most stuff today isn't.  Hence the lament for the venerable monster.