Frock Flicks Guide to Historical Draculas

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Happy Halloween! What better time to look at depictions of Count Dracula on screen — but, this being Frock Flicks, we’re going to look at the historical costume versions in movies and TV. While hundreds of films have been made about Dracula (he’s second only to Sherlock Holmes as an iconic fictional character in the movies), we’re especially interested in films and TV shows that try to tell the story of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, instead of making up their own vampire tales. And we’re going to look at ones that are ostensibly set in a historical period other than the time the movie was made — aka, the production is trying to use the period of the novel. This winnows down the list considerably!

 

1931, Dracula

Dracula (1931)

Helen Chandler & Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)

The original starring Bela Lugosi — this movie received approval from Stoker’s estate, unlike several early films, like 1922’s Nosferatu, which renamed the vampire Count Orlock in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit (didn’t work!). While Lugosi’s vampire became iconic and the movie basically follows the 1897 novel’s plot, the film looks like it’s set in the 1930s (at least going by the costumes).

Dracula (1931)

Bela’s undead…

 

1958, The Horror of Dracula

The Horror of Dracula (1958)

Christopher Lee in The Horror of Dracula (1958)

It’s Hammer time! The ’50s began the reign of Hammer Films, with Christopher Lee as Dracula. The film takes many liberties with Stoker’s story, but it’s nominally set in the 1880s with obvious Victorian costume cues. Plus, Peter Cushing plays a stellar Van Helsing.

The Horror of Dracula (1958)

Ya gotta have faith!

The Horror of Dracula (1958)

Peter Cushing, the first of many Van Helsings to mansplain to Mina (Melissa Stribling) about vampires.

The Horror of Dracula (1958)

Could use a corset, but otherwise, decent 1950s Victorian garb.

 

1970, Count Dracula

Count Dracula (1970)

Christopher Lee in Count Dracula (1970)

Director Jesus Franco claimed, at the time, that this was the most faithful adaption of Bram Stoker’s novel to the screen. But Christopher Lee all but disavowed his connection with the film, despite playing Dracula yet again. The story may be accurate, but the costumes and hair are only faintly Victorian-esque.

Count Dracula (1970)

The sad-sack costuming & porn ‘staches are not inspiring me here.

 

1973, Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1973)

Jack Palance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1973)

Supposedly set in the 1890s and starring Jack Palance as the count, this British TV movie connects Stoker’s story to the historical Vlad the Impaler (an inspiration for later versions). While the movie had decent production values for the time, the acting and direction were widely panned.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1973)

Believe it … or not!

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1973)

I have no idea what period this is going for — other than 1973.

 

1977, Count Dracula

Count Dracula (1977)

Louis Jourdan in Count Dracula (1977)

A few weird ’70s special effects make this BBC / PBS TV version feel dated, and the costuming is inconsistent, especially considering this was a high point of the Beeb’s historical output IMO. But if you can ignore that, it does follow much of the book’s story.

Count Dracula (1977)

Mina (Judi Bowker) rocking the prissy white blouse.

Count Dracula (1977)

The vampire brides, rocking the bangs.

Count Dracula (1977)

Lucy, post-baby-eating, pre-stake-in-the-heart.

 

1979, Dracula

Dracula (1979)

Frank Langella & Kate Nelligan in Dracula (1979)

Starring Frank Langella, this version plays around with Stoker’s novel by making Lucy more of a romantic interest for the count than Mina. The setting is 1913 England, and while some of the costumes have a touch of fantasy, many of the gowns and suits are strikingly historical in style. Bonus, Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing. I admit, I first saw this one in the theaters and have a real soft spot for it!

Dracula (1979)

Lovely Edwardian dinner-dance scene!

Dracula (1979)

Appropriate historical undies even.

Dracula (1979)

Daw, coffin cuddles.

 

1992, Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

The Francis Ford Coppola version with Gary Oldman as the count — listen to our podcast for a complete review. In particular, I love how Coppola tried to reflect the novel’s epistolary style through letters and telegraphs back and forth between characters. Also, the 1890s costumes have fantasy elements that beautifully evoke specific meanings about each character.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Lucy’s gowns show how she’s a free spirit & rebelling against her wealth & status, while Mina’s highly structured bustle gowns emphasize the constrictions in her life.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

So much detail in every outfit, even from the back.

 

2006, Dracula

Dracula (2006)

Marc Warren in Dracula (2006)

Another BBC / Masterpiece PBS production, a little more Victorian, and with some now-familiar faces. Marc Warren played Dracula and went on to play baddie Rochefort in The Musketeers on the BBC and the Gentleman in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, while Dan Stevens — dear, departed Mathew from Downton Abbey — was Lord Arthur Holmwood here, and Sophia Myles (Doctor Who, Tristan + Isolde) was Lucy.

Dracula (2006)

Oh happy day! (Although an evening gown for a daytime wedding wasn’t very common in the 19th c.; that’s a modern thing.)

Dracula (2006)

And it all goes to hell (maybe that’s what you get for flouting fashion conventions?).

 

2013, Dracula

Dracula (2013)

Jonathan Rhys Myers in Dracula (2013)

This basically unwatchable TV series lasted one season and starred Jonathan Rhys Myers as the count. Just, no.

Dracula (2013)

A weedy little meth addict & a trampy blond — how is this supposed to be vampires in Victorian London???

 

What’s your favorite historical Dracula movie or TV show?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

37 Responses

  1. Liutgard

    I have to note, re Christopher Lee in the 1970 Count Dracula- that mustache is accurate to Stoker’s description of Dracula, when Harker first meets him. I don’t know if that’s why that production used the mustache, but it is correct. (And I wonder what Lee’s problem was with that film?)

    Coppola’s version is gorgeous, but Frank Langella… oy. Turns my crank!

    Reply
    • MoHub

      For me, the Louis Jourdan Count Dracula was the closest to the novel, but that production—and every other version—totally missed Stoker’s satire. One get Mina wondering what the “New Woman” will think of her devotion to her husband when she is a perfect exemplar of the independent, intellectual New Woman.

      And since Stoker was Irish, I’m guessing he was Catholic and must have taken great pleasure in having his C of E heroes forced to use the tools of Catholic “idolatry” to combat the Count.

      The biggest issue for me is that no one really plays the class difference between pampered Lucy and self-made Mina. In the novel, Lucy looks up to and admires Mina’s independence and strength and tries to model herself on her more mature friend.

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      ‘Cept the 1970 mustaches are very 1970s & not 1870s :)

      I can’t find the interview now (it was during the pile of retrospectives earlier this year when Lee died), but it sounded like a combination of the low budget / poor working conditions & playing Dracula yet another damn time (his last & rather good riddance to him).

      Reply
  2. mmcquown

    Only Bram Stoker’s Dracula touches on the historical Dracula, Vlad III Tepes, and little of this appears in the original novel except for a few lines in the castle scene. One of the things that has always annoyed me is the number of films where the Mina and Lucy characters have been switched, for no particularly good reason. There is a very good film starring Rudolf Martins (?) which I cannot find my copy of or remember the exact title, but it tells the story of the real historical person. Sheelagh Wells, who did the makeup for the Jourdan film, became very attached to him when the glue for his nails stuck them together.

    Reply
  3. Sarah Lorraine

    Can we start a petition to bar Jonathan Rhys Meyers from starring in another historical period film? Pretty please?

    Reply
  4. mmcquown

    Addendum to previous comment: “Dark Prince” 2000. A fairly detailed and well-costumed account of the life of Vlad III — right up to the end, when they ring in the vampire myth.
    Have to support Sarah re JRM — but I don’t think he chooses the wardrobe.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I don’t care about the costumes, he’s just skeezy. I only *barely* liked him in “Gormenghast”, but that’s because Steerpike is basically JRM.

      Reply
  5. linziclaire

    Loved the Louis Jordan production which was done on a shoestring as it was a BBC production. I think they filmed at Highgate Cemetery which added authenticity. The Coppola production made me giggle – Keanu Reeves’ attempt at an English accent was so funny!

    Reply
  6. Sarah F

    I love how no one is even bothering to mention that ‘Dracula Untold’ monstrosity. “Dracula wasn’t a crazy warlord, he was just a dad!” I went with a friend (grudgingly), open to having my mind changed, but the moment I realized that Sultan Mehmet was just Dominic Cooper in brown-face, I was done. The movie went steadily downhill from there. Luke Evans is stupid hot, but… DAMN that was a terrible movie.

    Reply
  7. Yvonne

    I love them all :) I love the classic vampire to bits and each one had its own charm. Christopher Lee is my fav just because he is so awesome, but Lugosi is great too, in the same way Gary Oldman’s had its own charm. Even the more modern versions like Dracula 2000 drawing a line between Dracula and Judas, Dracula Untold as an interpretation of Vlad’s becoming Dracula, and even Johnathan Rhys Meyers’ version, while not traditional, did offer an interesting viewpoint as a business owner trying to maintain his place in society and his cover while seducing Mina and creating a device to allow him to walk in sunlight :) the only one in this list I haven’t seen is 2006 and I need to hunt it down! ^-^

    Reply
  8. Charity

    I’ve seen all of these, I think.

    My favorite is Langella’s. It’s total cheese and nothing like the book, but he is just… DAMN. Whatever is sexy in a man, he had in the 70’s and 80’s. And I love how the film is totally romantic but doesn’t shy away from brutality; it invites you to fall in love with Dracula, right along with the feisty heroine, while also showing you how callously he treats human life. There’s some intense psychology there.

    I recently re-watched NBC’s series and kept thinking what a missed opportunity it was; I don’t altogether mind JRM, but it could have been evocative and sexy and instead it was just trashy and sleazy. I mean, what was Lady What’s-Her-Face even WEARING? Every time she was on screen, all I could think was, “BOOBS.” There is absolutely nothing decent about it.

    Coppola’s is … like an acid trip, but those costumes are SO GORGEOUS.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yes, yes, yes!

      And I couldn’t watch more than an ep of JRM’s Dracula; I *wanted* to have a Dracula in American primetime, really I did, & I’ll give him a chance, but it was so cheap-looking & weak!

      Reply
  9. Yvonne

    And rewatching Christopher Lee’s Draculas there are some wonderful costumes, especially in Dracula has risen from the grave: the mother wears tidy fashionable dresses in bright colours, the barmaid wears appropriately revealing tops, while the innocent niece wears modest delicate pastels. And Peter Cushing’s suits in Horror of Dracula make me weak on the knees, so many lovely colours yet none look garish :)

    Reply
  10. mmcquown

    Lee came to hate the films, refusing in later ones to even bother to do the dialogue. He got “guilted” into some of them by the producers pointing out that if he didn’t do them people would be out of work. And nobody so far has mentioned the Carmilla movies, all Regency costumes and heaving bazoooms… Or Ingrid Pitt’s other big Hammer film, “Countess Dracula.” based on Elizabeth Bathory. Late 17thc, not bad costuming. Ingrid was a Survivor, having been in the camps as a child. She was Polish.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yeah, I didn’t want to go off into the weeds with the ‘inspired by’ stories or the other vampire tales — there’s always another Halloween, heh. I love the story of Carmilla, tho’ I don’t think there’s been a really good screen version of it.

      Reply
  11. Clara

    Of all these, my favourite has to be Coppola’s. Watching for the first time (13 years ago, on VHS), was quite an experience in every sense (Gary Oldman getting out of that box with dirt and his torso bare still does things to me), and one of my life goals is to reproduce Mina’s red gown (But yep, so far neither money or time enough to do it)

    Look’s wise I also love Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu. It has some really bizarre things (but then, it’s Herzog, his movies are bound to be bizarre), but it’s appropriatedly spooky and the costumes, as far as I remember, were good (Isabelle Adjani had some gowns that were designed after prerraphaelite paintings, I think).

    Reply
  12. mmcquown

    Klaus Kinski was one of the most difficult interviews I ever did. He wasn’t really interested in the whole schlepping the film business, and he was very offhand about everything. There’s a very interesting film called “Shadow of the Vampire” based on the making of the original “Nosferatu.” In the film, the actor playing the vampire really is one.

    Reply
    • Liutgard

      Yes! I have both films (I have a collection of vampire films) and they are both good. Kinski’s _Nosferatu_ is fabulous, atmospheric. And _Shadow of the Vampire_? Wilem Dafoe richly deserved the Oscar he got for playing that vampire. He was GOOD. And the film is so good, I watch it several times a year. Several lines from it are jokes in our family.

      “The script girl? (slurp!) I’ll eat her later…”

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I love “Shadow” — very clever flick, great idea, & well done. I was hoping to do a TBT this month, but just didn’t have time. Another day. (And the original “Nosferatu” – LOVE.)

      Reply
  13. Andrew E Larsen

    The real problem with Coppola’s Dracula is that Oldman and Reeves have more chemistry in their one scene together than either of them have with Winona Ryder.

    Reply
  14. mmcquown

    Ryder’s rather — bloodless — for a vampire movie.
    One of the more interesting versions of “Carmilla” was “Blood and Roses,” from back in the 50’s. It was a contemporaneous version, remembered as much for the Irish harp music as the story itself. Ingrid Pitt’s “The Vampire Lovers” was a typical Hammer film, but still pretty well done.

    Reply
  15. Liutgard

    So 9 mos later, I have some other observations:

    1. Has anyone else noticed the symbolic use of color in Coppola’s Dracula? Lucy in her pretty pastels- until she goes out to meet Drac in the garden- then she’s wearing that shocking orange-red, in layers and layers of silk. (I WANT THAT GOWN!) And Mina is wearing very subdued blue, green, grey- until she has that assignation with Vlad for a private dinner- then it’s blood red silk. (And I WANT THAT DRESS too!) There definitely seems to be a link between sexual awakening and red silk. ;-)

    2. Re Lee’s distaste for the Stoker films- The first one is pretty good, and he’s definitely the suave version of Drac that we remember. But notice- as the films go on, he begins to shift, and you go from the articulate and cultured nobleman to a monster. Towards the end, he communicates only in growls and snarls. Part of it is that he was just phoning it in. But it is also notable that in the book, the same regression happens, from articulate to animal.

    I highly recommend the book _Our Vampires, Ourselves_ by Nina Auerbach. She discusses a lot of these issues, and reviews a number of the films and TV. She also covers the earlier literary vampire tales (Varney, Ruthven, etc) and these really add an interesting layer of context.

    Reply
  16. mmcquown

    Nobody even mentioned “Love At First Bite.” Theoretically, it’s THE Dracula, but they make the same annoying mistake other Dracula movies do of assuming that Vlad is short for Vladimir, which it isn’t. At one time, I started trying to collect vampire novels, but the market got so bloated, I gave up. After “Interview” the thing just exploded. Somewhere out there is a father-and-son Dracula comedy, but I’ve never found it. Will definitely put the Auerbach book on my list.

    Reply
  17. Kathleen Norvell

    I have to admit that the Coppola version is my favorite for several reasons. First, I like the way he tied the “modern” story in with the Vlad Tepes story. Second, I enjoyed the hell out of the old-fashioned camera techniques (iris-in, iris-out, anyone?) which I studied in film class. That being said, I enjoyed the Louis Joudan one and — the Jack Palance one, that was much better than I thought it would be. I loved Frank Langella, but the story sucked. And having seen the original “Nosferatu” several times and the Klaus Kinski one, I just lapped up “Shadow of the Vampire.”

    Reply
  18. mmcquown

    I mentioned this in the “Twins of Evil” (the Collinson Twins also got a Playboy layout), but I’ll repeat it here, since it came up: the most stylish version of “Carmilla” was called “Blood and Roses,” aka “Mourir et Plaisir” and was done in the 60’s with Mel Ferrer and Annette Vadim. There was a lot of to-do over the Irish harp score.

    Reply

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