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!
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).
1958, The Horror of Dracula
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.
1970, Count Dracula
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.
1973, Bram Stoker’s Dracula
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.
1977, Count Dracula
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.
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!
1992, Bram Stoker’s Dracula
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.
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.
This basically unwatchable TV series lasted one season and starred Jonathan Rhys Myers as the count. Just, no.
What’s your favorite historical Dracula movie or TV show?
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!
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.
‘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).
I just saw this here- came back to look at photos…
When Jonathan first meets Dracula, we see an old man, clean shaven but for a long white mustache. As the book (and the 1970 movie) goes, his mustache darkens as he takes more victims and reinvigorates himself. The shape described seems to be longer than the classic porn ‘stache- more of a thick Fu Manchu than a horseshoe mustache (think Hulk Hogan). The other men in the production though, I can’t speak to- it’s been about 20 years since I saw the film, and most of what I remember was Dracula’s mustache and Klaus Kinski as Renfield, cowering in a corner…
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.
Can we start a petition to bar Jonathan Rhys Meyers from starring in another historical period film? Pretty please?
I WOULD SO SIGN THIS.
He was perfect as Steerpike in Gormenghast, which is still the only thing I’ve really properly watched with him, so I don’t mind him at all. Very true to Peake’s writing. I can see that he might not work as well as a leading man type, though.
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.
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.
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!
Keanu “Ted “Theodore” Logan” Reeves, yes, never ever let him do an accent in a film again, please!
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.
BROWN FACE. NO.
I was about to include it, except it had zero to do with the novel of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, & I was trying to stay on track. We should save “Untold” for Snark Week, it’s truly terrible!
Please do. I will go into the comments and snark on that movie SO HARD.
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! ^-^
The 2006 version is only Dracula in name. There is no plot from the book in it, they only used the setting and the names of characters, that’s it. Like, fine if you want to do a vampire story that has nothing to do with Dracula, but why then use the name? (I can guess of course)
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.
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!
My favourite is Frank Langella’s Dracula. He’s very sexy in it.
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 :)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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…”
Shadow is one of my favorite films. And John Malkovich is a hoot in it.
I can’t wait to see it, thanks for sharing!
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.)
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.
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.
Raather bloodless, but completely weird shit- Dreyer’s ‘Vampyr’. https://youtu.be/44B07oaEr6g 1932. It’s the one that gave me nightmares.
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.
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.
There’s also an annotated edition of _Dracula_ by Norton, which is very interesting…
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.”
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.
I loved the 2013 for the costumes! Lady Jane & Lucy had the best ones. Plot wise it sucks.
My favorite Dracula is Love at first bite, and Dracula, dead and loving it.
Over the course of the different films, we see different aspects of Dracula’s character; Palance is the warrior, Jourdan the intellectual, Langella the lover, etc, but no one film has ever put them all together. And what WAS that mess on Drac’s head in the Coppola version? One critic described it as looking like a “pus-covered lightbulb.”
ugh, that last one. The lady’s boobs look like they’re trying to escape from her body.
Just curious, have you seen the 1922 Nosferatu movie, if only for the costumes? It is set in the late 1830s, and the costumes are actually pretty decent imho, much more period accurate than in many later movies in general.
Yup, I own a copy. I think the only quibble I can think of at the moment is that it seems that the skirts are not full enough- not enough petticoats.
And ‘Ellen’ is a dork. ;-)
My favorites out of all of these are ” The Horror of Dracula” and the Frank Langella version. On that note, can we please have a MCM for him? Pretty please? He’s been in several period pieces; aside form ” Dracula”, he starred in Mel Brook’s ” The Twelve Chairs” and a TV version of ” The Mark of Zorro” opposite Ricardo Montalban. He fopped it up delightfully as Don Diego. Thanks! :)
” aside from”. Sorry, got all excited thinking about that sexy voice of his :)
I like your taste in Langella. ;)
Oh yes! The voice! And those eyes!!!
I think I was maybe seven years old or so when we discovered his Zorro on television? It’s my mom’s favorite version of Zorro to this day! All that grandiose “foppery” that would make Sir Percy Blakeney proud. About ten years later, we were watching it on a rerun / recording it, and my father walked past, paused to watch it for a few minutes, and then said, “Yeah, I can see why women like Langella.” His Dracula is admittedly cheesy, but somehow every person I’ve showed it to has loved it. And I know why. HIM. ;)
IMHO, the only one with a sexier voice than him was Alan Rickman. I think they’re both responsible for global warming :)
Agreed. I’m also partial to Jeremy Irons’ voice, myself…
Oooh, Jeremy Irons! Good call – I loved him in “Kingdom of Heaven” as Tiberius.
Just flapping through here. Personal Dracula favourite; Leslie Nielsen in Mel Brooks’ Dracula – Dead and Loving it!
Ok, I’ll bat out now..
After Rudolf Martins appeared a Dracula “Dark Prince,” he paid it off with a guest shot on “Buffy.” One of their best episodes. BTW, the costuming on “Dark Prince” was pretty good.
I’m about to watch the Louis Jourdan version. I’m a big lover of the novel and I just want to see some justice done for it.
Every version has teased me with glimpses of the adaptation I so desperately want.
Coppola gave me a Jonathan I could love and Tom Waits. Just Tom Waits. Period. (the rest of the film and characterization notwithstanding, I just can’t stomach it, especially Lucy and Gary Oldman makes me gag)
The 2006 version gave me a Lucy/Holmwood casting I could adore, a Dracula I would sell my soul for and the best choice POSSIBLE for Dr. Van Helsing and then stabbed me in the back with a script and plot so APOPLECTICLY STUPID I just about kicked my TV set in.
This version had just better serve up the actual story along with the 1970’s low budget gothic realness. But we’ll see.