The 13 Best Dracula Movies
Article By: Tony Timpone
Though his story has been adapted immeasurable times across stage, screen and television, Bram Stoker’s immortal bloodsucker gets a new-fang-led origin story in Universal’s eagerly-awaited Dracula Untold, swooping into theaters and crypts today. Many great (Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman) and not-so-great actors (Blue Lagoon’s Christopher Atkins?!) have sunk their teeth into Dracula ever since Irish author Stoker first published his influential horror novel in 1897, so it’s about time Chiller rated the best with today’s Friday 13 Count Countdown! (Titles arranged according to year of release.)
1. Dracula (1931)
Time has not been kind to this first official version of Stoker’s book. Director Tod Browning’s flat direction and theatrical staging make sitting through this 75 minute chestnut a bit of a challenge. But what keeps the ’31 Drac essential viewing is star Bela Lugosi’s indelible performance and those wonderfully atmospheric opening reels set in Transylvania. Strangely, Universal did not reenlist Lugosi to play the Count until 1948’s classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
2. The Return of Dracula (1958)
Dracula comes to California in this fun B-movie, a riff on Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. The Transylvanian vampire (Czech actor Francis Lederer, with the best accent outside Lugosi) impersonates a dead man and ingratiates himself into the home of the deceased’s gullible family (a plot since lifted by this fall’s thriller The Guest). Soon he sets his hypnotic peepers on 17-year-old daughter Rachel (actress Norma Eberhardt, then 29!). Return’s crackerjack climax rates as one of the best-ever demises for the undead fiend.
3. Horror of Dracula (1958)
Britain’s Hammer Films produced more Dracula flicks than any other studio, with the towering Christopher Lee portraying arguably the screen’s greatest vampire king. Inspired by Stoker’s original words, Lee boldly captured the character’s sensuous and menacing nature. And Dracula’s final clash with Van Helsing still leaves fans breathless. Lee returned to the part Count-less times, with 1968’s Dracula Has Risen From the Grave standing higher than the likes of the Austin Powers-ish Dracula A.D. 1972.
4. Blacula (1972)
Released during the apex of the blaxploitation cinema craze, this Stoker detour demands our respect largely due to the commanding presence of lead William Marshall. The Shakespearean thespian toplines as an African prince bitten by Dracula centuries ago and locked in a coffin. Awakened by a couple of mincing thieves, the prince emerges in ’70s-era Los Angeles. When vampire hunters stake his reincarnated love, the broken-hearted Blacula deliberately shuffles into the sunlight in the film’s surprising ending.
5. Count Dracula's Great Love (1973)
Spanish werewolf performer Paul Naschy took a swing at another traditional monster in this sexy (and campy) Gothic chiller. When a group of 19th century travelers bunk down next to his castle, Dracula sets his sights on the lovely ladies. All fall prey to his ancient charms, except the chick he really wants the most (we know the feeling!). Former bodybuilder Naschy weighed in as the movies’ beefiest Dracula until Blade Trinity’s Dominic Purcell came along decades later.
6. Dracula (1974)
Dark Shadows creator and Night Stalker director Dan Curtis knew a thing or two about vampires when he decided to tackle the most famous vampire of them all with this fairly faithful adaptation. Master of the one-armed pushups, Jack Palance accentuates the physical power of Dracula in this outing, once more pulling up stakes in Transylvania and settling in London to begin his reign of terror. For the first time, scripter Richard Matheson incorporates both background on the historical Dracula and a reincarnated wife into the storyline, angles since copied by others, including Francis Coppola and team.
7. Andy Warhol's Dracula (aka Blood for Dracula) (1974)
The gore and sex comes to the forefront in this Andy Warhol presentation, directed in Italy by New Yorker Paul Morrissey. This time, Germany’s Udo Kier limns the malnourished Dracula, on the hunt for life-sustaining “wirgins” in the picturesque Italian countryside. The eccentric Kier, who has since made a career of portraying vampires and assorted baddies, garners our sympathy as the frustrated and dying plasma parasite in this trashy but fun cult picture.
8. Count Dracula (1977)
Gigi Frenchman Louis Jourdan provides Dracula his most cultured airs in this handsome UK production that aired stateside on PBS’ Great Performances. Unlike previous versions, this take hews closely to Stoker’s text, from shots of Dracula crawling head first down the castle walls to his brides feeding on babies to the posse of heroes putting an end to the Count’s blood rage. Jourdan displays an understated menace as the red-eyed villain.
9. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Teutonic terror Klaus Kinski appears as the most loathsome-looking Dracula of them all in director Werner Herzog’s worthy remake of the landmark 1922 silent film. Herzog presents his vampire (and accompanying rat hordes) as a pestilence upon mankind, counterbalanced by poetic and dreamy visuals. As the bat-eared, rodent-toothed and love-stricken Dracula, Kinski remains the stuff of nightmares.
10. Love at First Bite (1979)
Capitalizing on his matinee-idol image and refusing to give up his trademark tan, George Hamilton’s Lugosi-like Dracula romances New York City model Susan St. James in this hilarious send-up. The film sports some unpredictably politically incorrect humor (most courtesy of cameo castmates Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford of TV’s The Jeffersons). Another highlight finds Dracula going all Travolta in a killer boogie dance scene.
11. Dracula (1979)
Which logically brings us to Saturday Night Fever director John Badham’s expensive remake, sometimes derided as the “disco Dracula.” Repeating his acclaimed Broadway role, Frank Langella dons the cape and goes straight for the hearts of lonely housewives in this heavily romantic installment. Dracula’s hair and frilly dress shirts never looked better, while the sexy montages of James Bond’s titles man Maurice Binder paired with John (Star Wars) Williams’ exquisite score make the love scenes explode from the screen.
12. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
There’s much to recommend in this, the most famous and popular retelling of Stoker’s eternal creature thus far. Godfather director Francis Coppola assembled a top-shelf cast (Gary Oldman as you-know-who, Winona Ryder as Mina, Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, etc.) to bring fresh blood to the oft-told tale. Then there’s Keanu Reeves as Harker…well, let’s not go there! As Dracula, Oldman gets to show off the Count’s multiple visages from old to young, in a constant catwalk of Oscar-winning costumes and makeup. This edition fails to capture Stoker to the letter (sorry, no reincarnated lovers in the novel), but Coppola and screenwriter James V. Hart do come close. Plus you won’t find a more visually-stunning, inventive and literate interpretation.
13. Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002)
This arthouse curiosity from Canada’s Guy Maddin ranks as the most unusual—and beautiful—Dracula movie yet, unlike anything ever attempted before. For starters, the movie’s silent, in black and white and monochrome, stars a Chinese dancer (Wei-Qiang Zhang) as Dracula and the story is largely told through ballet and pantomime! With this offbeat (to say the least!) approach, Maddin still exhibits fidelity to the Stoker source, though he imagines his Dracula as just another frowned-upon foreigner as opposed to simply a remorseless monster. Add that to the immigration debate!
FANGORIA editor emeritus Tony Timpone penned the introduction to On Set With John Carpenter: The Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker, which you can learn more about here.