Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Dracula directed by Tod Browning (1931)
Dracula (US title The Horror of Dracula) directed by Terence Fisher (1958)
Count Dracula directed by Jesus Franco (1970)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1992)
Dracula: Dead and Loving It directed by Mel Brooks (1995)
Renfield directed by Chris McKay (2023)
Grab your wooden stakes, garlic, and of course your diaries because we all need to keep an incredibly detailed account of events!
So for this Dracula-extravaganza I watched six movies! I usually have a spoiler free section to start so I will share my spoiler free thoughts on all of these, then break down the plots of the three movies that are closest to the book. Then at the end there are some themes I wanted to talk about a bit more.
I was going to talk about Nosferatu as well, but there are already two versions of Nosferatu, as well as one scheduled for release next year! So I will save my Nosferatu talk for when the new movie comes out and I will make a video about all of those versions.
For the most part I would highly recommend this book, in part because of everything it has inspired, but it also is really creepy, exciting and has such a gothic, chilling, atmosphere.
I absolutely loved the first section with Jonathon Harker in Dracula’s castle and I would love to see a movie just adapt this part and forget everything in England. (If a movie like this exists, let me know so I can watch it!)
I like the parts in England as well but things take a turn in the last quarter of the book. It suddenly becomes a total drag and all suspense is lost. Van Helsing talked a lot as soon as he enters the story, but in this last section I was more annoyed at how he just went on and on! Just get to the vampire slaying already!!
And when I say the book was long winded in the end and Van Helsing just kept talking, I really need you to understand that I am not exaggerating (at east not too much) so I want to share a brief excerpt from some of Van Helsing’s dialogue. He is talking to the main group here and he says, “Here is a lesson: do not fear ever to think. A half-thought has been buzzing often in my brain, but I fear to let him loose his wings. Here now, with more knowledge, I go back to where that half-thought come from and I find that he be no half-thought at all; that be a whole thought, though so young that he is not yet strong to use his little wings. Nay, like the “Ugly Duck” of my friend Hans Andersen, he be no duck-thought at all, but a big swan thought that sail nobly on big wings, when the time come for him to try them. See I read here what Jonathan have written…” Like oh my gosh just get to the point!!! Tell us what your thought was already!! This isn’t like some great prose that goes on for a while but you don’t mind.
Despite the lag with the ending, as said, I would still highly recommend this book.
This movie is obviously so iconic and is an interesting piece of film history. Fun fact, Lon Chaney was supposed to play Dracula however he died and Bela Lugosi got the role instead. (Lon Chaney of course is who played the Phantom in the 1920’s The Phantom of the Opera which I covered last year). Bela Lugosi had already been playing the Count in the theater production of Dracula.
This was also going to be faithful to the book, however after the 1929 market crash, they just couldn’t afford to make such a sprawling epic that would equal the book and instead decided to make the movie more like the play. I did read the plot of the play and it’s kind of its own thing, but something interesting I wanted to note is that in the play Quincy Morris is a spirited American woman who helps them catch Dracula rather than being a man like he is in the book.
Back to the movie, it’s interesting too because the only use of music in the movie is diegetic sound. This was done because sound was so new to movies, the movie makers thought the audience would be confused by a soundtrack and therefore chose to not have music play unless it was music that would be playing in the setting that the characters would be hearing.
I would definitely recommend this movie to any film buff since it is an important part of Hollywood history, especially Hollywood’s monster movie history. If you aren’t really into film history though and don’t love older movies then maybe you should skip it because I don’t know if you would like it very much.
I did want to note that the actor who plays Renfield also played Fritz in the 1930’s Frankenstein!
I hadn’t been planning on watching the Christopher Lee 1958 version of Dracula, but then I read that Nicolas Cage’s favorite Dracula performance was by Lee. Lee is actually not in too much of this movie though and while I thought he was good I was disappointed not to have seen more of him and thought it was interesting Cage liked his performance so much, given he didn’t have much screen time really. However, when reading about the movie I realized Lee was in like 7 or so Dracula movies from 1958 into the 70’s! So, then it made much more sense why he is considered so famous for the role.
Anyway, this version I liked well enough and it is one of the earliest versions to have the women like being bitten by Dracula-it is compared to an addict wanting their drug. The storyline is similar to the 31 movie, but here Dracula never integrates himself into society. Lee also has a British accent and it was weird to hear someone in the role not use the usual Eastern European accent. There are are a couple comedic moments that felt out of place here because for the most part the movie takes itself seriously.
And a light spoiler here, this is the only version that I have seen that has Harker turn into a vampire while at the Count’s castle!
1970 Count Dracula
By 1970, after doing multiple Dracula movies, Lee really wanted to finally be in that was faithful to the book. Enter the 1970 movie Count Dracula. This movie does start out close to the book, and some of the major plot points are the same. But just because it is closer to the book doesn’t make it a great movie because to be honest, after the Harker part was over it kind of became a drag. Like the last third in particular, which is funny because the last part of the book was a drag as well-so I guess it really was faithful!
If you want to see Lee in the famous role, I would recommend this Dracula movie over the 1958 version. We see a bit more of Dracula, it is closer to the book, plus the actor who plays Harker and the actor who play Lucy are both quite attractive.
1992 movie review
I hadn’t been planning to watch this one because from what I read and the pictures I saw, it just looked too graphic for me. However, I was very curious to see the performances and it seemed like the most faithful adaptation so I wanted to give it a go. I found a middle ground when I saw the movie was available on VidAngel. I have an affiliate link if you would like to check it out, but VidAngel allows you to filter movies so you can skip over aspects of it you don’t want to see. It’s great if you are watching movies or shows with your kids and you don’t want to risk having your child see something too adult. In this case, it was just for me because I didn’t want to watch the werid sexual parts of the movie. It’s pretty cool because it allows you to go through and choose what things you want filtered and you can censor as much or as little as you would like.
I will say, there were times the movie was a bit choppy, because I could tell they had cut away from a scene and abruptly went to the next in order to avoid what I didn’t want to see. Nonetheless, I think this is a really cool tool to use.
While this movie is very close to the book, it makes a big change in having Dracula be in love with Mina because she is his past lover re-incarnated.
In the 1990’s we got modern adaptions of three classic horror stories-Frankenstein (which I talk about in my Frankenstein book vs movie), Sleepy Hollow and this. I love the 90’s version of both Frankenstein and Sleepy Hollow, but this version of Dracula just wasn’t my thing. I can apricate that it is trying to be faithful to the book while also telling a story that is something different than we have already seen in past versions. But this one is too weird, like in a disturbing way, and too disturbingly sexual. Like I get the story of Dracula has always been sexual to varying degrees, but like, this was just too much. And I even had filters on!
But honestly there are a lot of people who really like this version, so no need to pay me any mind.
This one is not an actual adaptation but is considered a quasi-sequel to the 1931 movie. We even have scenes form that movie recreated with Cage and Nicholas Hoult which I really liked. (They acted together previously in The Weather Man which I watched for my Nicolas Cage movie marathon! I also talk about Vampires Kiss, a movie where Cage plays a man who thinks he is becoming a vampire.)
Dracula has been a dream role for Cage and so it was cool to see him finally play the iconic vampire. The movie is called Renfield though, and Cage isn’t in as much as I would have liked. He is fantastic in the scenes he is in though. Even though I said I wished we got more Cage, that isn’t to say I didn’t like the rest of the cast because I thought everyone was amazing. I thought the different actors had the right chemistry and the movie was just very ridiculous, funny, and silly. They set it up for a potential sequel and I really hope it happens!
I won’t be bringing up this movie again in the spoiler section, since it is more of its own thing. But I would highly recommend it! I will say thought there is a lot of gore, but it is done in an over-the-top comedic kind of way. Cage also looks pretty disturbing at times as the Count while he is recovering. So even though I loved it, it isn’t one I would recommend to just anyone for those reasons.
Dracula Dead and Loving It
One last movie I want to mention, is the Mel Brooks spoof Dracula Dead and Loving It. This primarily spoofs the 1931 movie, but there are also elements from the 92 movie. Everyone is hilarious here, but I think most people agree the funniest person is Peter MacNicol as Renfield. I first watched this when it was somewhere in my teens, and through the last 15 plus years, there are still lines from it we quote-most of which come from the Renfield character.
From here on out there will be spoilers for the book and the ’31, ’70, and ’92 movies.
Arriving at Dracula’s castle
In the book, we begin with Jonathon Harker’s journal as he travels to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula with the sale of certain properties in England. He is there for several weeks (it’s over a month I believe) and early on he finds the Count to be odd (as well as incredibly repugnant) and as time goes on, he realizes that he is being held captive. I looooved this section of the book. We get so many creepy visuals, such as Dracula crawling along the wall of his castle like a lizard, Harker finding Dracula sleeping in his box of dirt a couple of times and one of those times Dracula has just fed and the way he is described is so gross. “The mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth and ran over the chin and neck. Even the deep, burning eyes seemed set amongst swollen flesh, for the lids and pouches underneath were bloated. It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood. He lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion.” It also says his eyes are open but are glazed over. Then we have the vampire women who appear in front of Harker and he is both repulsed and drawn to them. “There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear.” It was also really well written the way Harker tries to tell himself everything is fine, and when he starts to realize he is being held prisoner, he feels he needs to still act normal around the Count. But near the end, the count tells him he can leave the next morning and Harker is like, well why can’t I just leave tonight? The count says he can, but then of course wolves are at the front door so Harker can’t leave. He cries multiple times, such as in this moment, and you just really feel his desperation and fear throughout his stay.
We also have a scene when a woman is yelling and crying outside of Dracula’s castle because she is accusing him of kidnapping her child and she is begging for her baby back. Then there is another time when Dracula has a bag and there is something moving inside which the vampire women then lunge for and devour. The 1970 movie is the only one that has this scene with the woman crying for her baby, but the 1970 movie and the 1992 movie show the vampire women being given a child (in the ’70 movie it is in a bag so the scene isn’t visually graphic, but in the ’92 movie this was definitely one of the more disturbing parts.)
Early on it is funny though because Harker is picked up by a coach and once he arrives at the castle the coachmen has gone and Harker thinks Dracula was the coachman, but is acting like it was someone else. He then talks as thought the servants make dinner and such, but Harker at a certain point sees Dracula making Harker’s bed which confirms Harker’s assumptions that there are no servants and Dracula is the one cleaning up the house and making dinner and setting the table, but then acting like it is the servants. It makes me giggle to imagine Dracula in his suit and cape, setting the table, making the beds and working in the kitchen with an apron on lol.
He eventually escapes after Dracula has already left to go to London.
The 1970 and 1992 movie are two of the rare versions that still have it be Harker who goes to Transylvania and his experience there is very similar to the book. In the book and these versions, Dracula starts out old, but as he feeds, he gets younger. They really went all out with making him look old and weird in the 92 movie which overall I am fine with aside from the weird hair style. Like what is going on with that?? He is so gross and creepy; it was a relief to see him looking normal once he is in England.
In the ’31 movie it is Renfield who shows up at Dracula’s castle and he only stays a day before they both leave for England. This idea of having Renfield be the one to visit helps make sense as to why Renfield sees Dracula as his master and he eats bugs in order to get their lives and therefore extend his own. He watches over Dracula while on the Demeter, but when he is found on board, he is put in Sewards asylum. This is then used in other adaptations as well where it is Renfield and not Harker who shows up. (I talk more about this section where Dracula is traveling by ship to get to England in my The Last Voyage of the Demeter book vs movie I did recently!)
In the book Renfield is this random character who is a patient at Sewards asylum. He collects flies, then eventually spiders, then eventually birds and later begs for a kitten. Seward thinks he is just a lover of all creatures, until realizes that Renfield is actually eating these insects. He eats the birds too and gets horrible sick after. He wants to eat them because he thinks he will get stronger and live longer by consuming their lives. In the book he also has a connection to Dracula, but we don’t learn why this is so. In the book Dracula can control wolves and rats and things, so because Renfield is so unstable is he susceptible to being controlled by Dracula? Not really sure. He was a great character in the book, but I get why different adaptations made changes in order to explain why he is crazy and why he thinks of Dracula as his master. Because yeah, in the book Renfield had never even met Dracula until he is already in the asylum and Dracula then arrives in England.
In the ’31 movie the characters all live on the estate where the asylum is and they must have very poor security because Renfield is constantly showing up while they are hanging out in the main house. Like how is able to just keep popping up??
In the ’92 movies, they are like the book where Renfield is just a random guy who eats bugs. They really didn’t do much with his character and I was disappointed he wasn’t in more.
The 1970 movie has a Renfield that is much more melancholy and has no dialogue at all. This was a unique take on the character, and we get a backstory on him where we learn he had been to Transylvania with his daughter and his daughter died and he has never been the same since.
In all versions Renfield is killed by Dracula near the end.
Dr. Steward, Quincy Morris, and Arthur
In the book and the ’92 movie, Dr. Steward is a younger man who is friends with Arthur and Quincy and all three of them are in love with a woman named Lucy.
In the ’31 movie Dr. Seward is the father of Mina (or is he the father of Lucy?) and so other versions also have him be older. They also don’t have Quincy or Arthur and instead just have Harker as the only young guy in the bunch.
In the ’92 movie he is young, like I said, and he is also addicted to some kind of drug. This is actually alluded to in the book at one point when he says, “If I don’t sleep at once, chloral, the modern Morpheus—C2HCl3O. H2O! I must be careful not to let it grow into a habit.” In the movie his asylum is also grungy in a very 90’s kind of way. The guards wear these weird metal cages on their head for protection but it was such an odd (and heavy) look. Overall, I was liking the vibe of the asylum and it was definitely going a different more disturbed route then we had seen of Dr. Steward’s in previous versions.
Quincy is an American cowboy, and Arthur is a rich English guy and of the three, Lucy chooses to marry Arthur. This is the same in the ’92 movie, but man Lucy was so obnoxious in this version! I didn’t enjoy her character at all.
Harker isn’t part of this friend group, but because Lucy is friends with Mina, eventually Mina and Harker meet the others and become close.
In all versions, Lucy is the first to be attacked and turned by Dracula. While she is sick is when Steward eventually asks his former teacher Van Helsing to come help them out. Van Helsing suspects a vampire but is very secretive about his thoughts. He does put a bunch of garlic in Lucy’s room the first night he shows up but then that morning Lucy’s mother tells them it was so stifling she took it out and opened the window. Then ends with saying, “You will be pleased with her, I am sure.” Thinking she has done them a big favor. The self-control Van Helsing has to keep his composure as she tells him this lol.
Her mom later dies in the book when she is with Lucy and she sees a wolf break in and she has a heart attack and her body falls on top of Lucy. Her mother isn’t in any of the movies.
But in all movies, when Lucy dies, she is put in her tomb, but when Van Helsing takes others to look, they see she has become an undead who is now preying on children. In the book and ’92 movie the whole group of guys go (aside from Harker who is still recuperating) and they kill Lucy.
In the ’31 movie Lucy’s death is very quick and not much time is spent with her.
I guess I should spend some time talking about Dracula himself! In the book we don’t see too much of him to be honest, aside from that opening section with Harker. He never infiltrated the group as a normal person which is a big change the ’31 movie made (which was inspired by the play) which caused other adaptations to do the same. He befriends them and Lucy is especially taken with his mysterious aura.
In the ’31 movie though, Van Helsing sees that he has no reflection and realizes it is he who is the culprit. We then have a later scene when Van Helsing knows the truth, yet he is having like a casual conversation with Dracula. Like what are you doing?? Don’t act normal, seize the opportunity and kill him!
The ’70 movie Dracula does not talk normally to any of the characters and is like the book in that way.
In the ’92 movie Dracula introduces himself to Mina and the two of them start dating basically while she waits to hear from Jonathon. This movie has the twist that Mina is the reincarnation of Dracula’s long-lost love from 400 years ago. She feels a connection to him because she can sense her past life. However, she hears that Harker is recovering in some hospital and so she leaves Dracula to go be with Harker.
In the ’92 movie, Mina can’t help but be drawn to Dracula, and when he has her drink his own blood in order to turn her, she is doing it willingly when the men enter the room and see what is happening.
In the book, Mina is left out of the plans with Dracula because they think she is too sensitive to know. However, while they are out during the night looking for Dracula’s boxes of dirt, Dracula is sneaking into Mina’s room and eventually the men walk in one night and see Mina in a trance, bring forced to drink Dracula’s blood.
As they are later trying to hunt down Dracula, they realize in book and 92 movie that Mina has a physic connection to Dracula and use this power to follow him. However, turns out he is also using the power to track their motions and is able to trick them.
In the ’92 movie Mina is starting to turn into a vampire and when she is with Van Helsing near Dracula’s castle, she is lured by the vampire woman to become one herself and she even tempts Van Helsing. He kisses her, but then uses a holy wafer against her and scars her head. In the book the vampire women try to lure Mina to turn, but she is still human enough and is disgusted by them. Earlier in the book Van Helsing had been wanting to bless Mina with a wafer and ends up scarring her because she has more vampire blood in her than he realized.
This part in the movie is kind of weird though with Mina like yelling and writhing around before trying to tempt Van Helsing.
In the ’31 movie Mina is bit by Dracula and starts to turn but is also still conflicted about it. Dracula takes her to his castle, and while the men are killing the vampires, she is off in the corner and once Dracula is killed she returns fully to herself.
In the ’70 movie Mina being bitten wasn’t as big of a deal.
But in the book and ’92 movie Van Helsing goes in the castle during the daytime and kills the vampire women and they each turn to a normal woman before then turning to dust (in the book that is).
In the book and it is daylight while Dracula is having gypsies drive him to his castle while Quincy, Arthur and Dr. Seward in hot pursuit. They eventually get to where Van Helsing and Mina are and right as the sun is setting, they open up Dracula’s box and as he tries to attack, he is stabbed in the heart and turns to dust. In the process though Quincy is killed. We then get an epilogue from seven years later and hear that Mina and Jonathan have a son who they call Quincy.
In the ’92 movie, it is daylight but Dracula is able to get Mina to cast a spell to make it dark. Once again, as they battle Quincy is killed, and they do some damage to Dracula but then he and Mina go into his castle and while he looks all freaky and gross, she kisses him. Her love turns him back to normal, but he is still cursed and he asks her to free him and she stabs the knife all the way and then cuts off his head.
In the book it felt like Mina should have avenged herself, so while it was cheesy especially with the added romance, I kind of liked that Mina delivers the final death blow in the movie.
In the ’70 movie, it is just Jonathon and Arthur who go to Dracula’s castle while Mina and Van Helsing stay behind, and they kill him by setting him on fire.
As much as I like this book, it definitely isn’t perfect, for reasons I have already stated with the ending and no explanation with Renfield. But also, like why did he keep Harker at the castle for over a month and then just left him there? Why did he not kill Harker or turn him into a vampire or like other version show-turn him into his familiar/slave person? Did he leave him there for the vampire women? But there was that time when they were trying to get to him and Dracula stops them and tells them tonight Harker is his and they can have him the next night. But then Dracula never does anything with Harker… Speaking of all of this, in the ’31 movie, after Dracula tells the women to leave Harker for him, he then is bending down to bite him but the censors had it fade out before he gets too close because they thought it was too gay to show a male vampire biting a man.
Another minor quip I have is Quincey dying in the end. Quincy isn’t even a character we hear too much about, and never get anything from his perspective. Him dying had no impact on me whatsoever. Like if you are going to kill off a character, have the guts to kill a character that will actually emotionally affect the audience!
Something I wanted to mention that I found funny is the way Renfield is in the book with his bugs. In some adaptations, like the ’31 movie, Seward doesn’t want him eating bugs and will take them away. In the book though he doesn’t really care to stop Renfield from doing it and will even provide him with sugar which he can use to lure the flies. But in the book and other movie versions, Mina speaks to Renfield. Before she (and in the book Van Helsing and Arthur as well) enter, Seward tells Renfield he has guests and Renfield very casually is like, oh okay let me clean up. His way of cleaning up is to eat all of the flies and spiders he has been keeping! He then has a very normal conversation with the group and they are all surprised at how sane he seems.
Women’s sexuality and Xenophobia in Dracula
The female characters play a key role in this book and female sexuality is also a key element. This isn’t a book that makes the women characters simply serve as a plot device, they do seem more fleshed out and we get large segments that are from Mina’s perspective as well as letters from Lucy sharing her thoughts. Of course, there are times when Mina has a great idea and she is told she has a man’s brain because she is so smart, as well as moments when they don’t want to fill Mina in on what is happening because since she is a female, she is too delicate to know the truth. Yet at the same time, Mina is a crucial part of the story and is very smart and wise.
What I really want to dive into though, is female sexuality. We hear many times how both Lucy and Mina are kind, sweet, proper, and pure. While the vampire women are voluptuous, sensual, and tempting. When Lucy is starting to turn, she is wanting to kiss Arthur and just in general, women are much more forward (to put it mildly) once they are starting to turn and while the men are tempted, they are also disgusted.
When Lucy, and then later Mina, are attacked by Dracula, the men that love them are just as horrified at what has happened to the woman in their life (understandably). The bravery of the men fighting to save Mina is brought up a few times and yeah it’s great for men to stand up for the women in their lives, I wish Mina had felt some of that anger. Instead, she says how she pities Dracula. Her logic being, she may become like him and she would want them to pity her, so they should pity Dracula who is also cursed. So I get it, but especially in 2023 I think women are tired of reading about the women who have been done wrong (to put it lightly) but are so forgiving and kind despite what has been done to them. And it feels like Mina is robbed of her revenge by having the men be the ones to kill Dracula.
But when Dracula has Mina drink his blood in the book, she is so ashamed and embarrassed that this has happened to her. She feels she is now impure. This was very similar to when a woman is raped in real life, and the victim shaming she often does to herself, with feeling of shame and guilt, even though she was not the one who did something wrong. There is also the feeling of being defiled and impure. One of the times Dracula feeds on Mina, she and the others see him and he tells them that this isn’t even the first or second time he has done this to her and she hadn’t even known.
But going back to how being turned causes women to be incredible sexual, it is interesting how the men talk about their disgust with the vampire women and how desperately they don’t want to see Mina have the same fate. I get in the book the vampire women have cursed souls and are murderers, so there is so much more there to be disgusted by than just the fact that they are open with their sexuality. But it is still interesting to see that as Stoker’s view on society and how they want their women to be kept sexually pure and innocent and certainly never the sexual pursuer. When the vampire women are trying to tempt Mina to come to their side, Van Helsing is relieved to see that Mina is still a clean, decent woman who is not wanting to be like them. Her purity, despite the fact that she does become at least partially “unclean” stands as a symbol of what the men are fighting for.
It’s interesting too that Dracula is a foreigner and the xenophobia that can happen. When people have these discriminatory thoughts, the men often seem to have the fear that these other kinds of people are going to come to where they live and have sex with their “genetically pure” women.
It’s also interesting that the people of Europe, specifically Transylvania do nothing to stop Dracula, and it isn’t until college educated, rich, white men become involved that Dracula is finally killed.
In some ways, this can almost be seen as an allegory about Londoner’s (and to be fair, the fear of any old money white people) of those different than them coming in and messing up the genetics and therefore messing up with the culture that they so highly value. (I recently read some H.P. Lovecraft who everyone knows what xenophobic and it is a theme that comes up in his works so maybe I am projecting his fears onto Dracula when that wasn’t what Bram Stoker was going for…)
Which adaptation is the best?
The adaptation that is closest to the book is for sure the 1992 movie, the biggest change being the romance/reincarnation plot. The 1970 movie is the next closest. Despite those two being the most faithful, I don’t think I would watch either one again. Like maybe I would watch the 1970 movie, but even that was a bit of a slog after the initial 30 minutes. The ’92 movie was just too graphic for me to watch again.
Really though, I won’t be in a rush to re-watch any of these aside from Renfield which I already want to see again because I enjoyed it that much! And Dracula Dead and Loving It is a movie I had already watched like twice, before watching it a third time in preparation for this.
Nonetheless, I am glad I went through and watched all of these Dracula movies. Even though it has been adapted so many times, I still think they could make yet another one that focuses solely on Harker’s time in the castle.
Book vs movie
When it comes to book vs movie, since I said the ’92 movie is the most faithful, I will have that going against the book. It’s an easy choice though-the book wins. I have my complaints with both, but the book is able to be creepy, suspenseful (until it isn’t), and gives you a lot to think about. The movie was tough to get through, with the subpar acting by Keanu Reeves, and at time Winona Ryder and even Anthony Hopkins. And to be honest, I am just not a big fan of Francis Ford Coppola.