Daily Archives: 27/07/2010

Dracula: A Personal Perspective

[writtern by reviewer, Mihai Adascalitei]

I was born in the land of Dracula, but have honestly never seen the attraction in vampires.

Castle Bran: 'Home of Dracula'

Still, Bram Stoker’s Dracularemains an interesting book, and one novel that I remember without effort. The fictional character of Dracula is associated with the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, one of the most imposing figures of Romanian history, but the association doesn’t always do Vlad justice.

Vlad Tepes: Mass murderer or slightly misunderstood?

He is seen as a very cruel figure but I dare to suggest that Vlad Tepes was not all that different from other rulers of his period. Raised from an early age at the High Porte, Vlad might have picked up a few torture methods from the Ottoman Empire but there are references of another Romanian ruler of that time, Stefan III of Moldavia, using the famous impaling technique. Although Vlad’s rule was short, it was dominated by hard times and he imposed equally harsh measures in return.

Another key point in the image of Vlad Țepeș is his relationship with the local boyars. Returning from his imprisonment at the High Porte he took the throne of Wallachia for a short period in 1448 and for a second time in 1455. Among his first important acts was to seek revenge for the assassination of his father and the death and torture of his older brother at the hands of the local boyars. Many were impaled as punishment and others were forced on a long march to Poenari where they were sentenced to work rebuilding a ruined fortress. Vlad Țepeș imposed new taxes on foreign merchants in order to protect local commercial activity, which led to exaggerations of the punishments he imposed on those who failed to follow his commercial laws. It is true that his favorite method of punishment was impalement, which lead to his surname Țepeș (the Impaler), but also led to a local legend; it is said that during his rule a gold cup was left in the central square of Târgoviște for thirsty travellers to drink from, and that cup was never stolen during Vlad’s reign.

It is true that his favorite method of punishment was impalement, which lead to his surname Țepeș (the Impaler), but also led to a local legend; it is said that during his rule a gold cup was left in the central square of Târgoviște for thirsty travellers to drink from, and that cup was never stolen during Vlad’s reign.

Vlad enjoys a little entertainment with his supper

The region is synonymous with the vampire, a creature that has haunted the local folklore since ancient times. Representations of evil, “strigoii”, as they were called in the past, gradually evolved into the shape-shifting, bloodthirsty beings with the power to control the human mind that we now know as vampires. John Polidori crafted a new image for the creatures with his novel The Vampyre, but Bram Stoker’s Dracula is considered to be the work that laid the foundation for the modern vampire in fiction.

The birth of cinema turned Dracula into a cinematic icon. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Dracula has 223 appearances on the silver screen, but for me the most memorable is the 1992 Francis Ford Copolla movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. With a few exceptions, the movie has a beautiful atmosphere, some excellent images and above all a very talented Gary Oldman in the role of Count Dracula. Impersonating a dark and dangerous character, but also injecting sensuality and elegance into his role, Gary Oldman makes a perfect Dracula. His performance is even more impressive considering the high standards imposed for this role by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. Come to think of it, there is a 1979 Romanian movie dedicated to the historical figure of Vlad Țepeș and I believe that Gary Oldman would make an excellent Vlad if the movie were to be remade.

Oldman as the greatest vampire of them all

Like I said, I was born in the land of Dracula but I am not particularly fond of vampires. Without Dracula, however, I would be drawn away from vampires definitely and irrevocably.

Greg Perreault's intepretation of Dracula

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The Tragic Warrior: A Review of ‘Dracula’ (1973)

[Written by author and reviewer, Robert Hood]

Dracula: (US-1973; TV; dir. Dan Curtis)

For several decades, Dan Curtis (who passed away of a brain tumor in March of 2006) lurked in the background of horror film commentary, relegated to being something of an outsider because he specialised in television production. Most famous, perhaps, for his involvement in the vampire melodrama series Dark Shadows (1966-70, 1990-91), he was also responsible for many horror films, including (as director) House of Dark Shadows (1970), The Night Strangler (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Turn of the Screw (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Burnt Offerings (1976), Intruders (1992), Trilogy of Terror II (1996), and (as producer) Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1968), The Night Stalker (1972), Frankenstein (1973) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973). These are the work of a man with a firm grasp on the aesthetics of the horror film and the technicalities of evoking an atmosphere of terror. And one of his most memorable efforts was the tele-movie Dracula (1973), starring Jack Palance as the Count.

This version of the Bram Stoker novel is not only more faithful to its source than most, but contains one of the best portrayals of the vampire lord yet produced for the screen. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula might be the more recognisable and the most iconic of them all, but Palance’s Dracula is frightening and imposing, and exudes a power that few have captured on the screen before or since. He is superb — probably the first Dracula to encompass such inhuman complexity, coming over as both fascinating and unnerving. He is physically dominant throughout and conveys a wonderful sense of dark power: aristocratic without being effete; yet strangely, deeply haunted by his lost humanity. What’s more he looks like he might have led armies — and not gentlemanly armies, but armies of semi-barbaric warriors. Palance’s reaction when Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) thrusts the cross at him is a superb example of the complexity he brings to the role; it hurts him and he must turn away, yet he fights it with an almost despairing anger. The emotions — loss, desire, hate, despair and animalistic rage — swirl across Palance’s features: confronting, yet not melodramatic and overplayed. Palance has more than a touch of Christopher Lee in his performance, but he brings more complexity to its emotional nuancing than Lee ever managed to give the role — as effectively imposing as the latter was. 

Coppola’s Dracula takes much from this version, too — including the “lost love” storyline, which Curtis (and Matheson) introduced as a way of giving their Count a more emotionally potent rationale for immigrating to England, while opening a door on his lost humanity. It was to become a “standard” of the Dracula cinematic myth. Over all, in fact, the Richard Matheson script is an imaginative masterpiece — inventive, yet closer to the book than any that preceded it. Curtis’ direction is also creative and wonderfully controlled, if somewhat constrained by TV budgets and TV-style cinematography (though he continually pushes the limits of standard contemporary practice, creating effective camera movements that cause the viewer to focus on important visual information yet otherwise carry him/her effortlessly through the narrative). Davenport as Van Helsing is not in Peter Cushing’s league, of course, but he is more than serviceable, and both Fiona Lewis as Lucy Westenra and Penelope Horner as Mina Murray bring a convincing sensuality to their roles as Dracula’s less-than-unwilling victims.

 But it is Palance who gives the film its frisson. His cry of suprahuman despair over the staking of his long-lost love — and the coldly inhuman revenge he pursues in its aftermath — stays with you long after the film has ended.

First published on Robert Hood’s website: www.roberthood.net