Many men have played the ultimate bad ass known as Dracula during the course of movie history. Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman are the three that come to mind first. None of these men were my first Dracula.
You always remembe your first.
When I was five, I watched John Badham's 1979 DRACULA on a Betamax tape. Frank Langella was my first Dracula. The strange part is that for years, I could only remember one scene and it gave me nightmares for years.
I remember when Laurence Olivier and Donald Pleasance climb down a wooden ladder into a cavernous dirt crypt and get attacked by a crazy woman all dressed in white with huge fangs and bloodshot eyes.
I didn't know who Olivier or Pleasance were at the time. A few years later, when I saw HALLOWEEN, I had the strangest sense that I had met Dr. Loomis somewhere. It took me a couple more years to figure out why I thought I knew him.
The thing is, when you are five, you have no way to conceptualize such a scene, let alone an entire film. It is just as difficult to
remember a particular actor unless you see them often enough to have his face imprinted on your memory. So the next time I saw Langella, he looked more like that shrieking corpse than the debonair Count. Many would say it's a tragedy that because of this DRACULA and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE are entwined in my memory in ways that I have yet to tear asunder.
I vant to drink your ... milk.
On the other hand, how cool is it that Langella has played three of the evilest characters ever created: Dracula, Skeletor, AND Richard Nixon? Somewhere out there, a film student is salivating at the possibilities of a scholarly paper on this.
Eventually I found the other men who played our Transylvanian friend and discovered that there are better versions of Bram Stoker's classic tale than my first experience. That's how it goes, though. No matter how good it gets later, you always remember your first. Lugosi, Lee and Oldman are definitely the top of the food chain when it comes to Dracula as a character in our collective memory. Others
like John Carradine, Louis Jordan and Udo Keir have slipped away from being a part of the mythology. Count Chocula gets more credit for advancing Dracula's persona than any of those three as well as Langella.
There's nothing homoerotic about this at all. Nothing at all.
When I first read Dracula in my adolescence, it was not Lugosi I saw in my head, even though his is still the iconic image of the vampire. I saw a taller, gaunter, gentleman. I didn't hear the Eastern European accent; I heard a light British accent, almost indiscernible from the voice of my own thoughts. I was convinced there were fangs when there were none.
And I expected a giant hook on a ship to hoist Dracula to the sun and away from his prey. It isn't bad to have one's expectations unmet.
Badham and Langella's DRACULA is not the best film version of the story ever made. As an adult, I know this. I know that the best DRACULA movies are Francis Ford Coppola's BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA from 1992 (Oldman and Sir Anthony Hopkins more than make up for Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder)
and Werner Herzog's NOSFERATU (yes, I think it is better than F.W. Murnau's silent film) also from 1979. Klaus Kinski had that same bug-eyed insanity that Kier had in ANDY WARHOL'S DRACULA and combined it with a suffering that would not be seen in the character until Oldman took on the role.
I'm not a vampire, but I sure do love sucking blood out of people.
There is not enough room here to go over the entire list of actors who have played Dracula. I could try to rank them, but what would be the criteria? Would it be a ranking of "who did it best" or "these are my favorites," two lists that could start a fight, if I wanted to do so. Would I through in good performances from bad movies like Richard Roxburgh in VAN HELSING of Gerard Butler in DRACULA 2000? What about actors in movies for younger audiences like Duncan Regehr in MONSTER SQUAD or, hell, Count Von Count from SESAME STREET?
They all bring something different to the role, from the absurd to the transcendent. Langella, however, will always be my Dracula. Like I said, you never forget your first.
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Born on Halloween and raised in a single screen theater managed by his grandpa, T.J. now spends more time than should be healthy staying up past midnight reading Stephen King and watching Friday the 13th movies. Part 3 is the best one.|
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