SPOILER ALERT: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dir: Dan Curtis, 1973, Dracula, Dir: John Badham, 1979, Bram Stoker’s Dracula Dir: Francis Ford Coppola, 1992
Everyone knows that Dracula was really Vlad the Impaler right? Well no, probably not. Stoker may have used the title Dracula, which also applied to Vlad Tepes or Vlad III or Vlad the Impaler) but “Dracula” was a title rather than the specific name of that historic figure. “Dracula” means “child of the dragon” or “devil”. Stoker had made notes that “Dracula in WALLACHIAN language means DEVIL”. But he may not have known much of the legends of Vlad the Impaler.
In 1972 Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu wrote In Search of Dracula, claiming that Stoker’s Count Dracula and Vlad the Impaler were one and the same, lending historical weight to the character of Dracula and creating a whole new set of mythologies about him. Comparisons can be made between the two. They were both bloodthirsty and monstrous. And both from Transylvannia. And that is about it really. Even in this terminology we have to make a distinction. Dracula drinks blood, while Vlad was bloodthirsty in a more metaphorical sense. His barbarous acts are legendary, but he made his victims drink blood rather than doing it himself. Rather than being vulnerable to being staked, Vlad was the one doing the impaling. His sadistic acts of torture of huge numbers of people for entertainment, which would create a spectacle lasting hours or days make Dracula’s predatory acts seem tame in comparison.  There are many lurid accounts of the extreme violence of Vlad’s behaviour so I will spare you the details. What is really astonishing is that the connection made between Vlad the Impaler and Count Dracula solidified the creation of the romantic vampire. I like to call him Vlad the Romancer…
Following McNally and Floresu’s revelation Bram Stoker’s Dracula the 1973 TV film directed by Dan Curtis and starring Jack Palance, took this idea further.  Vlad/Dracula is portrayed not as the tyrannical ruler of history but as a heartbroken lover. The story that Vlad the Impaler’s wife threw herself from a tower to avoid capture by the Turks inspired this transformation.
This film brings Vlad’s wife into the Dracula narrative for the first time having her brutally slain by the Turkish army. When Jonathan Harker visits Castle Dracula his picture of his fiancé (here called Lucy) shows that she is a reincarnation of Dracula’s long lost queen. The romantic image of Palance’s Dracula who falls into unrestrained weeping when his reincarnated wife is again lost (through staking), is informed by 1970s ideas of romance rather than that of Vlad’s 15th century.
Dracula directed by John Badham in 1979 also takes this romantic model (though abandoning the Vlad mythology). For the first time Lucy is portrayed as a strong woman who is in control. She is no longer a passive victim. Characters from the original novel are mixed up and form a close-knit familial group with Mina (originally Jonathan’s fiancé) being Van Helsing’s daughter. Mina’s friend Lucy is here engaged to Jonathan while Dr Seward who originally courted Lucy is here her father.
Reflecting the times the film was made, Lucy is an outspoken woman, describing herself and Jonathan as a modern couple. She helps her father in the mental asylum, looks after her sickly friend Mina and meets Jonathan at night for illicit smoochies.
After sharing a dance at a party, Dracula invites Lucy over for dinner and they engage in meaningful conversation. Their relationship follows the pattern of a modern courtship. When he later comes to her room, bites her and shares his blood with her the scene is accompanied by a romantic and dramatic orchestral overture and psychadelic visuals evoking sex and blood. Although Lucy is certainly under some kind of thrall of Dracula, unlike his other victims (including Mina) she seems willing and in control, and an equal.
Coppola reincarnates Vlad
Skipping a decade, the title of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula suggests it sticks closely to Stoker’s novel. Instead it is an amalgamation of elements of the development of Dracula in the popular imagination over the previous decades. Unlike many of the movies, it keeps intact the characters’ names and their various roles are the same as in the novel. But Coppola takes the Vlad the Impaler mythology and develops the romantic theme used in the 1973 film of the same name. Again the scene where Dracula sees a picture of Jonathan’s fiancé is used to establish that she is Vlad the Impaler’s reincarnated wife. Once in England Dracula goes about seducing Mina, this time taking her to dinner in a fancy restaurant. She has feelings for him. He seeks her out because of this deep connection. None of this existed between the two in Stoker’s original novel.
Dracula may have become romantic by the 1970s and into the 1990s but he was also still a murderous fiend. While he pursues one special woman the body count piles up. His sexual method of drawing in his victims while using mind control brings to mind date rape. This is still a far cry from our contemporary “good” vampires who seem to fully respect their human friends and lovers.
Coming soon … contemporary vampires and how they cornered the youth market
Please note this is part of a series of articles called The Vampires’ Journey. If you feel you are missing something please check out the earlier posts.
Text © Angela S