Tag Archives: Bram Stoker

Dracula

Ist Edition Cover
Public Domain

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was not the first vampire story but certainly the most memorable. It starts out as Jonathan Harker records his trip to visit Count Dracula about property he has purchased in London. We are given fascinating details of the journey but foreboding as well. Although welcomed warmly by Dracula, he begins to suspect things are not right. And that leads him to discover Dracula is not at all what he seems but a monster that will spread evil into the heart of Europe.

Readers then and now are surprised at how Stoker did not hold back in what Dracula does. Perhaps the most horrific–and rarely seen in film or miniseries adaptations–is when the three vampire women at his castle are given a baby by Dracula as a meal. It shows what truly a monster he is and those that serve him as well. Stoker builds on that horror as Dracula arrives in England to begin spreading his evil. The strange illness of Lucy Westenra brings us the character of Van Helsing who suspects a vampire is at work. And Jonathan’s return helps the group that forms that they are dealing with an evil creature that must be destroyed.

But they also fail to see he is already working against them by feeding on Mina, Jonathan’s wife. They get the upper hand though by tracking down all his hiding places to sanctify making them unusable to him. He taunts them at one point and then flees across the ocean back home. The chase to get there before he does is perhaps the most thrilling part of the book. In a dramatic ending, they catch him as the sun is starting to set and he is about to have full command of his powers. The end is quick with a dagger in the throat and the heart. And then he is no more. Unlike some depictions, he goes to dust with just a momentary sight that his soul was at peace now.  The evil is vanquished never to rise again.

Dracula spawned other books and movies both inspired or based in some way on the book. The famous 1931 movie with Bela Lugosi cemented a certain image of Dracula that stood out for a long time. Yet except perhaps for the Coppola movie, few show what Harker saw:

Within stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere.

Most depictions have no moustache and Dracula neither appears old or young (somewhere in between). They also rarely show the trip to the castle (quite long as Dracula was looking for blue flames to find hidden treasure and his command of wolves). Dracula in the book can get about by day. The mythos that sprung up was that vampires had to walk at night. Not so in the book at all. Dracula could get around in daylight but it constricted his abilities. At night be could use his full range of abilities but daylight limited him to whatever form he had at that time (he also had to be careful about running water).

Dracula was not conflicted nor concerned about what he became, like vampires in some modern novels are sometimes depicted as. Dracula was a creature of evil that served evil. He had no qualms about killing anyone who got in his way but despite all that, as Van Helsing observed, he was not without weakness.  He could live centuries but he could be killed by staking through the heart or kept at bay with a crucifix. And when confronted with a determined group out to destroy him, he fled back home to live to fight another day.

Dracula stands out as masterful horror fiction because it reveals a story slowly, deliberately, and then like a hammer hitting anvil hits you with full fury. Reading it today is still gripping despite all the movies inspired from it. Stephen King’s Salems Lot follows a similar pattern of building the story up slowly until it reveals what the horror is. And it appears Stoker did his research well for he based it on a real historical figure (Vlad the Impaler) who for a time brought fear to Turks who tried to dominate central Europe. He was so ruthless that he made sure that lands were burned, wells were poisoned, and many of their soldiers were found impaled on stakes as they approached his lands.

It is debatable how much Stoker really knew about Vlad the Impaler but learned enough from the information he had to craft his vampire story.  And a great one it is that stands the test of time while other vampire stories remain forgotten on library shelves.

Countdown to Halloween: Horror of Dracula (1958)

Bela Lugosi was for many years the standard by which Dracula portrayals were judged by until 1958 when Christopher Lee(1922-2015)assumed the role in Hammer Films Horror of Dracula. The movie differed,like the 1932 version,from the book and would spawn a series of sequels (some of which towards the end had dubious quality). Lee’s depiction had both a seductive quality and one of horror. In this movie showing blood was not taboo as it was back in 1932 (note that by today’s standards the gore factor here is light). The movie had not only Christopher Lee but such recognized actors as Peter Cushing (as Van Helsing) and Michael Gough (Arthur Holmwood). It was well received at the box office and still gets high marks from Dracula movie buffs usually near the top of most Dracula film ranks. Consider adding it to your Halloween fright movie lineup.

Lee had a long career in cinema after Dracula but has become better known to millions of fans for his portrayals in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hallow,as the traitor Saruman in Lord of the Rings, and of course Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in Star Wars (Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith).

Countdown to Halloween: The Mummy

Poster for the 1932 film The Mummy Image:Public Domain
Poster for the 1932 film The Mummy
Image:Public Domain

Inspiration for many mummy-themed movies is drawn from a Bram Stoker book called Jewel of the Seven Stars. Unlike Dracula which has been given both literary and cinematic status, this 1903 book is not as widely known but influenced the mummy franchise we generally know today. The story is about a dead Egyptian queen named Tera who during her life amassed considerable dark powers. A mummy hand with seven fingers, adorned with a ruby ring with seven points that look like stars is found with her in the tomb. Abel Trelawny, a noted Egyptologist, becomes obsessed with the idea of resurrecting her. His daughter, Margaret, born not  long after the tomb’s discovery, bears a resemblance to the dead queen and later seems to either be connected to her or controlled by her.

The ceremony to resurrect Tera is performed and in the original ending appears to succeed but at great cost to those who participated. However the ending was quite shocking and upset quite a lot of people (it was not a happy ending except for Queen Tera). The result was that in 1912 Stoker wrote a second ending where the ceremony failed and the Margaret and the story’s narrator (Malcolm Ross) married. The essential story of an ancient Egyptian mummy being resurrected via dark forces though would inspire other tales and most notably the 1932 movie The Mummy starring Boris Karloff. In the movie, Imhotep was caught attempting to resurrect his dead love, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, and sentenced to be mummified alive. He comes alive when an archaeological team finds his mummy and disappears returning 10 years later as Ardeth Bay to help another excavation team find Ankh-es-en-amon’s tomb. He encounters a young woman named Helen Grosvenor (played by Zita Johann)who likes like Ankh-es-en-amon. He seeks to bring back his former love by trying to show she is the reincarnation and later in a ceremony where Helen will be killed.

The movie was a success but no direct sequels were ever made. Hammer made a series of mummy movies based on the same story. The Mummy (1999)starring Brendan Fraser was billed as a remake but really re-imagined (like the more recent version of Battlestar Galactica). Several attempted mummy movies based on the Stoker novel are mostly unremarkable except for the 1971 Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Like the original ending of the Stoker novel, most are dead at the end and the ambiguous ending leaves you guessing whether Tera or Margaret survived (albeit not in the way Tera would have hoped for if it was her.) To begin our countdown to Halloween, here is a clip from the 1932 movie The Mummy starring Boris Karloff.

And here is the trailer for the 1999 re-imagined version:

Countdown To Halloween#5

Bela Lugosi as Dracula Photo:Public Domain
Bela Lugosi as Dracula
Photo:Public Domain

Bela Lugosi had played Dracula on stage prior to his casting in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula. Standing at 6 foot 1, he had a commanding presence and the fact he was Romanian (where Transylvania is located)added to his mystique. He was able to show Dracula as alluring on one hand, dangerous on the other. And many consider his performance still to be one of the best though the movie itself gets panned by many horror movie enthusiasts. For Lugosi it was both a blessing and a curse. He would forever be associated with the role that brought him such fame but kept him stuck in horror movies. He found it very difficult to get roles outside of the genre. He was cast by Universal in a few movies as a good character: The Black Cat (1934),The Invisible Ray(1936), and the movie serial The Return of Chandu(1934). However it did little to overcome the shadow of Dracula. His addiction to methadone also affected him getting jobs and by the 1950’s was almost broke. Ed Wood planned to cast him in several features but only appears in Plan 9 From Outer Space(1959) arguably one of the worst movies of all time. And his scenes were done for another Wood movie and Lugosi had died by the time this movie was released in 1959. Lugosi passed away in 1956 from a heart attack and was buried in a Dracula cape (his fifth wife and son made that decision).

And now here is Bela Lugosi greeting his guest in the opening scenes of Dracula. Francis Ford Coppola borrowed from this opening in his movie treatment of the same character.