Oct 03 2012

Ranking the 10 Best Cinematic Draculas

Published by at 11:00 am under Lists,Movies

Finally—October is here. Halloween has and probably always will be my favorite holiday of the year. It’s the unofficial kick-off the holiday season: here’s to a major holiday once a month for the rest of 2012! If you’re American! And also of a Christian bent! In any case you get time off work! Probably!

Halloween is also a time to lose a little control, act a little out of character, and celebrate all things creepy, disgusting, bizarre, or otherwise terrifying. It’s a time to ritualistically face our fears and enjoy the accompanying rush of adrenalin that courses through our veins.

In my case? It’s a time to buy Count Chocula cereal in bulk, attend my annual company party (that’s right: we don’t do the winter holidays, we get all our alcohol-fueled awkward social interactions out on All Hallow’s Eve), and hunker down on late nights with my favorite Dracula movies.

Gorging myself on candy will probably also be involved.

I read Dracula when I was ten. Thought he was the scariest and coolest. Watched every single movie I could find (and that my mom would let me). Thought he was even cooler than the coolest. Put the obsession away for a few years. Re-read the book as a senior in high school, and HOLY CRAP THIS BOOK IS TOTALLY ACTUALLY ABOUT SEX. That’s the first memory I have of my mind being blown. How awesome is that, I thought. A writer can write about one thing, and actually be talking about something else.

From then on, marathon viewings of films featuring the Count were an annual Halloween tradition. Here are my ten best cinematic Draculas.

[Note: I’m limiting my selections to movies only. I reserve the right to recycle this post with my top TV Draculas at another date. Especially once the new series starring Jonathan Rhys “Dead-Eyes” Meyers starts airing.]

10. Leslie Nielsen, Dracula: Dead and Loving It

HEY-OH!

Dracula is a ridiculously complex character, full of contradictions. So film interpretations of him really run the gamut. Over the course of cinematic history, vampire movies in general developed a reputation for glorious, glorious camp. The kind of camp featuring opaque red paint for blood, and grown men hissing like cats while dressed in the upholstery from their English grandmother’s fainting couch. Naturally, this paved the way for comedic interpretations of the titular character, and Leslie Nielson’s portrayal is right on top.

What I love about his Dracula is he’s fairly genuine and sincere for most of the movie. He’s really just looking for someone to spend some quality time with! Aren’t we all, Drac, aren’t we all?

9. Duncan Regehr, The Monster Squad 

It’s like all the Universal monsters got together for an eighties reunion tour!

I used to watch The Monster Squad on a loop when I was young. A bunch of nerdy kids get together to talk shop about being nerds, and then the thing they nerd out on comes to town?! I’ll take two, please.

Duncan Regehr’s Dracula is a perfect mix of wholesome family B-movie monster flick scary, and juuuuuuust a touch of sex appeal. He’s like a starter crush for Dracophiles. I think of him the same way I think of my first after-school YMCA counselor. I didn’t know why I liked hugging him, but I really liked hugging him.

Author’s note: I just did some Google-fu on “Dracophile” to see if that was actually a thing, and discovered it’s not. However, dracophilia is a thing, and it’s the overwhelming desire or affinity for dragons. And “Dracula” translates roughly into “son of the dragon.” COINCIDENCE?!

8. Richard Roxburgh, Van Helsing 

Dracula-and-Brides-van-helsing-12157365-1867-1200

ACTING IS HAAAAAAAARD!!

This movie is crap. But Richard Roxburgh is a revelation. He comes off like the result of an unholy union between Bono and Jareth the Goblin King, and oozes all the weird, comedic sexiness that particular combination would produce. Laugh if you must, but come on—Jareth’s codpiece, like his Tina Turner wig, was insane. I didn’t know if my hormones were coming or going. The only time I ever felt that way again was watching Roxburgh in Van Helsing. Plus, he turns into a gargoyle instead of a flock of stupid bats. Or worse, one single bat.

7. Gerard Butler, Dracula 2000 

I’ll be in my bunk.

Dracula is animalistic, cruel, and can sometimes seem to be a physical manifestation of the devil himself. He can also be the epitome of class, charm, and sex appeal. Inhuman strength and everlasting youth never hurt anyone’s chances at pulling tail, last time I checked. He represents the seduction of evil. We’re simultaneously drawn to and repelled by him. For the weaker of us, the attraction wins out.

When Gerard Butler f***** that girl on the ceiling, I realized once and for all I am weak. Weaker than weak. The weakest. I had a really funny joke where I used “weak” as a verb, but I decided to dial it back. Insert your own “weaking” joke here.

6. Carlos Villarías, Dracula (Spanish-language, 1931) 

He actually inspired the ill-fated Count Chocula/Boo Berry mash-up.

Back when Universal was filming its now classic version of Dracula, they were simultaneously filming a Spanish-language version. Like, super simultaneous. The Spanish-speaking actors would come in to the same exact set as the English-speaking cast and film their scenes at night.

Villarías played Dracula with his own twist. He may have been limited to Bela Lugosi’s blocking, but he managed to find a ridiculously charming self-awareness and sense of humor. It would be kind of like the devil telling you a few jokes, disarming you, earning your trust, and then BAM! There’s two holes in your jugular and you’re bleeding out in five minutes.





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13 responses so far

  • http://remycarreiro.com/ Remy Carreiro

    Richard Roxburgh’s ears are tingling today….

  • Dana

    I really hate to point this out, but in (#3 – Gary Oldman Bram Stoker’s Dracula) was he meant to be 50 years old, or 500? Half a century is not the longest of times…

  • Inter Milan Kundera

    I would’ve gone with Schreck. The silent film aspect to the original Nosferatu makes it, in my opinion, more disorienting and therefore creepier. Having Christopher Lee as number one totally makes sense. Lugosi should be higher up if only for the fact that HE WAS FUCKING BURIED WITH THE CAPE HE WORE IN THE MOVIE

  • http://saraclemens.tumblr.com Sara Clemens

    Holy crap, Dana. Thank you. Fixed.

  • trashcanman

    Just so you know, Dracophilia IS a real thing. I also suffer from that affliction.

    “I think of him the same way I think of my first after-school YMCA counselor. I didn’t know why I liked hugging him, but I really liked hugging him.”

    Delightfully creepy yet charming and innocent at the same time. How do you do that?

    “Freud himself actually rose from the dead and personally shook my hand for figuring out a way to play out an Electra complex in spite of being raised by a single mother.”

    Well, that’s the single best sentence anyone anywhere has written in about a year. At least.

    I’ve really got to take you to task on a few things, though, fellow Dracophile. First, Hopkins was comically over-the-top in Bram Stoker’s Dracula at times. Distractingly so. Like more distracting than Keanu’s terrible English accent distracting.
    Second, Roxberg?
    [insert “not sure if serious” meme here]
    Turning into real bats is way cooler (and scarier) than turning into a Michael Bay movie. As a bat, Drac can spy on you unnoticed, and the idea of swarm of those things is terrifying by itself and changing into one is downright otherworldly. How can a single entity turn into a whole swarm of separate entities? That is some mind-bending shit.
    Third, Klinski played Drac as a pathetic rat. Interesting, but not at all iconic compared to Schrecks’ vision of pure pestilential horror. Should have gone with “Schreck technically played Count Orlok, not Dracula” if you were looking for a reason to kick him out in favor of a more pitiful take.

    Cool article though, even though putting Lugosi lower than 2 is always an instant DQ. If nothing else, you showed an interesting psychological duplicity for picking either the sexiest Draculas or the very weirdest. Have you seen “Pages From a Virgin’s Diary”? It’s “Dracula” adapted as a silent ballet and it’s actually really excellent as it focuses primarily on the vampire as a foreign (first Asian Dracula!) sexual creature delivering satisfaction to the repressed ladies of Victorian England. I’d also recommend “Old Dracula” (aka “Vampira”) if you want a better comedy than “Dead and Loving It”. It’s actually a 70’s racial comedy. Dracula. Racial comedy. That exists. You’re welcome.

  • SoloOnTheRocks

    Willem Defoe as Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire!

  • http://saraclemens.tumblr.com Sara Clemens

    It was actually really hard writing this article, since the qualities I admire in all of these actors is so varied. If I sat down and wrote out all my favorite Draculas and why I love them, the end result would be more like a tree than a list. There’s a whole group of campy Dracs/vamps that I had trouble fitting into the overall spectrum of this piece. Only two made it in at all, Nielsen and Roxburgh. Categorize it as a guilty pleasure if it helps you keep believing in my street cred, but I love him in Van Helsing! So yes, I am serious about Roxburgh. And don’t call me “Shirley.”

    I knew I’d catch a little heat for Lugosi’s positioning (hat tip to Inter Milan Kundera on this note). I think a successful Dracula should be either overtly sexual (or charming, if you’re making a movie in a time when that won’t fly), or terrifyingly otherworldly (hence the psychological duplicity). It’s really difficult to do both as a mere mortal actor. Lugosi is really neither. He has charm, but it’s nothing compared to Villarías, and he ain’t scary. I recognize he’s a prototype, I do. He’s a classic, yes! But he’s metaphorically impotent; a grandpa Dracula. He may still lech after the ladies, but everyone knows he’s harmless. That’s why Grandpa on The Munsters looks and behaves almost exactly like him.

    You bring up some great points about the advantages to being a bat, actually. I always had a hard time with the mental image of the scene in the book where he continually flies into Mina’s window as a bat. Really imagine for a second a 500-year-old predator being so stymied by a closed window that he repeatedly flings his body against the glass in consternation. It’s hilarious. I much prefer the wolf/mist transformations, or the idea that he turns into a horrifying man-bat! But now I see some merit to the regular bat form (apart from the obvious parallel that the vampire bat is real and actually subsists off blood).

    Love Zhang Wei-Qiang in Pages. He, too, was a hair’s breadth from making the list. It’s been awhile, but I watched and loved Old Dracula while I was prepping my thesis back in college. It’s probably time for a revisit. Maybe I’ll give Dracula 2000 a rest this year. Probably not.

    Shocker: my thesis was on various interpretations of Dracula and how media can affect sexuality, seen through the lens of my own experience coupled with analytical ideas from Freud and Jung. *rolls eyes at self* In other words, thanks for liking my Freud line.

  • Jack Baxter

    Personally, I loved Van Helsing, and I thought that Richard Roxburgh is the best vampire I have ever seen, closely followed by Colin Farrell from Fright Night.

  • http://saraclemens.tumblr.com Sara Clemens

    Solo, that is some Inception-level Dracula interpretation. Jack! A man after my own heart. Colin Farrell in the remake and Chris Sarandon in the original are both Grade A vampires, fo’ sho.’

  • http://wings1295.blogspot.com/ Caffeinated Joe

    I would have put Schrek instead of Kinski, but either/or. Personal preference, I guess.

  • Anne L.

    Okay, I know people are going to quibble over who’s included and who’s not (and for purposes of this article, I do see sticking with actors who actually played DRACULA, not “a male vampire”). However, I can’t believe they’d include Leslie Nielsen, Duncan Regehr and Carlos Villarias, but neither George Hamilton nor Jack Palance. George Hamilton was the original, classic comic Dracula, and Jack Palance was really the first actor to portray Dracula as a *warlord,* not just some aristocrat-turned-monster.

  • Allan

    Udo Kier in Andy Warhols Dracula has to at least rank higher than Leslie Nielsen.

  • Charlie

    Absolutely loved this list, the Freud bit made me laugh out loud. I’m in engaging in a personal project to attempt to watch all films starring Dracula as a character, also YMCA counsellor Dracophilia fuelled so this is a highly useful article, thanks!

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