Bram Stokers Dracula: Best Film Adaptations

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One of the fun parts about creating film lists is diving into genre’s or characters of film, which you did not care much for in the past, and now discovering something great.  For example, I recently created a Westerns list, which I did not care much for in my youth, but now I have found there are some remarkable westerns out there such as “Once Upon a Time in the West”.  So this leads me to my list here.  Dracula was always one of my least favorite monsters.  I guess I always felt the Dracula films were quite slow and just couldn’t get into him.  So, what I’ve found is that some of the films are indeed slow but I did find some gems which I absolutely love!  I thought it would be interesting to look at the various film adaptations of the novel and the different takes on the character, whether being a romantic, sad creature, or a bloodthirsty creature of the night.

Before I begin, here are a few which I did not see, as they were televised versions, but feel they should be mentioned.

Dracula_palance_1973Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1973)

At the request of Count Dracula (Jack Palance), solicitor Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) visits Transylvania in order to help the count finalize a real estate purchase. While there, he’s bewitched by a group of female vampires and is lucky to escape the castle alive. Meanwhile, back in England, Harker’s fiancée, Mina (Penelope Horner), is taken ill, and the attending doctor, Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport), traces the sickness to the recent arrival of the mysterious Dracula.

 

CountDraculaCount Dracula (1977)

At the request of Count Dracula (Jack Palance), solicitor Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) visits Transylvania in order to help the count finalize a real estate purchase. While there, he’s bewitched by a group of female vampires and is lucky to escape the castle alive. Meanwhile, back in England, Harker’s fiancée, Mina (Penelope Horner), is taken ill, and the attending doctor, Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport), traces the sickness to the recent arrival of the mysterious Dracula.

THE LIST

So with that out of the way let’s get started.  Here we go my bloodsucking friends, my ranking of the best Dracula film adaptations of Bram Stroker’s novel.

6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Dracula-1-Gary-Oldman-

Being Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is to be the film that is closest to the novel, I was highly looking forward to this one.  The film starts off well with an intro dealing with war, the loss of love, a man selling his soul, and all of this is in stunning visuals.  The visuals are actually where the film excels.  The Gothic settings are awesome to look at and are heightened with bright colors.  This, plus the stylish costume designs brings an operatic look to the film.  It is a visual treat to the eye but unfortunately, it seems Francis Ford Coppola focused so much on the visual portion that the strength in story suffered.  For starters, there is a long overdrawn scene of John Harker being seduced by Dracula’s brides, Mina and her sister Lucy frolicking in a garden over a few raindrops, Lucy being followed by a wolf in a theater for no apparent reason are just some examples of scenes that just stalled the film.  The scenes were like dream sequences and felt out of place.  Beyond this, having Keanu Reeves as John Harker speaking with a British accent just did not work.  To make it worse, the accent came and went throughout the film.  In addition, the choice for Winona Ryder as Mina was fine, but she was basically swallowed up by the visuals and other great actors (Oldman and Hopkins) around her.  All of this was enough to disconnect me from the film.  There are many who claim this one to be the ultimate Dracula film, but for me, I left feeling disappointed.  There are a lot of negatives, but the film does have some merits.  The music was good, the visuals were great, and the actors such as Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman were awesome (as usual), but the lack of two great leads for Harker and Mina, and a strong story to stand out over the visuals made the film feel longer than it actually was.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️½

5. Dracula (1931)

Dracula 1931

I could not believe I had never seen Dracula from 1931, directed by Tod Browning.  Bela Lugosi is truly great as the prince of darkness, and, as you can see from the photo above, what a glare he has!  His voice is the classic Dracula and impeccably delivers his lines such as “I never drink . . . wine”.  No other actor has hit this line as wonderful as Lugosi.  His moments are slow and he is quite striking to watch.  Dwight Frye as Renfield is also a highlight in the film and should be remembered about as much as Legosi.  For when the ships cargo door is opened, there is the laugh he delivers that is remembered to this day.  Finally, Edward Van Sloan does a great job as Van Helsing.  Unfortunately, outside of these actors, the film is very dry.  At some point during the film, I realized that there’s no music!  With the exception of “Swan Lake” which plays over the titles, there is not one tone!  I truly believe the lack of music hurts the film.  I understand wanting to emphasize creaky noises and such for creepiness purposes but there are parts where some music would add emotion and drama to the film.  There IS a version that contains a score by Philip Glass over the film, which I’ve yet to see.  I do look forward to catching this one to see how it compares.  If I like it better, I will have to update this page.  Overall the 1931 Dracula is a good film with a shining star in Legosi, and, despite the lack of music, Browning does a fine job in bringing the classic Dracula story to the movie screen.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

 4. Horror of Dracula (1958)

HorrorOfDracula

I watched Horror of Dracula after watching the 1931 Dracula and was surprised at how fast paced this film was in comparison to its older version.  Director Terence Fisher and crew really pack a lot into the 80 minutes run time.  That’s not the only difference though.  When Christopher Lee is introduced as Dracula he quickly steps down the stairs as a normal fellow greeting Harker and talking quite fast.  Again, a huge difference from the previous film where Lugosi’s Dracula was very slow and dramatic.  Lee’s version took a bit for me to warm up to but eventually paid off.  The beginning portion of the film does seem a bit rushed.  Dracula reveals himself quite early in the film as a menacing vampire with bloody fangs, thus lacking a good build-up, and the supposed vampire killer makes a number of blundering errors.  After this seemingly rushed beginning though, the rest of the film is quite good.  The big highlight for me here is Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.  He did a fabulous job and even performed his own stunt during an end battle versus the Count.  The Horror of Dracula has action, bright blood paint, a loud score by James Bernard, and is an enjoyable time well spent.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

 3. Dracula (1979)

dracula-1979-frank-langella

John Badham’s 1979 version of Dracula stars Frank Langella as a charming and romantic version of the Count.  The Prince of Darkness yearns for a wife to share the long life he lives and chooses Lucy (Kate Nelligan) to be the lucky gal.  The production is the best looking of the Dracula films up to this time and the story (also based off of the stage adaptation) takes place in one setting, as the film starts with the ship arriving in England.  So there is no Transylvania setting with the meeting between Harker and the Count, though the opening scene on the ship makes up for this.  Frank Langella does a great job bringing this charming Dracula to the screen and I enjoyed Kate Nelligan as Lucy.  Also, I was highly impressed with the makeup when one of the characters is turned into a undead, it is quite a chilling sight when they make their appearance and done very well.  The big plus here, which I did not know going into the film, is that the score is performed by John Williams, and it is moving!  John Williams’ score really perks the film up.  I really enjoyed the film and is the best full version of a Dracula story to this point.  However, the end battle with Dracula just didn’t stick with me.  It may be slightly disappointing in the end but with the film having a bit of emotion, a great score, fine acting, and a great portrayal of the Count by Langella, it is a must see in the line of Dracula films.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

2. Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu

The 1922 silent film, Nosferatu (AKA Nosferatu: Symphony of Horror), directed by F.W. Murnau, is seen as the first vampire-themed movie.  Though the vampires name here is Count Orlok, and all the other character names are different from the Bram Stoker novel, it is essentially a Dracula film.  In fact, Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence Stoker, was able to sue for copyright infringement and win, so with that bit of information, I’d say it counts for this list.  Let me just say this now, this vampire is the best looking Dracula ever.  That’s right, this version of Dracula does not have slicked back hair and is not sporting a tuxedo.  Instead, Count Orlok’s look is similar to a rat, with long pointy ears, sharp front teeth, and long claws.  Max Schreck does a phenomenal job in portraying Count Orlok.  His performance is very creepy and unforgettable.  Which is also a good way to describe the film actually.  It is not really scary, but just dark, creepy, and quite haunting.  The perfect example of this is when Nosferatu on the ship in his coffin and a crewman sees Count Orlok stiffly rise from his coffin in the ship’s cargo.  It’s truly an unforgettable moment.  Also, the use of light and shadow, especially in the scene of Orlok’s shadow slowly climbing up a stairwell and Orok’s shadow engulfing Hutter is just brilliant.  There is so much to love about the film, but some may be turned off by its age.  The film is old and quite edited and so some scenes appear disjointed which could make some viewers feel lost.  Being a silent film, the actors can come off overly dramatic with their actions (but this was not even an issue upon a second viewing).  For me, these are things that add to the film.  Overall it is a wonderful film that set the tone for many horror films thereafter.  I will add, the version you choose to watch makes a BIG difference with the film.  The first time I watched Nosferatu was off of the Public Doman site and I really did enjoy the film.  However, upon hearing of restored versions available, I watched the film again but this time off of the 2013 Kino Blu Ray and this made a HUGE difference and love the film even more.  The score was outstanding in comparison to what I watched before as this version’s score was more orchestral, which is probably closer to what the sound was back in that time when the orchestra would perform in front of the screen.  Also, there is an overture, which brought a huge smile to my face.  This version also has the color tinted scenes (versus black and white) which is also how it was intended and the film’s picture stood out much brighter and with more clarity.  So if you’re in the U.S., and you want to watch this film or want to watch again with a better version, I highly recommend seeking out this updated version.  I really can’t stress enough how much of a difference it makes.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

1. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

nosferatu-the-vampyre-1979-

After much tossing and turning, I had to make a decision.  It was very hard to choose between the two Nosferatu’s (Especially after watching the original a second time on the remastered Kino Blu Ray).  I can really just flip a coin here and be happy with either.  However, in the end, I stuck with my initial feeling and chose 1979’s Nosferatu The Vampyre as the best Dracula film.  Nosferatu the Vampyre may not be to everyone’s liking, but for me, I was just so engrossed in the film from beginning to end.  Werner Herzog’s recreation of the original is slow, artsy, gorgeous to look at with its natural settings, and has a haunting score which I just love.  The cinematography was just awesome as there are a number of still shots throughout in which my eyes just stared in wonder.  Whether it be the scenery shots as Harker travels to the castle or the huge ship slowly drifting into the harbor, it was fantastic.  The beginning of the film is very creepy with director Werner Herzog focusing on mummified people (real mummified people at that) for minutes.  It is disturbing to look at and acts as a premonition of things to come.  Herzog’s use of shadow is also brilliant in bringing haunting tone and imagery, but he also excels in bringing a brightness and sense of realism in the film which contrasts the older film.  All the actors are just great in the film, but two truly stand out.  Klaus Kinski portrays Dracula (not Count Orlok this time) and is quite possibly the saddest Dracula I’ve seen, which fits well into his character and his long, suffering, lonely life and he plays this VERY well.  Isabelle Adjani is great as our wide-eyed beautiful heroine, Lucy (Known as Mina in other versions as Herzog swapped the names around).  She is the strongest version of the character I’ve seen thus far as the viewers watch Lucy struggle to find a way to kill Dracula, basically taking the Van Helsing role, and finding the strength to do what must be done to rid the town of this creature.  It is absolutely breathtaking when the final confrontation plays out.  Apparently, Herzog filmed two versions of the film, but only the parts with dialog.  One in English and another in German, both with the same cast as they speak both languages.  I did watch both versions and, though differences were subtle, the German version (found on the 2014 Blu Ray), was probably better in that Renfield’s laugh, which was kind of obnoxious in the English version, was toned down.  The laughter did not stand out as much and I actually enjoyed the character more in this version because of it.  With a strong female presence, outstanding version of the Count, gorgeous natural and intimidating settings, haunting imagery, and score, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved this film.  It is finding gems like this that make creating film lists so rewarding.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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