Start unpacking the decorations and stocking up on candy—because folks, there are less than five months to Halloween.
As we approach the spook season, one’s thoughts turn naturally to the creatures of the night. The mind ruminates on Frankensteins, goblins, killer tomatoes, and so on. But on what does it linger? Only the most sinister, mysterious, and alluring of monsters: Count Dracula.
Featured in videogames, books, comics, and film, Bram Stoker’s Original Character Count Dracula is the progenitor of all vampire stories. Our continuing fascination with the character represents the myriad ways of understanding him: as metaphor for parasitic nobility, as gender-blurring sexual menace (the fanged open mouth representing both the phallus and the yoni), or simply as the unknowable, terrifying Other.
Of course, we could spend all day analyzing the Dracula mythos. Or we could personify a bunch of these movies as pro wrestlers and imagine them throwing down in the old squared circle for vampiric supremacy.
The veteran and favorite coming into this match is 1970’s Count Dracula, directed by Jess Franco and starring the legendary Christopher Lee, who portrayed the titular count no less than ten times. Entering the ring to a more mild show of applause is the underdog, Dario Argento’s Dracula. And now here comes the oddball, springing elegantly and utterly silent over the ropes and landing in a perfectly poised first position, Guy Maddin’s ballet horror Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary. Finally, snarling and sneering as it slithers into the corner, we have Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, the second collaboration between the legendary director and his muse, Klaus Kinski.
The bell rings and these competitors are immediately leaping into the fray. Count Dracula comes out strong with a powerful performance on the part of Lee. While this film isn’t as highly regarded as the Hammer Horror series Lee is best known for, even at his worst he’s better than most. And the film follows it up with a bonecrushing faithfulness to the source material, portraying the Count as an older man who becomes younger as he drinks the blood of his victims.
But Count Dracula‘s opponents aren’t going to take this lying down. Nosferatu the Vampyre reverses Count Dracula‘s hold and counters it with an unsettling portrayal by the notorious Klaus Kinski. In Count Dracula, he was merely Renfield—here, he’s given top billing. Herzog’s unflinching portrayal of the sinister Dracula, not romanticized but tragically cursed to eternal undeath, gives this competitor the edge and it looks to be taking control of this brutal match!
Struggling to recover from Nosferatu‘s cinematic clothesline, Argento’s Dracula (previously known as Dracula 3D) looks to be falling behind in this matchup. It has to be said that it wasn’t favored coming into this event, with its past performances coming up short in narrative flow and production values. But it’s not willing to give up just yet, staggering to its feet on the strength of its interesting sets and costume design.
Wait though, silently approaching from behind is the unconventional Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary! And yes, it’s following in the tradition of silent films, marrying this style with the form of ballet to produce an eerie picture that focuses on the Count as a symbol of the invading Other, casting the Chinese-Canadian Zhang Wei-qiang in an otherwise mostly-white cast to drive the point home! Folks, this is a real upset! This competitor is throwing his foes for a loop with its unexpected presentation yet utter dedication to the source material!
It’s the match of the century, which coincidentally is the interval of time it takes for Dracula to be once again given flesh so that men can pay him tribute. But enough talk—have a look at each of these films to decide for yourself which will put the others down for the count and claim the title of Best Dracula!