Dracula Bites Again

American Cinematographer, June 1979 | Go to article overview

Dracula Bites Again


The latest in a rash of films about the world's most famous Vampire, this lush production portrays him as a "romantic" who can't get enough of that wonderful red stuff (blood!)

DRACULA The Legend

Count Dracula's appeal is as old as Anarchy, and modern as silicone chips.

Dracula meant dragon or devil in the ancient Wallachian tongue. Today he has become part of the Pantheon of 20th Century mythology, alongside Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Superman and Commander James Bond.

The vampire condition was well known to Byzantine, Turkish, Venetian, Hungarian, Genoese, English and French chroniclers of Renaissance times. Feared by the Chinese, Indian and Malay alike.

Actually a 15th century princeling, the real-life prototype of Dracula was Vlad the lmpaler, with a considerable taste for blood-letting. Sensing unspoken insults, he once nailed the hats of a visiting foreign delegation firmly to their heads. He completely solved the health and welfare problems in his domain by gathering all the poor, halt and lame in one castle, locking the doors and burning them alive.

On his very best day, he dispatched some 30,000 people to the hereafter, impaling most of them on stakes.

Although already enjoying some success in 1847 as Varney the Vampire among the weekly serials known as "penny dreadfuls", the present craze for the Prince of Darkness, who haunted boudoirs and graveyards of late Victorian England, dates from the publication of Bram Stoker's novel exactly fifty years later (1897).

Such superstititions die hard. The one tangible piece of research unearthed from Stoker's working papers for the book was a feature article from the February 2, 1896, edition of "The New York World" detailing then current traces of vampirism in both Rhode Island and New England.

Stoker lit the fuse. And Dracula has since been celebrated in almost every medium known to contemporary man.

The first stage productions in both London and New York played to faintingroorrironly audiences.

Variations on the theme have appeared in 29 further novels, 118 short stories, innumerable newspaper and magazine pieces, plus five television series reaching 430 million viewers in 17 lands.

The Romanian Tourist Board climbed on the hearse with conducted package tours that include Vlad the Impaler's tomb beside Lake Snagov, near Bucharest.

The permutations are infinite. From a children's cereal called "Chocola", to "Count Dracula's Deadly secret", a confection of "moon white ice-cream concealed in black-as-night water ice". "Eat one before sunset" went the slogan and seven million kids did just that in the first two months.

But films have always been the steadiest diet for Dracula devotees.

BeIa Lugosi made the running, never quite able to master the English language. When he died in 1956, he lay in state in full Dracula regalia as old friends filed by.

Christopher Lee in a series of sinister British-made movies gave the subject a welcome transfusion.

Betwixt and between, the inevitable "Blacula" and even a one-shot David Niven characterization which had the debonair Count "drinking blood from a wine glass, having replenished his cellar from climbing accidents and other fatalities."

The nearest direct descendant of Dracula appears to be a Count Alexander Cepesi, Romanian aristocrat who has lived since '47 in Istanbul, where he operates a private blood bank!

DRACULA The Film

Principal photography began Monday, October 16, 1978, in Tintagel, Cornwall, England on the Walter Mirisch-John Badham production of DRACULA for Universal Pictures.

Tintagel, birthplace of King Arthur, has 300 feet of sheer cliffs and a history that dates from the year-500. Winds from the Atlantic are so strong that even the gravestones have tiny buttresses.

Count Dracula himself, the ultimate fantasy figure, is portrayed by Frank Langella, fresh from four hundred performances in the Hamilton Deane-John L. …

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