From undead monster to sexy seducer:
contemporary Dracula films
Numerous versions of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel
have been produced for cinema. For decades,
Count Dracula was first the suave Bela Legosi and then the athletically menacing Christopher Lee.
Recently there has been a resurgence of Dracula in cinema, accompanied by a dramatic shift away from
the monstrous and towards the sexually desirable. The 1992 block-buster
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
by Francis Ford Coppola, was at the apex of such a portrayal. Furthermore, its influence can be seen in
other films in the past ten years, notably
Dark Prince: The True Story
. Though these four films differ significantly from one another, all present Draculas who are
sleek men with chiseled physiques who seduce women by their looks, not their supernatural powers.
This revision of Dracula as a romantic monster, of course, predates the Coppola film. It is most
marked in the 1979
, which borrowed heavily from the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L.
Balderston, enhancing the seductive nature of the Count through the selection of Frank Langella for the
title role. Langella oozes sex appeal. Instead of using horror to intimidate his victims, this Dracula
seduces them with sensuality (Melton 211). Here we have a vampire who falls in love twice and
experiences emotional turmoil; a vulnerable vampire who is a victim as much as a victimizer (Holte 81).
Here we find a distinct movement away from the monstrous aspect of the character that dominated the
gore-laden Hammer films of the late 1950s to mid 1970s. Although Christopher Lee’s Dracula was
sexually menacing, his Dracula was more to be feared than desired,
more of a monster than a lover.
Later, Coppola creates an even more sympathetic character for his 1992 feature film. Instead of a
monster preying on women, Dracula becomes a tragic figure searching for his long lost love. Even though
he retains some gothic elements (and even gore, presumably to keep the horror fans happy), this vision of
Dracula is essentially one of a tortured soul capable of redemption. The more recent Dracula films tend to
keep the romantic themes as the main focus points for their narratives and have increased the physical and
sexual appeal of Dracula.
It is worth examining the physical representations of Count Dracula in these films to note the
extent to which they adhere to or depart from Stoker’s original concept. First of all, Stoker’s most detailed
description of Dracula comes from Jonathan Harker, who records this in his journal:
His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and
peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the
temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over