The Best ‘Dracula’ Movie Hasn’t Even Been Made Yet
Few characters have been used and abused across cinematic history quite like Count Dracula. From his iconic Bela Lugosi days to the trashy, macabre Hammer years to embarrassing dreck like 'Dracula 2000,' the world's most famous vampire has run the gauntlet; from appearing in masterpieces, to giddily entertaining schlock and cinematic abominations. As one of the most famous characters to live on in the public domain, anyone who wants to try their hand with a Dracula movie is free to do so.
And you'd think this would mean that Bram Stoker's original 1897 novel has been stripped for parts and has nothing else left to offer. After all, if they're making something like 'Dracula Untold,' which recreates the character with a goofy superhero origin story, it's surely because the book that got everything started has been so thoroughly adapted and re-adapted and re-imagined that there's no point in even revisiting it anymore. The only way forward must be complete and total invention!
That would be wrong. While it's true that great stretches of Stoker's novel have been explored, transformed and extended by countless filmmakers over the years until every surprise feels like a cliche, there's one stretch of the story that feels fresher than ever. Upon a recent revisit to the novel, it was this portion of the book that most ignited the imagination and felt the most inherently cinematic. And yet, it's the portion of the book that gets overlooked in even the most faithful adaptations.
I'm talking about the part where 'Dracula' becomes an utterly badass men-on-a-mission story.
Everyone knows the set-up: English lawyer Jonathan Harker is called out to Castle Dracula in Transylvania, where he will assist the mysterious Count with finishing the proper paperwork for his move to London. Things go wrong very quickly for Harker as he learns that his client is a vampire with all kinds of supernatural abilities and a collection of menacing vampiric brides. Before he can do anything to stop him, Dracula has made his way to England and the real nightmares begin.
This is the stretch of the story that will sound the most familiar to even the most green horror fan. Dracula begins his reign of terror, eventually targeting a young socialite named Lucy, who just so happens to be best friends with Harker's fiancee, Mina. Lucy eventually succumbs to the Count's nighttime attacks and he shifts his focus to Mina herself, but more people have grown wise to the evil plot brewing around them. With the help of the aging monster hunter (and doctor and philosopher and academic scholar) Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula is chased out of London and ultimately killed.
Many adaptations trim down the list of characters who ultimately band together to avenge Lucy, rescue Mina and remove Dracula from the picture once and for all, but that means they're missing the giddy pleasures of the book's final act. At the time of his writing, Stoker probably didn't realize that he had assembled one of the most unique action ensembles in literary history or that he was dabbling in a subgenre that would come into its own with action and war cinema decades later -- a group of strangers from various backgrounds with unique skill sets are thrust together to fight a common foe! Most 'Dracula' movies are so interested in the title character being a monster and a hunter of men that they forget the part where the tables are turned.
Many adaptations either throw away most of the novel's cast or combine characters, which seems so silly when you actually look at just how great the novel's team of vampire hunters is:
Jonathan Harker, the mild-mannered lawyer who has been pushed too far by Dracula on several increasingly personal occasions.
Mina Murray, a survivor of Dracula's attacks who now has a psychic bond with the creature, letting her expose his location through hypnosis.
Abraham Van Helsing, the genius vampire hunter and scholar who continues to fight evil despite his advanced age.
Lord Godalming, a wealthy aristocrat and husband of the late Lucy, who seeks to avenge his wife.
Dr. Seward, one of Lucy's former suitors, a student of Van Helsing's and the head of the local mental asylum.
Quincey Morris, a cowboy and adventurer from Texas who brandishes a Bowie knife wherever he goes and alludes to having fought the supernatural stateside.
And that brings us to the part of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' that so many films gloss over or cut altogether. A lawyer, a psychic, a vampire hunter, an English Lord, a psychiatrist and a cowboy team up to burn down Dracula's London lair, chase him into the mainland Europe and relentlessly pursue him across Europe as he flees back to Castle Dracula, ultimately killing him by beheading and stabbing and sunlight. It's all-time-great material -- Stoker nailed the perfect vampire hunter team on the first go. Everyone else has just been playing catch-up.
The great joys of this section of the book have only improved with age and it's something that Stoker could have never seen coming. In an age of GPS and the internet, tracking one vampire across Europe doesn't sound that exciting. But in the context of 1897, watching this ragtag crew use old fashioned detective work (and a little hypnosis) to track a monster across an entire continent is nail-biting stuff. How do you track a bloodsucking fiend who can transform into animals and mist when all you have at your disposal is train tickets, horses and deductive reasoning? That's the thrill of 'Dracula' and, perhaps because it remains so untouched by cinema, this stretch of the book lingers on in your mind longer than any other more iconic sequence.
Imagine a movie that begins with this vengeance-minded group already assembled. Imagine an opening sequence where they destroy Dracula's final London hideout and send him on the run. Imagine an entire movie where this unique crew of mixed personalities are forced to work together to intercept and capture their nemesis before he gets home. Imagine a continent-wide game of cat-and-mouse, where Dracula uses his minions and powers to resist his pursuers and there are casualties on both sides.
Or, you know, imagine a proper adaptation of 'Dracula' that does justice to Stoker's climax, where the tables are turned on the villain of the story in the most amusing way possible. The only film to even come close to capturing this cast of characters is Francis Ford Coppola's 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' and even that film rushes through the climax (among other huge problems).
For some time now, director Neil Marshall has been developing 'The Last Voyage of the Demeter,' which follows the ill-fated merchant vessel of the title, as the crew realizes that their cargo includes a very hungry Dracula. This is an adaptation of a thin slice of Stoker's novel, a feature version of a tiny subplot that is vague, mysterious and creepy as hell on the page. It's additional proof that there is more to be mined, borrowed and stolen from Stoker that still works. Why even bother with nonsense like 'Dracula Untold' when the novel is still offering so much to work with? The best 'Dracula' movie hasn't been made yet because so few films have event attempted to properly capture the thrills of the original book. That's a shame.