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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Anne Billson

Count Draculas on film – ranked!

Christopher Lee in Dracula AD 1972
Christopher Lee in Dracula AD 1972. Photograph: Allstar Picture Library/Alamy

20 Jamie Gillis in Dracula Sucks (1978) and Dracula Exotica (1980)

Also known as Lust at First Bite and Love at First Gulp respectively, these films from the golden age of adult cinema exist in softcore and hardcore versions. Taking his cue from Bela Lugosi, Gillis nails the brooding bloodsucker persona, as well as his co-stars.

19 Richard Roxburgh in Van Helsing (2004)

Gussied up in edgy earrings and a greasy ponytail, Roxburgh looks like a superannuated Bono, while his hammy performance makes him seem less like a dangerous suitor and more a tiresome party bore. His big set piece, the vampire ball, rips off the far superior Dance of the Vampires.

18 Paul Naschy in El Gran Amor del Conde Drácula (1973)

The beefy Spanish horror legend Naschy, better known for his wolfman roles, plays a sincere, melancholy count posing as the head of a Transylvanian sanatorium. Can the four stranded beauties in low-cut Little Bo Peep costumes help him reincarnate his dead daughter? Blood rituals and bare bosoms galore!

17 Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000 (2000)

Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000.
Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000. Photograph: Everett Collection/Alamy

Also known as Dracula 2001 or 2002, depending on your country’s release date. Hi-tech thieves unwittingly transport Dracula’s coffin to New Orleans, where Virgin Megastore promises to cater to his needs. Pre-fame Butler, yet to acquire action-man clout, lacks gravitas, but the origin story is ingenious.

16 Luke Evans in Dracula Untold (2014)

Untold? By 2014, we had seen Vlad “the Impaler” Țepeș impaling Turks and going full-on vampire a zillion times, albeit not set almost entirely in a CGI-heavy 15th century. Evans is more ripped superhero than fearsome demon – and a good enough actor to deserve a better vampire vehicle.

15 Shin Kishida in Lake of Dracula (1971) and Evil of Dracula (1974)

Watch the trailer for Evil of Dracula.

Michio Yamamoto’s “bloodthirsty trilogy”, influenced more by Hammer than by homegrown Japanese mythology, merges British-style gothic and the landscape of Honshu with slow-moving but unheimlich results. Kishida plays “the Vampire” as a growlym whey-faced vampire with golden eyes and also the devious principal of a young ladies’ academy.

14 George Hamilton in Love at First Bite (1979)

“Children of the night … shut up!” This dated but disarming romcom is a better Mel-Brooks-style spoof than Brooks’ own Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Hamilton’s unfeasibly suntanned count gets hounded out of Transylvania by communists and moves to Manhattan in pursuit of a cover girl (Susan Saint James).

13 Zhang Wei-Qiang in Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002)

Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary
Zhang Wei-Qiang in Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

The oddball Canadian director Guy Maddin applies his fuzzy-focus quasi-silent movie style to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production of Bram Stoker’s story, set to Mahler in monochrome with flashes of colour. Highlights are Lucy and Mina’s dreamlike duets with the seductive stranger from the east, who bleeds gold coins when stabbed.

12 John Carradine in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945)

Carradine’s gaunt face, staring eyes and dapper moustache make him an ideal second-tier Dracula. He played the character several times, notably in two of Universal’s multimonster meets, where he is a bit of a ladies’ man (admittedly helped by hypnotic powers), but easily defeated by exposure to sunlight.

11 Jack Palance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974)

Jack Palance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Jack Palance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

Palance, with genuine Slavic cheekbones (his parents were Ukrainian), was an obvious choice for the title role in Dan Curtis’s chatty telefilm. Richard Matheson’s script is the first to connect Dracula to Vlad the Impaler, who believes Lucy is his lost soulmate. It was also the first time Stoker got a title credit.

10 Udo Kier in Blood for Dracula (1974)

Dracula, sickly for lack of nourishment, travels to 1920s Italy in a desperate quest for the blood of “wirgins” – only to find his prospective victims deflowered by virile communist handyman Joe Dallesandro. Paul Morrissey’s companion piece to Flesh for Frankenstein is camp, silly and beautiful, with Kier oozing pathos as a decadent blood junkie running out of time.

9 Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Photograph: Columbia/Allstar

Francis Ford Coppola’s sumptuous melodrama takes its cues from the 1974 telefilm as Dracula winds up in Victorian England and fixates on the woman he believes is his reincarnated paramour. When not morphing into rats or green mist, Oldman’s low-key Dracula tends to be upstaged by Eiko Ishioka’s spectacular costumes. Worse, Oldman is so lovelorn that he is not at all scary.

8 Claes Bang in The Rules of the Beast (2020)

Forgive the cheating, but I am counting the first and best episode of the three-part BBC mini-series (from the people who brought you Sherlock) as a standalone feature. Bang starts off wrinkly and gets younger as he drains Jonathan Harker of his blood. This Dracula is a loquacious, feral parasite, authentically malignant and never remotely human.

7 Frank Langella in Dracula (1979)

Langella reprises the role he played in a 1970s Broadway revival of the 1920s play (Raul Julia, Terence Stamp and Jeremy Brett also played it on stage). John Badham’s film amps up the count’s romantic side, all hand-kissing and come-hither gazing, leading to semi-psychedelic love scenes. It is only Langella’s contemporary bouffant that lets the side down.

6 Lon Chaney Jr in Son of Dracula (1943)

Lon Chaney Jr and Louise Allbritton in Son of Dracula
Lon Chaney Jr and Louise Allbritton in Son of Dracula. Photograph: Pictorial Press/Alamy

Received wisdom has it that the plebeian-looking Chaney is miscast as “Count Alucard” in Robert Siodmak’s contribution to Universal’s monsterverse. But think of him as the lovestruck patsy of a film noir femme fatale and he becomes an almost tragic figure. Just watch him rising from the swamp to embrace her, unaware the minx is already plotting his downfall …

5 Louis Jourdan in Count Dracula (1977)

This epic-length TV film is one of the most faithful adaptations of Stoker’s novel. Jourdan plays Dracula as an ageing, slightly regretful matinee idol (with hairy palms!) who relishes his lack of reflection instead of trying to hide it. The special effects are primitive by today’s standards, but the sight of Jourdan crawling down his castle wall is truly unnerving.

4 Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Werner Herzog goaded Kinski into throwing his daily tantrums before shooting, so the actor would be exhausted by the time the cameras rolled. This resulted in one of his more restrained performances, as a plague spreader tormented by helpless envy of the humans upon whom he preys. Not so much a remake of the 1922 classic as an elegant reframing of it.

3 Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)

Bela Lugosi in Dracula
Bela Lugosi in Dracula. Photograph: Courtesy Everett Collection/Re

After 90 years taking in Hammer, Lestat de Lioncourt and Twilight, it is Lugosi – with his tuxedo, piercing gaze and menacing Hungarian accent – who remains the archetypal Dracula. The Spanish version, shot at night on the same sets, might be the more visually fluent film, but its star, Carlos Villarías, is no substitute for Lugosi in his signature role.

2 Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922)

Schreck plays Dracula in all but name – he is Graf Orlok, possibly for copyright reasons. A hideous bald cadaver with pointy teeth, he is the perfect antidote to pretty-boy vampires, although it doesn’t stop the self-sacrificing heroine surrendering herself to him with an erotic abandon notably lacking from the scenes with her human husband.

1 Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958) and multiple sequels

The true successor to Schreck and Lugosi played Dracula more than any other actor, including in a Jerry Lewis comedy, with a grey moustache in Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970) and speaking French in Dracula Père et Fils (1976). But it was in Hammer’s dark fairytales that Lee made the character his own: tall, dark and fanged, an impeccable combination of sexy and scary.

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