Chapter Two: Bloodlust Unleashed, Introducing the Count to the Masses

December 4, 2017

  

Friedrich Murnau's silent film Nosferatu 1922 as pictured in the image above was the first film adaption of the infamous Count Dracula, taken from the pages of Bram stoker's creation, without authorisation, and onto the screen for our eyes to feast upon. The names of the characters had been changed The fact that there was such a fuss made by Florence Stoker who wanted the film destroyed, could indicate the reason for the film's success as the lawsuit gained much public interest at the time. Stoker won the law suit; in 1925 it was ordered that the copies be destroyed.Fortunately for Maunau some of the copies survived and the film resurfaced three years later and reached American screens twelvemonths after that. (Pirie, D (1977:p36)

Since then the film has become a cult classic within popular culture defining the beginning of the vampire craze among the masses, although it took a while to bein the public domain it undoubtedly holds significance for vampires depicted on screen Nosferatu arguably paved the way for the films which followed.

 

"While it clearly moves at a slower pace than most modern films, it is still one of the most beautiful and atmospheric horror pictures ever made."(Barclay,A, (2001))

 

Maunau's vampire Count Orlock was played my Max Schreck (whose name means terror in German) and with his gaunt, bony, rat-like features, thin frame and long menacing claw like nails could be speculated that Maunau's version of the vampire was closer to depictions of the creature described within folklore. The reason for this is because Maunau is said to of ignored the 'Ruthven formula' (Polidori's The Vampyre) and made a vampire which was set on terrifying and shocking its audience while portraying a sense of realism. For obvious copyright reasons the vampire in Nosferatu was given a different name as were the other characters. Count Graf Orlock's character could be seen as more of an interpretation of James Malcolm Rymer's Varney the Vampire he is isolated and lonely and condemned, and also appears to resemble the description Rymer presented within his novel. One thing is for sure this interpretation is a far cry from the depiction of vampires used a decade later.

Another difference to the plot is the use of rats this could indicate another point towards  folklore, as we are aware the bubonic plague or Black Death in the fourteen hundreds which was introduced with a rat infestation, and according to folklore a lot of superstition surrounding the 'un-dead'came from this period with people at the time seeing their loved ones die from grotesque illnesses like the plague, one could suggest Maunau wanted to re-awaken the true origin of the vampire found within folklore. The ending to Nosferatu is also different from Dracula. 

The leading female protagonist Ellen (Mina) sacrifices herself by distracting the count as he drinks from her as dawn starts breaking,meaning he turns to dust (which is an element we still see today inmost vampire fiction) when the sun comes up ridding the town of the plague his existence has caused. Other than the differences which are obvious to a Dracula reader, Nosferatu follows the same storyline as Dracula and the characters names have only been altered slightly Jonathan Harker becomes Waldemar Hutter, Mina Murray/Harker Ellen Hutter (rather than being his fiancé she becomes his wife in Maunau's adaption), Renfield becomes Knock and Van Helsing becomes Bulwar. The other characters found within Dracula, Lucy Westenra, Dr Seward, Quincey Morris and Lord Godalming are not present in Nosferatu.

Although Florence Stoker fought and won against Nosferatu going ahead she was not completely against her husband's book being portrayed within film. A few years after Nosferatu she gave her blessing to another adaption of her husband's work.This was Bella Lugosi's 1931 classic Dracula directedby Tod Browning and based on a stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L Balderston; this stage show had also drawn inspiration from Bram Stokers masterpiece (it is believed Florence Stoker had seen this stage show and was impressed giving her blessing for the film adaption), although the use of the cloak was all Deane's idea which has become a signature trademark since releasing the film. Lugosi as Dracula became the standard for how the character would be portrayed for decades to come his pale complexion and deathly speech both frightened and excited its audience, the film was a success representing a milestone in cinema it showed how the film industry had moved on from the silent era into 'talkies'. The movie drew massive crowds to the cinema curious to see what the attraction was.There had been tales of people fainting from the shock of seeing Bella Lugosi portrayal of the count, some people reportedly had to be carried out of the cinema, and the popularity of this film made Draculaa household name promoting the sales of merchandise and gimmicks allover the world. At this period of time the film industry and Universal in particular was going through the depression. There has been a link made between vampire films and depression by some cultural historians.

 

"The Universal film Dracula finally made the count a brand name familiar around the world. It was also the only profitable film Universal Studios made that year, and helped rescue Universal from the Depression." (Jackson,K (2009:p92))

 

The film estimated at three hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars and ran for seventy-five minutes. Bella Lugosi plays a suave nobleman charming with a smooth Hungarian accent. Lugosi's portrayal was appealing to the females within audience with his obvious dark good looks but also appealed to the male viewer when the counts true nature is exposed showing the dark and predatory side of Count Dracula. At no point in the film do you see fangs or bite marks on the victim's neck although there is a Spanish version where the bite marks are shown. This movie was classed as a 'talkie' however there is not much dialogue, but Lugosi's accent gave depth to the character,obviously film making at this point was still in its prime only just breaking the sound barrier three years previous; so everything seen onscreen came down to good camera work and lighting.

 

"Lugosi's Portrayal of Dracula is a chilling performance; his accent, facial expressions, threatening yet sophisticated demeanour and grandiose attire are still widely associated with vampires today." (Beresford, M (2008:p144))

 

Although Lugosi saw some success with other work in the early thirties unfortunately he was stereotyped with his role of Dracula.Although his depiction of the count rewarded him with massive amounts of female admirers he wouldn't be taken seriously as an actor again,it seems the film has given us what we see in today's popular culture as a depiction of the count we have come to love and embrace,for Lugosi it was the death of this acting career. Ironically Lugosi was not the first choice for the role Lon Chaney a popular actor at the time was Browning's first choice to play the Count but unfortunately he died of throat cancer in 1930 and the obvious person to take over the role was Lugosi who had portrayed the Count before in the Deane/Hamilton stage show.

 

"Lugosi's Dracula-style left no room for development. A sexual element was implicit, as is indicated by the actor's subsequent fan mail from women and his own previous career as a romantic lead, but it was heavy-handed and superficial sexuality,given more credibility by the vampiric associations of the film than it actually deserved. Consequently there was no direction it could take except that of self-parody. Lugosi often protested that he was trapped by the role. It is hard to imagine how he would ever have been able to exist as an actor without it." (Pirie, D (1977:p55))

 

Form any die hard vampire fans the true legend is Christopher Lee's portrayal of the infamous Prince of Darkness. He has reportedly played Dracula over seventeen times throughout his career, this started with the British Hammer Horror series the first of these was 'Dracula' 1958 (the title was changed for America's viewing public to Horror of Dracula). It has been suggested by many critics that Lee brought to the character a refreshing awakening giving the Count a more suave and magnetic sex appeal than Lugosi depiction of Dracula. It has also been said that Lee as the Count brought a terrifying authentic feel to the role with his tall six foot five frame and his devastatingly menacing good looks. The Hammer series weren't short of gore either it was the first time viewers got to see a close up shot of the vampires face in feeding mode. This showed his sharp protruding fangs, blood stained mouth and the piercing red eyes these were all characteristics of the Count described within Stoker's Dracula. One could suggest that this interpretation of Dracula brought to life and gave a sense of realism to the vampire described on the pages of Bram Stoker's classic novel.

The Hammer Horror version of Dracula met with some restrictions from the censoring board they believed the vampire should not be seen sinking his teeth into the neck of his victims and the women should be suitably dressed, basically any scene of a sexual nature were demanded that they be removed from the film that would be released for public viewing. They believed there was no room for sexual content within horror films. Hammer argued against this stating.

 

"The x certificate suggested for Dracula would automatically prevent anyone under the age of sixteen from seeing the film and to argue that the audience expected a certain amount of horror and gore from the film. They also suggested that the proposed cuts would remove the excitement and shocks that the audience were expecting." (Beresford,M (2009:p147))

 

Lee carried on portraying Dracula  into the seventies and did his last Dracula film in seventy-three which was 'The Satanic Rights of Dracula'there would only one be one more Dracula film made by Hammer after this. The audience had started to lose interest in Hammer films this could be because throughout the years the films they were producing were becoming more farcical and had lost direction although Lee's character always remained a strong favourite with the viewing public.Unfortunately for Hammer they resigned to the fact their films had no leverage within the film industry anymore and the Hammer series went out of business.

 

"As the seventies progressed, the themes became more diverse: there was even a film about race, the blaxploitation movie Blacula (1972). One subject however continued to be a stable box-office draw: the vampire as a sex symbol." (Montague,C (2010))

 

The use of the vampire as a sex symbol is the one thing which has remained strong since the release of Lugosi as Dracula. Even in today's culture the vampire can be used as a way of portraying a forbidden or dangerous love like in recent films like Twilight or HBO's popular television series True Blood which both predominantly appeal more to teenagers and young adults.Gone are the days when there was only one predator to concern ourselves with they now come in swarms of vampires setting un-presidence with humans and enticing women/men into their beds to feed on. Gone are the days when just the biting of the neck, the flick of a cape or a smooth accent were innuendo enough for sexual liberation now audiences are given full on scenes filled with sex, violence and plenty of blood. This just indicates how the film industry has moved on and how society have become de-sensitised to all things sexual and gruesome. One could argue that maybe the depictions of modern day vampires have lost their definitive imagery that turned this creature into the legend it once was.

 

One can clearly see the appeal these three depictions of Draculahad for the fans of vampire fiction. They have all gone down inhistory as 'classics' and have opened doors for the vampire films we see in today's popular culture. The vampire legacy owes a great deal to films like these which have created a mass cultural following of the vampire within film and literature, allowing people to tracethe origins of this mythical being and explore new and exciting interpretations of the infamous Count Dracula.One thing is for certain we as a viewing public have not seen the last of vampires being portrayed within film and literature, and like the infamous Count the vampire legacy will be with us for generations to come.

 

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