The former Londen Lyccum Theatre manager, Bram Stoker is often credited with creating modern vampire lore through his Victorian novel Dracula, which was published on May 18, 1897. Though the inspiration for dozens of films, TV series, books and plays, Dracula was not a successful novel and is not considered an important work in Victorian literature. It is modern folklore that the inspiration for the vampire in his book was the infamous Vlad III Dracula (“Vlad the Impaler”) yet most scholars agree that is not the case. Though Stoker did discover the name “Dracul” (Dragon) while studying Romanian history and used it for the name of his vampire character, that is where the connection ends. It is a fact that the author was inspired by earlier vampire stories such as Emily Garads “Transylvania Superstitions (1885), Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” (1871), John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (1819) and Lord Byron’s “The Giaour” (1813). The main inspiration, however, would come from the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory who reportedly killed 700 servant girls to bathe in or drink their blood in attempt to achieve everlasting life. Yet another inspiration was the former Lyceum Theatre manager Henry Irving. Dracula’s mannerisms and gestures were directly copied from Irving, who Stoker often tried to convince to play the vampire in a stage performance of his novel. Regardless of the true origins of Stoker’s Dracula the character has now become the stereotype for which all vampire adaptations that followed have been based.
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In 1922 the first film based on the Bram Stoker novel was produced. While originally the movie was to be titled “Dracula” the films producers failed to get permission from Stoker’s widow and the title was changed to “Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens” (“Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror). Copyright problems also mandated the location of the story to be moved from England to Transylvania and Germany. The name of the vampire also had to be changed from Dracula to Count Orlock. Method actor Max Schreck would become infamous for his portrayal of Orlock, which to this day is probably the most frightening of any movie vampire in the history of film. It has often been noted that Schreck was such a devoted method actor that he actually began to believe he was a vampire and only could be called for shooting after the sun had gone down. Stoker’s estate was able to win several lawsuits against the makers of “Nosferatu” and all copies of the film were to have been destroyed. All the prints of the film that survive today come from pirated copies that escaped destruction.
Bela Lugosi (Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasco) came to America in the 1920s’ to pursue an acting career. Even though the actor had starred in several small roles prior, he would always be remembered for portraying Dracula, both on stage and in numerous films. After Dracula became a huge hit the actor was offered the part of “The Monster” in “Frankenstein”, which he turned down. Boris Karloff would become famous for the part, and Lugosi’s short term as the “King of Horror” would end as quickly as it started. Lugosi would go on to play Dracula and other various vampires throughout his career. The actor managed to beat a drug addiction, but ended his career in low budget features such as the infamous “Plan 9 From Outer Space” which would be his last film. He passed away while it was still in production. Despite all of his stage and film roles the actor died in poverty.
Carl Laemmle Jr. had a vision for a big screen adaptation of “Dracula” for Universal that would have been in the same league as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Laemmle was also very insistent that Lon Chaney, play the vampire in his picture and set out to lure him away from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Unfortunately Lon Cheney passed away from throat cancer before production was set to begin.
There were more setbacks for the production of “Dracula.” Universal was feeling the grip of the Great Depression and the budget for the film was cut drastically. This lead to several scenes, that would have mirrored Stoker’s original story, to be abandoned. That is when the filmmaker turned his attention to the Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderson Broadway play for the basis of his production.
Carl Laemmle would end up hiring Tod Browning to direct the film and together they would begin a search for an actor to play the vampire. Ian Keith was the top choice to play “Dracula”, but Lugosi did everything he could to change their minds. Despite rave reviews for his portrayal on Broadway, Lugosi was not what the duo had in mind. Ultimately Bela Lugosi would end up as Dracula, but only after he agreed to a salary far below that of his co-stars.
Dracula would premiere on Valentine’s Day 1931, and was billed as “The strangest love story of all.” The film gained nationwide media attention when it was reported that audience members often times fainted from the horror portrayed on the screen. This was a very well executed publicity stunt orchestrated by Universal who placed actors in the audience at select screenings who would indeed faint or scream at predetermined times. The stunt paid off and people packed theatres to see the film, if for nothing else than for the sake of curiosity. The popularity of both Dracula and Frankenstein, which was released later the same year, would help pave the way for a series of horror films that would secure Universal as the king of the horror genre for decades to come.
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