Last holiday season, I wrote a post summarizing the style history of one of my fashion icons: Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol. It was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever written, but I enjoyed it. So this Halloween, I’m following it up with a video about another major influence on my personal style: Count Dracula. It’s slightly less stupid, but still worth watching. See below for the full script, with links to purchase many of the films discussed.
Created by Irish author Bram Stoker in 1897, Count Dracula is one of the most famous characters in the history of English-language fiction; and I like to think that at least part of the reason is his impeccable fashion sense. I myself have been an admirer of the Count’s sartorial stylings since at least age four. So what follows is a look back at 25 representations of Dracula from the last 100 years of film and television, tracing the highs and lows of his personal style. I call it Dracula: Fashion Icon.
The first cinematic Dracula is, of course, not “Dracula” at all, but Count Orlok–as director F.W. Murnau was legally obligated to name him in his unlicensed 1922 adaptation Nosferatu. And, to be honest, we’re not exactly starting at a high point. Orlok is a much more bestial figure than the later versions of the Count, with a hunch back and long fingernails that suggest personal grooming is not his forte. Still, that long overcoat has kind of a cool, ’90s industrial rock look. He’s basically a slightly less attractive Billy Corgan.
Nine years after Murnau plagiarized Stoker, Dracula got his first official screen adaptation in the 1931 Universal film by Tod Browning and cinematographer Karl Freund. As we’ll see, it was Bela Lugosi’s portrayal that set the tone for later Draculas: suave, impeccably groomed, and favoring high-collared capes to vaguely clerical frocks. And that top hat he wore in London was extra sharp.
Universal’s next stab at the dreaded vampire was Dracula’s Daughter in 1936–but we’re talking strictly about menswear here, so we’ll skip directly to 1943’s Son of Dracula. With a rather puffy Lon Chaney, Jr. in the cape as Count Alucard–yes, that’s “Dracula” backwards–it’s more like Dad of Dracula. But at least we know this Count was well-fed.
On the other end of the spectrum was John Carradine in the following year’s House of Frankenstein and its 1945 sequel, House of Dracula. Rail-thin, with a top hat and manicured moustache, he looks more like a magician than the Lord of the Undead. Still, he’s got the stare down.
Next, Lugosi made a tongue-in-cheek return to the role in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, to decidedly diminishing returns. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Universal for keeping Bela employed, but his smoking-jacket-and-overapplied-foundation ensemble is a little “Grandpa Munster” for my tastes.
Sadly, Lugosi’s past-his-prime Count was the last Dracula to be seen in Western cinema for a decade. In the meantime, however, there was the little-known 1953 Turkish production Drakula İstanbul’da, or Dracula in Istanbul. Atif Kaptan’s Dracula is perhaps most notable for being the first to be depicted with visible fangs. But I have to commend him for being the first bald Dracula, and owning it.
The next truly iconic Dracula–and, for many, the definitive version–was Christopher Lee, who appeared as the vampire in no fewer than seven productions for British studio Hammer: beginning with 1958’s Dracula, or Horror of Dracula, as it was known in the U.S. Lee’s Dracula was both sexier and more monstrous than, say, Lugosi’s: a more visceral figure of horror for a different time and place in film history.
Released in the same month as Hammer’s Dracula was United Artists’ The Return of Dracula, starring the Austrian former matinée idol Francis Lederer. Lederer’s Dracula rightfully isn’t as beloved as Lee’s, but the film’s modern-day setting does give us the rare opportunity to see the Count wearing a trilby.
Despite–or perhaps because of–the film industry’s best efforts, Dracula in the early 1960s remained firmly in the realm of kitsch; which meant it was ripe for appropriation by pop artists like Andy Warhol, whose 1964 experimental film Batman Dracula featured fellow avant-gardist Jack Smith performing dramatic cape flips.
Even sillier than Batman Dracula was John Carradine’s return to the role in the 1966 low-budget horror-Western Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. At least this time Carradine doesn’t resemble a magician; and I have to admit, his dapper-yet-sinister black hat and cape combo is pretty much exactly what you’d imagine Dracula wearing in the Old West.
The Count faced a less absurd nemesis in 1970’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein by B-movie maestro Al Adamson–albeit under even more low-budget circumstances. This Dracula, played by Roger Engel under the pseudonym “Zandor Vorkov,” sports an even ashier-than-usual complexion and a goatee. He definitely looks like a “Zandor,” I’ll give him that.
I’ll admit I was hoping for a more period-specific look from Christopher Lee in his penultimate appearance as Hammer’s Dracula in contemporary London, Dracula AD 1972. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see Lee with chin-length sideburns or a tailored Savile Row suit–he’s basically just vintage Dracula, for better or worse. The same goes for William Marshall in Blacula, which displays remarkable restraint for the blaxploitation era by dressing “Dracula’s soul brother” in the traditional cape and tux, rather than taco meat and gold chains.
Screen versions of the Count just might have reached their hilarious nadir with the very optimistically-named Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1973: here, the dreaded vampire is literally just Jack Palance in a cape. So, terrifying, but maybe not in the way director Dan Curtis intended.
The following year, Warhol returned–sort of–to his Transylvanian muse with Blood for Dracula, which was marketed in the U.S. as Andy Warhol’s Dracula, despite actually being directed by Paul Morrissey. It’s hard to critique the fashion of Udo Kier’s campy Dracula, as he’s often in some state of undress; but the German actor lends a Kraftwerkian air of Teutonic glamour to the role.
Dracula’s next major studio turn was in 1979, with Universal casting Frank Langella in what modern motion picture conglomerates would call a franchise reboot. Subtitled “A Love Story,” 1979’s Dracula draws out the more Romantic–with a capital and lower-case “R”–elements of the vampire mythos. To be frank, it’s pretty dated. I get that Langella is supposed to be a hunk, but that late ’70s haircut is killing me.
Released three months before Langella’s Dracula was Love at First Bite, starring George Hamilton as a disco-dancing Count Dracula. Aside from making history as the first ever parody film to actually precede the release of the movie it was mocking, it’s most notable for featuring easily the tannest Dracula in movie history.
Finally, rounding out the trifecta of 1979 vampire movies was Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu, starring the director’s longtime muse/frenemy Klaus Kinski. Kinski’s look is clearly modeled after Max Schreck from the original Nosferatu, but more recognizably human. Seeing as he was played by Klaus Kinski, however, we can be reasonably certain that this Dracula sexually abused his daughters.
Compared to 1979’s Dracula-movie overkill, the ’80s were a quiet decade for the character. Duncan Regehr’s Dracula appeared alongside several other classic Universal monsters in 1987’s The Monster Squad: more of an homage to the character’s legacy than a new interpretation. Much weirder was 1988’s To Die For, starring Brendan Hughes as “Vlad Tepish,” a hunky stranger with a secret (hint: the secret is that he’s Dracula).
The next Dracula adaptation proper was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1992. Gary Oldman’s Count is admittedly a little silly-looking, especially in his early incarnation as a blood-starved old man; but the Academy Award-winning costume design by Ishioka Eiko is the first genuinely new contribution to the fashion of Dracula in decades. I’m especially partial to the outfit Oldman wears in London: sort of a steampunk John Lennon look.
Unfortunately, the character’s next screen outing in the abysmal Dracula 2000 was decidedly less inspired: he’s just Gerard Butler with shoulder-length hair. Much more remarkable, from my perspective, is the 2002 Italian television miniseries, released in the U.S. as Dracula’s Curse. Since the release of Nosferatu 80 years earlier, Count Dracula had been a demonic beast, an Eastern European aristocrat, and even a moustache-twirling Western villain; but it wasn’t until Patrick Bergen donned the cap that we saw Dracula as a dumpy middle-aged man with a moustache. Finally!
The last few decades have continued to churn out periodic Dracula adaptations and reimaginings–most, frankly, unremarkable. The 2006 BBC version prefigured 2010’s Sherlock by casting Marc Warren as a youthful, mop-topped version of the character with a louche sex appeal. 2013’s Dracula: The Dark Prince starred Luke Roberts as the first-ever blonde Dracula. There have been other versions, too, but I won’t bother to go any further. The point is, no one in recent years has really left their mark on the character, and that’s a shame. I have faith, however, that someday we’ll see another iconic Count Dracula. After all, neither vampires nor fashions ever stay dead for long. For Dystopian Halloween Party, this has been Zach Hoskins.