I had the soundtrack album to Son of Dracula when I was a kid—you could buy it for 99 cents in virtually any cut out bin in America in the 70s. It featured impressive album cover art that opened out from under Harry Nilsson’s cape (see below). It stayed in my record collection, mostly unlistened to, but still pretty cool, for many years. It’s not like Son of Dracula ever achieved “legendary lost film” status in my eyes—I was never that curious about it and it had the reputation that it stank—but when I saw a VHS bootleg for sale one day at the Pasadena Flea Market (there was a huge section of the market devoted solely to rock memorabilia and bootlegs of every stripe back in 90s) I scooped it up.
Hmmmm… It’s not like I can stand here before you and tell you that it’s great—because it’s definitely not great—but do take Ringo Starr’s comments on Son of Dracula as the gospel truth:
“It is not the best film ever made, but I’ve seen worse.”
He ought to know, he produced this turkey. Ringo’s also being a bit cagey with that statement because he’s mum on exactly how many worse films he’s seen? One other? Dozens? I’d venture that it’s probably a number Ringo can count on just one hand…. (All you really need to know about how bad Son of Dracula truly is, is that after the film was shot in 1972, Ringo hired Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, Douglas Adams and Bernard McKenna to rewrite the dialogue which they would then dub over what they’d already shot! Although this notion was abandoned—apparently it was recorded—in retrospect it doesn’t seem like that bad of an idea… Surely it couldn’t have been any worse or more shambolic than it already was!)
Son of Dracula stars Nilsson as “Count Downe” a vampire rock musician who is about to be crowned Overlord of the Netherworld when he falls in love with a mortal and has a change of heart. Ringo plays—who else—Merlin the Magician. Son of Dracula contains celebrity cameos from Nilsson’s hard-partying rocker mates Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and Keith Moon and his backing band included Peter Frampton, Klaus Voorman and Leon Russell.
It was English character actor Raymond Huntley who first achieved success as Dracula in the famous stage production by Hamilton Deane of Bram Stoker’s classic novel in 1924. The twenty-year-old Huntley became a star taking the play from provincial tour to West End success. However, when offered to play the Count on Broadway, Huntley surprisingly turned the role down, later describing his time playing Dracula as “an indiscretion of my youth.” A strange and possibly rueful response to what in essence could have been a whole new career. Huntley’s refusal left the way open for Bela Lugosi, who made Dracula his own.
Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko was born on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary, to a respectable and successful middle class family. Bela’s father wanted his youngest son to follow in the family tradition and take up a career in banking, but Bela ran away from home when he was twelve with the single-minded ambition of becoming an actor. Like his father the young Bela was stubborn and headstrong. Even when his father died, Bela never gave in to the family pressure to relinquish his dreams.
After years of hoping, waiting and hanging around stage doors, Bela was given a chance to learn his trade. He spent years as the spear carrier, the one liner, or the messenger sent on to develop the plot before he impressed in several Shakespeare productions, most notably as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. This led to his being offered work with the National Theater of Hungary, which (as you can imagine) was the country’s principal theater group. Lugosi later claimed he “became the leading actor of Hungary’s Royal National Theatre,” which may or may not be true.
However, his theatrical career was drastically halted by the First World War Lugosi enlisted to fight, was wounded and spent the remainder of his service recuperating. After the war, he became politically active, helped set up an actor’s union and was then involved in the failed Hungarian Revolution, which meant he had to flee the country as a suspected radical and enemy of the state.
Lugosi traveled to Germany and eventually moved to America, where he worked with a small east coast theater company performing to fellow immigrants. His success here gave him a shot at Broadway, where he brought a seductive exoticness and great menace to the roles he played—most critically as the Arab Sheik in Arabesque, where he was compared to Valentino. But his biggest hit came when he was cast as the evil Count in Dracula. Lugosi made the dark and nefarious Count a highly seductive and erotic figure—a premeval mix of sex and death. Women fainted, men were jealous, both were equally terrified.
Surprisingly, despite Lugosi’s success on Broadway, when Hollywood decided to film Dracula, the actor was not the first choice of producer Carl Laemmle Jr. who wanted Lon Chaney to play the Count. Sadly “The Man of a Thousand Faces” died before production began, leaving Laemmle a long list of actors Paul Muni, Chester Morris, Ian Keith, John Wray, Joseph Schildkraut, Arthur Edmund Carewe and William Courtenay to consider—anyone (it seemed) but Lugosi. However, Lugosi was determined to play the Count and lobbied Laemmle for the part, eventually winning it after accepting a cut in salary.
For me, no matter who has played the role since, Bela Lugosi is the master and in many respects the definitive Count Dracula—he is the standard by which all of the other undead are judged.
As for Huntley, well, he is instantly recognizable from his many film and television appearances, where he usually played the bank manager in pin stripe suit and bowler hat, the civil servant, the untrustworthy politician, the judge passing sentence or the scientist who did things by the book, all of which makes me wonder what his interpretation of the Count was like.
This rather enjoyable documentary Bela Lugosi: Hollywood’s Dark Prince tells the story of Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko, from rebelious childhood to Universal star and sad drug-addled demise, with contributions from Robert Wise, Martin Landau and Bela Lugosi Jr.
Tales of vampires have existed for millennia, but the idea of the vampire as we understand it today comes from late-17th and early-18th-century Europe where oral traditions told of vampires as revenants of evil beings, including suicides and witches, who preyed on the living.
Of course, the most famous vampire is Count Dracula the undead nobleman created by novelist Bram Stoker who spent seven years researching European folklore and vampire stories before writing one word of his classic tale. Yet Dracula was not the first fictional vampire: there had been Sheridan Le Fanu’s Camilla in 1871, which was the tale of a lesbian vampire who preyed on young women; before this James Malcolm’s Varney the Vampire (1847), a grisly “penny dreadful” that became a best-seller; and at the beginning was Vampyre, a story written by Doctor John Polidori during a madcap summer spent with Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, which also inspired the creation of Frankenstein. That must have been one hell of a vacation.
Part of Dracula‘s great allure is the historical association with the bloody Transylvanian Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia or “Vlad the Impaler.” In the documentary Dracula the Great Undead, the ever-watchable Vincent Price traces the true story behind one of fiction’s greatest characters. As our host, Price is his usual charming self, and makes this documentary a delight to watch.
While it may have lacked a bug-eyed Michael Ripper leading a band of pitchfork-wielding villagers, through torch-lit, cobble-stone streets, up to the castle to stake the dreaded vampire, Dracula 1972 A.D. did have an interesting back story, and a hip young Johnny (“Dig the music, kids!”) Alucard, great-grandson of the infamous Count.
Johnny had an interest in swinging parties, dancing, ending world hunger and er, Satanism. Johnny could also model hats at jaunty-angles and had a beezer plan to bring back his long-lost relative from the dead (cue lightning. And this is where the back story comes in.
Dracula 1972 A.D. was (surprisingly) inspired by real events. This was the news reports of the Highgate Vampire—a shadowy figure seen wandering around the famous London cemetery. TV crews hung around the graveyard in hope of capturing the blood-sucking count, while the press told tales of dead-of-night, occult rituals, and a “King Vampire from Wallachia,” who had allegedly been brought back from the dead by hip-young Satanists—you can see where writer Don Houghton got the idea for Johnny Alucard and his friends. Or, as Professor Van Helsing said:
“There is evil in the world. There are dark, awful things. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of them. But there are dark corners; horrors almost impossible to imagine… even in our worst nightmares.”
Without Michael Ripper, the villagers this time round were played by the police, who had the usual comic asides but still knew something nasty was afoot in modern London town.
Sergeant, I’ll bet you a pound to a pinch of shit… that there’s a little piece of hash at that party… and if there is, I’ve got them.
Alas, the critics were more vicious to Dracula 1972 A.D. than any crucifix-wielding Van Helsing. Roger Ebert gave it one-out-of-four, while the broadsheets considered this “hip” retelling to be the worst of Hammer’s Dracula films. It was all a bit mean, for Dracula 1972 A.D. was not really that bad. Indeed, age has been kind to the film, and fans of Hammer Horror and vampire movies will enjoy the fine performances from debonair Christopher Lee as Dracula, and nervy Peter Cushing as Professor Van Helsing, who both seem to relish their entanglement in a modern-day setting.
Lee was the focus of a short, promotional film, Prince of Terror, which peaked behind-the scenes of Dracula 1972 A.D., and visited the great actor at his London home, where he briefly enthused about the real Vlad Țepeș, aka Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia. All rather jolly really.
There is always something about behind-the-scenes footage that reminds me of my childhood. It’s perhaps the memory of those holiday movies the slightly-posh-neighbors-along-the-road used to show after spending a fortnight in Fuengirola or Benidorm, sometime in the 1970s. The invited guests would be entertained with “Viva Espana” on the record player, a fondue set, a bottle of Rioja and a selection of dips, before the overly-tanned holiday-makers talked through their 8mm films: “That’s Pedro, oh he was nice, and there’s Auntie Jean, look, pink as a lobster.”
I suppose it’s the commentary, which is here supplied by Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews, who all get similarly excited when recognizing old friends and past pleasures: “Look, there’s Bert.” “There’s Roy.” “We’re doing the crossword!” The main difference here, of course, is that this home movie is something far more special: a 16mm-reel of behind-the-scenes footage from Dracula—Prince of Darkness, and it’s all good fun.
Dracula—Prince of Darkness (1966) was essentially Hammer Films’ sequel to their classic interpretation of Dracula from 1958. Indeed DPOD opens with archive of Peter Cushing, as Professor Van Helsing, using candlesticks to despatch the Christopher Lee’s Count.
It’s interesting footnote that while previously Lee’s Dracula had spoken in the original film, in DPOD he only hissed. Christopher Lee claimed this was because he read the script.
‘I didn’t speak in that picture. The reason was very simple. I read the script and saw the dialogue! I said to Hammer, if you think I’m going to say any of these lines, you’re very much mistaken.’
However, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster disagreed with this version of events in his autobiography Inside Hammer wrote:
‘‘Vampires don’t chat. So I didn’t write him any dialogue. Chris Lee has claimed that he refused to speak the lines he was given ... So you can take your pick as to why Christopher Lee didn’t have any dialogue in the picture. Or you can take my word for it. I didn’t write any.’
Whichever version you choose to believe, we can all agree that Dracula—Prince of Darkness is a classic Hammer Horror.
Terence Stamp and Michael Caine once shared an apartment in the early 1960s. Stamp was the star, with Billy Budd, Term of Trial and The Collector to his CV, while Caine was still on his way up. The turning point came when Stamp knock-backed the title role of Alfie, a role he had made his own on Broadway, but didn’t want to reprise on film. Caine spent a long night trying to change Stamp’s mind. He failed and the role was given to Caine.
Years later, Michael Caine wrote how he sometimes dreamt of that long night trying to convince Stamp to take the role, and “still wakes up sweating as I see Terence agreeing to accept my advice to take the role in Alfie.”
Stamp made Modesty Blasie instead, which on paper sounded fabulous - directed by Joseph Losey; starring Monica Vitti and Dirk Bogarde; adapted by poet and writer Evan Jones from the best-selling Peter O’Donell comic strip. Sadly, it flopped, and the blue-eyed, angelic Stamp was slowly eclipsed by his former room-mate, Caine.
Yet, Stamp was no longer interested in making films for the sake of making films. He was beginning to choose roles because he wanted to make them. He turned down an incredible amount of work, as he later explained in an interview with Valerie Singelton in 1978:
‘I didn’t accept a lot of work because I was of the opinion, if one wanted the long career, one should do good, interesting things. One shouldn’t do anything.
‘So, that was a kind of a political decision really, apart from the fact I enjoyed to do things that interested me. It didn’t interest me to play Tate and Lyle lorry drivers, you understand? I did that already. I didn’t want to do that in a movie. I wanted to play princes and counts, and intellectuals and things that I wasn’t, rather than something I was.’
After Modesty Blaise, Stamp opted to work with radical film-maker Ken Loach, on his first movie Poor Cow, which co-starred Carol White. The film was a surprise hit in America, largely down to Stamp’s casting. He then appeared in John Schlesinger’s Far From the Madding Crowd with Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Peter Finch. Yet, for all his success, there was something missing.
‘And this thing which came later was a feeling of an inner emptiness success didn’t fill. I had assumed that this inner poverty would be transformed when I became rich and famous. And it took me a few years of being rich and famous to understand that the inner void was very much there.
‘And, you know, if I couldn’t fill it with one Rolls-Royce, I couldn’t fill it with three.
‘I started traveling and looking at myself. Looking, thinking the answer was outside still in a form of, you know, I transfered from beautiful female companion, to highly, holy, spiritualized person. So I was kind of looking for that in truth - it was an inner odyssey that was going on.’
Stamp moved to Italy and then onto an ashram in India, where he found he could get ‘Groovy Kashmiri hash or groovy golden guru - you get what you’re looking for.’ Here he was “transformed from Terence Henry Stamp to swami Deva Veeten.”
The years passed and the roles had dried-up, until (as in all good tales) one day in 1977:
‘On this particular morning, as we enter, I am hailed by the concierge who showed me to my original room. Apparently he remembers me. “Mr. Terence”, he says in an accent worthy of Peter Sellers. “We have a cable for you”. He extricates the telegram from the depths of his nightstand and presents it to me. Dog-eared, with tickertape strips glued onto the square envelope and smeared with dust, I have no idea how long the urgent missive has been waiting. However, as it is dropped into my palm it has the psychic weight of the English breakfast I am about to order. I read the typed front piece and realize why. It is addressed to: Clarence Stamp, The Rough Diamond Hotel, Dune, India. It is a miracle that it is even in my hand. Goose pimples spread up my arm and I have a sense that my life is about to change. The telegram is from my long-suffering agent James Fraser, who came across me playing Iago at the Webber-Douglas Drama Academy in 1958 and, bless his heart, has represented me ever since. The telegram reads: ‘Would you be prepared to travel back to London to meet Richard Donner regarding a role in the Superman films 1 & 2. You have scenes with Marlon Brando. Could you stop over in Paris to talk to Peter Brook who is going to make a film of George Gurujieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men. I read it again. Can hardly believe it, but yes, it’s there, in the palm of my hand. And yes, my life is about to change.’
After Superman, Stamp was cast as the Count in a London production of Dracula, (one of several productions about the great undead vampire that had appeared on both sides of the Atlantic). It was during this production that the following interview with the BBC took place, where Terence Stamp explained, to interviewer Valerie Singleton the attraction of Count Dracula.
‘I always think of evil and the Devil being terribly groovy - not unattractive at all, they have to be really interesting and really seductive because that’s the magnetism of evil, you know, it has to be outwardly beautiful and fetching.’
A suitably whimsical report for Halloween on the Dracula Society‘s day trip to Whitby in 1977, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula.
The Society was originally set-up in 1973 by actors Bernard Davies and Bruce Wightman, to offer fans the opportunity to visit locations from the book, and re-enact certain scenes. Whitby, of course, was where Dracula arrived in England from Transylvania as a dog, and continued with his vampiric deeds.
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula has never been out-of-print, since it was first published in 1897.
Stoker spent 7 years researching vampire tales from European folklore, including some of the myths and history surrounding Vlad Tepes Dracul, the infamous Prince of of Wallachia, who impaled his enemies on stakes and allegedly drank their blood.
As for the character of Dracula, Stoker captured much of his friend, the actor Henry Irving, in his description of the Count. Later, it was thought Irving would make the perfect stage Dracula, but when asked to read an extract form the book, Irving pronounced it, “Dreadful!”
Since then, there have been many great actors who have portrayed the Count, most notably Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman and Louis Jourdan - who made a memorble TV version back in the 1970s.
Dracula is the most portrayed literary character on film, with 272 films, as of May 2012. The closest rival is Sherlock Holmes with 254 films.
Christopher Lee regarded the character of Dracula as “heroic, romantic, erotic. Irresistible to women. Unstoppable by men.” When cast as the vampire, Lee “played him as a malevolent hero.”
“I decided to play him as a man of immense dignity, immense strength, immense power, immense brain…he’s a kind of a superman really.”
Dracula, and vampires, are re-interpreted by every generation. These days, the vampire is a hormonal bad boy who wants a suburban life. But when I was child, I used to ponder: can vampires lose their fangs? And if they did, what happened?
‘It is often believed that a vampire cannot lose his or her fangs, but I can assure you vampires can, and often do, lose their fangs.
‘The loss of such essential teeth leads the vampire to use various utensils to start the flow of blood: a knife, a cutthroat razor, a bottle opener. Unfortunately, this means the death of the victim, which is generally to be avoided, as the last thing a vampire wants is to attract any unnecessary attention.
‘Such toothless vampires are messy eaters, and are rarely invited to dinner parties, as they waste more than they can drink.
‘Another misconception about us nightwalkers is our fear of garlic. We love garlic – well, most of us do – as it adds flavor to our diet. This is quite understandable when you consider our native homeland is Transylvania, where the local diet is rich in garlic that infuses the blood with a very delicious tang. It also purifies, lowers cholesterol and aids digestion.
‘It is a commonly held superstition that vampires are terrified of the crucifix. Well, while some vampires are Christian and some Jewish, most are agnostic. This is because we are the living dead, or undead. We are the creatures of the night, the residents of limbo, who have not quite died and have not gone to wherever-it-may-be. If at all. We therefore find it hard to believe in an after-life, unless it is this one. Which I suppose means, we are more like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
‘You may be surprise to hear that vampires do date and have various courtship rituals, just like you day-walkers. I can still recall my first date with my dear wife – we dined out on some winos, and got pleasantly drunk. As you can imagine, my future father-in-law was not best pleased when I returned his tipsy, giggling daughter back to their crypt.
‘And let me be clear, once and for all – no we cannot turn into giant bats, dogs or any sort of ethereal mists. Which is a pity, I know. No, sadly, we have to get around on foot or by car. In fact, it was another creation of the industrial revolution, trains that allowed vampires to move away from our overcrowded homeland.
‘As for sleeping in coffins, there is much conjecture about this. Some vampire historians believe we may have slept in coffins, mainly to escape detection. Remember it would have been rather strange in the olden days to get up at night and sleep during the day. Therefore, sleeping in a graveyard became the ideal place to hide out.
‘Or, perhaps, living and sleeping in a coffin is much cheaper than maintaining a house, a castle or a condo on the upper-eastside.
‘Yes, daylight is bad for us, just as it can be for you – it gives us skin cancer, something we are highly susceptible to, as our flesh is undead and has no elasticity or protection from the sun’s harmful rays. But, thanks again to changes in society, we have been able to find work as night watchmen, town criers, long distance lorry drivers, sewer workers, or just generally the night shift workers, who stack shelves or keep garages open, you know the sort. These days, most of us are in IT, where we can work to our own flexi hours.
‘As soon as we started working we made money. And as we made money, we found that we were buying houses, moving into nice neighborhoods, raising our families.
‘Oh yes, we do have families with all that this entails. We start junior off on mother’s blood before weaning them onto small insects, rodents, then medium sized animals.
‘And as for drinking blood, well it is the world’s fast food, a kind-of McDonald’s. Just as easy to pick up, but more filling, and nutritious, and there’s always plenty of it to go round. What amazes vampires is why humans waste so much of it – murder, suicide-bombers, muggings, knifings, gunshots, slaughterhouses, funeral homes, and war.
‘Of course, our kids do all the rebellious - feasting on winos blood, or sucking on a junkie to get high.
‘As for disease, we try to be careful about this, as too often you can catch a dose from some late night snack. That’s why we tend to stick to nice, clean, straight people, middle class people, who go to church, say their prayers, look after their health and work hard for a living. And yes, stakes can kill us. As can silver bullets, regular bullets, knives, and lots of other things too. That’s because we are not, as you say, immortal, we are the Undead.
‘We live to about one-hundred-and fifty or two hundred years of age, but that’s only because our metabolism is slower than yours. Our heartbeats approximately at one beat an hour. As for reflections – you can see us, we’re physical after all not ethereal.
‘So, how can you recognize a vampire?
‘We look like you. A bit pale, maybe. A bit more lethargic. The best way to recognize us is to look out of your window tonight, some time long after dark, and just see how many people are up and about. You can take my word for it, that at least one in ten or one in twenty of the people you can see is a vampire.
‘And don’t be fooled, not all of them have fangs - some of them wear dentures.’
A fine selection of false teeth are on display here, in this short video history of Dracula. Presented by Christopher Lee, who tells Dracula‘s history from novel, to the first theatrical productions and on to the Count’s life on film. With contributions from Bela Lugosi jnr, Peter Cushing, Jimmy Sangster, Freddie Francis and Caroline Munro.
Bela Lugosi was often depressed performing the role of Dracula. He dreamt he was dead, and woke in the morning exhausted, he tells Dorothy West in this episode of Intimate Interviews from 1932.
Lugosi explains how after the First World War, he participated in the Hungarian revolution, but soon found himself on the wrong side. He therefore left the country and arrived in America, where he continued his career as an actor.
His first success was in the title role of the stage production of Dracula. This led him to starring in the classic film version, directed by Todd Browning in 1931. Thereafter, he made a series of Horror films for Universal Studios, most notably starring against that “King of Horror”, Boris Karloff.
Lugosi jokes with West telling her is learning slang and knows how to say “okay”, “baloney” and “the cat’s whiskers”. He also goes onto say he likes living in America as people know how to mind their own business - which is more a reference to the way sections of Hollywood society ostracized the actor. Lugosi ends the interview pretending to be one of the Undead.
Bonus clip, Lugosi interviewed leaving the sanitarium in 1955, after the jump…
The Composites is an ongoing project by Brian Joseph Davis where images are “created using a commercially available law enforcement composite sketch software and descriptions of literary characters.”
Above is the composite sketch of Dracula, from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.
The description from the book:
A tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache…His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead…His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking…For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin…The blue eyes transformed with fury. (Multiple suggestions)
Bela Lugosi’s cape is up for auction. It’s being offered by Profiles in History, run by Joe Maddalena.
When one hears the name “Dracula,” it is difficult to imagine anyone but Bela Lugosi wearing his signature mode of dress—white tie and tails and a cape—which he wore in the 1931 Universal Pictures classic Dracula. The “Dracula” cape embodies the iconic horror figure and is now up for auction. The cape is screen-used and consigned by his son directly. Prior to his death in 1956, Bela Lugosi gave the cape to his wife of 20 years, Lillian Lugosi, and the mother of Bela Jr., telling her that it was the cape from the film and to keep the cape for his son. Upon Lugosi’s death in 1956, the family decided that he should be buried in his Dracula costume. Given Bela Lugosi’s wish that his son should have the cape, the family dressed the body in a lighter weight version of the cape he used when making personal appearances. Lillian retained the original 1931 cape and left it, along with her other possessions, to Bela Jr. upon her death in 1981. It has remained in his possession continuously. Without question, this is the greatest single horror garment in cinema history. The auction pre-sale estimate is $1,500,000 - $2,000,000.
I think I’ll pass on this and wait for Klaus Kinski’s Noseferatu cape to become available.
Trailer for one of the campier Hammer films of the seventies (and that is saying a lot), Dracula A.D. 1972. Starring Christopher Lee as Dracula, Peter Cushing as a Van Helsing descendant and pre-Dynasty Stephanie Beacham (she played Sable) and scream queen supreme Caroline Munro as the requisite Carnaby Street dolly birds.