On this day in 1897 the first copies of Bram Stoker’s Dracula went on sale in London bookshops.
Written in the form of the diaries and journals of the novel’s protagonists, Dracula is the story of a vampire who makes his way from Transylvania to – erm – Yorkshire, England, to prey on local ‘innocents’ and, from them, extract the blood he needs to drink in order to carry on his strange, undead existence. (Presumably, the need for innocents was the reason he bypassed Newcastle…)
Whilst researching the novel, Stoker found the name ‘Dracula’ in a book about Wallachia and Moldavia, written by a retired diplomat named William Wilkinson. Originally his eponymous vampire was to be called ‘Count Wampyr’, so it was for the best really.
Vampires were extremely popular figures in folk tales all over Europe at the time, but it was Stoker’s novel that catapulted them into the mainstream of 20th-century media – though, even still, it was something of a slow journey…
Upon its release, Stoker’s novel only enjoyed a very moderate success, and, indeed, when he died in 1912, none of his obituaries even mentioned Dracula by name.
It was only in the 1920s, when the book was adapted for Broadway, that the idea of the vampire seemed to capture the public imagination – leading to Tod Browning’s classic 1931 Universal film of the same name, featuring a then little-known Hungarian actor called Bela Lugosi.
Since then, Dracula has been portrayed 272 times on film and television – more than any other fictional character (including Sherlock Holmes – who has only been depicted a laughable 254 times to date).
There have been some good times for the famous vampire over the years; notably the 1921 masterpiece Nosferatu (which sees Dracula trading under a different name for legal reasons) and the early horrors from Britain’s Hammer Studios, featuring Christopher Lee.
Naturally enough, there have been some slightly weaker outings for the vampire too. The 1966 cowboy / vampire crossover Billy the Kid vs Dracula and the 1972 ‘blacksploitation’ movie Blacula, spring readily to mind. Though both have some good moments.
(Arguably, Dracula’s lowest ebb came with the 1978 film Zoltan, Hound of Dracula in which his vampiric spirit is bafflingly transported into a terrier with prosthetic fangs. Though, being played for no laughs by Leslie Nielsen in 1996 comedy Dracula: Dead and Loving it must count as a close second.)
Bluffing fact: Despite having been portrayed on film and TV so many times, the Count had to wait until the release of Jesús Franco’s El Conde Drácula in 1970 to be depicted with the large, floppy moustache that Stoker had given the character in his original novel.
For more about Dracula’s fangy big screen frolics, reach for The Bluffer’s Guide to Insider Hollywood®.