“Velcome, vee haff been expecting you”. So said Bella Lugosi in the first “talky” version of Dracula back in 1931. That though wasn’t the first outing for Count Alucard [the name Dracula adopted in the movie], who first bared his fangs on the silver screen in 1922 when the German expressionist movie maker F. W. Murnau released Nosferatu. Both movie releases made a big hit with the viewing public.
I have always enjoyed a good vampire story and have read the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, seen the play based on Stoker’s writings in a West End production [starring George Chakiris] and watched both the 1922 and 1931 movies many times. Why Dracula has proved such a popular character over the years is surprising as he has few saving graces, other than great personal charm… It is often suggested that Stoker single-handedly “invented” the vampire industry, but the story goes back much further.
Dracula was not the first vampire in literature, that honour goes to The Vampyre a short story written by John William Polidori in 1819, although authorship is often wrongly attributed to Lord Byron. Polidori was Byron’s physician and was in attendance when Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and Claire Clairmont spent a three wet, summer days in 1816 inside the Villa Diodati in Switzerland, writing fantastical stories [including Mary’s that would eventually become Frankenstein]. Later, Polidori used Byron’s contribution Fragment of a Novel as the basis of his own work.
In Byron’s unfinished piece, an elderly man on the Grand Tour dies in Turkey between Smyrna and Ephesus. His body immediately turns black and begins to crumble into dust. The story ends at this point but Polidori claimed that Byron was going to revive the man in vampire form but didn’t get around to finishing the story.
Polidori used Byron’s beginning as his inspiration and dashed off his own version in just three days. It was published to immediate success, going through a number of editions and translations over the next few years. In 1820, it was adapted into a play that was performed across Europe and started a pan-European “vampire craze”. There was an operatic adaptation and soon afterwards Heinrich Marschner and Pater Josef von Lindpainter published separate novels that were both called “The Vampire”.
Over the next few decades, Edgar Allen Poe, Nikolai Gogal, Alexander Dumas and Alexis Tolstoy wrote vampire tales. It was however, two other lesser known authors who inspired Stoker. These were James Malcolm Rymer and Sheridan Le Fanu.
Varney the Vampire or Feast of Blood was written by Rymer back in 1847, the year of Stoker’s birth. Although considered a “penny-dreadful” Rymer came up with conventions still used in Vampire movies. For example, Varney’s bite left two puncture wounds, he had super-human strength and hypnotic powers. Rymer is also credited in the novel for coming up with the expression [often used by my Mother] he or she was “never been backward in coming forward”. I digress…
Then of course there was Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 book Carmilla, a sensational tale of a lesbian vampire preying on young women. Say, why hasn’t that book been made into a movie?
Anyway by 1897, when Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published, the vampire novel and many of its conventions were already well established. Our thirst for vampire stories has gone unquenched for nearly two-hundred years and still they come.
Over the years there have been many adaptions of the story in comic books, novels, plays and movies. Some of my favourites include The Fearless Vampire Killers , featuring British comedy actor Alfie Bass who as a Jewish vampire, isn’t stopped by a crucifix. Dracula  starring Christopher Lee where in an out-take a fruit bat swoops down onto the newly “staked” Dracula and starts lapping the corn-syrup “blood”. Zoltan, Hound of Dracula , a truly dreadful “follow-up” movie where in the last scene, several rather cute
puppies are presented as reanimated vampiric dogs!
Yes, I have watched the Twilight series. I thought the first one was great, the second OK and the third, dross. A shame really but that hasn’t stopped the producers going the Harry Potter route by breaking the novel into two, with the fourth part to be released in November 2011 and the fifth in November 2012…
Anyway, Happy 114th Birthday Bram Stoker’s Dracula!