Talking about Count Dracula as a character and cultural icon is a rather daunting task, as he’s appeared in over 200 films, plus numerous plays, books, TV shows, et cetera, constantly changing in how his character is framed and presented. Though the novelist who birthed this creature of the night was Irish, his cultural impact has been felt far, far from Ireland’s shores. Most of us know who Count Dracula is, but how many of us truly know him in his multitudes, from a repulsive, barely-human beast to a Nice Guy who just wanted to save his wife and son (yes, really)?
Obviously, it’d probably take years to watch every single bit of Dracula media ever made, from the direct-to-garbage bin schlock to the big-budget studio productions to the barely-concealed fanfic, so I won’t be covering every single bit of Dracula media ever. I want to try and cover as much ground as I can, however. The way Dracula the character has been re-shaped over time to suit the needs of numerous creators is fascinating; it constantly reflects cultural attitudes towards women, foreign countries, sexuality, and religion. The way writers and directors grapple with the social mores of the Victorian period (or don’t, tellingly) in contemporary contexts is fascinating from multiple critical perspectives, and hopefully I’ll be able to dig into why the different versions of the character over the years make the changes they do.
Additionally, I should note that in this retrospective, I’ll assume that you’ve already read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t fret; I’ll try to insert helpful links where greater context might be required. It’s public domain, so it can be read pretty much anywhere, but I do recommend seeking out an annotated scholarly version, as it can be a bit culturally impenetrable in places.
And now, here’s how I’ll break each version of Dracula down.
Sexualization: Does this Dracula’s seductions of the innocent play out like, well, actual seductions? Are they portrayed as being actually sexually desirable in doing so, or is this just one of their vampire powers? How does the film frame the seduction? How does this play into the symbolic connotations of vampirism that the film presents? Is this sexualization solely in the form of heterosexual lust, or is it queered at all?
Xenophobia: Is this Dracula Othered due to their nationality/ethnicity/race? Does this occur in visual language or in reaction from other characters? Is this xenophobia framed positively or negatively?
Tragic Backstory: Often, Dracula adaptations try to insert an explanation for why the monster is so monstrous. How much of that is at play here? Is it treated as a justification or simply a reason to fear Dracula more?
Blood Ties: Many Dracula adaptations add in family for Dracula, usually in the form of children. How are they treated: As a form of potential salvation for Dracula, or as more evidence of Dracula’s evil?
Religious Iconography: Dracula is a story deeply embedded in the iconography and ideologies of Christianity. Is this used as a mere prop, or is there deeper meaning in the invocation of religion? Are other religions besides Christianity acknowledged? If they are, how so?
Powers: Dracula has multiple supernatural abilities in the original novel, but other adaptations usually add more. How do this Dracula’s powers affect their characterization? Does the writer draw on any additional folklore besides Stoker’s sources in creating new powers?
Class Status: Dracula is often portrayed as being glamorously wealthy, although the castle usually seems to need repairs and dusting. Is Dracula’s wealth used for any sort of social commentary, or merely to justify the whims of the plot?
The series will begin with Nosferatu, which I should have up in a few days’ time. See you soon, and be sure to check your windows tonight, because there are such things as monsters.