The faces of Dracula, from the novel to the cinema to the cruel reality

“The vampire lives on and cannot die just because the years pass”, so said Bram Stoker. In 2022, 125 years after Dracula’s publication, his legend still lives on.

Every year horror lovers gather in Dublin to celebrate Bram Stoker (1847-1912), writer and creator of the vampire most loved by young and old: Dracula, now in its 125th anniversary since publication. The Bram Stoker Festival it’s a annual appointment in Dublin but in recent years, due to the pandemic, it has been canceled. Gruesome shows, scary movies, terrifying dates, walking tours through the capital’s macabre streets, literary workshops, horror writings, themed theater and lively vampire discussions are held on this occasion – all this is a taste of what is happening in Dublin. at the end of May for the Dracula Day.

Despite the vampires were not born with Stoker, the festival aims to celebrate his creativity, capable of producing a classic Gothic novel that over time has established itself to the point of becoming one of the most influential cultural phenomena of the modern era.

Dracula he is a character between myth and folklore who survives by feeding on the vital essence, the blood of other creatures. THE vampires like him, they became very popular only at the beginning of the 18th century, following the influence of the superstitions of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, where legends about vampires they were widespread. Bram Stoker’s masterpiece became established to such an extent that all those who subsequently got involved on the subject had to deal with this novel.

Bram and Ireland

Ireland played a pivotal role in the formation of the most famous horror author ever: ‘Bram absorbed his dark and deep sense of imagination while growing up in Ireland, deriving it from traditional Irish folklore. […]”.

In 1847, the year of Bram Stoker’s birth, Ireland was suffering from a cholera epidemic and a potato famine. People in the countryside were starving from lack of food and came to the cities in search of alms; as a result, disease and poverty were rife. They have been described as “walking dead”, explains Dacre Stokerdirect descendant of the writer in an interview for theHorror Magazine.

“For Bram it was worse. He himself suffered from an undiagnosed disease that lasted until the age of 7 and confined him mostly to bed. With the stories he has been told about Irish folklore and superstition and the story of his mother surviving the cholera epidemic in Sligo as a child, he has had plenty of time to develop a rather macabre sense of imagination. He probably contributed to his writing of Dracula years later, ”continues Dacre.

However, according to Dacre, in Stoker the direct inspiration for the character of the famous count has little to do with Transylvania: «Bram has never traveled to Transylvania. He has collected information from various libraries, such as the London Library and the Whitby Library. He even ventured into Marsh’s Library in Dublin well before he started writing Dracula and read a book called Cosmography, which contained a reference to Wallachia and Dracula. This was in 1866, 24 years before he started writing the novel. “

Dracula, the novel

Exactly 125 years have passed since the work was entitled Dracula it was published in 1897 and today remains an extraordinarily famous and fascinating work. The story is told through a series of letters, diaries and personal accounts of the various characters involved in the events narrated, most notably through the writings of Jonathan Harker, a young English lawyer who is sent by his boss, Peter Hawkins, to Transylvania, a region of Romania, to oversee the purchase of a London property by a local aristocrat, the Count Dracula. His collection of letters with the boss immediately became intriguing and interesting.

The story is set in 1890. Jonathan, arrived in Transylvania, is catapulted into a world full of superstitions and the local people immediately discouraged him from meeting the count, giving him crucifixes to defend himself; Harker, however, does not give weight to the rumors and goes straight on his way aiming to complete his negotiation.

The Count Dracula he appears as an elderly gentleman, very hospitable and apparently harmless. After a couple of days Harker finds himself prisoner of a diabolical plan: Dracula is a vampire who feeds on human blood and wants to travel to England in search of new victims. From here develops the enthralling plot that characterizes the novel.

The limelight of the gothic novel

Bram Stoker sets his writing in London, a rather new choice as, previously, Gothic novels were set in exotic locations and in remote locations in Italy or in the Swiss Alps.

Dracula introduces himself as a respectable Victorian; Jonathan Harker, the young man in his clutches, is held captive by the vampire in his castle. The latter is very different from the classic heroines weak and defenseless who were usually kidnapped in gothic novels previous.

Furthermore, usually the kidnapping took place in an ancient castle or in an old abbey; Stoker instead chooses Transylvania, an inextricable melting pot of nations, peoples, religions and beliefs from all corners of the European and Asian continent. Located at the extreme border of “Western civilization”, characterized by typical Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings. All embraced by its high mountains of the Carpathian chain, already inhabited by warrior nations such as the Dacians, the Goths, the Huns, the Hungarians.

The myth of the vampire as a “revived”, enemy of sunlight, was born in the Middle Ages but it is with Stoker that he becomes the prince of the night par excellence, the insatiable blood drinker, capable of mutating into a bat to attack its victims. Compared to the ancient vampires, the writer introduces in a completely new way a predominant human component and, above all, his immortality. Features that did not exist before are also included, such as vulnerability to the sun and ash stakes, as well as the ability to create vampires.

Dracula on the big screen

Dracula it is one of the most filmed stories in the world and also represented a lot in the theater. The image that has been handed down on the big and small screen, elegant and bloodthirsty, is however very far from the rough bearded character of Stoker.

The Count Dracula Stoker who describes us comes from a distant and ancient world whose habits he still retains, he is however a fascinating man, who represents the most transgressive aspects of the conventional society of the time and who acts pushed by forbidden, immoral and irrational impulses.

The first film adaptation of Dracula dates back to 1922, entitled Nosferatu. Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel, Nosferatu it is a real symphony of horror. Director Murnau builds a ghostly, disturbing and unforgettable imaginary and still lives today as a classic of cinema, an essential cinematographic monument.

In 1931 Tod Browning (director of the masterpiece Freaks of 1932) directs a new film by Dracula. Bela Lugosi embodies the characterization of the longest-lived and most iconic count ever: grease and infinite elegance have begun to characterize the ambiguous character from here on out.

In 1958 the project of Dracula the vampire which, however, is strongly detached from tradition. The figure of the Count becomes a very carnal creature, thirsty for blood.

In 1992 he arrives on the big screen Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola who achieves box office success with one of the most experimental works of his filmography. His Dracula it is a visual triumph. A film that is tinged with the dark tones of the black fairy tale in its poignant romantic vision centered on love and death.

If over the years it has been thought of overcoming the idea of ​​a film about Dracula, at the beginning of the new millennium we changed our minds with Dracula: pages from a virgin’s diary of 2002, among the best results of Guy Maddin’s career. Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary it resembles no other representation of the gods’ world vampires. Rather than looking at Bram Stoker’s novel, the film is inspired by a play by Mark Godden, choreographed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, accompanied by the gentle notes of Gustav Mahler.

The result is a film-ballet where images and sounds dance in unison. A highly experimental work that uses the typical techniques of silent cinema. The Canadian director also wanted to insert a strong political character, emphasizing the xenophobia of the characters towards the vampire played by a Chinese actor. He’s a Dracula androgynous, sensual and mysterious, but tremendously different, absolutely unmissable.

The evolution of the vampire in the present day

Over the centuries the vampire has changed and has increasingly become a pop culture phenomenon, maintaining the characteristics it was born from Dracula but changing some of them. Just think of the famous sagas of Twilight And The Vampire’s diarieswhere the vampire is not an enemy of man, on the contrary, he often becomes the protector of the community in which he lives, perfectly integrated with ordinary mortals.

The archetype of the vampire has always been Dracula, but in the course of the twentieth century the figure of the prince of darkness and his followers has evolved in an ever new and ever different way. From the 1980s onwards, cinema has changed register: it has gone from a Dracula gloomy, terrifying and gloomy, to a handsome gloomy still evil, but also to his parody.

Between fantasy and reality

Britannica would have been the direct inspiration for the character of the Count, attributable to the figure of the actor and friend of Stoker, Henry Irving. Explains Dacre a Horror Magazine that “Irving played Mephistopheles at the Lyceum for 27 years, which gave Bram a strong visual appeal. It was also Vlad Dracula III the Impaler from Wallachia (territory near Transylvania, Romania), which […] helped Bram create his Count Dracula character. ‘

It therefore naturally arises to wonder if Bram Stoker really believed in vampires. Dacre replies that “Bram was very open-minded.” Then, quoting his uncle directly, he concludes: “There are mysteries that men can only guess, and that over the years they can only partially solve.”

The faces of Dracula, from the novel to the cinema to the cruel reality