Happy Halloween! What better time to look at depictions of Count Dracula on screen — but, this being Frock Flicks, we’re going to look at the historical costume versions in movies and TV. While hundreds of films have been made about Dracula (he’s second only to Sherlock Holmes as an iconic fictional character in the movies), we’re especially interested in films and TV shows that try to tell the story of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, instead of making up their own vampire tales. And we’re going to look at ones that are ostensibly set in a historical period other than the time the movie was made — aka, the production is trying to use the period of the novel. This winnows down the list considerably!
The original starring Bela Lugosi — this movie received approval from Stoker’s estate, unlike several early films, like 1922’s Nosferatu, which renamed the vampire Count Orlock in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit (didn’t work!). While Lugosi’s vampire became iconic and the movie basically follows the 1897 novel’s plot, the film looks like it’s set in the 1930s (at least going by the costumes).
1958, The Horror of Dracula
It’s Hammer time! The ’50s began the reign of Hammer Films, with Christopher Lee as Dracula. The film takes many liberties with Stoker’s story, but it’s nominally set in the 1880s with obvious Victorian costume cues. Plus, Peter Cushing plays a stellar Van Helsing.
1970, Count Dracula
Director Jesus Franco claimed, at the time, that this was the most faithful adaption of Bram Stoker’s novel to the screen. But Christopher Lee all but disavowed his connection with the film, despite playing Dracula yet again. The story may be accurate, but the costumes and hair are only faintly Victorian-esque.
1973, Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Supposedly set in the 1890s and starring Jack Palance as the count, this British TV movie connects Stoker’s story to the historical Vlad the Impaler (an inspiration for later versions). While the movie had decent production values for the time, the acting and direction were widely panned.
1977, Count Dracula
A few weird ’70s special effects make this BBC / PBS TV version feel dated, and the costuming is inconsistent, especially considering this was a high point of the Beeb’s historical output IMO. But if you can ignore that, it does follow much of the book’s story.
Starring Frank Langella, this version plays around with Stoker’s novel by making Lucy more of a romantic interest for the count than Mina. The setting is 1913 England, and while some of the costumes have a touch of fantasy, many of the gowns and suits are strikingly historical in style. Bonus, Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing. I admit, I first saw this one in the theaters and have a real soft spot for it!
1992, Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The Francis Ford Coppola version with Gary Oldman as the count — listen to our podcast for a complete review. In particular, I love how Coppola tried to reflect the novel’s epistolary style through letters and telegraphs back and forth between characters. Also, the 1890s costumes have fantasy elements that beautifully evoke specific meanings about each character.
Another BBC / Masterpiece PBS production, a little more Victorian, and with some now-familiar faces. Marc Warren played Dracula and went on to play baddie Rochefort in The Musketeers on the BBC and the Gentleman in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, while Dan Stevens — dear, departed Mathew from Downton Abbey — was Lord Arthur Holmwood here, and Sophia Myles (Doctor Who, Tristan + Isolde) was Lucy.
This basically unwatchable TV series lasted 10 episodes and starred Jonathan Rhys Myers as the count. Just, no.
What’s your favorite historical Dracula movie or TV show?