What to do with Dracula?
Draculas have begun to feel like a dime a dozen. Starting with the milestone silent film “Nosferatu” (i.e. skeletal, rat-fanged, pointy-eared) we’ve seen Eastern European versions, Spanish ones, porn Draculas, English Draculas, at least one female Dracula, effete Draculas, etc. We’ve seen the world’s most famous Transylvanian as suave, brutal, silent, wordy, young, old, Byronic, rock-star-like, funny, decrepit, a melancholy warlord, a cruel businessman, an environmentalist, a mad scientist, a surreal lesbian, a ballet star and at least once as a cowboy (the late David Carradine if you’re interested–following in his father’s footsteps as it were).
One has to wonder what else can anyone do with the character, and with the novel by way of adapting it?
The long-lost-love reincarnated (borrowed from the Karloff film “The Mummy”) has been done to death. Or undeath, if you prefer. A straightforwardly evil (but attractive) predator is virtually the norm at this point. Both have become the stuff of parody.
Where else can one go? What direction is left to explore?
Some purists will answer with an insistence that the thing to do is a faithful adaptation of the novel. But this ignores that both BBC’s “Count Dracula” in 1979 as well as “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in 1992 were actually very faithful in most ways. Each included virtually the entire cast of main characters, for example. Interestingly, both took some liberties but each took one specific liberty that has been common in nearly every version–they increased the Count’s screen time. The novel, after all, introduces us to Dracula early on but once we leave Transylvania he barely makes an appearance. Rather, he is talked about, glimpsed for a few moments–yet in truth has only two scenes with something like dialogue for two-thirds of a hefty-sized novel.
Maybe the purists are right in that respect. Perhaps what the next filmmaker trying to do “Dracula” should do is keep the lord of the vampires at a distance. Suggest rather than show. Some of the most terrifying motion pictures ever made, like “The Haunting” (the original) and “Lets Scare Jessica To Death”, were so effective at least partly because so much remained a mystery. Unknown. Unseen. Something waited in the shadows, and we knew it, but without details our imaginations went into overdrive, conjuring up personal terrors from our own individual nightmares. This might be the way to go with “Dracula.” Look at how well “Silence of the Lambs” worked with only a few scenes involving Hannibal Lecter and even fewer with Buffalo Bill. Consider also “The Two Towers” in which the main antagonist (Saruman, ironically enough played by Christopher Lee) is barely seen but remains a pervasive presence throughout.
While we’re at it, how about exploring the rest of the cast with a more modern sensibility? Recall the novel is epistolary, i.e. taken from letters and diaries. In other words, the entire novel is in the first person. Ever heard of the term Unreliable Narrator? How about one of Dr. Gregory House’s favorite little sayings–Everybody Lies? What secrets might these characters have left unsaid? How did Lucy’s jilted suitors actually regard both her and the english Lord who won her hand? Exactly what kind of relationship did Lucy and Mina have? Lovers? Illegitimate half-sisters? Was Mina living vicariously through her popular, vivacious friend? Why did Lucy’s mother leave her estate to her daughter’s fiancée rather than to Lucy herself? One wonders about the marriage between Mina and Jonathan. Renfield remains arguably the most mysterious character in the book. Where did he come from? Did Victorian-era medical treatment make him better or worse? For that matter, what precisely happened aboard the Demeter–the entire crew wiped out, yet not a single crewman (as far as we know) even spooked aboard the Czarina Catherine when Dracula took the save voyage back to his home?
None of this precludes those elements proven popular. The sensuality of the vampire’s kiss, the famous set pieces like the chase scene in the end or the Brides appearances, all can easily be included. What about taking them even further, though? Might an undead Lucy’s preying upon children hint at a kind of pedophilia? Van Helsing keeps a lot of cards to his vest. Could he be lying, for example, about having an indulgence to use the Sacred Wafer? Might Van Helsing in fact be a religious fanatic who just happens to be right? Lord knows he has a very inappropriate sense of humor sometimes.
For the record, anyone wishing to use any idea mentioned in this essay for their own efforts is hereby given full permission by the author, who voluntarily gives up all rights at compensation or credit. Go for it. Don’t worry about me. I just want to see what you make of it.
D.MacDowell Blue blogs at http://zahirblue.blogspot.com/. He graduated from the National Shakespeare Conservatory and is now working on a web series called “End Of The Line” which he likes to describe as “Dexter Meets Twilight“.