The vast majority of Dracula films and television shows show the Transylvanian Count either transforming or having transformed some stunning female into one of the undead. The more faithful versions include his three brides in the castle. In Francis Ford Coppola’s version their status became more clear. With flimsy clothes, haunting a bedchamber with enough room for many (a mirror in the ceiling no less) most of us quickly figured it out. Here was the King Vampire’s harem.
Behold a list of my own favorites among the Impaler’s befanged odalisques. Just to be clear though–I’m including only those lovelies actually turned into vampires by Dracula himself. Thus, for example, the spectacular Andree Melee from The Brides of Dracula (ironically) doesn’t count. Her sire was one Baron Meinster. Likewise some of my very favorite vampiresses also do not count (pardon the pun). Consider Sophie Mitterhouse in Dracula: The Series, played by Mia Kirshner (who went on to portray vampires again in The Vampire Diaries as well as 30 Days of Night: Dark Days). But it was not the Count who turned her, so…
Barbara Shelley in the Hammer film Dracula Prince of Darkness. Britain’s “First Lady of Horror” got quick a nice role in this film. She began as a very prim and proper English housewife in the Edwardian Era, traveling abroad and probably none-too-happy about it. A very attractive woman, she found herself plained-down by the makeup and wardrobe departments. Then, upon becoming the first victim of the newly-risen Christopher Lee, what a change! Hair down, cleavage and arms showing in a diaphanous gown, her character almost immediately tried to sink her fangs into another woman (although it would be years before even Hammer went so far as to show a vampiress preying upon another female).
Next, Susan George in the 1968 BBC adaptation of Dracula. Possibly one of the least-known on this list, but also one of the best. She played Lucy Weston to Denholm Elliott’s Count. This version in particular did a fine job of combining the eroticism of the vampire with the grotesque. Batlike, jagged fangs replaced the by-then standard long canines. While still human, this version of Lucy urged Dracula not to feel despair that his house was at an end. Later, she visited what she believed was his home and didn’t know how to cope with the mansion’s obviously untenanted status. As the carriage left, she found her mouth uttering a bestial snarl, which surprised and frightened her. When she rose from the dead, all her prettiness transformed into the glamor of a Bacchae, a wildwoman. Her first victim was none other than her best friend, Mina Harker, promising in whispered passion freedom from “unhappiness and slow decay.” A brilliant performance!
Hardly less impressive was Monica Bellucci, who was one of Dracula’s three Brides in the castle in the mis-titled Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A virtual unknown at the time, Bellucci radiated so much presence that little wonder she proved so memorable. Yes, she’s easily one of the most beautiful women alive today, but as seen in her career since then she’s also no slouch in the acting department either! Even with almost no lines, she made her and her character memorable from the moment she helps rape Jonathan Harker to when the three of them tempt Mina in the wilderness of Transylvania, calling her their sister.
Next consider Jan Francis who played a fusion character, Mina Van Helsing in the 1979 adaptation of Dracula with Frank Langella. What gets her on this list is the way we first see her risen as a vampire. Deep in tunnel, her reflection in a pool of water (I know, I know that doesn’t make any sense) seen by her father (Lawrence Olivier no less) sends a shiver up the spine. Mostly because we know what a sweet girl she had been. Now, she steps out of the shadows a thing of nightmare! Chalk-white. Caked blood on her mouth. Burning red eyes as she reaches out with the words “Papa? Papa?” That particular film was a mixed bag at best, but some of the elements in it worked like a dream. Mina Van Helsing the vampire was one of them.
Elizabeth Blaine in Dracula II: Ascension might be the best role yet played by actress Diane Neal. This sequel to Dracula 2000 is in many ways a ridiculous mess, yet some part of it remain compelling. She plays a scientist trying to discover the medical reason for Dracula’s immortality, not for herself but for her boyfriend who’s dying from a wasting disease. On top of this, she feels genuine attraction to a co-worker who openly loves her, yet her loyalty holds Elizabeth fast. Until she pricks her finger on the vampire’s fang, and the infection slowly spreads through her body and into her soul. The action sequences are clever and fun, as are the uses of traditional folklore, but what really grabbed my attention was Neal’s performance, both in this and the sequel.
Finally the 2006 BBC Dracula with Marc Warren had its problems (although kudos for trying to do something genuinely new!) but Sophia Myles as Lucy Holmwood remains a very fine performance. She went on to co-star in the first Underworld movie and in the defunct television series Moonlight, but this remains a more interesting character and story. Her Lucy finds herself in an unconsummated marriage which leaves her fairly open as prey to the darkly Byronic vampire of this version. Ravished in her sleep, she transforms into a strangely seductive creature one who dreamily encounters her husband with the words “I know you.” Perhaps the most Freudian of all the adaptations, this one plays up the inherent tragedy of her relationship with Arthur. And on that level at least it does work. Mostly, I think due to the acting, especially that of Miss Myles.
So, what do you think? Who would be on your list?