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Scariest Versions of Dracula Ever Put to Screen: From Nosferatu to Last Voyage of the Demeter

From the silent era to the modern era, these are the most frightening versions of the legendary vampire.

By Matthew Jackson
Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Count Dracula is the most famous vampire in fiction, which means over the years we've seen him emerge in many, many forms. He's been a comic book star, a character in novels, a video game villain and, of course, the most frequently depicted horror villain on the big and small screens. There are a lot of versions of Dracula out there, from the parodic to the mysterious, and as you might imagine, there are some who rise above the rest.

RELATED: The Last Voyage of the Demeter Isn't Your Typical Vampire Movie

The Last Voyage of the Demeter, the latest film inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula, aims to join this elite group of Dracula legends by delivering, through actor Javier Botet, what's hopefully the most frightening version of the Count ever put on film. If the movie pulls it off for audiences, Botet's monstrous vampire will join the ranks of screen legends going back more than a century, all of them deeply frightening and unforgettable. These are the scariest versions of Dracula on the big and small screens. 

Max Schreck - Nosferatu, 1922

Yes, Max Schreck's vampire in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu is technically named "Count Orlok," but come on, it's an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula, some English-language dialogue cards for the film said as much, and we all know what Murnau and company were going for here, whether Bram Stoker's estate liked it or not. With those semantics out of the way: Of course Schreck's vampire makes the list of the scariest Draculas. He's got a look that transcends horror imagery and still ranks as one of the most unsettling things in all of pop culture, even a century after his first appearance. And while the makeup is certainly doing a lot of the work, Schreck's otherwordly poise and wide-eyed, deeply eerie sense of controlled terror is legendary for a reason.

Bela Lugosi - Dracula, 1931

Tod Browning's 1931 adaptation of the authorized stage play based on Stoker's novel borrowed the play's rising star, Bela Lugosi, and created a horror legend in the process. Bringing the commanding presence he mastered on the stage to the screen, Lugosi is absolutely mesmeric as Count Dracula, and as if to prove just how good he is, Browning made the choice to skip a musical score for Dracula entirely. It's a choice that bothers some viewers, but when Lugosi is at his best, taking over the entire screen with his entrancing eyes and flexed fingers, the silence doesn't matter. In fact, it enhances the sheer power the actor brings to the role.

Christopher Lee - Horror of Dracula, 1958

For some classic horror fans, Dracula never gets better than Lugosi. Then there are those of us for whom Christopher Lee will always be the best screen Dracula. Tall, menacing, and brimming with sexual energy, Lee is both a physically dominant count and a primal force unto himself, a being of pure hunger who will get what he wants no matter how many sequels he has to survive to make that happen. Whether he's hissing his way through a mostly silent performance or running through a fight scene with Peter Cushing, Lee's Dracula also gives off a vibe of overwhelming force, and that makes him both frightening and quite alluring.

Klaus Kinski - Nosferatu the Vampyre, 1979

For his remake of Murnau's Nosferatu, filmmaker Werner Herzog dropped the "Count Orlok" pretext and just called his vampire Count Dracula. What he did keep, of course, was the makeup that made this version of the vampire into a legend, but he also added something more. Through Klaus Kinski's unearthly performance, this Dracula is a being beset by the weight of eons, a creature trapped in an abyss of time who's no longer relishing his immortality, but dreading the hunger he can never fully sate. The heaviness of those feelings lives behind Kinski's eyes for the entire film, and it adds a layer of desperate pain that makes him more unpredictable, and more terrifying. 

Gary Oldman - Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992

Oldman's Dracula, in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Stoker's novel, is, much like the film itself, a lot to process. He transforms almost constantly throughout the runtime, going from debonair prince to ancient nobleman to full-on monster on leather wings. Through it all, Oldman manages to convey not just a continuity of character, but the push-pull of a man torn between raw emotional angst and pure animal savagery. Like Kinski's Dracula, you can see his pain, but there's an added layer of visceral, relentless intensity that makes him arguably even more terrifying. 

Graham McTavish - Castlevania, 2017

Castlevania isn't always the most subtle show out there, but there's a lot of complexity and layering within the series' depiction of Vlad "Dracula" Tepes, and it only makes him more frightening. The minds at Powerhouse Animation did great work on the design, making him an intimidating presence even when he's not really doing anything, and Graham McTavish's vocal range lends the character the perfect blend of understated menace and all out monstrous fury. He can sit and tell you a story or he can fly into an animalistic rage and maintain the same level of fear-inducing dread.

Javier Botet - The Last Voyage of the Demeter, 2023

With a character design that will remind viewers of things like Nosferatu, the Dracula brought to life by performer Javier Botet in The Last Voyage of the Demeter definitely feels like more monster than man, and that's to the character's benefit. This Dracula is not a genteel creature of the night, but a bloodthirsty demon who doesn't just want to bleed the entire ship dry, but have a little fun doing it. His appearance is frightening, but his willingness to play with his food is what makes him even scarier.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter is in theaters now.