Count Dracula is one of the most enduring monsters in the world.
Created by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel, the vampire was brought to life most memorably by Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning's 1931 film. There have literally been hundreds of portrayals of Dracula in feature films, but surprisingly far fewer on television. Sure, there are vampires a-plenty on the boob tube, ranging from gothic soap opera Dark Shadows to teen scream The Vampire Diaries to mega-monster The Strain. But most of these shows steer clear of tackling the ultimate vampire: Dracula.
May 26 is World Dracula Day, celebrating the first publishing of Stoker's novel. In honor of World Dracula Day, I dug through lots of television and ranked all the live-action TV Draculas.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1973)
This low-profile BBC made-for-TV film is mainly notable for being directed by Dan Curtis, who is best known for creating vampire soap opera Dark Shadows, and for being written by prolific horror/sci-fi scribe Richard Matheson. I have not seen anything more than clips of this film, but Jack Palance is not my idea of a suave Dracula. Take a look at the trailer. Doesn't he look like he's constipated in every scene?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "Buffy vs. Dracula" (2000)
When I first watched this episode, I thought it was cheesy to have Buffy face off against the most famous vampire of all. I remembered the Buffyverse's Dracula to be greasy Eurotrash. So I rewatched this episode - and I couldn't make it all the way through. Buffy's Dracula was as cheesy as I'd remembered. The biggest problem I found with him is that he is a very serious, very 1970s version of Dracula, which doesn't jibe well with the often goofy tone of Buffy.
Fun Fact: a month after this episode aired, Rudolf Martin played Dracula again, this time in the USA Network movie Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula.
Friday the 13th: The Series - "The Baron's Bride" (1988)
This syndicated series from the late 1980s (which had nothing to do with the films) revolves around a trio who own an antique shop. The previous owner made a deal with the devil to sell antiques that carry a deadly curse, and the new owners make it their mission to get the items back. In the episode “The Baron's Bride,” two of our protagonists are chasing down a vampire with a time-traveling cape. They are sucked back in time to London 1875 and find a young newlywed couple, Abraham and Caitlin, who assist them in fighting the vampire.
The vampire is named Frank, and he is not at all suave like Dracula. He is new to vampirism and spends a lot of time getting used to his cape. When our protagonists return to modern times, it turns out that the young man who helped them, Abraham, was actually Bram Stoker. Dracula was based on his adventures with Frank the vampire. This episode was a weak outing for the series, but it is a really unique spin on Dracula.
Supernatural - "Monster Movie"
The Winchester brothers have faced off against a lot of weird monsters and demons over the course of Supernatural, but few are as charming as "Monster Movie." Shown in black and white, this episode is an homage to the classic Universal monster movies, including Dracula, The Wolf Man and The Mummy. Dracula appears as a direct imitation of Bela Lugosi's classic, from the cape to the generic Eastern European accent that drawls "Good evening."
In his first encounter with Dean Winchester, Dracula appears mostly in shadows, with moonlight illuminating his eyes, just like in the original Dracula. Of course, in Supernatural, the vampires are far more monstrous. In this episode, Dracula (and the rest of the monsters) are created by an abused shapeshifter, longing for the simplicity of films.
Dracula: The Series (1990)
Aside from the cheesy opening title sequence, this Dracula isn't half bad. Sure, his accent sounds like it was achieved by chewing around a pair of ill-fitting fangs, but he is charming, handsome and suave ... all the things that you want from a Dracula.
The Munsters (1964)
Grandpa is nothing at all like the Dracula of pop culture. But multiple times through the run of the series, Grandpa is referred to as “The Count,” and both he and daughter Lilly share the last name Dracula ... though that doesn’t explain why Grandpa is often referred to as Grandpa Munster, taking his son-in-law’s last name. While Grandpa doesn’t fit into the suave, sexy mold of Dracula that most of us think of, he always reminded me of my own grandfathers: kind, smart, quirky and fiercely sarcastic.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers played Dracula in this telling that got only one season on NBC. While the show itself was a little rough (it did get better towards the end of its ten episodes), Meyers is a near-perfect Dracula: sexy, seductive and arrogant. He also represents a slightly more measured Dracula -- rather than conquering his enemies with swift and blinding violence, he first tries to ruin them financially and professionally.
However, the thing that makes Meyers’ Dracula a bit awkward is that, in this version, Dracula poses as Alexander Grayson, an American businessman who comes to London with his scientific marvels. And, frankly, his American accent isn’t great.
Penny Dreadful (2016)
The final season of Penny Dreadful introduced viewers to Count Dracula. In this telling, he goes by the name Dr. Alexander Sweet, a zoologist who seduces heroine Vanessa. Dracula feasts on blood and all that, but he is a fallen angel, the brother of Lucifer.
This Dracula is less evil than other Draculas we've seen. He doesn't want to control Vanessa; he doesn't want to own her. Instead, he wants to "serve her." Vanessa has spent the entire series battling good and evil in her own body; Dracula simply wants her evil side to win.