Dracula's Daughter
Tag: opinion

The House of Dracula: The best cinematic offshoots of the Dracula family tree

Contributed by
Oct 5, 2018

Dracula, like Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, and Stan Lee, is an ubiquitous and eternal movie character. And he has been for more than eight decades. Ever since Bela Lugosi brought the Transylvanian count to life in Tod Browning's 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula has been resurrected again and again in new adaptations, remakes, sequels, and even some very weird mash-ups.

If you're into horror films even a little bit, you know the Dracula story, and you've seen at least one version of it, whether you prefer Lugosi's original cape-over-face iconography, Christopher Lee's Action Dracula of the Hammer era, or Gary Oldman's shapeshifting lover in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version. Like the legendary vampire himself, though, your craving likely cannot be sated by one feeding. You need more, and because Dracula's been takin' names and bitin' necks in the movies for decades now, there's no reason you can't have it.

So, we're not here today to talk about all the various remakes and new adaptations of Dracula. Instead we're here to talk about what happens when filmmakers build on that text to tell new stories, whether they're sequels, spinoffs, or just films that assume Stoker's novel already took place in their world. This Halloween season, if you're looking to take an even bigger bite of Dracula's movie lore, these are the films to look for.

The Sequels and Prequels

There are, sadly, surprisingly few true Dracula prequels out there, the most prominent of which is Dracula Untold, which is a bit of a misfire (though that dude does punch an army with a giant fist made out of a bat colony at one point, so there are bright spots). That doesn't mean there aren't explanations for Dracula tucked away in other films, though. Dracula 2000 (more on that in a moment) reimagines the character as the eternally damned Judas Iscariot, cursed to dwell forever on Earth after betraying Christ. The best Dracula prequel of them all, though, is the opening sequence of Bram Stoker's Dracula, in which it's revealed that he was a once proud warrior fighting for his God and his country until deception led to his wife's suicide, at which point he renounced God, stabbed a crucifix so hard that it bled, and basically willed himself into being Dracula with the power of rage. 

Dracula sequels are quite plentiful, though, so much so that it can be difficult to know what's worth watching and what's not. Lugosi famously didn't return for the inevitable sequel to his first film, and played the role only once more for Universal, in 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. That didn't stop the studio from trading on Dracula's name, of course, and in 1936 Dracula's Daughter was released, starring Gloria Holden as the mysterious Countess Zaleska. Though it seems to end just as it's getting really interesting, Dracula's Daughter is absolutely a sequel worth seeking out, as it features a wonderful performance by Holden, an opening sequence tying it to Dracula in a very compelling way, and an intriguing amount of LGBT subtext for a film released by a major studio in the '30s. That was followed by Son of Dracula, starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the Count, in 1943. Sadly, despite a few interesting moments, Chaney does not make a compelling vampire (or, with apologies to The Wolf Man fans, a compelling anything, really), and Dracula's appearances in Universal films are largely underwhelming from here on out, though John Carradine's take on the Count is certainly worth indulging in for completists. And Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, though, is definitely worth your time. 

The next major Dracula franchise to come along arrived in 1958 with Hammer's Horror of Dracula. Christopher Lee, History's Greatest Dracula (sorry, Real Dracula, but you come in second), took on the role of the Count, and the great Peter Cushing became his eternal rival Van Helsing. Eight Dracula films followed, including the first sequel Brides of Dracula, in which Lee does not return as the Count (it's the Dracula's Daughter of the Hammer era and is worth watching). Lee finally did return to the role in 1966 for what's easily the weakest installment in the series, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, a film in which he does not speak.

You can watch any of the Hammer films as standalone stories, so if you're really going for the good stuff, the sequels to check out are Taste the Blood of Dracula (Yes, they do taste it. No, it does not work out well for them.), The Satanic Rites of DraculaScars of Dracula, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. That last one, released in 1974, is the other film in the Hammer franchise that doesn't feature Lee, though Dracula does briefly appear in the form of actor John Forbes-Robertson. Golden Vampires was a joint production of Hammer and the legendary Shaw Brothers studio out of Hong Kong, and features Van Helsing (Cushing, once again) travelling to China to research an old vampire legend there. It's technically a Dracula sequel because he is involved, but what you're really going to want to see are the sequences of kung fu warriors facing off against legitimately creepy masked vampires and their undead minions. 

Though major Dracula franchises have been rather scarce since the end of the Hammer era, there are other films that function as sequels which are worth checking out, and one of the most readily available is Dracula 2000. Now, let's be clear: I don't believe Dracula 2000 is a good movie by any means, but I do believe it is a blast to watch, particularly with a crowd of Millennial friends who remember the trends and concerns of the late '90s with clarity. In one key, unforgettable sequence, Dracula (Gerard Butler going Full Dreamboat) strides into a Virgin Megastore in New Orleans (because that's where all vampires in the '90s had to live by law) wearing a long black duster, looking for a specific woman. He can't find her, so he seduces her roommate instead, who is played by pop star Vitamin C. That is a near-flawless summation of the culture of the year 1999. Oh, and Christopher Plummer plays Van Helsing, and he has a super crossbow. It's fun.

Now, on to some other intriguing continuations of the Dracula mythos...

The Spinoffs

Somewhere along the way, it became common practice to make films that aren't exactly sequels to Dracula, but that assume the events of Dracula (or some version thereof) already happened in the world, and therefore other events could spin out from the consequences. 

This brings us, of course, to Blacula, the 1972 blaxploitation classic starring William Marshall as what the trailer refers to as "Dracula's soul brother," an African monarch turned into a vampire and left to rot in a coffin until he was freed by two unwitting antique dealers in 1970s Los Angeles. One thing I feel it's very important to note right up top if you haven't seen this film: Blacula is not just a clever pun title. It's his actual name, or at least the name Dracula gives him. His real name is Mamuwalde, but when Dracula decides to curse him (after he refuses to allow European nations to continue the slave trade as part of a treaty negotiation), he makes a mockery of him and his black skin by christening him "Blacula," with a very self-pleased smile on his face. Sadly, other characters do not run around calling him this for the length of the film, but it's a nice touch that shows just how weird this film was willing to get. It's definitely a product of its time, but Blacula remains a cult favorite for a reason, and there are some genuinely spooky moments at work. 

You want another Dracula spinoff, one that you can bring the kids along for? Then you're going to want to watch The Monster Squad, the '80s classic that pits a team of tweens against a team of monsters led by Dracula (Duncan Regehr), who's trying to destroy an ancient amulet with the power to cast him into Limbo forever. As Bill Hader's Saturday Night Live favorite Stefon would say, this movie has everything: a prologue set in Transylvania, a friendship with Frankenstein's monster, a clubhouse, a spooky mansion, and a werewolf explosion. Plus, of course, everyone will finally know whether or not Wolf Man's got nards. 

There are other, perhaps less interesting spinoffs and reimaginings, of course — Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing is one, and even The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film is technically an offshoot — but start with those two, and see if you really need any more.

The Just Plain Weird

Because Dracula is such a universally recognized character, he has been reimagined in countless, often bizarre ways, ranging from Z-movie schlock to weird art house experiments to sequels and reboots that bear little or no resemblance to the monster we know and love. If you're a completist, a seeker of the curious, or just someone in the mood for something strange, you can check some of these out, including Love at First Bite (Dracula as George Hamilton), Dracula and Son (Christopher Lee attempting comedy as the Count), Dracula's Dog (it's about exactly what it sounds like it's about), Dracula vs. Frankenstein (one of the more buckwild low-budget efforts), or Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, which features the legendary gunfighter throwing a pistol at Dracula's face because his bullets don't work. 

The bottom line here: There is a scary, beautiful, or just downright odd Dracula offshoot for just about everyone. The House of Dracula is vast and welcoming, and you should make time to wander its halls this Halloween.

IS 'THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE' BASED ON A TRUE STORY?


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal. 

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