Dracula Retold: Early Variations on a Gothic Classic
Since he was dreamed up by Bram Stoker over 120 years ago, Dracula has been revamped countless times across page, stage, and screen. He has thrown tchotchkes at a werewolf, squared off with kung fu artists, and blown up a treehouse. He’s encountered Sherlock Holmes, Scooby-Doo, Billy the Kid, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bonnie and Clyde, Sam and Dean Winchester, Batman, and Coolio (whom he met in outer space). He’s been a suave nobleman who waltzes to the Victrola and a fussy invalid who nibbles lettuce. Although he famously never drinks wine, he markets it, along with absinthe and energy drinks. He’s a Halloween costume, a pop-up book, and a table lamp. To quote Van Helsing, he’s the “King-Vampire” and there’s no end to our obsession with devising new adventures for him.
Dracula remakes definitely became more numerous after the success of the 1931 Bela Lugosi movie, but it turns out we can’t blame everything on Hollywood. Even before Bela, the Count was pretty busy. Here are four lesser-known, pre-Universal Dracula adaptations to check out:
By Bram Stoker
This piece, published by his wife in 1914 after Stoker’s death, is actually a deleted early chapter of Dracula. It works as a prequel of sorts. An unnamed Englishman (Harker, unless the Count annually lures Englishmen to his castle during the first week of May) finds himself on a trip with an anxious coachman on Walpurgis Night. Never one to heed a local’s warning, our intrepid hero stumbles into the woods alone and finds himself in a supernatural pickle.
We’ll never know exactly why this chapter didn’t make the final cut. Perhaps Stoker figured scoffing at St. George’s Eve less than a week after this Walpurgis Night debacle was a bit too naïve, even for Harker.
Makt Myrkranna (aka Powers of Darkness)
By Bram Stoker and Valdimar Asmundsson (Translation by Hans Corneel De Roos)
Books are frequently translated, so it’s not particularly remarkable that an Icelandic edition of Dracula exists. For years everyone assumed the Icelandic edition (written in 1900) was merely Dracula translated under a different title (Makt Myrkranna, or Powers of Darkness) and featuring a special, albeit odd, introduction by Stoker. It turns out that after the first few pages, Makt becomes a different book.
Renfield is MIA, but there’s plenty of other colorful, pulpy madness. Most of the story features “Thomas” Harker cranking the willful obliviousness to eleven and wandering around Castle Dracula under the eye of the cartoonishly sinister Count and several ominous bats. Among other misadventures, Harker finds multiple rotting corpses (which don’t disturb him nearly as much as the Count’s lewd banter), encounters an allegedly insane Dracula cousin, and witnesses the Count leading a Black Mass a la Hammer. Additionally, the Count’s machinations involve a somewhat convoluted international political conspiracy.
Makt isn’t merely the product of a rogue translator. There’s strong evidence to suggest that Stoker, at the very least, gave Asmundsson unreleased materials to work from. Stoker also wrote that aforementioned intro, which references events that only happen in Makt. Plus, several oddly specific details in Makt match things in Stoker’s original notes that didn’t make his final draft.
NOTE: It turns out Sweden has its own version of Makt…and theirs includes Renfield. A translation is pending.
Kazikli Voyvoda (aka Dracula in Istanbul)
By Bram Stoker and Ali Riza Seyfioglu (Translated by Necip Ates)
In a similar vein, Kazikli Voyvoda (“The Impaler Voivode”) is a Turkish translation of Dracula from 1928 and, sure enough, after the first few pages it veers into rewrite territory. (Do any multilingual darklings out there want to track down some other Dracula translations and do a bit of comparison…?)
The goal here was probably to convert a novel targeted at British Victorians into something a Turkish audience in the 1920s could more easily relate to. The broader plot stays the same, but here all of the characters (excluding Dracula) are Turkish, and, rather than communion wafers and crucifixes, Dracula is warded off with the Quran.
Meanwhile, the “debauched easterner tainting the virtuous west” is now a centuries-old nemesis of Turkey returning for more blood. Yes, as the title implies, this Dracula is explicitly Vlad the Impaler. Prior to meeting the Count, Azmi (Harker) muses about whether Count Dracula could be Vlad’s ancestor.
NOTE: There’s a film adaptation of Kazikli from 1953 called Drakula Istanbul’da. For years this movie was hard to find, but it’s currently (legally) available on Archive.org for free. The ever-so-slightly-off subtitles are glorious. For example, here Dracula isn’t “the Impaler,” but “the Poker.”
Drácula (1931) (aka “Spanish Dracula”)
Directed by George Melford
This one is technically concurrent with Dracula (1931), as the two were filmed together. When talkies first became a thing, there was a period where, instead of dubbing a movie into, say, Spanish, the studio would re-shoot the entire movie using a Spanish script and Spanish-speaking actors. Miraculously, the Spanish version of Dracula survived being lost for several decades, and the result is a real treat for Dracula fans and film buffs alike.
Bela and the gang shot their scenes during the day, and then they’d clock out and the Spanish crew would come in to film on the same sets at night. The Spanish night shift watched the dailies from the English production, and then they’d make changes while planning out their own production if they felt they could stage something better. One example is the boat scene, which features El Conde rising through a trap door a la Nosferatu as a sailor watches in horror. In addition to better angles and blocking, much of the acting in the Spanish version is significantly more lively. There are also extra scenes (approximately 30 minutes worth) that were presumably cut from the English version, including one that ties up that pesky Bloofer Lady loose end.
*Spanish Dracula is included as a special feature.
Featured image via Hero Complex