Dracula: I Never Read.... Books

Hello S&V readers. This is Bram Stoker speaking to you. I passed away in 1912 so if you do the math, I am communicating from beyond the grave. But that's not important right now. What is important is that the classic movie Dracula is complete B.S. Let me explain.

I have a real appreciation for well-written prose so I don't read anything that Mr. Pohlmann writes. But my dear wife, Florence, drew my attention to a recent Signals blog concerning the movie Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror. The blog points out that Nosferatu was a complete copyright rip-off of my novel and Florence sued the pants off the movie studio, and won. You go, girl! In a minute, you'll see why this legal point is relevant.

In 1930, Universal Studios decided to produce a Dracula movie. Terrific! And this is where it starts to get messy. Now, I admit, I screwed up. When I registered my novel for a U.S. copyright, I paid the fee and submitted a copy of the novel. Well, it turns out you need to submit two copies. So, technically, my copyright was invalid and my novel, in the U.S., was in the public domain. It was actually lawyers at Universal who discovered this. To their credit, they paid my estate for the movie rights anyway. So far, so good.

My novel is pretty darn good, so you might assume that Universal would use the novel as the template for the movie. But you would be WRONG. The classic movie beats that you all fondly remember — they weren't in my novel. For example, consider the famous line, “I never drink.... wine.” Yeah, it's a good line but I never wrote it. Think I'm nit-picking? Consider:

Novel Movie
Dracula is an old man with a white mustache Middle-aged, black hair, no 'stache
Unspecified accent Speaks with a heavy Hungarian accent
Violent, like Vlad the Impaler Mysterious and debonair
Pointy ears, putrid breath, hairy palms No way
Ordinary clothes Cape with a high collar
Gets younger as he drinks blood Does not get younger
Likes to talk about war and why it's cool Mainly interested in hot babes

See what I mean?

Why is the movie so different? It's because the movie wasn't really based on my novel. It was based on a stage play. In all fairness, when it came time to write the screenplay, the writer looked at my 400-page, very complex novel (told from diaries) and considered that he needed to write a 75-minute movie. Hmm. The solution? There was a stage play called Dracula. It was a no-brainer to pivot to its much simplified story, and base the movie on that.

The play? It was a popular on Broadway at the time; Florence had licensed it in 1924, and Universal bought the movie rights. Incidentally, in this play, who do you think was playing the titular character? You guessed it — Bela Lugosi. Much of what you believe to be Bram Stoker's Dracula is actually Bela Lugosi's Dracula. Don't get me wrong. Lugosi did a terrific job, but his Dracula — who has become a cultural icon, and has become The Dracula, just isn't my Dracula.

To make matters worse, the movie steals scenes from Nosferatu. And while Nosferatu definitely ripped off my novel, ironically, the movie chooses to steal Nosferatu scenes that don't even appear in my novel. For example, in Nosferatu, Renfield pricks his finger on a paper clip and it starts to bleed. Dracula quickly moves closer, but it repelled when he sees a crucifix. An iconic movie moment, that I never wrote.

So you have a movie, filled with material did not appear in the novel, based on the novel but actually written from a stage play, stealing material from another movie that violated the copyright of the novel. Great flick, and like I say, Lugosi did a terrific job, but the Dracula movie is a hot mess.

Well, maybe I shouldn't complain. If the movie had been faithful to my novel, would my character be a worldwide cultural icon? I don't know. But at some point, read the novel. In my opinion, it's pretty darn good. But what do I know? I've been dead for 112 years.

bearr48x's picture

Thank you Mr. Pohlmann, for giving us something we can sink our teeth into....

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