One was subdued, regal, and spoke with a careful distinction—hypnotic. The other took over the screen with rage, and a violent tenacity that had not yet been seen for the character. For that reason, comparing Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee in their iconic roles as Count Dracula is like comparing apples and oranges. You can have your favorite of the two, but you can’t really say who was better. They were made in different times, and are a product of that. Lugosi’s 1931 portrayal was in an eerie black and white, with censorship rules at the time forbidding the bloodlust that such a film required. His Dracula was stately. A man carefully hiding something, perhaps just a tad eccentric to throw his potential victims off. He’s a gentleman. Lee, on the other hand, is erratic. He buzzes in and out of scenes. He rarely speaks at all, which further adds to his mystique. 1958 also allowed for more on-screen blood which paired well with his visible bloodthirstiness.
Not going to lie, I like Lee’s better. The energy he brings is something worthy of a man who needs to pick off victims one by one in order to stay alive. There’s a desperation present, and we never get that from Lugosi. While the historical figure of Vlad Tepes (Vlad Dracula) is so far removed from all screen portrayals, I would imagine him to have been more like Lee than Lugosi. Neither of them have much dialogue, but Lee’s borders on silence. He doesn’t bother to put on the accent that we have seen many actors flub. Indeed, the accent with which Lugosi speaks is his own, and did much for the character. So much so that we are still mimicking it more than 80 years later.
Of all the portrayals over time, the one I like least is Gary Oldman’s, for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 production. Ironically, the film itself is probably the most authentic to Bram Stoker’s source material as we will ever get, but I feel like it drags on endlessly at times and Oldman himself a little too avant-garde for such a classic character. It’s a well-made film, light-years ahead in production value over Hammer Studios 1958 remake Horror of Dracula (and seven sequels, six of which starred Lee in the titular role). But those “cheaper” productions that we see with Hammer (and even American International Pictures for a studio comparison) has something that these major Hollywood blockbusters lack: an earthiness. A bit of nuance from the sets and characters that all the big budgets seem to overlook.
So who do you like better? Vote in the poll below:
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