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Top Five Count Dracula Portrayals

This article, written and read by Dean Delp, is now available on Horror Obsessive Radio and Horror Obsessive YouTube.


Bram Stoker’s immortal horror story is still one of the greatest. Blood, death, seduction, mystery, transformation, and spine-tingling terror. Few, if any, fictional characters have had a bigger impact on pop culture than the hellish Transylvanian Count. Vampires are everywhere in a way that even Frankenstein-style monsters can’t compete with. Speaking of which…

This article functions like its Dr. Frankenstein counterpart and is centred on the best portrayals of the character independent of their accompanying movie. As with the Frankenstein article, I have excluded made-for-TV movies, animated features, and Television series. This left me with a list of around 12 movies, the oldest of which was from 1922, and the newest from 2014.

So, grab some garlic and your crucifix. It’s time for the list.

5. Max Schreck—Nosferatu (1922)A demonic looking humanoid figure with black coat and clawed hands stands on the deck of a ship

I’m going to be honest with you. There was a big part of me that wanted to put the Count from Sesame Street here. I was really close. I know plenty of people, myself included, who are far more terrified of math than they are of even the scariest film

But the Count doesn’t have his own movie. So, I went with the original Nosferatu instead.

It might technically be cheating since the character in Nosferatu isn’t Dracula and goes by Count Orlok instead. The reason I’ve let it slide is that Nosferatu is the first vampire film and would have been called Dracula if not for licensing reasons. There are definitely character differences though since Orlok has none of Dracula’s courtly demeanor.

But Nosferatu makes up for this in other ways. First, the physical appearance of the character is outstanding. He looks like a demon, which the film establishes that he is. Rats and other vermin literally follow him wherever he goes and brings disease. Even though it’s a silent film, the body language and expressions of the character do more than enough work to get the chills across.

If you haven’t had the chance to see the original Nosferatu before, it’s definitely worth your time.

4. Carlos Villarias—Dracula (1931) Spanish VersionDracula stands holding a candle and looking maniacally into the camera

If you’re a real film buff, then you know this movie well. Nearly forgotten for literally decades, it nevertheless stands as one of the best Dracula movies to date. Similarly, Carlos Villarias’ Dracula can hang with the best of them.

While it is very tempting to simply view him as an off-brand Bela Lugosi, this is not the case. Although the two have similar costumes, Villarias brings a completely different feel to the character.

Villarias portrays Dracula with a certain level of mania that few other renditions show. The wicked grin, the ghoulishly wide eyes, and that distinctive Spanish acting flare. There’s a kind of theatrical quality to the movie that’s genuinely fun and keeps the energy going.

Villarias is definitely a different kind of Dracula, but it definitely works.

3. Frank Langella—Dracula (1979)Dracula rests his hand on a railing and looks cunningly towards the camera

I have to say, I was pretty surprised with how well Langella does in this movie. In a lot of ways, the only thing he’s missing is the accent. The character looks a little too young in my opinion, but his voice and personality definitely portray his age. Langella gives Dracula a soft dusky sound that makes him seem forlorn and even nostalgic. The dialogue the movie gives him helps with that too. There are dozens of lines where Dracula laments his age and the sorrows of lives gone by.

Still, when push comes to shove, the character isn’t afraid to get violent. Even then, the movie gives him lines to show just how much conflict he’s seen over the centuries.

Langella’s Dracula is also the only one who seems to be legitimately charismatic and seductive without the use of magical compulsion. On that note though, the movie gives Dracula some pretty neat arcane powers that finally have some halfway decent special effects.

In short, Langella does a lot better than you might guess. His portrayal is both novel and classic all at once. Dark and delicious indeed.

2. Christopher Lee—Horror of DraculaDracula grimaces and is bearing his teeth while pointing and looking towards the camera

Number two and three were close. If Lee’s Dracula had only a single movie, then Langella would be in this spot. But Christopher Lee’s rendition has no less than eight movies to develop. Not all of those movies are good, but his performance always is.

Christopher Lee, or more accurately the make-up team, does an excellent job of making him look ageless. The character looks both old and young at the same time. It’s subtle, but it really adds a lot of depth to the portrayal. The fact that Lee was young when this movie was released helps too. It means his voice is smooth and energetic enough to keep the ageless image going.

Beyond that, Christopher Lee brings an interesting take on the character that few others do. Dracula has a countenance of refinement and elegance. Even when pressed to violence, the character often remains composed. Not this time.

Christopher Lee’s Dracula goes from sophisticated to savage in seconds. Even though Dracula never transforms into an animal in this movie, his human visage is beastly enough. The visceral fury Christopher Lee demonstrates is super disturbing, especially with his vampiric brides.

All in all, Christopher Lee’s Dracula is brutal, fiendish, tyrannical, and domineering.

1. Bela Lugosi—Dracula (1931)Dracula looks off camera and extends a clawed hand forward in beckoning

Was there ever any doubt?

Even after almost 100 years of Dracula movies, Lugosi is still the king. Whatever you want, it’s here. The well-postured look? Check. The suavely mysterious persona? Check. The unmistakable, irreplaceable, and completely inimitable accent? Check.

Bela’s dialogue is great in this movie and portrays so many dimensions to the character. Dracula is coy, but never sarcastic. Confident, but never boisterous. Grim, but never melancholic.

Something else Lugosi captures so very well is pacing. Sometimes horror movies can move too fast for their own good. There’s something to be said for letting a scene take a lot longer than is comfortable for the viewer. Many scenes in this movie show Lugosi moving impossibly slow towards his victim. Holding on the shot with a barely visible zoom makes your toes curl. The anticipation is too much.

Even though Lugosi’s performance might seem minimalistic compared to some of the other renditions, it really isn’t. The more times I see this movie, the more I realize how much power there is in the simplicity of his act. You can do a lot with a little, and Lugosi’s Dracula is the perfect example.

Out of every other vampire on this list, Lugosi is the only one who can manage to be frightening without ever moving a finger.

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  1. If you enjoyed my perspective here on Horror Obsessive, then please consider listening to my Podcast on a very different subject.

    I’m the host of Modernist Monastery, it’s about the connection between ancient philosophical or spiritual practices and modern scientific research. It’s also a show about how to apply that connection to your everyday life

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Written by Dean Delp

A content creator and editor by both passion and trade. Obsessed with the strange, interesting, intelligent and otherwise unusual. Podcaster, writer, filmmaker, narrator, and voice actor.

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