There's no character in horror cinema who is better known or more often deployed than the worldly, well-dressed European gentleman with a taste for the finer things: haute cuisine, fine wine, human blood.
I refer of course to Dracula, the vampire created by Bram Stoker in his 19th-century novel of the same name. Dracula is to horror films what Superman is to comics. But just as Superman has been reimagined and reinterpreted and reintroduced and presented in every possible tone from adventure to comedy, the Count of Transylvania has seen more than a few makeovers himself. In chronological order of release, here are all the Dracula movies on Sling TV. Pour yourself a few fingers of a chilled B-negative and enjoy!
Jack Palance — yes, Jack Palance, of Shane, City Slickers, and one-armed award shows push-ups fame — takes the title role in Dan Curtis’ 1973 made-for-TV adaptation, a follow-up to Curtis’ hit supernatural daytime soap Dark Shadows and a prelude to his vampire-detective TV-movie The Night Stalker and its series adaptation, Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Curtis had a lane). The film was highly acclaimed in its time and still looks great, particularly considering it was made for television. But it moves a little slow by modern standards, especially in the way it draws out the “mystery” of what is happening in the first act. However, Palance, never an understated performer, really sinks his fangs into the part, and his performance is amusing enough (usually unintentionally) to make this worth a look. (Available on demand with Shudder.)
Not actually written or directed by Warhol but by his protege and in-house Factory director Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol’s Dracula (originally titled Blood For Dracula) boldly asks the question, “what if you took the level of acting talent from an adult film, required those performers to put on European accents, and tried to make it scary?” Udo Kier, who bears a more than passing resemblance to Jared Leto, plays a Dracula whose quest for virgin blood takes him to Catholic Italy, where he soon meets a landowner (legendary Italian director Vittorio de Sica, who must have owed Morrissey money or something) willing to marry off one of his four daughters to the Count. Unbeknownst to them, two daughters have already been disqualified from Dracula’s virgin hunt thanks to Marxist handyman Mario (Warhol house beefcake Joe Dallesandro, barely even trying to hide his honking New York accent while playing an Italian farmhand). Campy as it sounds, this one has a truly surprising (and jarringly violent) ending. Oh, and other than lending his name and favorite director, Andy Warhol has no known creative involvement. (Available on demand with CONTV.)
1974 was a golden age for our favorite vampire, and our third Dracula movie of that year features David Niven as the titular bloodsucker and takes an intentionally comic tone (unlike the other two 1974 Draculas, which stumbled into it accidentally). Originally titled Vampira, it was retitled in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of Mel Brooks’ smash of the same year, Young Frankenstein, but is unfortunately not quite as funny. Niven’s take on the character is mellow, urbane, cultured, polite — in other words, David Niven — and in his advancing years has figured out an alternative to stalking the night for new victims: he hosts tours of his famous castle and “pretends” to bite the giggling guests. When a tour group consisting of Playboy Playmates arrives, Dracula sees his chance to resurrect his long-dead lover, Vampira, with their blood. In an apparent effort to rip off Mel Brooks’ other smash 1974 comedy, Blazing Saddles, there’s a (wildly racist) hitch: one of the Playmates is black, and the transfusion turns the revived Vampira black too, leading Dracula to try and figure out how to turn her back. This one has a few good one liners, and is an interesting time capsule, but its regressive views make it more of a curiosity best left in its era. (Available on demand with EPIX.)
Recent vampire movies have tended to use having one’s blood sucked as an overt metaphor for the loss of virginity, and vampires as impossibly sexy objects of desire. Though that subtext was always part of the story on some level, this version — starring Frank Langella as Dracula — comes pretty close to just making it text, setting the tone for the modern era of vampire movies. It helps to have talent; John Badham (hot at the time from the smash Saturday Night Fever) was director and it co-starred Sir Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing, Donald Pleasance as Dr. Jack Seward, Dracula’s host in England, and Kate Nelligan as Lucy Seward, who becomes the object of the Count’s very intense affection. Based on the stage adaptation of Stoker’s novel by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston that Langella had also starred in, Dracula quite well reviewed at the time of its release and is still seen as a classic by some. (Available on demand with Starz.)
Though this movie was widely panned at the time of its release — largely due to the catastrophic miscasting of Keanu Reeves as a 19th-century Englishman — Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the story has enjoyed a reappraisal in more recent years, and is now seen by many as the best of the lot. Gary Oldman’s performance in the title role is totally original: he drops the widow’s peak, cape, and tuxedo for a more gothic look, and overall, the movie has an early steampunk aethetic that proved quite influential. Winona Ryder — who’d arguably ruined Coppola’s Godfather Part III only a couple of years prior by dropping out just before shooting began — plays Mina Harker, apple of Dracula’s eye and dead ringer for his long-lost wife, and Anthony Hopkins takes the role of Van Helsing. Like the Frank Langella version, this one leans hard into the sexually-charged metaphor, examining the repression that 19th-century women suffered (which made them especially vulnerable to a certain charming bloodsucker). (Available for a $3.99 rental.)
Udo Kier (of Andy Warhol’s Dracula) makes his less-than-triumphant return to the oeuvre in a cameo; that may be the brightest spot in this space-horror misfire, which basically crosses Alien with vampires, taking little from Stoker’s novel but a couple of character names. Coolio (yes, Coolio) has a role along with B-movie legends Casper Van Dien and Erika Eleniak, in which space vessel Demeter realizes it’s picked up a vampire that’s taking out the crew one at a time. (Available for a $3.99 rental -- don’t do it!)
Veteran Italian horror director Dario Argento takes his stab at the Dracula legend with a take that is generally faithful to Stoker’s novel, in terms of characters and story. Thomas Kretchmann plays a Dracula who is irresistible to women, though with his stiff bearing and brusque manner, it’s tough to imagine why. Unax Ugalde and Marta Gastini play John and Mina Harker, and both make Kretchmann look like Fred Astaire. Rutger Hauer wields the cross and wooden stake as Van Helsing, and Argento’s daughter Asia, a director in her own right, stars as Lucy. Argento’s big idea was to shoot in 3D — indeed, the true title of the movie is Dracula 3D — but that’s not something we can enjoy on Sling (yet), so you'll just have to settle for the shameless nudity and comically over-the-top gore. (Available on demand with IFC Films Unlimited.)