A couple of weeks ago, I published a post containing links to arial drone views of the two castles most associated with Vlad the Impaler aka the historical model for Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name. While that particular post might have looked like clickbait, it was actually a prelude to the current post- which is about a topic quite different from the ones I usually write about.
So here is the background story of what motivated me to write this post.
I have, over the years, watched many film and television adaptations of ‘Dracula’ and other vampire-genre movies and television series. This particular genre of horror has, however, never been by favorite- largely because the vast majority of films and series in it are.. for the lack of a better word.. underwhelming. In other words, the majority of vampire genre films and serials today are either too campy and formulaic or poorly disguised action movies with nonexistent story-lines.
For a long time, this made me wonder why the vampire genre became popular in the first place. As some of you might know, the vampire horror genre (as we know it today) started with the publication of Bram Stoker’s gothic novel ‘Dracula’ in 1897. While his novel was certainly not the first instance of english language literature about that topic, it was by far the most polished and well written. Consequently it also became the seminal book of that genre.
Oddly enough, I had never read the original novel in its entirety until about a year or so ago. This oversight was, in my opinion, largely due to my generally less-than-favorable impression about that particular genre. However a series of events which began with another YouTube clip led me to finally acquire that novel and read it in its entirety. After reading it, I realized that my previous negative impressions about that genre were largely due to the multitude of mediocre adaptions of that novel.
The novel itself is very well written and I can totally see why there have been so many attempts to adapt it for film and TV. So why does almost every film and tv adaption of that novel look so mediocre when compared to the source? In my opinion, it comes down to their inability to overcome three types of problems inherent in adaptation of that particular novel.
1] The inability (or unwillingness) of screen adaptations to capture the overall atmospherics of the original novel account for a significant part of why they suck so badly when compared to the original book. To some extent, this problem arises from the time scale over which the novel occurs- a few months rather than a few weeks. Also, a lot of the detail which makes the novel so engrossing are either lost or cut out of movies because of time and “commercial” constraints. Let me put it this way.. it is just too hard to properly adapt ‘Dracula’ into anything with a running time of less than 7-8 hours.
2] Screen adaptations of that novel almost always try to make the central character in that story (Count Dracula) to be far more scary, aristocratic, bloodthirsty or violent than he is depicted in the novel. Similarly, screen adaptations almost always underplay his intelligence, cunning and resourcefulness. They seem to forget, or ignore, that the central character in that novel is memorable because he is very smart, cunning and ruthless- and not because he is violent or bloodthirsty. Similarly the other characters in the novel are not naive and bumbling idiots who exist to make the story possible.
3] The novel has very strong sexual undercurrents which are intrinsic to the story. In other words- any adaption of that novel which ignores or minimizes those undercurrents (for commercial reasons) cannot do full justice to source material. I should point out that those sexual undercurrents are important not just to understand what happens between Dracula and the female characters, but also between the other male and female characters in that book. If you do not understand what I am talking about reread the parts about Lucy’s interactions with her various suitors (and other men around her) or the parts about the lack of sexual chemistry between Jonathan and Mina.
To summarize, I think that a proper movie-type adaption of ‘Dracula’ requires about 8-16 hours of screen time. It also requires an outlet that will largely ignore commercial concerns about moderate levels of adult content. Only HBO and, to some extent, Netflix have demonstrated an ability to repeatedly produce high-production value shows and mini-series with moderate adult-themed content.
What do you think? Comments?