Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who Is The Best Dracula - Lee or Lugosi?

Who Is The Best Dracula - Lee or Lugosi?
By []Alan To

Count Dracula has always been one of my all time favourite movie monsters. Many actors have played Bram Stoker's notorious blood sucker over the years, each bringing their own special personality to the part. However, of all these actors, there are two men in particular who have, for me, really stood tall above all the rest: Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee.
Much debate amongst horror fans has gone on over the years as to which of these two fine actors is the best Dracula, and I myself have been involved in such debates many times. When asked who is my own personal favourite Dracula, I have never had any hesitation whatsoever in stating my preference. But more on that later.
So let us look at what particular attributes and qualities each of these two actors brought to the role of Count Dracula, starting with the legendary Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi.
Bela Lugosi first played Dracula in Universal's classic 1931 movie of the same name. A lot of people actually thought that Lugosi played the Count in a series of films, as Christopher Lee did, but this is actually a misconception, as apart from some stage appearances, the only other time that Lugosi reprised his Dracula role was in the 1948 horror spoof Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I first saw Lugosi as Dracula back in the late sixties when, as a kid, I used to stay up late to watch the Universal monster movies I grew to love so much. Although I admired his creepy voice, hypnotically and weirdly staring eyes, and the sheer menace that lurked beneath that aristocratic appearance, I never actually found myself cowering behind the couch in sheer terror. I mean, don't get me wrong, as I did think that Lugosi was a great Dracula, and it is always his image and mannerisms which are replicated whenever anybody, whether in spoofs or in serious scenarios, does a Dracula impersonation. It's just that, as was the case with my other favourite movie monsters, Frankenstein's Monster and The Wolf Man, though I loved watching Lugosi as Dracula, I was never really frightened to any great extent. In a way, I suppose that's a good thing - a healthy thing - as I have always believed that horror films should always be akin to a good ghost train ride - exciting and fun throughout, but at the end leaving no lasting mental scars as you emerge, safely, back into the real world.
Bela Lugosi, unlike Christopher Lee in the later Hammer films, was not depicted baring razor-sharp fangs. Neither did his eyes fill with blood as he bit his victims. But remember, this was 1931, when horror movies were still in their infancy and filmed in black and white, and though still quite creepy with their mist-shrouded woods and castles, the Universal movies were generally pretty tame compared to today's gore-soaked shockers. However, there is no doubt that in his day, Lugosi's Dracula was pretty darned creepy, and his unique portrayal of the vampire count has undoubtedly become an iconic image in horror movie history.
Christopher Lee first played Count Dracula in Hammer's 1958 production, Dracula (released as The Horror of Dracula in the States). And - boy - did he make an impact on me! Just like the many thousands of other cinema goers back then who saw him for the first time, I was both stunned and terrified to see this awesome new British Dracula - in glorious, vibrant Technicolor - burst onto the screen. With his snarling, demonic visage, blood-red eyes and razor-sharp fangs, Lee's Dracula was truly the stuff of nightmares to an eight-year-old kid who had never seen his like before! And I loved that cold, sepulchral voice on the rare occasions that he spoke. In fact, Lee's Dracula was the only one that really frightened me to any great extent. Many's the time I would watch a Hammer Dracula movie with intermittent coverings of my eyes with my fingers, each time Lee appeared on screen with all that blood in his eyes as he feasted on another helpless female victim. This would often prompt my mum to shake her head wearily and say, "I don't know, you've been looking forward to his Dracula film all night, and yet when it comes on, you spend most of it with your hands over your eyes!" Yes, she did have a point, but then again, if Lee's bloodthirsty Count hadn't have made such a powerful impression on me, then the sheer enjoyment factor of these wonderful Hammer films would have been greatly diluted. Nowadays, of course, as a fully grown man, I no longer have a problem watching a Lee Dracula film right through, and certainly don't shield my eyes anymore when the blood starts flowing.
Christopher Lee went on to play Dracula in six more Hammer sequels, in the last two bringing the character into modern times, and I thoroughly enjoyed every single one. I am pleased to say that I now own them all on dvd, and never get tired of watching them.
Of course, there are many horror fans who have their own personal favourite Dracula actor apart from Lee and Lugosi. For instance, Gary Oldman, who played the Count in the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola movie of the same name, has a large fan following. Max Schreck, the bald-headed actor who starred in the 1922 movie Nosferatu, is another popular Dracula. However, for me, there is nobody that can play Dracula quite like Christopher Lee. He truly was the finest - and scariest - Dracula ever.

True Ghost Stories
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