Spooky Isles talks to Charles E. Butler, a Leeds-based author and illustrator of The Romance of Dracula, a book exploring some of the best Dracula performances in cinematic history
SPOOKY ISLES: First of all, well done – The Romance of Dracula is a fascinating book that looks at a range of films based on Bram Stoker’s vampire – rather than the more famous adaptions. What was your motivation to write “another” book about Dracula?
CB: I read a really bad book that was commissioned about a major horror film studio. The ‘author’ hadn’t even watched the movies he was talking about. There were many glaring mistakes. I threw it down and just told myself that I could do exactly the same thing – I had all the movies and Dracula was the obvious choice. The greatest fantasy character ever created.
SPOOKY ISLES: What was it about Dracula that got you so excited? Why did you want to write a whole book about the character?
CB: As I explain in my book, He has always been around in my life n a cultural sense. I grew up with the movies of Hammer and Universal. Even in the worst movies, there is always something that keeps you watching. When I read Stoker’s novel in the 80s, I relized that it hadn’t been adapted correctly at all – in fact I think that task is impossible – so I just tracked through the major adaptations to see how many had stuck to the original. From one source novel, I watched 14 totally different movies. That is what the book focuses on. The idea of the definitive Count Dracula.
SPOOKY ISLES: Indeed, your book actually looks at a lot of Draculas that one would not have initially considered. Tell us about the writing and research process.
CB: The research began by watching the films first and foremost. Never intending to publish, I was writing to please myself. I begged, borrowed and stole snippets that I already knew and elaborated on finds that I thought were wrong. The Jess Franco movie has been unfairly treated by earlier reviewers. It is a bad film, but it does deserve some kind of eminence for that fact alone. I began by writing chapter headings. Questions. Example for the Franco version, I wrote, “What happened, Mr Lee?” and took it from there. I was terrible to Coppola’s movie in the first draft that took three months to write in 2008. The reviews that I’m most proud of are the Patrick Bergin and Marc Warren movies as I knew very little about them and the wrting turned out better than I expected.
SPOOKY ISLES: How did you decide which Draculas to include and which one to leave out? Were there other films that you would have liked to have included? Could we see a sequel?
CB: I was going to include Dracula; Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, but dropped the idea because of the ballet connection. The film is great and captures Stoker in a better light than most official adaptations. I’m putting it into the update next year. But I just worked chronologically as the adaptations were made. I heard a few weeks ago of an Indian Dracula movie made – I think – in the late 80s. If it is a proper adaptation of the book, I will track it down. HG Lewis’ tale A Taste of Blood was dropped because it isn’t an official adaptation, but a story derived using character names. In the update, I am focusing solely on Dracula adaptations. I have counted six films – theatrical and TV – that will be included. It is an interesting time for the Count. I want to round off with Argento’s Dracula 3D.
CB: Again. I had never seen Drakula Istanbul’da or the Spanish language Universal production. Thanks to the internet, I have had the pleasure of seeing both and can say that they are two of the better adaptations. Also the Denholm Elliot version. All these will be fully reviewed in the update
SPOOKY ISLES: What amazing fact did you learn about Dracula from your research that you can tell us?
CB: Just as mentioned that there are so many different takes on the same story. His theatrical resume is just as transcendental as his body mass. Regular vampires in movies have only lasted two films at most and the tale falls dead or flat. TV vampires are worn out after a first season. But Dracula and Van Helsing WILL be around forever, simply because Stoker’s original material – that I’m sure stumped the author too at times – defies all attempts at a definitive version. Not only in films, but also radio and comic book adaptations that promise the REAL story fall short in many areas. It is an amazing study. It is also interesting to note that the role of Dracula is also a make or break situation for actors. Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi being prime examples. Bela died in poverty but is renowned worldwide and adored by billions because of his attachment to a pretty dire adaptation. Christopher Lee has an enormous CV but Dracula has overshadowed some great work to the actor’s regret.
SPOOKY ISLES: A lot has been debated on this site and its various social media networks about who was the best Dracula – who do you think holds that mantle?
CB: The best Dracula character – for me – is Jack Palance. The film is a lost love rehash, but Palance gives the role everything. I grew up with Lee and make him the best by default, but Bergin and Marc Warren give good turns. The best adaptation is still FW Murnau’s Nosferatu in my estimation.
SPOOKY ISLES: You actually wrote up Christopher Lee twice, once for his Dracula (1958) and then for Count Dracula (1970) and from what you said before, that is understandable. There’s a lot of stubbornness when it comes to Dracula fans I feel – fans who can’t go pass Christopher Lee, for instance, (even though Lee seems to hate his own Dracula films himself) and won’t look at other Draculas. Do you think your book may open them up to other experiences of the King of Vampires?
CB: I have had many people thank me for alerting them to movies that they never knew existed. I don’t know if that makes me a Dracula geek? I also hold my hand up here as I’ve been berated for getting a small fact wrong in my review of Dracula 2000. That Van Helsing bleeds himself with the Count’s blood! I reviewed both Lee adaptations because they ARE straight adaptations of the novel. Franco’s Dracula is very different from Fisher’s take on the tale. Both hold glaring mistakes, but have their own points of interest. Christopher Lee is the only one who has played the Count in all of his guises on film, including Vlad Tepes in the Portabella movie, In Search of Dracula.
SPOOKY ISLES: It would be wrong of me not to mention the great illustrations of the various incarnations of Dracula in the book – that must have been fun!
CB: I was going to use photographs originally, but my brother suggested I draw the pictures. I first thought about actually publishing when I finished the drawing of Schreck in the coffin. That is still the greatest image of any vampire movie to me. I then realised that it added to the personal touch of the book suggested by the subtitle.
SPOOKY ISLES: What is your next project after the update? Any plans to put other horror classics under the microscope?
CB: I am working to get my next book Vampires Everywhere, the Rise of the Movie Undead out by Christmas. I also have plans for Vampires Under the Hammer that talks of the Hammer film vampires. Finally, there is Werewolf: the Children of the Full Moon. But this is the next two or three years. Vampires Everywhere, like the Romance of Dracula, has its own facebook page and concentrates on reviews on some of the better vampire movies that don’t include Dracula.