Julia Kruk has been a member of the Dracula Society for over 40 years and chair for 22 years. DAVID SAUNDERSON talks to her about the group devoted to Bram Stoker’s king of vampires….
How long have you been a member of the Dracula Society, how did you become involved and why?
A like-minded work colleague introduced me to the Dracula Society in 1977, and we both joined together. (He left after a year, and I’m still here as Chair and Treasurer 43 years on!). We were both attracted to the Society’s aims and core focus – ie the whole Gothic literary tradition. We both wanted to meet like-minded people, and knew of no other group or society of it’s kind.
What was it about Dracula that made you want to join a society based on only one book?
I think I’ve just answered that one! It was precisely because the Dracula Society is all about a whole literary tradition – and its offshoots on stage and screen – that I was attracted to it. I remember the Society’s co-founder, Bernard Davies, saying that ‘The Gothic Literary Society’ didn’t exactly role off the tongue… So it was named after the most famous and iconic example of the genre, Dracula!
Do you have a favourite aspect of Dracula?
Hmmm… Being as familiar with all the many film and TV adaptations over the years as I am with the book, it’s hard to identify any one specific aspect… In the novel, I still love the early sections best – the innocence of Jonathan Harker setting out on his travels to meet a foreign nobleman in a wild and unknown part of the world; Lucy and Mina in Whitby; the Victorian plot structure of interlocking diary entries, journals, newspaper reports, etc; the chase to track Dracula down to his lair and destroy him…. All of this!
What is your favourite Dracula film adaptation?
That’s easy! I love lots of them – and all for different reasons! But with the notable exception of Coppola’s 1992 ‘Dracula‘, which was anything BUT Bram Stoker’s…. Top of the list is probably Hammer’s 1958 ‘Dracula’, but tied equally with Murnau’s 1922 ‘Nosferatu‘! The Hammer ‘Dracula’ for its pace, glorious Gothic period settings and design, and Chris Lee; and ‘Nosferatu’ for being the most creepy and atmospheric.. I also love Lugosi’s performance and the brilliant set designs in the 1931 Universal adaptation (though the Spanish version made at the same time is the far better film!). And then again I’m also very fond of Frank Langella in John Badham’s lush 1979 version. Seeing it in the cinema at the time (at a very much younger age) made all the difference!! I can also admire Jack Palance’s incarnation in 1974. But if you were to ask me about my favourite TV adaptation, then there’s only one contender – the BBC’s adaptation from 1977!!
Do you enjoy vampire literature in general – what is it about vampires that fascinates you?
Now this is where the ‘jaded’ aspect of my interest comes in… Twenty years ago, I would say I was still an avid reader of vampire fiction, when vampires were still largely monsters, scary undead creatures of the night…. I lost interest when they became sparkly and romantic! Vampire novels I love include ‘Carmilla’, ‘Salem’s Lot’, ‘The Keep’, ‘Fevre Dream’, ‘Let the Right One In’, and more recently, Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach’. Vampires are fascinating for the obvious reasons – their immortality, their power, the fact that they are monsters that can (when they choose) pass for human…
Tell us about the Dracula Society
I’d say we’re a friendly bunch of people with broadly similar interests who like to meet, go places, and have a drink! Initially, the Society was formed to enable members to travel to Transylvania (in 1973 tourism was virtually unheard of, and the few tours available were strictly controlled). After pioneering customised trips to Romania in 1974 and 1975, the Society then went on to explore Whitby, Highgate cemetery, and other desirable Gothic locations. We love not only the Vampire, but Werewolves, Ghouls, Mummies, Ghosts, Zombies and other supernatural creatures; and we embrace the tradition of the Gothic Novel – from Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto’ in 1764, through Matthew Lewis, Mary Shelley, Poe, R.L.Stevenson, M.R. James’s ghost stories, and through to Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell and all the other masters of horror fiction writing today… Oh – and we also love horror movies too!
What kind of activities do you do?
The core of the Society’s existence is to hold meetings and to organise trips. We’re London based, and meet five times a year in a pub… (Sadly, the Spring and Summer meetings won’t be happening this year, for all too obvious reasons). We invite guest speakers, to talk about anything from Victorian cemeteries, tourism in Romania, mummies in literature, or specific books and/or authors. Over the years, guests have included Christopher Frayling (three times!), Tanith Lee, stuntman Eddie Powell, Jonathan Rigby, Renee Glynne, Stephen Volk, Sarah Waters, Ben Aaronovitch and Graham Humphreys. (And we have had some famous guests of honour at our annual Bram Stoker Birthday Dinners over the past 40 years… Check out our website to find out who!)
Apart from our regular meetings, the DS loves to travel! Any place in the world that has a Gothic/supernatural connection is a potential destination! So we have been to Egypt for mummies, to Paris for the Phantom of the Opera and the catacombs, to Prague for the Golem, to Geneva for Diodati and the birth of ‘Frankenstein’ and the ‘Vampyre’, and to Germany and the Czech Republic for ‘Nosferatu’. And of course we go to Romania. A lot!
Why should someone join?
I think the above should be reason enough? The whole point of being in a ‘society’ – to my mind – is being social! To actually meet and talk about the books, films, plays and latest genre TV shows… Over a drink or two. Online discussion groups are fine (and very necessary in these strange times), but it’s not the same as meeting and getting to know your fellow members. Once someone has been on a Dracula Society trip somewhere (especially to Romania) then they are usually a member for life! I’d recommend checking out our website for details of what we do – and have done!