I think I’m starting to get the hang of this whole penance thing. It’s hard work, as much as I want to carry it out.
In Part II I explained why Bram Stoker’s Dracula upset me so much. Now I will rhapsodize about the people I had the urge to light candles for during the movie– Bela Lugosi and Peter Cushing.
There is no doubt that Bela Lugsoi is the iconic vampire– even the iconic Dracula. The accent, the elegance, the slicked-back hair and intent eyes… he didn’t need buckets of stage-blood; he had his face! And voice– that was a quintessential part of his characterization, but it would have worked had the movie been silent. Lugosi had a wonderfully expressive face, and when he looks at a character, the audience always knows whether he wants to simply drink their blood, kill them in a particularly messy way, or make them Bride #4.
He also managed to simultaneously be menacing and appealing. One can see why Lucy would be drawn to him (especially compared to the English men around her), but also why Mina would be nervous from him from the start. Even if we hadn’t already seen what he had done to Renfield in Transylvania.
Moreover, he was consistent in that characterization.
Now to Cushing. As van Helsing, he brought a new level of energy to the part that many try to emulate, but few could match. He was also very serious, even harsh, but was just as capable of calming the little girl that vampirized Lucy had taken– giving her his coat and telling her it made her look like a teddy bear. Like any good doctor, he knew how to use the bedside manner. This version of Dracula’s nemesis could even make a joke (telling the hotel valet that the voice on the dictophone was just him talking to himself), though one got the impression that van Helsing had little time for such things and preferred to be slaying vampires.
Admittedly, the physicality Cushing brought to the part proved problematic for the series, as the studio felt it had to “outdo” each installment, and the results quickly became preposterous. However, that is not his fault, nor does it take away the power of his performances in Horror of Dracula and Brides of Dracula. Both reveal a man of great intellect, strength of character and body, willpower, yet still some fallibility (see Top 10 Vampires #9 A Baroness Meinster). He wasn’t a cloud cuckoolander, nor was he a nightmare-fuel attendant. He juggled the very difficult task of ridding the world of monsters while still being able to function in polite society.
His presence is still quite large. It’s the pictures that have gotten small.
And that’s that. Now for that Coppola wine.