We’re only a few weeks away from seeing Luke Evans take on the title role in ‘Dracula Untold,’ Universal’s latest revival of the most famous vampire of them all. Time will tell whether this will see Evans (best known for ‘Fast & Furious 6’ and ‘The Hobbit’) join the likes of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman as one of the most iconic screen portrayals of Bram Stoker’s legendary character.
Of course, when a character has been portrayed so very many times in the movies, it is perhaps inevitable that some performances – even those from very well-known actors – may slip through the cracks somewhat. Here are a mere handful of the big names to have tried their hand at playing the Transylvanian terror, in movies which we tend to overlook (sometimes with good reason)…
Before he attained tough guy leading man status in ‘300,’ Butler landed his first major role in ‘Dracula 2000,’ a glossy modernisation of the character produced by horror legend Wes Craven and directed by Patrick Lussier (‘My Bloody Valentine’ ‘Drive Angry’).
Sadly this proved a rather inauspicious introduction to audiences, and Butler was largely overshadowed by his co-stars, including Johnny Lee Miller as the cartoonish hero, Christopher Plummer as Van Helsing, and Jeri Ryan – very much a late 90s pin-up from her role in ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ – as a voluptuous vampire bride.
The Australian character actor, best known for his roles in ‘Mission Impossible II’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ at the time, was hardly the most obvious choice to play the Count in ‘Van Helsing,’ Stephen Sommers’ misguided mega-budget attempt to revive the Universal monster movie brand, with Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale.
Nor did the film approach the character in a traditional way, eschewing his usual aristocratic dress sense in favour of an unorthodox gypsy look, replete with pony tail and earrings. Alas, none of these risks paid off, leaving Roxburgh’s performance as just one of the many disappointments the film had in store.
The long-standing American stage and screen actor has played some notorious tyrants over the years – notably Richard Nixon and Skeletor – but many seem to have forgotten his title role in the 1979 version of ‘Dracula’ from director John Badham (‘Saturday Night Fever,’ ‘Short Circuit’).
In some ways this isn’t surprising, as it’s hardly the most compelling take on the story ever shot, although it does go some way to reviving the romantic interpretation which would be developed further in Francis Ford Coppolla’s version, and has quite a notable co-star in Sir Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing.
One of Hollywood’s foremost masters of villainy also took on the arch vampire in a 1974 adaptation directed by ‘Dark Shadows’ creator Dan Curtis, and scripted by legendary sci-fi/horror writer Richard Matheson (himself responsible for one of the 20th century’s greatest vampire novels, ‘I Am Legend’).
Perhaps the key reason this one is largely forgotten is that it was made for TV. Infamously, when facing off against Nigel Davenport’s Van Helsing, the Count hisses through his teeth, “city folk!” (Okay, we might have made that bit up.)
That’s right, the man who sang ‘Without You’ and ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ also portrayed the king of the vampires… sort of. In one of those utterly bonkers-sounding films that could surely only have happened in the mid-70s, Nilsson played Dracula’s heir Count Downe (groan) in ‘Son of Dracula,’ a 1974 musical comedy (not to be confused with Universal’s 1943 film of the same name, which also made a curious casting decision in Lon Chaney Jr. as the new Count).
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Just in case it doesn’t sound strange enough already, the film also features Ringo Starr as Merlin. Panned on release and hard to find nowadays, allegedly Starr owns a copy but says he can’t bring himself to watch it.
No, we’re not confusing this with the ‘Blade Runner’ icon’s appearance as the villainous Lothos in 1992’s original ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ movie. Hauer portrayed the most famous vampire of all in one of his lesser-seen films: 2005’s ‘Dracula III: the Legacy,’ a direct-to-DVD second sequel to ‘Dracula 2000,’ following on from Gerard Butler and ‘Dracula II’ star Steven Billington (bit of Doctor Who-ish regeneration going on there).
Hauer recently returned to Bram Stoker’s classic, this time taking on the role of Van Helsing in Dario Argento’s ‘Dracula 3D.’ Neither film is likely to be held up as a career highlight.
‘Dracula Untold’ opens in UK cinemas on 3 October 2014.
Picture Credits: Dimension Films, Universal, Latglen Ltd., Apple Films.