12. Jack Palance in Dracula (1974)
Jack Palance plays Vlad Tepes as a sensitive rebel with a taste for revenge to go along with his bloodthirst. Yes, he hisses, snarls, and bares his fangs, but doesn’t bite until bitten. Then he can trash a tomb like an outtake from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Palance cuts a fine figure in a black-on-black ensemble, with a midnight cape covering. This better frames him against the picturesque nighttime gardens, doorways, and arches where he most often appears.
Dracula (1974) director Dan Curtis was no stranger to vampires, inventing the gothic soap opera with Dark Shadows, which he followed up with a series of TV movies based on classic horror novels. Written by Richard Matheson, the scriptwriter for The Night Stalker, Dracula condenses Stoker’s novel into a tragic romance, with a love story that transcends death. In the Curtis version, Lucy (Fiona Lewis) is the reincarnation of Dracula’s lost bride, who he gifts with eternal life and the promise of better nights. It’s only after she’s staked that he sets his sights on Mina and those responsible for the tragedy. The Impaler is impaled in this tale, and the irony is not lost on the audience.
11. George Hamilton in Love at First Bite (1979)
Another fly by night character, George Hamilton seems too tan to play a bloodthirsty reanimated corpse. His Count Vladimir Dracula never drinks… wine, doesn’t smoke… shit, and has been going around looking like a head waiter for the past 700 years. But without him, Transylvania would be as exciting as Bucharest on a Monday night. His people tortured and murdered innocent peasants to clear the land, which makes it his. So when the Communist government of Romania converts Castle Dracula into a gymnastic camp in director Stan Dragoti’s Love at First Bite (1979), Dracula and his cockroach-eating manservant, Renfield (Artie Johnson) book accommodations in New York.
Hamilton’s Dracula enjoys himself immensely, both the actor and the character, who loves everything America has to offer, colorful discotheques, versatile sex clubs, and easily robbed blood banks. Richard Benjamin plays Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg, a distant relation of Dr. Van Helsing, as a schmendrick psychologist who can’t keep his horror lore straight. He shoots Dracula with three silver bullets, which only works on werewolves, and brandishes a Star of David, rather than a crucifix, at the undead man about town. The mysterious vampire is still a romantic at heart, and when he turns Susan Saint James’ Cindy Sondheim into a creature of the night, he vows no quickies, always longies, and an eternity of sleeping in.
10. Carlos Villarias in Dracula (1931)
While Bela Lugosi was making cinematic history by day in Dracula in 1931, Carlos Villarias was putting a hot Latin spin on it after hours. The Spanish-language version of the horror classic was shot on the same sets after the American version shut down for the night. Blood on a budget. It’s a vampire tradition.
Carlos Villarias is an interesting parallel to Lugosi. Romantic, lusty, his eyes disrobe every woman he comes in contact with. He wants to suck something, but a neck would have to do in the early thirties.