When Bram Stoker’s hero, Jonathan Harker, wrote a diary entry in the 1897 novel Dracula saying that the the “old centuries had … powers of their own which ‘modernity’ cannot kill”, he could have had little idea how right he was. More than 120 years after Dracula was first destroyed with a stake through his heart, he is still going strong and has become – in his own way – beloved.
But nowadays he’s as likely to be fighting Lego Batman or opening a hotel as drinking blood. It seems somehow fitting that Stoker would have turned 170 years old in the same month that gave us a first glimpse of Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, a film featuring a computer-animated Dracula on a family cruise.
As unlikely as it sounds, one of the most recognisably X-rated Draculas is a prime example of how the count became a pop culture figure. Despite positive reviews, the original novel had not been hugely successful and it took popular theatre and film adaptations to spread Dracula’s fame. In the late-1950s, Hammer studios managed to stand out in a marketplace full of space-horror by looking backwards and focusing on classic horror novels.
Like almost every film version, Hammer’s 1958 Dracula does not closely follow the novel. Instead, the film intelligently plays with audience expectations. Harker seems naive in the opening sequence as he ignores the standard warnings from the local villagers about Dracula’s castle. But once he’s alone, we learn his secret: that he is there to kill Dracula.
The 1958 Hammer Dracula was revolutionary in a number of ways: it was the first British Dracula film and the first in colour. But it was its use of the X certificate that made it stand out. X-ratings were often emphasised in Hammer’s marketing, effectively codifying the excess of a production.