Vampire Films

What Was The First Vampire Movie Ever Made?

 A personal note: My girlfriend asked me, ‘What was the first vampire movie ever made?’ To be honest I did not know the answer, so I did some research and found that apparently I am not the only one.  Normally I try to post at least two to three times a week but this article took a little longer to research than I expected. And what I found was quite interesting.
There were over 25 movies produced during the silent era with the word vampire in the title, as a result many writers and researchers assumed, incorrectly that all these films were about vampires. Case in point, Vampire of the Coast (1909) is credited by many sources as being the first vampire movie; however, this was not a vampire movie at all, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. The Olean Evening Times of April 1909 gave a brief description of Vampire of the Coast. -  “Outlaws cause wreck of ship on rock-bound coast. An unusual elopement of pretty girl adds to the entertainment."
            What causes the confusion with this film and many others like it, is the fact that there is little or no information about many these early “vampire films” other than their title and an approximate release dates. Many people assume that because the word vampire is in the title, the film must be about vampires. The word vampire did not always mean a blood sucking undead fiend; it was sometimes used to describe a villain or an unsavory character.

               “Vampire” or “vamp” was also a term commonly used in early Hollywood to describe a woman who uses her charms to seduce a man. The term was use in reference to several silent movie actresses and was used pretty much the same way we would use the word “Diva” today.  Theda Bara who was one of Hollywood’s earliest sex symbols was known for being the quintessential vamp.

The quintessential vamp, Theda Bara as Cleopatra (1917)

                      The use of  “vampire” or “vamp”  to describe a female fatale in the early 20th century is credited to Rudyard Kipling’s  poem “The Vampire  published  1897 . It is said that Kipling found his inspiration from a painting by Philip Burne-Jones
The Vampire  a painting by Philip Burne-Jones

Some of the most famous mistaken vampire movies besides Vampire of the Coast are:
In the Grip of the Vampire (1913) in this French film the vampire is figurative. A girl’s uncle attempts to erase her mind with drugs in order to get her inheritance.
The Vampire's Trail (1914) a short Drama directed by T. Hayes Hunter and Robert G. Vignola, starring Alice Joyce, Tom Moore, and Alice Hollister.  This film is a drama and has nothing to do with vampires.

Vampires of the Night (1914) a lost Italian film was not a horror film at all.  It is instead a drama about a condemned prisoner who writes to his wife to explain his situation. The wife, fearing that she will no longer be able to take care of her only child, hands the child over to her grandmother. The grandmother then takes the child to the home of a Duke and Duchess and steals their child in exchange.
The Devil's Daughter (1915) was an American drama, not a horror film in the least.  Directed by Frank Powell and starring the most famous vamp of them all, Theda Bara. This film is also considered to be lost.
The Devil's Daughter with the Queen of the Vamps, Theda Bara.

               So what was the first vampire movie ever made? A strong contender is a British film The Vampire (1913) in this film a native woman in India kills a hunter and when his friend shoots her, she turns into a snake woman and kills him as well. In Indian culture, vampires are allegedly able to turn into various animals, the snake is one animal formed that is assumed quite often, particularly by female vampires. Unfortunately, The Vampire (1913) is a lost film, but it may very well be the very first vampire film.
               It’s also worth mentioning that Dracula’s Death(1921) or Drakula halála, written and directed by Károly Lajthay, was not the first Dracula film as some believe. Dracula’s Death (1921) a Hungarian film is not really about Dracula at all. This film depicts a woman’s frightening experiences after visiting an insane asylum where one of the inmates claims to be the famous Count Dracula.  She is then plagued by visions of the count and is unable to determine if the visions are real are simply nightmares. This film is currently believed to be lost.

Perhaps the most famous mistaken vampire movie of all is them London After Midnight (1927) directed by Todd Browning and starring Lon Chaney. In this film Chaney plays a Scotland Yard detective who disguises himself to look like a vampire in order to catch a murderer. As with many American films during this era the supernatural was explained away by logical means.  In this case Chaney is merely pretending to be a vampire, hence there is no real vampire in this movie. London After Midnight (1927) is perhaps the most sought after lost film, the last known copy was destroyed in a film vault fire in 1967.

The Vampire
By Rudyard Kipling

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)

To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care),

But the fool he called her his lady fair
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the years we waste and the tears we waste
And the work of our head and hand,

Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)

And did not understand.
A fool there was and his goods he spent

(Even as you and I!)
God dammit by him Honor and faith and a sure intent

But a fool must follow his natural bent
(And it wasn’t the least what the lady meant),

(Even as you and I!)

Oh the toil we lost and the spoil we lost
And the excellent things we planned,

Belong to the woman who didn’t know why

(And now we know she never knew why)
And did not understand.

The fool we stripped to his foolish hide

(Even as you and I!)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside –

(But it isn’t on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died –

(Even as you and I!)
And it isn’t the shame and it isn’t the blame

That stings like a white hot brand.
It’s coming to know that she never knew why

(Seeing at last she could never know why)
And never could understand.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)( Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens) more commonly known as Nosferatu, has long been held by many film historians as the first film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. However, it is recently been discovered that a film from Russia (1920) entitled Dracula may have predated Nosferatu by two years and evidence of a Hungarian film version of Dracula has also been found. Extensive research will be necessary to verify their existence and content. Very little is known about either of these films other than their name and approximate release date.

Max Scheck as Count Orlok. Nosfeatu (1922)

Nosferatu was produced by Prana Film which was founded in 1921 by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau, Nosferatu would be their only production. Grau was inspired to make a vampire film by an experience he had had during World War I. In 1916 a Siberian farmer had told Grau that his father was a vampire and one of the undead. Inspired by the farmer’s tale, Grau and Diekmann decided to make an expressionistic film version of Dracula. However, Prana Film could not obtain the film rights from Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence Stoker.
Due to an error in the copyright notice the novel Dracula had become public domain in the United States however in Germany the novel would not become public domain until 1962. Despite this fact Grau and Diekmann move forward with production which was of course based in Germany.
Grau and Diekmann charged Henrik Galeen with the task of writing a screenplay based on Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Galeen was no stranger to the horror genre, he had previously worked on The Golem(1915) and The Golem: How He Came into the World(1920) with Paul Wegener(the first horror actor). Galeen did change the names and some of the storyline for the novel but not enough to prevent a lawsuit from Stoker’s widow.

Nosferatu was shot in 1921 and released in 1922 with Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau directing. Murnau like Galeen was no stranger to the horror genre or filming unauthorized versions of novels. In 1920 Murnau directed an unauthorized film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde entitled The Head of Janus, (Der Januskopf) in 1920.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Before beginning his career as a director, Murnau had served as a German combat pilot during World War I. During his career as a pilot he crashed his plane twice, in one incident he damaged one of his kidneys so badly he was not able to drink alcohol for the rest of his life. During one mission flying through heavy fog he strayed off course and landed in Switzerland, where he stayed until the end of the war directing a play and compiling propaganda footage for Germany. He began directing films after the war in Germany in 1919.

Max Scheck was selected to play the role of Count Orlok. Schreck, whose last name means Terror in German, was born in 1879 in Berlin. He would appear in hundreds of theatrical productions in Berlin and Munich and in a number of German films.  Scheck’s father did not approve of his son’s ambition to become an actor. Schreck’s mother, however, secretly provided the young man with money to cover the cost of his acting lessons.  It was only after his father’s death that Schreck openly attended drama school. He graduated from the State Theatre of Berlin in 1902 and began his acting career which would last until 1936 when he died at the age of 56.  There is an often repeated urban legend that the reason for Schreck’s outstanding performance as Count Orlok in Nosferatu was due to the fact Schreck was a real vampire. (How’s that for a convincing performance?)

 Schreck is most remembered for his iconic role of Count Orlok.
While, Grau and Diekmann may have been excellent filmmakers they were not very good businessman, Prana Film spent an enormous amount of money promoting the film. Nosferatu’s premier was planned as a large social event called Das Fest des Nosferatu (Festival of Nosferatu), attendees were asked to dress in Biedermeier costume. Prana Film actually spent more money promoting the film than they did in producing it and when Brian Stoker’s estate acting on behalf of his widow Florence Stoker sued Prana Film for copyright infringement the company was forced to declare bankruptcy.
 When Stoker’s widow won the lawsuit, the court ordered that all existing prints of the film be destroyed. But one copy did manage to survive. That one print happened to be in the United States where the novel Dracula was already in public domain and there was no way for a German court to force the US to destroy the film. It is from this lone surviving print that numerous copies have been made over the years. Despite its dubious reputation and history, Nosferatu has gained a loyal cult following in recent decades. The film is noted by film historians for being an excellent example of German Expressionism.

Bram Stoker

“Welcome to my House! Enter freely and of you own will!”

                                                                             Dracula 1897

And with that Abraham "Bram" Stoker an Irish novelist introduced the world to the most famous vampire in literature, Count Dracula. No other novel has been scrutinized, analyzed, and mulled over more than Dracula. Dracula is by far one of the most popular novels of the English language, a novel that has never been out of print since it was first published over 100 years ago.
              Bram Stoker’s life began on November 8, 1847 in Clontarf, Ireland. A strange illness kept him bedridden for the first seven years of his life. It was not until after he was seven years old that young Stoker began to walk. During his long illness he was totally dependent upon his mother who introduced her young son to scary stories of superstition and local folklore. Stoker’s mother told him strange tales of creatures who came back from the dead and threatened people and tales of children being stolen away in the night. She also shared her experiences of the cholera epidemic when she was a child and how people were hauled off and buried alive. Of his early childhood Stoker once wrote, "I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years."

               Whatever the strange illness was that plagued Stoker in his early years he apparently made a full recovery with no recorded relapses during his lifetime. During his college years, Stoker became a star athlete. He excelled at rugby, race walking, and gymnastics and became the athletic champion of the year at Trinity College where he received a degree in mathematics.

The creator of the world’s most famous vampire, Bram Stoker.

                 After college Stoker’s father helped him get a job as a civil servant at Dublin Castle were the elder Stoker also worked.  It was during this time that Bram Stoker began writing theater reviews as a means to escape from his humdrum life. Stoker had become interested in theater during his college years and became a theater critic for the Dublin Evening Mail Call which was co-owned Joseph Sheridon Le Fanu who was a writer of gothic stories. Two of Le Fanu’s stories, Carmilla and The Room in the Dragon Volant would not only become the basis for the 1932 French-German horror film Vampyr, but would be a major influence on Stoker’s writings.

               Although theater critics were held in low regard in this time Stoker was noted for the quality of his reviews. In December 1876 Stoker gave a raving review about Henry Irving’s performance in Hamlet at the Royal Theatre. Irving at this time was the world’s most popular stage actor. Irving read Stoker’s raving review about his performance and invited the young man to dinner at his house. That evening at dinner, Irving presented Stoker with an autograph photograph of himself. This dinner with Henry Irving would forever change Stoker’s life. The two men soon forged a friendship that would last until Irving’s death in 1905.

In 1878 Stoker married Florence Balcome. Bolcome had once been engaged to Oscar Wilde but broke off the engagement. Stoker and Wilde had attended school together and were friends. The marriage did strain Stoker’s friendship with Wilde, however the two men did reconcile later in life.

Florence Stoker

  In 1877 Irving bought the 2,000 seat Lyceum Theater and asked Stoker to manage it for him. Stoker agreed and in 1878 at the age of 31 he and Florence moved to London. There Stoker became the manager of the most prestigious theater in London for the most famous actor in the English-speaking world. The cream of society including Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw flocked to the Lyceum Theater making it one of London’s premier hotspots.

Henry Irving was the most famous actor in his time and Stoker’s employer.

               Despite his enormous responsibilities running the theater and managing Irving’s career Stoker still found time to write. In 1881 he published “Under the Sunset” a collection of eight creepy fairy tales for children. In 1890 Stoker began his research on the subject of vampirism. He wrote his notes and manuscript on whatever he could find available, scraps of paper, hotel stationery, and even napkins. Stoker was an excellent researcher, using his skills as a newspaper reporter, he studied the tiniest details such as train schedules, maps, and geography. He spent several years researching European folklore and stories of vampires. It would take over seven years for Stoker to write the novel “Dracula.” He wrote whenever and wherever he could, this of course would help explain why there are several internal inconsistencies in the novel.
The original 541-page manuscript of “Dracula”, once thought to be lost, was found in a barn in Pennsylvania during the 1980s. The manuscript was type written, but the title “The Un-Dead” was handwritten.   The novel’s main character, “Count Dracula,” was originally named “Count Wampyr.” Stoker had come across the name Dracula while researching the history of Transylvania and discovered the name Dracula meant “son of the devil.” This prompted Stoker to change the name of his main character.

The first edition for “Dracula”
Shortly before Dracula’s release, Stoker staged a reading of a play based on the novel and invited Henry Irving to watch the play. It is believed by many that Stoker had aspirations of Irving playing the main character in the play. However Stoker’s hopes were dashed when after watching the play for only 20 minutes Irving stood up and walked out calling the play,  “Dreadful, absolutely dreadful”. Stoker would never again witness a live performance depicting the character he had created.
               In Victorian England the vampire was sometimes used as a metaphor for immigrants or in some cases repressed sexuality. But some scholars believe that Dracula may have been a more personal and deeper metaphor for the author’s life. Henry Irving was a demanding employer and Stoker was in charge of every aspect of the theater and of Irving’s social and professional commitments which left little time for Stoker’s personal life. It is for this reason that some scholars believe that Irving may have been the model for Count Dracula a character who sustains himself by draining the life from others. And if this hypothesis is true it is very likely that Stoker was a model for the character Hawken, who found himself trapped inside Castle Dracula with no means of escape
               Whatever meanings or metaphors that Stoker may or may not have incorporated into this novel he struck a chord that has reverberated for over 100 years. The novel received respectable reviews and did sell well but was not the hit that it would later become. Unfortunately Stoker would never live to see his vampire become the household name that it is today. After suffering several strokes Stoker died on April 20, 1912. His death would go virtually unnoticed by the world, overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic which dominated the headlines that week. Stoker was cremated and his ashes were placed in an urn at Golders Green Crematorium.  After his only child, Irving Noel Stoker died in 1961, his ashes were added to Stoker's urn. Due to the fear of vandalism, visitors wishing to view Stoker’s urn must be escorted to the room where it is kept.        


Dracula the 1924 stage play was written by Hamilton Deane and was adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker. This 1924 production starred renowned actor Raymond Huntley as Dracula. This was the first adaptation of the novel authorized by Florence Stoker, Bram Stoker's widow. However, it was not the first play based on Dracula. Bram Stoker the author of the novel Dracula, wrote a play based on the character before the novels publication. The play entitle Dracula, or The Undead was performed only once at the Lyceum Theatre in 1897.
A poster from the 1924 play Dracula

In 1927 the play was brought to Broadway by Horace Liveright. John L. Balderston was hired to rewrite the script to better suit the American audience. The American production starred none other than Bela Lugosi in his first major English-speaking role, with Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing; both actors would later reprise their roles in Dracula(1931)directed by Tod Browning. The film version of Dracula was based on the play by Deane-Balderston.

Raymond Huntley who played Dracula in the 1924 play appeared in numerous of films and television series during his long and distinguished career.

Dracula (1931)

Poster for Dracula (1931)Universal Pictures

Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, and Edward Van Sloan could be defined as the first true American feature-length horror film. It was certainly one of the first that did not try to explain away the supernatural. Up until Dracula, American studio executives assumed, incorrectly, that the American audience was too sophisticated for the horror genre unless the supernatural element was explained away by natural means. Dracula 1931 was an incredible risk for Universal Pictures, for in this film the vampire is real and the supernatural elements are presented as fact.
Despite the inherent risk, Carl Laemmle, Jr,. who was in charge of production at Universal Studios, felt that Dracula had tremendous box office potential and he planned to produce it on the same lavish scale as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Laemmle was insistent that Lon Chaney play the role of Dracula although Chaney was still under contract with MGM. Laemmle hired the very competent and successful director Tod Browning to direct.  Browning had already worked with Chaney in several films including the widely successful London after Midnight, The Unholy Three, and The Unknown. However before production could begin Lon Chaney was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1928 from which he would later die from in August 1930 at the age of 47.
Bela Lugosi had helped Universal Pictures negotiate the film rights for Dracula from Bram Stoker’s widow Florence Stoker. Florence Stoker’s original asking price for the film rights for Dracula had been a whopping $200,000. Lugosi, however, convinced her to accept payment of $40,000. Although Bela Lugosi had helped Universal Pictures secure the rights to Dracula and had received raving reviews for his performance in the stage play Dracula, Laemmle still considered other actors such as Paul Muni, Chester Morris, Ian Keith, John Wray, Joseph Schildkraut, Arthur Edmund Carewe and William Courtenay for the part. Lugosi did not get the part until a few weeks before filming started and then only after a feverish campaign. For his services, Lugosi was paid a mere $3500, half of what David Manners (Jonathan Hawker) was paid.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931) Universal Pictures

Due to the depression the studio was unwilling to take large finical risk. The budget for Dracula was drastically slashed to $355,000 and the plans for the films lavish sets went to the wayside. The stage play Dracula had been a roaring success in both United States and Europe since the late 1920s and Laemmle reasoning that stage play adapted to film would guarantee success ordered Browning to follow the stage play as closely as possible. It is for this reason that Dracula (1931) has a staged look to it once the storyline moves to London. Scenes of the sailing ship, Vesta, being sieged by violent storm were taken from the Universal silent film The Storm Breaker (1925). The Storm Breaker was photographed at silent film speed approximately 16 frames per second (fps) versus 24 frames per second (fps) this accounts for the jerky motion of these scenes.

It was reported that during filming Browning would tear out pages from the script that he felt were unnecessary. Browning who was noted for being a very thorough and careful director was often absent from the set leaving cinematographer Karl Freund in charge. It is believed by many film historians that Browning had become disenchanted with the project after losing his friend Lon Chaney and being forced to follow the play so closely. Watching the film it is apparent where the screenplay ends and the stage play begins. The scenes prior to Dracula’s arrival in London were not part of the original stage play and there’s a stark difference between these scenes. The scenes involving Transylvania are far superior in camera work and lighting than those that take place in the London location.

The Universal Pictures executive, Paul Kohner suggested the English and foreign language films should be shot simultaneously as a result a Spanish version of Dracula was produced simultaneously using the same sets as the English version. The Spanish version was filmed at night after the English cast had left for the day. The film directed by George Melford, who did not speak Spanish, and featured Carlos Villarías as Dracula. Villarias was the only cast member permitted to see rushes of the English-language film with Lugosi. He was encouraged to imitate Luqosi’s acting style. Although produced for a mere $70,000 the Spanish version of Dracula is considered by many to be far superior to the English version.

Poster for the Spanish version of Dracula (1931)Universal Pictures
The English version of Dracula premiered at the Roxy Theatre in New York on February 12, 1931.  Newspapers reported that some audience members fainted from shock. This was obviously a publicity stunt perpetrated by the film studio to help boost ticket sales. Dracula was a huge box office hit.  Lugosi’s performance would set the standard for movie vampires in the coming decades, yet the film Dracula void of many of the elements associated with vampire films.  Notably missing from the film was Dracula’s fangs. The only blood in the movie was shown when Renfield accidentally cuts his finger and the special effects were kept to a minimal limited to fog and large rubber bat.
Critics, fans, and film historians agree that Dracula is a film that fell short of its true potential. Whether the constraints of a low-budget, Browning’s indifference, Laemmle’s insistence that the film follow the stage play as closely as possible or perhaps a combination of all three is debatable. However, Dracula unquestionably had the largest impact of any film in the horror genre. It was this film that would convince American studio executives that the American audience would not accept the horror genre it would embrace it. There would be many more horror films to follow Dracula, but none would ever have the impact that it did in 1931.

Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr (1932) (German: Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey, "Vampire: the Dream of Allan Grey" was a  French-German horror film directed by Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer and was written was by Dreyer and Christen Jul  borrowing from the stories  Carmilla  and The Room in the Dragon Volant by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.

 Dreyer began his film career as a title writer, then scriptwriter and finally directing his first film in 1919.  By the late 1920s he was hailed as the greatest director ever to emerge from Danish cinema. After finishing his masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Dreyer found the European film industry in turmoil and financing was difficult to obtain.

Dreyer met would be actor and aristocrat Nicolas de Gunzburg, who agreed to finance Vampyr (1932) in exchange for playing the lead role in the film. Dreyer agreed and filming began in 1930 with Gunzburg playing the lead along with a cast made up of non-professional actors the only professional actors in the film were Sybille Schmitz and Maurice Schutz.

The Gunzburg family disapproved Nicolas de Gunzburg’s goal of becoming an actor, so he worked under the pseudonym Julian West. Nicolas de Gunzburg’s acting career was short-lived, Vampyr (1932) would be his only featured role.  Gunzburg later became an editor at several American publications, including Town & Country, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar and was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1971.
The film was shot on actual locations with many scenes filmed in Courtempierre, France. Dreyer and his cinematographer Rudolph Maté did take part in some of the scouting for locations. However, Dreyer left most of the scouting duties to an assistant, who Dreyer instructed to find "a factory in ruins, a chopped up phantom, worthy of the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe.” The old castle featured in the film also served as the lodging for the cast and crew.

 In the original script, the doctor was to flee the village and get trapped in a swamp.  While searching for a suitable location for the swamp, the crew found a mill. Seeing the white shadows around the windows and doors, they decided to change the film's ending to take place at the mill where the doctor would die by suffocating under the milled flour. Dreyer achieved the strange, dream-like photography by placing a thin gauze in front of the lens as a filter. The neglected and dirty look of the doctor's surgery covered in cobwebs was achieved by Dreyer breaking jam jars on the floor then leaving the room shut-off for over a month to attract various bugs and insects.

While the director may have mastered the photographic effects of the film, the audio for Vampyr (1932) proved to be a daunting challenge for Dreyer. This was Dreyer’s first sound film and the dialogue had to be dubbed in three languages English, French and German. To overcome this challenge, very little dialogue was used and large portion of the story is told with silent film-styled title cards. The actors were required to mouth their lines in French, German and English so their lip movements would match the voices that would be dubbed into the audio track during postproduction.

 The film was shot and edited in France and then was brought to Berlin, Germany for postproduction, where the dialogue was dubbed in both German and French. The sounds of dogs, parrots, and other animals in the film were actually done by professional imitators. The music was composed by Wolfgang Zeller who work closely with Dreyer in developing the film's score.

Vampyr (1932) premiered in Berlin Germany on May 6, 1932, the German audience booed the film and Dreyer re-edited the film cutting several scenes. The re-edited film fared only slightly better in France. At a showing of the film in Vienna, audiences demanded their money back. When the theater owner refused a riot broke out and the police were called to restore order. Dreyer did not show up for the film’s Danish premiere in Copenhagen, Denmark in March 1933 where it fared no better than it had with previous audiences. The film, ridiculed by audiences and critics alike was a complete financial failure. Dreyer soon had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in France. He returned to journalism in 1932 and would not make another film until 1943.

When asked what his intentions were for the film, Dreyer replied that he "had not any particular intention. I just wanted to make a film different from all other films. I wanted, if you will, to break new ground for the cinema. That is all. And do you think this intention has succeeded? Yes, I have broken new ground. "

 Vampyr (1932) was at one time, considered a low point in Dreyer's career, but the film has begun to enjoy a more favorable reception with horror fans and critics, noted for its visual effects and eerie atmosphere. Although the film’s first half is slow and tedious to watch it does present the viewer with some incredible haunting images, the kind that nightmares are made of.


The Vampire Bat (1933)

The Vampire Bat (1933) starred Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, and Dwight Frye and was directed by Frank R. Stayer. The plot revolves around the unexplained deaths of several Klineschloss residents the town fathers suspect vampirism since the victims are dying from blood loss. 

The story of this film’s production is a classic example of the David and Goliath scenario; A tiny production company, Majestic Pictures Inc. competing with the big studios and producing what would become their biggest hit for 1933.

Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill had been in the highly successful film Doctor X (1932) the previous year and had just finished working on Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) for Warner Bros. Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) was a large scale production and would have a lengthy post-production process. Majestic Pictures, a poverty row studio, realized the chance to exploit all the advance publicity connected with Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), contracted Wray and Atwill for their own "quickie" horror film and rushed The Vampire Bat (1933) into production.  Majestic also hired Dwight Frye who was known for his roles in the highly successful Universal horror classics Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931).

Majestic Pictures had a much lower overhead than the larger studios, who were struggling to stay afloat during the Great Depression. As a result Majestic Pictures was able to produce a film comparable to the Universal Pictures horror films of the early 1930s at a fraction of the cost.  Majestic leased the “German Village” back lot sets left over from Frankenstein (1931), the interior sets from The Old Dark House (1932) and did some location shooting at Bronson Caves, completing the illusion that this was a film from a much bigger studio.  A stock musical theme by Charles Dunworth, "Stealthy Footsteps", was used to accompany the opening credits. The finished product had the appearance of a film with a much higher budget.

The release of The Vampire Bat (1933) worked well for Majestic, which was able to rush the film into theaters on January 6, 1933, less than a month before Warner's release of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). The Vampire Bat (1933) has a huge hit for Majestic. Over time the film was forgotten and is overlooked by modern-day audiences, but for the true fan of early horror films The Vampire Bat (1933) iscertainly worth a look.

The failure of the original copyright holder, Majestic to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain. As a public domain film anyone could duplicate and sell a copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

Dracula's Daughter (1936) was the sequel to the 1931 film Dracula. Directed by Lambert Hillyer, the film starred Gloria Holden, Otto Kruger, Marguerite Churchill, Irving Pichel and Edward Van Sloan, who was the only cast member to return from the original Dracula (1931).

Originally Dracula’s Daughter (1936) was to be based on the short story "Dracula's Guest" by Bram Stoker, which was published in 1914 two years after Stoker’s death. Yet the film bears no resemblance to Stoker’s original story. David O. Selznick (the producer of Gone with the Wind (1939)) had secured the rights to Dracula’s Guest for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Selznick, then sold the rights to Universal because he could not legally make the film due to Universal's copyright on the original film.
Laemmle, was in charge of production at Universal , had originally wanted James Whale to direct Dracula’s daughter. Whale had proven to be a very capable to director with his handling of Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). But Whale was reluctant to direct two horror filmsin a row. With Whale unavailable, Laemmle hired Lambert Hillyer who is best known for directing westerns to direct the film.

Originally Bela Lugosi was expected to reprise his role as Dracula, in one of the earlier screenplay versions. In that version, one of several, the story was to pick up 500 years earlier than the original Dracula,  but that version was deemed unacceptable by the British Board of film censors saying that “Dracula’s daughter would require half a dozen languages to adequately express its beastliness”. Ironically, Bela Lugosi earned $4,000 (which was $500.00 more than he was paid for Dracula (1931)) for his participation in publicity photos for the film, despite the fact that he did not actually appear in the film.  Universal submitted a draft to the PCA (Production Code Administration). The PCA’s response was that the screenplay "contains countless offensive stuff which makes the picture utterly impossible for approval under the Production Code."

Problems with the script continued and Dracula’s Daughter (1936) was rushed production before the script was actually finished because of a clause in Universal’s contract with Selznick. Even though Universal ordered that the film be shot on a seven day per week schedule the film still ran seven days over in schedule and $50,000 over budget bringring in the final cost of the production to $ 278,380.

Gloria Holden who played Countess Marya Zaleska aka Dracula's daughter was less than enthusiastic about being assigned to the role. Dracula’s Daughter(1936) was her first starring role however Holden, like many actors during that period, held horror films in low esteem. She also feared that the role was typecast her as a horror actress. However her loathing of the role may have actually helped her performance. As critic Mark Clark once pointed out "Her disdain for the part translates into a kind of self-loathing that perfectly suits her troubled character."

Dracula's Daughter (1936) is noted as the first vampire film to hint at lesbianism.  In one scene the Countess Marya Zaleska preys upon an unsuspecting young girl Lili, played by Nan Grey, whom she has hired as a model for one of her paintings. Interestingly enough this scene made it past the censors however the PCA insisted that the scenes of the Countess seducing a man be cut from the film.

Dracula’s Daughter was finally released on May 11, 1936 to mixed reviews. The film never achieved the critical acclaim or the financial success of the original. However it is recognized by many film historians as the finest sequel of any of the Universal horror films.


Return of the Vampire (1944)
This smart stylish film centers around a vampire, Armand Tesla (Dracula in every way but the name) who is brought back from the dead after his tomb is bombed during the London Blitz.  With the help of a talking werewolf Andreas (Matt Willis), Tesla assumes the name of a scientist who has recently escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and seeks revenge upon the family who had destroyed him 23 years earlier in 1918.

The film was directed by Lew Landers, who directed more than 100 films in a variety of genres, including westerns, comedy and horror films most notably The Raven (1935). The film starred Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Nina Foch, Miles Mander, Roland Varno and Matt Willis. Griffin Jay and Randall Faye who wrote the screenplay presented it to Universal who turned it down claiming that their Dracula series needed no outside assistance. Jay, who is known for writing the Universal Mummy series of films The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Mummy's Tomb (1942) and The Mummy's Ghost (1944), presented the script to Columbia.

Columbia bought the script and had originally planned for The Return of the Vampire (1944) to be a sequel to Universal’s Dracula (1931).  When Universal threatened to sue Columbia, the studio changed the names of the characters to avoid any connection with "Dracula". 

Undoubtedly Lugosi was upset when he learned that Universal planned to cast Lon Chaney in the lead role for Son of Dracula (1943). Lon Chaney was Universal’s new horror king and at that time the studio was  anxious to cast him in as many horror vehicles as they could, whether  or not he was suited for the role. Many film historians believe that Universal’s casting decision prompted Columbia to offer the lead for Return of the Vampire (1944) to Lugosi, a role he gladly accepted.

Return of the Vampire (1944) would be the last film that Lugosi would receive top billing from a major Hollywood studio.  This film was the first time since Dracula (1931) that the Lugosi appeared as a real vampire. While making the film Lugosi was also appearing on stage in the play Arsenic and Old Lace. He worked on the film during the day and then would appear on stage at night. Despite the grueling schedule Lugosi is reported to have enjoyed the production immensely.  

  Columbia also held back the release of the film for two months so it would not directly compete with Son of Dracula (1943). The film was finally released on January 1, 1944. It was well received and grossed close to half a million dollars on an investment of $75,000. Return of the Vampire (1944) is noted for being the first film to include a vampire and a werewolf as characters in the storyline. Although not as well-known as Son of Dracula (1943) there are many who consider Return of the Vampire (1944) far superior to Son of Dracula (1943).

Son of Dracula (1943)

Son of Dracula (1943), the third in Universal Studios' Dracula trilogy, beginning with Dracula (1931) and Dracula's Daughter (1936) was directed by Robert Siodmak. The screenplay was written by Eric Taylor, based on an original story by Siodmak’s brother Curt Siodmak who had written the screenplays for The Wolf Man (1941), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944) and The Beast with Five Fingers (1946).

The film stars Lon Chaney, Jr. in his only appearance as a vampire and Evelyn Ankers who also appeared with Chaney in The Wolf Man (1941) and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942).  

Son of Dracula (1943), is noted for being the first film to actually show a vampire  physically transforming into a bat on screen. The effect was achieved by special-effects wizard, John P. Fulton who also created the special-effects for The Invisible Man (1933). He would later win an Academy Award in 1957 for his work on The Ten Commandments (1956), mainly for his work on the parting of the Red Sea.

Despite its dazzling special effects the film is noted for a number of flaws, primarily the casting of Lon Chaney Jr. in the role of Count Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards). While Chaney had proven to be a capable actor in a number of horror films for Universal, he was simply not the right actor to portray a suave and sophisticated count. The entire film suffers from Chaney’s inability to play the role of Count Alucard. Another legendary flaw, noted by fans and film historians alike, is the fact that Chaney’s character’s reflection can plainly be seen in the mirror in one of the scenes. A clear indication of carelessness or lack of knowledge about vampire lore on the part of the director.

Son of Dracula (1943) could have been a much better film instead at best it is a lackluster addition to the Dracula story and is considered one of Universal’s lesser horror films. Much of the blame has been placed in screenwriter’s Eric Taylor’s attempt to modernize the Gothic vampire placing the story on a modern day New Orleans plantation. Although the character Dracula would appear in other Universal horror films, Son of Dracula (1943), would be his last solo appearance during the Universal classic horror years.


House of Dracula (1945)

Originally Universal Studios had planned to make a film entitled The Wolf Man versus Dracula which would have  been a direct sequel to Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1943). In this film the Wolf man would battle with Dracula . At the climax the villagers would raid the house, and the Wolf man would kill a large number of them. The Hays office rejected the script for being too violent so a much tamer script was written by Edward T. Lowe Jr. which was titled House of Dracula (1945).  The film was directed by Erle C. Kenton, who had also directed Island of Lost Souls (1932), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and House of Frankenstein (1944).

 The cast of House of Dracula (1945) was comprised of veteran horror stars including:

 Lon Chaney Jr. making his fourth appearance as Lawrence Talbot / The Wolf Man.

John Carradine in his second appearance as Count Dracula. Carradine would go on to play Dracula on stage, once on television (in a 1956 episode of "Matinee Theatre"), and in three more features, Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1965), The Vampire Girls (1967), aka ("Las Vampiras"), and Nocturna (1978).

Lionel Atwill made his fifth and final appearance in a Frankenstein feature, he also appeared in Son of Frankenstein (1939), TheGhost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and House of Frankenstein (1944).

Jane “Poni” Adams as the sympathetic hunchbacked nurse, Nina. She also known for appearing in Lost City of the Jungle (1946), The Brute Man (1946) and  two early adaptations of comic book inspired  franchises: Batman and Robin (1949) and one episode of Adventures of Superman television series as Babette DuLoque  in 1953.

Glen Strange, a former rodeo cowboy made his second appearance as Frankenstein’s creature, he had previously played the creature in House of Frankenstein (1944). He is best known for his role as Sam the bartender on the classic CBS western Gunsmoke (1955) series from 1962 until 1973.

Strange underwent an ordeal while filming the scene were Frankenstein’s Monster is discovered trapped in quicksand. After three hours of makeup each morning, Strange would spend the rest of the day buried in cold liquid mud (which was meant to be quicksand).

"Then everybody else went out for lunch," Strange recalled. "By the time they came back, I was so cold, I could barely feel my legs."

Lon Chaney Jr., suggested to Strange that he could use alcohol to keep himself warm. Throughout the day of filming, Chaney would pass a bottle of whiskey to Strange in between takes. Strange later recalled, that he was so drunk by the end of the day that he could barely dress himself after removing his monster makeup and costume.

House of Dracula (1945) actually featured four different actors in the role of Frankenstein’s Monster. In addition to Glenn Strange, Boris Karloff plays the Monster in footage taken from The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the climatic scenes of Frankenstein’s creature trapped by the fire was taken from the ending of The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), where Chaney played the creature. Therefore, when Chaney (as Talbot) shouts to the villagers to "Get out! The Frankenstein Monster!” he in reality running away from himself and Eddie Parker, who was Chaney’s stunt double in the earlier film.

One of the few highlights of this film was the ingenious makeup created by Jack B. Pierce. And this would mark Pierce’s last time to work with the monsters that he created. Pierce had created the makeup for Frankenstein’s creature, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Dracula and a host of other Universal monsters. But as new more efficient makeup techniques became available Pierce refused to change his methods and after more than two decades he found that his services were no longer needed by Universal Studios.

House of Dracula (1945) was released on December 7, 1945. It was the sad swan song for three of Universal’s classic monsters, Frankenstein’s creature, Dracula and the Wolf Man. It was the last film to feature all three of Universals classic monsters during Universal’s Golden Age of Horror with the exception of the Abbott and Costello comedy, Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948). By the time of the film’s production Universal was merely turning out horror films for a quick easy buck and as a result House of Dracula (1945) suffers in production value and story line. The monsters that had made Universal so much money in the previous decade deserved much better, and so did their fans.



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