FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS: BELA LUGOSI vs. CHRISTOPHER LEE
WHO IS THE ULTIMATE MOVIE DRACULA?
With MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES
PART 3 (CONCLUSION)
(The Scene: Back at the Cinema Knife Fight studio. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are seated across from each other on stools. Behind them are movie stills featuring Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as DRACULA, as well as photos of Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.)
MA: Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights. Tonight, L.L. and I will conclude our discussion of Bela Lugosi vs. Christopher Lee and decide which one is the ultimate movie Dracula. Lugosi came out on top after our Round 1 discussion two weeks ago, and Lee won the second round last week, so tonight’s third and final round will decide the victor.
Time for the final question. It’s actually several questions.
LS: Make up your mind.
MA: I can’t. Anyway, here we go. Which one is more iconic? In other words, when people think of Dracula today, who do they picture: Lugosi or Lee? And who do you think modern audiences prefer?
LS: I really don’t know who people today picture when they think of Dracula. It may even be neither Lugosi or Lee, since there have been other versions since then, like Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the material: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992).
MA: Come on! You can’t seriously believe that anyone today would actually picture Gary Oldman as Dracula! The guy looked like John Lennon!
LS: Who knows what people think? What am I, a psychic? I only know what I think!
MA: I don’t think Lugosi and Lee have much competition, unless you include Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.
LS: So that’s why those photos are up. I just figured you had the mind of a child. Who knew you were going to make a point.
MA: Well, certainly not you, since you don’t know what other people are thinking!
LS: And you do, I suppose?
MA: I have a pretty good idea what you’re thinking right now, and I can’t say it out loud.
Anyway, people certainly aren’t going to picture Frank Langella, who played the role in the weak 1979 film version. Who else as Dracula could they possibly imagine?
LS: Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen in the TWILIGHT movies? He’s not Dracula, but he’s certainly just as popular a vampire these days. (groans). And if he ever played Dracula, then I’m sure, for a whole generation, he’d be the definitive one. Imagine that, and be truly horrified.
But for me, Lugosi will always be my first choice. He may not have had a lot of roles that were as good as the original DRACULA (1931), but that is his shining moment, and the movie, as atmospheric and almost surreal as it is, will always be the real deal to me.
MA: I would have to agree with you and say that Lugosi is more iconic, at least here in the United States, and that when people today think of Dracula, they most likely think of Lugosi.
LS: And how do you know this? Did you take a survey?
MA: I’m speaking in terms of Lugosi and Lee here. If you ask someone to impersonate Dracula, chances are they’re going to do the Lugosi voice. They’re not going to speak in a British accent like Christopher Lee. That’s what I mean when I say that when people today think of Dracula, they most likely think of Lugosi.
It’s largely due in part to the influence of Universal Pictures. They constantly re-package their old black and white monster movies, along with their merchandise, so that the images of the Universal monsters never seem to be out of the modern-day collective consciousness. I think when people think of Dracula, they think of Lugosi, complete with his trademark accent. I don’t think people today picture Christopher Lee, even though he starred in those seven Hammer DRACULA movies.
But even without Universal’s marketing department, I think people would still picture Lugosi as Dracula, which shows the power of Lugosi’s legacy. Even after all these years, he remains in most people’s minds the definitive Dracula.
LS: I bet you there’s a whole generation who has no idea what we’re talking about, and they haven’t heard of Lugosi or Lee.
MA: That’s why you and I write about these guys, so this doesn’t happen, so people don’t forget. That’s why we need readers, readers, and more readers, so out there in horror movie land, if you like reading Cinema Knife Fight and this spin-off, Friday Night Knife Fights, tell your friends! Okay, enough with the self-promotion. Where was I?
Oh yeah. I don’t know who modern audiences prefer. At one time, I would have easily picked Lee as the fan favorite, but today I’m not so sure.
LS: Now you say you don’t know who modern audiences prefer? Make up your mind!!
MA: What? Before, I said people think of Lugosi when they think of Dracula. Now, I’ve moved on to the next question, which is, which actor do we think modern audiences prefer? Having trouble keeping up or something?
LS: I’m having trouble keeping up with the number of times you change your mind!
I have a story to share on this subject. Several years ago, when I was teaching a movie class to eighth graders, at Halloween time I showed my classes both DRACULA and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). In the follow-up essays, I expected students to overwhelmingly pick HORROR OF DRACULA as their favorite film, but I was surprised that this wasn’t the case. The majority of students went with the Lugosi version, citing Lugosi’s performance as the major reason why they liked it better. And I think it was because Lugosi played Dracula the way the students expected Dracula to be played.
LS (snoring): Zzzzzzzzz
MA: Wake up! We’re having a debate here.
LS: Huh? Your “stories” always bore the hell out of me.
MA: I’m sorry. I forgot you have the attention span of a gnat.
All right, we’ve reached the moment of truth. Time for us to decide: which one is the ultimate movie Dracula: Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?
LS: I hesitantly choose Lugosi. Not because I don’t feel he’s the ultimate movie Dracula—because I do— but because Lee is no slouch either. I really like Lee’s take on the character and in many ways it’s just as satisfying as Lugosi’s. But for me, Lugosi is the more iconic figure: the first (at least after the silent age) and the best.
MA: I feel your pain. I went back and forth so many times with this, it almost made me dizzy.
So, who’s my pick for the ultimate movie Dracula, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee? This is such a difficult choice for me to make, and I’ve gone right down to the wire with my final decision.
LS: Just spit it out already!
MA: Okay, okay.
Without further hesitation, here it is:
As much as I like Christopher Lee as Dracula—and even though I think he is far scarier as Dracula—when it comes to the complete package, I can’t deny that Bela Lugosi is the ultimate movie Dracula. For the most part, this opinion is based on the strength of Lugosi’s initial performance in DRACULA. From the way he speaks, to his mannerisms, to his commanding presence, Lugosi is Dracula.
LS: Hell, Lugosi was even buried wearing one of the capes he wore in DRACULA. That’s dedication to a role.
MA: I love Lee as Dracula, but there’s no comparison to moments where Lugosi utters such lines as, “Listen to them, the children of the night, what music they make.” “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious.” “There are far worse things, Miss Mina, awaiting man, than death.”
Bela Lugosi is the ultimate movie Dracula.
LS: (laughs) Yeah, I’m sure everyone was sitting on the edges of their seats.
MA: That was quite the bout. I need a drink of water.
LS: I need a drink of blood!
MA: Well, don’t look at me.
LS (groans): I’ll settle for a beer.
MA: That sounds better. Anyway, it’s been fun.
LS: Yes it has.
MA (addresses audience) : Thanks for joining us tonight. We had a good time, and we hope you did too.
LS: And don’t forget to join us every weekday for new content about your favorite movies, new and old, right here at CinemaKnifeFight.com!
MA: This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. Good night everybody!
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares