Master of Horror Dan Curtis on making Dracula scary again

The expert tells all in a vampiric exposé!

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Vampires are the perfect allegory. That's why they're used in so many stories. They can represent so many different things. Vampires have been stand-ins for xenophobia. They can represent immigrants, bringing "old world" magic to unwanted shores. Vampires have not-so-subtly been used as an allegory for the spread of disease. They can be parables about trust, a stranger that needs to be invited in. 

By 1973, these bloodsuckers had been explored through almost every lens imaginable. Vampires were on TV, in the movies, and of course, in film. Right there at the dawn of scary movies, we have these creatures of the night. Famously, there's Nosferatu in 1922, our first (albeit unauthorized and completely illegal) adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, a novel that would later be adapted again by Universal Studios in 1935. But even before Nosferatu, vampires were right there in the title of the 1915 French movie Les Vampires. Almost as soon as humans are able to make movies, we're making vampire movies.

So by the time Dan Curtis is making his own Dracula in '73, the vampire genre has been thoroughly done before. There is no shortage of vampire movies by this point. The 1935 Bela Lugosi Dracula led to an entire cycle of Universal Studios sequels and crossovers. Hammer Films over in England had their own Dracula series, with eight entries by '73. Batman fought Dracula. Billy the Kid fought Dracula. Even Abbott and Costello appeared beside our caped subject. So what could Curtis add, really?

Within his own filmography, vampires weren't new territory. Curtis himself created the seminal series Dark Shadows, perhaps doing more than any other artist to humanize vampires up to that point. It was ABC's highest-rated daytime series in 1969, amassing a huge audience. It's since grown in popularity with a sizable cult following. 

Curtis built on his success with The Night Stalker, the made-for-TV movie that presented Darren McGavin's Kolchak to the world for the first time. That film saw a vampire on the Vegas Strip and was also a gigantic ratings hit. 

So why would Curtis return to tell another vampire story? What hadn't he touched on in Dark Shadows or its two follow-ups? Hadn't he exhausted the topic with The Night Stalker? It turns out he had not, and his 1973 movie Dracula proved why.

For starters, although he'd made plenty of vampire stories, Curtis hadn't yet explored the most famous iteration of the story. A Dracula adaptation allowed Curtis to finally play in the sandbox of Bram Stoker's iconic character. He had more opportunity for subversion than ever before; this was the vampire story viewers were most familiar with.

In the May 28, 1973 edition, the Greenville, South Carolina Greenville News printed an Associated Press interview in which Curtis explains his philosophy about how he can finally make another effective Dracula adaptation.

"You have to have a believable story. You have to take out every element that's not totally believable. You're under greater scrutiny because it is horror.

"Some producers don't care about the story. It's just an excuse to get a couple quarts of blood on the screen. That's not what scares. It's a mood, a feeling, a whole ambience."

Sympathy was another cornerstone of his creed.

"It has to have more elements than those that frighten. You must have certain human dimensions that make you care, or in my opinion, it fails."

 

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25 Comments

Paul 24 days ago
This version of Dracula was my favorite. I remember watching it on tv and thinking when I went to bed after, it was going to be a long night.
italianrose74 25 days ago
I can’t past the creepy 🕷️ props. Great props but so creepy!
Heartquest 26 days ago
Was this film created before the Dark Shadows episodic series and films?
George58 Heartquest 25 days ago
No. Dark Shadows ran from 1966 to 1971. "House Of Dark Shadows" movie was 1970. "Night Of Dark Shadows" movie was 1971.
Heartquest 26 days ago
Mike Mazurski films posted below.
Heartquest 26 days ago
Here is a image with Haiku poem I created for Rick Coz
Heartquest Heartquest 26 days ago
Sorry…,
I meant Rich💰Koz
Heartquest 26 days ago
Jack Palance was one of only two Ukrainian actors during that time.

The other played boxer characters quite a bit as well. Mike Mazurski was his name.
Grunt 26 days ago
Thanks to Dish & MeTv contract disagreement or whatever the cause I am no longer able to get Svengoolie or a lot of the other great shows on MeTv.
George58 26 days ago
Since we are talking about Dan Curtis. I'm hoping that "House Of Dark Shadows" 1970 & "Night Of Dark Shadows" 1971 will be shown on Svengoolie at some point in the schedule.
Wiseguy70005 George58 26 days ago
You want those movies made fun of?
Pastorbey Wiseguy70005 20 days ago
They NEED the Svengoolie treatment.
Cycledog 26 days ago
My favorite vampire movie is Bram Stokers with Wynona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins. Scary!!!
tootsieg 26 days ago
Never saw this one so I will watch tonight. The 1931 Dracula always scares me but I still watch it. Those armadillos!!!
mzcaligula 26 days ago
In my opinion this is one of the best Dracula films. Creeped the bejeezuz out of me the first time I saw it!
pony 26 days ago
Looking forward to seeing this for the first time tonight on “Svengoolie.” Also eager to see how Nostalgiafetatoo plays off this movie!
Tresix 27 days ago
Lugosi’s “Dracula” was released in 1931, not ‘35.
musicman37 Tresix 26 days ago
Thank you. I was wondering who'd catch that. Just one more example of MeTV's sloppy research.
Runeshaper 28 days ago
Sounds like Curtis really knew his vampires!

P.S. Nosferatu is AWESOME!
Tresix Runeshaper 27 days ago
There’s going to be a third version coming soon.
musicman37 Runeshaper 26 days ago
Of course he knew his vampires. Beside "Dark Shadows", he gave us the original "The Night Stalker", the highest-rated MOTW at the time.
Wiseguy70005 musicman37 26 days ago
As mentioned in the article.
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