Dracula, Dead and Loving It, and Bram Stoker's Dracula: The Parody of Dracula as Monster from Bumbling Bat
When is a monster movie not a monster movie? When the depths of characterization turn the traditional monster into an archetype worth parodying. The main distinction between 1931’s Dracula introduction and portrayal of Count Dracula as the wide eyed monster without a conscious and 1995’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It rendition of a bumbling old man who has to convince those around him that he is, indeed a monster, is the central, pivotal role of 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While the 1931 edition offers tremendous insight into the vampire as an archetypal stereotype, the 1992 edition takes that stereotype and adds character motivations and a complex story background. Count Dracula, by 1992, was a lonely cursed man on an eternal path to find his lost beloved. In that instant, Dracula was transformed from a terrifying monster to an empathetic, suffering character—essentially marking elements worth parodying. Moreover, a close look will be taken into examining the elements of both the 1931 and 1992 editions of Dracula to define the parodical and literary aspects employed by the 1995 comedy.
1995’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It pays direct homage to both the 1931 and 1992 editions with a few major distinctions. Essentially, the main differences between the 1992 version and the 1931 version center around the plot. Both were adapted from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, but the 1931 edition was adapted from the play format by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. This led to extreme variations from the novel itself due to the nature of the novel’s epistolary content—mainly written in the form of letters, correspondence, and diary entries. As the focus of the 1931 version was to horrify and scare an audience with a blood-sucking and hypnotizing vampire, the variation of the plot reduced the cast of characters by focusing on the few who Count Dracula could torment the entirety of the film. Renfield gained a central role—and his mad-man soliloquies can almost be seen as a parody of Dracula himself. Truly, his conviction to crazed wide-eyes and hysterical smile is almost enough to break the traditional fourth wall of movie illusion and is later exploited for comic effect in Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula took a more conservative turn, focusing almost exactly on events from the novel—which allowed, and can be considered an epic move for the monster movie franchise—for the characterization and humanization of Count Dracula from ravenous vampire to an empathetic cursed-by-God character. Dracula is first introduced as a warrior nearly 400 years before the literal plot of the movie (and book) begins during which he loses his wife and true love to her dramatic suicide after she believes him to have died during the battle. In an epic scene, Dracula curses God, strikes the cross brutally with a sword, and vows to live forever to find love again. In the end, it is this true love that saves his soul, as Mina’s love for the man overcomes her adversity towards the monster within him.
Both the 1931 and 1992 versions offered plenty of fodder for the comedic journey of Dracula: Dead and Loving It. The main literary elements chosen for the parody include the characters themselves, the stereotypes introduced for Dracula as a vampire, and even the background for making the movies as well. As to the characters, Dracula: Dead and Loving It takes cues from both inspirations, choosing Leslie Nielsen to wear the dramatic white up-do of the 1992 version (which he takes off to conduct business, and dance) and the extravagant costume of the 1931 version. At every turn, the 1995 comedy pokes fun at the monster as an archetype and as the man who became a cursed monster.
In a vivid “daymare,” Dracula finds himself walking among a garden of people having quaint picnics on the grass. He claims that he has been “cured” of his curse by having drunk deep of Lucy’s blood and even jokes that “I don’t drink…wine” (a joke taken from both the 1931 and 1992 versions) only to find himself joyfully gulping down wine and having a bite of chicken. Renfield appears in the dream, which foreshadows Renfield’s later use of sunlight, upon which Dracula realizes that he is smoking profusely. He tries to run for cover, but, as in dreams, he makes grand arm movements and hardly moves at all. He wakes at this moment and is grateful that it was only a “daymare.”
Another pivotal parody is during the opening sequence where Dracula greats Renfield (as in the 1931 version) while a bat swoops ominously overhead, only to point out that “children of the night…what a mess they make.” Cut to gooey bat droppings and his foot slipping in them causing him to plummet dramatically down the staircase. Renfield worries about his condition, to which Dracula replies that it takes much more to hurt him. Then the camera pans to Dracula’s shadow who is hunched over in pain as it follows them up the stairs.
Even more, Renfield is utilized as the ultimate parody of the 1931 version. He is methodically mad, raving, and as bumbling as his 1995 master. In the final scene of the movie, Renfield attempts to help little bat Dracula escape (it must be mentioned at this point that when Dracula turns into a bat, he does so with a tinny Leslie Nielsen head), but inadvertently kills him by enveloping him in sunlight. In a tinny bat voice, Dracula screams curses at Renfield as he lands in a pile of perfectly skeletally formed bat ash. Renfield scoops up the ash and draws in a smiley face, claiming that his master is nearly back to his old self.
In both the 1931 and 1992 versions, Dracula kills Renfield for his assumed betrayal, but in the 1995 comedy, Renfield finds himself freed of his master due to his untimely death, only to become Van Helsing’s loyal servant. This diversion allows for the parodical comedy to indulge on the characterization literary element, exposing Renfield as a witless servant who is willing to serve any master who will claim him. Van Helsing’s claim is, in fact, unintentional, and Renfield isn’t held by anything other than stupidity, but he jaunts along after his new master with the same gumption that he demonstrated for worshipping Dracula.
Also, in the beginning sequence where Renfield is hoping to catch a carriage to Count Dracula’s castle (as in the 1931 version), an ominous woman comes up to him to explain that Dracula might be a vampire and that vampires can change form and feed upon people “and drink their blo-oooooood” (the word blood being prolonged for nearly fifteen seconds as she comedically grips her throat to make a gargling noise on the final syllable. She then demands that he take a sacred cross for his perilous journey. At first, he refuses, to which she slaps his hand away with the exclamation, “dammit, take the cross—that’ll be fifteen kopecks.” She also gives Renfield a cross in the 1931 version, but her demeanor is anything but comedic.
Van Helsing, for his part, is not a very engaging doctor in the 1931 version. But, by 1992, he seems infused with knowledge and character, making a much more believable vampire hunter. By 1995, this characterization is turned on-end as Van Helsing is introduced giving an autopsy lecture. He begins by announcing that most of his students can’t handle it, to which they all chuckle haughtily. Then he begins his dissection and they faint or fall to the floor vomiting one by one. A final student steps forward (even after having seen his fellow students handle the entrails) but loses his composure when Van Helsing hands him the dead man’s brain. His student assistant comes in, notices the prone bodies surrounding Van Helsing, and congratulates him on achieving a perfect score.
Later, in a scene taken from the 1992 version, Van Helsing convinces John Harker (Mina’s fiancée of five years) to stab the dead body of Lucy in the heart to ensure she does not rise again as an undead. John balks at this, to which Van Helsing responds that they can cut off her head, stuff her mouth full of garlic, and remove her ears. John asks for the stake, and, after waiting for Van Helsing to get well back, plunges the stake into her heart. Immediately a geyser of blood erupts, to which Van Helsing replies that “she just ate!” John stabs her again, receives another geyser to the face and proclaims that she “is dead enough.”
In this instance, as in the previously mentioned character renditions, the 1995 comedy uses plot references and characterizations from both of the previous films. However, to add a parodical twist, the elements are horrified in a Monty Python-esque manner, utilizing extreme gouts of blood and gore to illuminate the hilarity behind the archetypal stereotype.
In fact, the 1995 comedy constantly mocks Dracula as a monster, utilizing Leslie Nielsen as the bumbling old man who tries for the entirety of the film to demonstrate his scary monster powers and evil capabilities. His hypnotic hand rivals that of the 1931 version, but his hypnotism victims become more confused by his demands than anything. In one scene, he attempts to hypnotize Renfield, only to have Renfield constantly falling asleep before he can be given his orders. In another, he attempts to hypnotize Mina to come out to the garden to him, only to have her and her attendant maid falling all over themselves as they attempt to follow his awkward and contradictory orders. Eventually, he has to go inside and bodily carry Mina from her home because she has fallen asleep.
The 1995 comedy even manages to mock the production of the 1931 version when, in a scene between Van Helsing and Dr. Seward during which Van Helsing asks for a book on vampires so that they can be sure of their findings. Dr. Seward has none that Van Helsing asks for, until finally Van Helsing remembers a book called Nosferatu that might prove invaluable. Nosferatu, of course, was an unauthorized 1922 version of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula and made things difficult for studios to obtain the rights for later use of his work. Stoker’s widow was even known for doing her best to remove any evidence that Nosferatu had ever found production. Because of this, both the 1931 and 1992 versions found conforming to the rights they were allowed to purchase a complex task. Also because of this, the 1995 Dracula: Dead and Loving It mocked the one book that Dr. Seward had at his disposal, Nosferatu, as being a lucky treat as it had “just arrived today!”
It is the depths of characterization utilized in the 1992 version Bram Stoker’s Dracula that turn the traditional monster of 1931’s Dracula into an archetype worth parodying. The main distinction between the 1931 version of Dracula as the wide eyed monster without a conscious and 1995’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It rendition of an awkward old man who has to convince those around him that he is actually a fearsome monster, is the central, pivotal role of 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula which introduces Count Dracula as a cursed man who has lost his only love and fallen from grace. While the 1931 edition offers tremendous insight into the vampire as an archetypal stereotype, the 1992 edition takes that stereotype and adds character motivations and a complex story background which was utilized as the main literary element worth parodying in the 1995 comedy.
Brooks, M. (Producer & Director). (1995). Dracula: Dead and Loving It [Motion Picture]. United States: Castle Rock Entertainment.
Coppola, F. F. (Producer & Director). (1992). Bram Stoker’s Dracula [Motion Picture]. United States: Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group.
Universal Pictures. (Producer), & Browning, T. (Director). (1931). Dracula [Motion Picture]. United States: Carl Laemmle Studios.