Horror Legend Christopher Lee Reads Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Did Bram Stoker’s world-famous Drac­u­la character—perhaps the most cul­tur­al­ly unkil­l­able of all hor­ror mon­sters—derive from Irish folk­lore? Search the Gael­ic “Droch-Fhoula” (pro­nounced droc’ola) and, in addi­tion to the req­ui­site met­al bands, you’ll find ref­er­ences to the “Cas­tle of the Blood Vis­age,” to a blood-drink­ing chief­tain named Abhar­tach, and to oth­er pos­si­ble native sources of Irish writer Bram Stok­er’s 1897 nov­el. These Celtic leg­ends, the BBC writes, “may have shaped the sto­ry as much as Euro­pean myths and Goth­ic lit­er­a­ture.”

Despite all this intrigu­ing spec­u­la­tion about Dracula’s Irish ori­gins, the actors play­ing him have come from a vari­ety of places. One recent incar­na­tion, TV series Drac­u­la, did cast an Irish actor, Jonathan Rhys Mey­ers, in the role.

Hun­gar­i­an Bela Lugosi comes clos­est to the fic­tion­al character’s nation­al­i­ty, as well as that of anoth­er, per­haps dubi­ous source, Roman­ian war­lord Vlad the Impaler. Pro­tean Brit Gary Old­man played up the char­ac­ter as Slav­ic aris­to­crat in Fran­cis Ford Coppola’s some­what more faith­ful take. But one too-oft-over­looked por­tray­al by anoth­er Eng­lish actor, Christo­pher Lee, deserves much more atten­tion than it receives.

In ten low-bud­get films made by British exploita­tion stu­dio Ham­mer, Lee por­trayed the mon­strous-yet-seduc­tive blood-suck­ing noble­man as a very prop­er Eng­lish­man with “a cer­tain las­civ­i­ous sex appeal”—begin­ning with 1958’s Hor­ror of Drac­u­la (see a trail­er above) and end­ing with 1973’s The Satan­ic Rites of Drac­u­la. I find Lee’s Drac­u­la so mem­o­rable that I was delight­ed to hear the audio above of him read­ing an adap­ta­tion of the nov­el, in ten parts. The video begins with titles and an estab­lish­ing shot from the Ham­mer films, then segues to images from a 1966 Drac­u­la graph­ic nov­el, the source of the “pret­ty faith­ful” adap­ta­tion by Otto Binder and Craig Ten­nis, for which Lee wrote an intro­duc­tion.

The audio here was also record­ed in 1966 by the book’s edi­tor Russ Jones. Comics blog­ger Steven Thomp­son remarks that “since Drac­u­la is made up of a series of let­ters, jour­nal and diary entries, the writ­ers here log­i­cal­ly take a more straight­for­ward route of telling the tale while main­tain­ing the episod­ic feel quite well.” Rather than the voice of Count Drac­u­la, Lee reads as the nov­el­’s epis­to­lary nar­ra­tor Jonathan Hark­er, and the Drac­u­la in the art­work, drawn by artist Al McWilliams, “bears more than a pass­ing resem­blance here to actor John Car­ra­dine,” a notable Amer­i­can actor who played the char­ac­ter in Uni­ver­sal’s House of Franken­stein and House of Drac­u­la. Nonethe­less, Lee’s voice is enough to con­jure his many excep­tion­al per­for­mances as the pro­to­typ­i­cal vam­pire, a char­ac­ter and con­cept that will like­ly nev­er die.

Schol­ar and writer Bob Cur­ran, a pro­po­nent of the Irish ori­gins of Drac­u­la, argues in his book Vam­pires that leg­ends of undead, blood-drink­ing ghouls are found all over the world, which goes a long way toward explain­ing the endur­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of Drac­u­la in par­tic­u­lar and vam­pires in gen­er­al. We’ll prob­a­bly see anoth­er actor inher­it the role of Stok­er’s seduc­tive­ly creepy count in the near future. Who­ev­er it is will have to mea­sure him­self against not only the per­for­mances of Lugosi, Car­ra­dine, Old­man, and Mey­ers, but also against the debonair Christo­pher Lee. He would do well, wher­ev­er he comes from, to study Lee’s Drac­u­la films close­ly, and lis­ten to him read the sto­ry in the adap­ta­tion above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Christo­pher Lee (R.I.P.) Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and From “The Fall of the House of Ush­er”

Christo­pher Lee Nar­rates a Beau­ti­ful Ani­ma­tion of Tim Burton’s Poem, Night­mare Before Christ­mas

Watch Nos­fer­atu, the Sem­i­nal Vam­pire Film, Free Online (1922)

Hear Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” Read by the Great Bela Lugosi (1946)

800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices.

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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