This Sunday night Masterpiece Theatre becomes Monsterpiece Theatre to present a new BBC version of Dracula starring Marc Warren, David Suchet, Sophia Myles, and Stephanie Leonidas. This latest re-imagining is a skimpy 90 minutes long and jettisons Renfield, plus the reviews, while mostly favorable, indicate that the concerns of Stewart Harcourt’s screenplay are as much venereal as arterial. Still, I will be tuning in, in part because of memories of what a big deal the 1973 made-for-television Dan Curtis/Richard Matheson/Jack Palance version was when I was in junior high school, and in part because this blog’s reason for being might have plunked himself down in front of the TV, if we can extrapolate from The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf, which notes the following in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith on October 5, 1923:
I’ve had two cousins visiting me, whom I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. They’d read the International Adventure Library and from what they said, ‘Dracula’ is a humdinger.’ I’m going to order the set right away.
Disappointingly, Harcourt’s apparent emphasis on vampirism as a supernatural STD means that the Count, of whom Jonathan Harker says that “In his speaking of things and people, and especially of battles, he spoke as if he had been present at them all,” will probably be denied his most magnificent, and quite Howardian, monologue:
Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, aye, and of Asia and Africa, too, till the peoples thought that the were-wolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?” He held up his arms. “Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race, that we were proud, that when the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar, or the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers, we drove them back? Is it strange that when Arpad and his legions swept through the Hungarian fatherlands he found us here when he reached the frontier, that the Honfoglalas was completed there? And when the Hungarian flood swept eastward, the Szekelys were claimed as kindred by the victorious Magyars, and to us for centuries was trusted the guarding of the frontier of Turkeyland. Aye, and more than that, endless duty of the frontier guard, for as the Turks say, ‘water sleeps, and the enemy is sleepless.’ Who more gladly than we received the ‘bloody sword,’ or at its warlike call flocked quicker to the standard of the King? When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova, when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent? Who was it but one of my own race who as Voivoda crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground?
Variety is the spice of Undead-life; filmmakers really need to give the overworked Vlad Tepes a rest in his coffin filled with Transylvanian soil and look to the mountains of Castile rather than the Carpathians. John Carpenter’s Vampires and Tarantino & Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn were both set near Howard Country, but there’s room for a two-hour version of “The Horror from the Mound” by a hot-to-trot young horror auteur. I say two hours because any such project would cry out for a long central flashback to Hernando de Estrada and his pikemen stumbling through “the deserts of the Southwest when all was strange and unknown.” Done right, with the Spaniards stewing in both their armor and their paranoia amid relentless insinuations that the New World is only slightly less baleful than Don Santiago de Valdez himself, such a conquistadorial comeuppance could be a more desiccated companion to Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and make Don Santiago, in his faded, rotting medieval Castilian grandee’s attire, an instant icon. A calling card for Howard as a Southwestern fantasist is way overdue, too.