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In the red annals of horror literature, perhaps no other property has been pillaged more than Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, the undisputed grandfather of vampire fiction. With the rights long lapsed into the grey area of quasi-public domain, it seems everyone and their brother has taking a sharp wooden stab at exploiting the exploits of the regal fanged one; certainly, Dracula remains pop culture’s most recognized bogeyman.
Most recently, Stoker’s great-great-great (I think that’s it) nephew Dacre Stoker took a bite out of his ancestor’s legacy, teaming up with noted Long Island Dracula documentarian Ian Holt (pictured above, and below at right with Dacre Stoker) to pen DRACULA THE UN-DEAD, a dark-fiction novel that functions as a somewhat authorized, direct sequel to the original tale and a deepening of the mythology. Fango spoke with Holt recently to get the sanguinary skinny….
FANGORIA: Historically, Romanians have been none too pleased about seeing one of their national heroes, Prince Vlad the Impaler, portrayed as a satanic parasite. Has that animosity ebbed in recent years?
IAN HOLT: You’re right in that the historical Prince Dracula, despite his many crimes, is a national hero in Romania, considered their George Washington, the father of their country. Prince Dracula had an army of only 40,000 under his command and was at war with the Ottoman Empire—the greatest invasion force ever amassed at that time, 300,000 men. The Romanians to this day believe Dracula’s crimes can be excused by the fact that he did what he had to do to save Romania—known at that time as Wallachia. And since Wallachia was the gateway to Christian Europe and the Ottoman Turks were Muslim, Dracula was defending all of Christendom. In fact, Prince Dracula was later rewarded for his efforts and named by the Pope himself as Captain of the Christian Crusades.
When Bram wrote his book in 1897, very little was known in the West about the historical Dracula other than his name, which was wrongly translated as “Son of the Devil” when the actual translation was “Son of the Dragon,” and his infamous nickname, Vlad the Impaler. So Bram made up the backstory of his “Count” Dracula and made him an unredeemable villain. The Romanians have never forgiven him for it. Dacre Stoker and I firmly believe that if Bram was writing today, he couldn’t have made up a character like Count Dracula. He would’ve had to, as we have had to, keep closer to the true history, as well as address and include the personality archetype attributed by historians to the historical Prince Dracula—making him more an existential antihero than an outright villain.
We’ve been pleasantly surprised, pleased and grateful for the overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response to the novel in Romania. We believe DRACULA THE UN-DEAD has gone a long way to heal the old wounds between Bram, the Stoker family and Romanians.
FANG: As a longtime Dracula obsessive, how did you finally meet Dacre?
HOLT: I was first introduced to members of the Stoker family in 1995 by the world’s leading authority on all things Bram and Dracula, Dr. Elizabeth Miller. However, after losing the copyright to the public domain in the mid-20s and having to stand by helpless to prevent the many liberties taken with Bram’s story by Hollywood and others over the past near-century, the Stokers wanted nothing to do with a sequel. They feared they would be abused again, and it would just reopen old wounds.
Later, through a mutual friend, I met Dacre, who was of the younger generation and more open to the idea. What ultimately sold the family and brought them on board was when we explained that Dacre and I would not only honor Bram’s original characters and themes, but by doing a sequel with a Stoker as co-author, the family could re-establish lineage and create a new copyright to replace the one that was lost, thereby giving them back control over Bram’s legacy.
FANG: Vampires are back in vogue in pop culture, but with DRACULA THE UN-DEAD, did you purposely try to create an “anti-TWILIGHT”?
HOLT: No. Many people believe that, but that’s not what happened at all. Every generation seems to rediscover the vampire in his or her own image. In the early 1900s, we were in the midst of the great migration from Eastern Europe into the West. People in England and the U.S. were afraid and untrusting of the new immigrant languages and faces in their neighborhoods. Bela Lugosi was part of that migration and used that fear to great effect in his legendary characterization of Count Dracula.
Later, in the 1970s, in the pre-AIDS epidemic era, we had the time of Studio 54, sexual revolution, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, the anything-goes period. Out of that came Frank Langella’s erotic and highly sexualized characterization of Dracula. In the ’80s, we had the youth generation, MTV, heavy-metal hair bands, Generation X and the rise of the gang problem in our inner cities. Out of that came THE LOST BOYS and the cool-looking, hair-band, teen-gang vampires, fashionably dressed in jeans and leather. In the ’90s, we had the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our enemies were suddenly our friends. That gave us Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, where suddenly Dracula was just jaded and misunderstood and could even be redeemed in the end, as portrayed by Gary Oldman. Even the vampire villain Spike [James Marsters] in the TV series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER became a good guy and had a love affair with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s heroine.
Presently, we have the positive, we-can-change-the-world, “yes we can” youthful generation that elected President Obama. On the other side of the political coin, you have the positive, youthful “Promise Keepers” contingent of the religious-right conservatives and the Tea Party who also think they can change the world. Out of that came Stephanie Meyer, who changed the image of vampires to positive, good-guy, for the most part nonviolent, sparkling “vegan” vamps. Dacre and I respect Meyer’s vision, and are grateful to her for the many new legions of young fans she has brought to vampire literature and films. We invite her and her legions of followers to also check out the other side of vampire films and literature with the more traditional types. You never know, give it a try, you might like our vampires too.
As for DRACULA THE UN-DEAD, Dacre’s and my vampires are loyal to Bram’s original vision and the more sexually charged, violent, existential creatures of our generation that we happen to like best. That’s not a knock or an attack on Stephanie Meyer or her many fans. It’s just a personal preference reflected in our choice as writers. But really, we are all just following in Bram’s footsteps.
FANG: Can you remember when you first read or encountered the original novel?
HOLT: I sure can! From the time I was 5 years old I loved all the Universal monsters, but the one I always wanted be was Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. I think it was because he was the most relatable to me. He looked more human than the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolf Man or Frankenstein’s Monster.
Every Halloween, I was Dracula. When I was 10 years old, I was invited to a classmate’s Halloween party, and my mom took me to get a new Dracula costume. While we were out shopping, we passed the neighborhood record store. In the window was a record with Christopher Lee telling the story of Dracula, and on the B-side were themes to all the the Hammer horror films. I just had to have that record!
Later at home, when I was playing the record, I read the backside of the record jacket and the course of my life was irrevocably changed for all time. It had the story of the historical Prince Dracula, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler. Oh my God! Dracula really lived. He was a real person. Transylvania was a real place and there’s a real Dracula’s Castle. I remember running into the kitchen, screaming to my mom that one day I was going to go to Transylvania and go to Dracula’s Castle, meet Count Dracula and ask him to make me a vampire!
I had tried to read Bram’s novel a few times, but never got very far. The writing was in a style and a language I wasn’t used to and the period setting was very foreign to me. And let’s face it, the story was a little dense and adult for a 10-year-old. But, inspired by what I learned on the record sleeve, and thinking that if I was going to meet Dracula one day I’d better know everything about him, I finally finished the book. I was surprised that it was more complex, exciting and scarier than any of the Dracula movies I had seen. I couldn’t believe that no movie had ever filmed the scene where Lucy’s mother dies of fright after seeing the wolf in her bedroom. That was the scariest part of the book to me. Since then, I have read Bram’s novel many, many times, and each time, as I grow older, I understand more and discover more between the lines. Every time I read it, I love it even better.
Anyway, flash forward 15 years and I’m in Transylvania, spending the night in the ruins of Dracula’s Castle in Poenari. Flash forward 10 more years and here I am having written an international best seller, the official sequel to Bram Stoker’s novel, with Bram’s great-grand-nephew. On second thought, maybe I’m not that crazy after all.
FANG: Will there be more?
HOLT: When the time is right and we have a story worth telling, Dacre and I will make sure that, as he always does, Dracula will rise again.
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