“I like to think of myself as the poor man's Quentin Tarantino,” laughs “Dracula” writer-producer Cole Haddon as he considers the many pulpy, horror-tinged pop cultural reference points that have influenced his vision for a new incarnation of the most iconic vampire of them all.
In the form of leading man Jonathan Rhys-Myers, NBC’s version of Dracula certainly has a sexier, more seductive count than the original screen version, Bela Lugosi, but that’s where similarities to “Twilight,” “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries” and other post-modern bloodsuckers end.
That’s because the tastes of Haddon, a comic book writer (“The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde”) and rising film screenwriter, skew far closer to the Victorian origins of author Bram Stoker’s original iteration, as well as the British B-movie Hammer horror films of the 60s and 70s, classic horror comics and countless other so-retro-they’re-fresh-all-over-again sources.
“I'm not sure if it was a specific effort to borrow from this take or that adaptation, as much as just a general love of the character and what pop culture had done with him until about the 70s,” says Haddon, who with the exception of Francis Ford Coppola’s 90s film version, has found the Dracula character quite abused by Hollywood over the past three decades.
“I saw the 1931 film when I was very young, probably about eight or nine – about at the same time I saw 'King Kong,' and both of them had a pretty big impact on me. This was still the days when there were horror hosts and you were watching things on really crappy black and white televisions at two in the afternoon, trying to find those fun horror films.
“By the time junior high rolled around, I was already reading the Vlad the Impaler books, exploring who the real Dracula was,” he adds. “And I discovered Christopher Lee's version, which probably more so than any other iteration of the character that had an impact on me. It remains my favorite Dracula adaptation – besides mine, of course!”
The Hammer films with Lee and Peter Cushing, he says, remain the most fun interpretation; his pick for the scariest is one of the oldest, German expressionist director F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror” from 1922, “just relentlessly bleak and scary, which is not something that a lot of Dracula films do – they always have that sort of romanticism built into them, but 'Nosferatu,' is one of the best example of a non-romantic vampire film.”
Underneath a storyline that pits an incognito Dracula against a secret society of religious fundamentalists in a battle over scientific advancement (there’s plenty of allegorical subtext to sink fangs into beyond the enduring sex-and-blood imagery – though there’s that, too), Haddon’s littered his series – which kicks off a ten-episode run on Oct. 25 – with subtle nods to Dracula’s on-screen history, such as naming the lead villain after Tod Browning, director of the original Lugosi film as well as the horror classic “Freaks,” and Dracula’s cover persona as American Alexander Grayson is a tip of the hat to Allan Grey, the protagonist of the 1932 film “Vampyr,” and the debut episode’s opening scene reference Italian B-horror cult classic “Black Sunday.”
“I'm not sure how many other people will ever piece it all together, but it's the only way I really know how to do anything,” says Haddon. “There might be something wrong with me – the same thing that seems to be wrong with Tim Burton and a few other filmmakers and storytellers, in that I find bright-red blood really entertaining. I think it was the imprint of Hammer films early on. And so these slightly off-center, non-Hollywood horror films – originally monster horror films – appealed to me. They were just fun. They had all of the genre I liked, but they were also over the top, absurdly gory, but not in a disgusting way – at least not that I found disgusting.”
Another major influence was the powerful spell comic books cast on Haddon in his youth. “Comic books taught me more about editing and the sort of soap opera aspect – it was all very melodramatic. The comic books I read were really about doing things with imagery, and so I tried to carry some of that over as well."
Added into the blender alongside the once-considered-lowbrow source material are some decidedly loftier notions rooted in actual history and authentic science. “I've always been a science nut – my bedtime reading, rather than being something relaxing, is quantum physics and crazy stuff like that,” says Haddon. “This series is littered with references to Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Charles Darwin to historical murders like Jack the Ripper and, of course, the backstory of [the real-life basis for] Dracula himself, Vlad Tepes, and his relationship to the Ottoman empire and whatnot.”