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In "Hollywood Gothic" David Skal tells the story of "Dracula" that came after the classic of gothic horror was published in 1897. It's a fascinating, fact-filled tale of colorful personalities, legal battles, Hollywood politics, and a culture still captivated by the King of Literary Vampires. The book's seven chapters begin with author Bram Stoker, end with the Count's recent incarnations on stage and screen, and include the most insightful analysis of "Dracula"'s origins that I have read in the course of my minor obsession with the novel.

Chapter 1 explores "Dracula"'s literary and theatrical predecessors before moving on to discussion of the intellectual and sexual climate into which the book was published in 1897, the life and elusive character of its author Bram Stoker, and how the novel was received in its own day. David Skal does an impressive job of pulling together the relevant details, from diverse perspectives, of the novel's birth.

Chapter 2 details the legal battle waged by the Bram Stoker's widow, Mrs. Florence Stoker, to suppress the first cinematic adaptation of her husband's novel, 1922's "Nosferatu", the unauthorized German production directed by F.W. Murnau, now recognized as a masterpiece of silent cinema. Chapter 3 sees Mrs, Stoker finally authorize an adaptation to British dramatist Hamilton Deane, whose wordy, plodding "Dracula" play nevertheless achieved great financial success, attracting the attention of American theatrical producer Horace Liveright. Liveright enlisted journalist John Balderston to rewrite the play for Broadway and make it a smash hit on this side of the Atlantic.

Chapter 4 moves to Hollywood for the protracted negotiations over "Dracula"'s film rights. "Dracula"'s path through the early 20th century was mined with legal battles, and it is a credit to author David Skal that he is able to make interminable and constantly mutating negotiations into absorbing drama. Chapter 5 follows the winding road to the production of the first Hollywood "Dracula", the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, which, although made cheaply and lazily, was the first horror talkie and a financial life preserver for Universal Studios. Happily, Skal has dedicated Chapter 6 to the superior Spanish language version of "Dracula" that was filmed simultaneously, on the same sets, as the English version of the 1931 film, but with a different producer, director, cinematographer, and cast.

Chapter 7 tells us what became of the principle person's associated with the two 1931 films. Then it follows the legacy of "Dracula" from the 1930s forward, through its incarnations in film, plays, musicals, ballets, and other performances. Appendix A is a list of notable stage performances of "Dracula", 1897-2003. Appendix B is a list of about 200 films, 1921-2004, which feature the "Dracula" character or name. Thankfully, there is an index.

In outlining the contents of "Hollywood Gothic", I may have made the book seem dry. But the story of "Dracula"'s continuing life in film and on stage is as lively as the novel that inspired it -and it is written a good deal better. David Skal's tireless research and engaging style never fail to impress. "Hollywood Gothic" is an absorbing literary and cinematic history that "Dracula" fans shouldn't miss.
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on July 7, 2012
A review from the Los Angeles Times quoted on the back cover of David J. Skal's Hollywood Gothic calls the book "comprehensive." This is technically true, since the book does indeed cover the history of Dracula film and stage adaptations from the earliest days (1897, when Bram Stoker wrote a stage play version of his novel) to the most recent (2004, when the book was last revised), but a little elaboration is needed. The vast majority of the book, the first six chapters out of seven total, covers a limited area: Stoker's 1897 novel, the unauthorized 1922 film adaptation Nosferatu, the early stage plays (focusing mostly on those of the mid to late 1920s), the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, and the Spanish-language film produced concurrently with the Lugosi film. It's not until the seventh and final chapter that Skal covers the post-1931 adaptations, blowing through them quickly in about 60 pages, and doing his job not nearly as well as he does in the preceding six chapters (more on that below).

Those first six chapters are where the book shines. This is where Skal's interest (or, more appropriately, obsession) lies, and his enthusiasm for his subject matter makes for engrossing reading. Although he does judge the artistic value of the adaptations, he writes much more about the people behind them, both in their professional and personal lives; but like the writers from the History Channel who can somehow manage to make something like the history of toothpaste sound fascinating, Skal makes the most mundane details of these people sound nearly as interesting as (and sometimes more interesting than) the fictional drama that they put on film. Amongst other intriguing topics, the book covers the legal battles over Nosferatu, Lugosi's battle to procure the role in the 1931 film (and how it subsequently typecast and haunted him), and how the filmmakers behind the Spanish film disliked the English version and made an effort to improve upon it.

The content presents a wealth of information, ranging from Skal's personal research to interviews with the important players involved, and black and white photographs both familiar and obscure fill the pages. Skal's writing strikes a good balance between scholarly and conversational, making sure to include a good amount of humor and wit so as not to come across as too stuffy. As I mentioned above, he sticks mostly to the facts, but he isn't afraid to throw a wealthy amount of opinion into the mix, both from himself and from others. Since we can't all agree on everything, some of his views inevitably ended up rubbing me the wrong way (such as his casual dismissal of the excellent 1979 version of Nosferatu), but he rarely comes across as a fanboy with an axe to grind.

The final chapter (along with the appendixes, which list stage and screen adaptations with no more than a sentence or two of details) is where the book stumbles. It's clear that Skal's interest in Dracula begins with Bram Stoker and ends with Bela Lugosi; and that's fine, but he really should have worked on this chapter with a co-writer, since his lack of interest in the post-1931 adaptations results in writing that's not only flat and dull compared to the preceding chapters, but also riddled with revealing and careless mistakes. For example, the short plot summary he gives for the film Dracula A.D. 1972 actually belongs to its sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which otherwise isn't listed at all. He refers to Dracula Has Risen from the Grave as the third Dracula movie from Hammer Films (it was the fourth). He refers to a video game titled Castlevania: Dracula X, which he says was released in 1997 and is alternately known as "Nocturne with Moonlight" [sic], but he's confusing two games here: 1996's Castlevania: Dracula X, and 1997's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the latter of which is known in Japan as Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight.

Skal also gets dates wrong left and right in these sections: Blood for Dracula starring Udo Kier, Taste the Blood of Dracula starring Christopher Lee, the television adaptation of Dracula starring Jack Palance, the silent ballet film Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary, and the video games Dracula: Resurrection and Dracula 2: The Last Sanctuary were not released when Skal says they were; and he cites several different release dates for the BBC version of Dracula starring Louis Jourdan, only getting it right once. The final chapter and appendixes are also curiously scattershot, including adaptations seemingly at random while leaving out others that belong: Skal covers a handful of the movies from Hammer Films starring Christopher Lee but leaves others out, and he refers to only one of the Castlevania video games (or two; see above), of which there are many more worth mentioning. Obscure porno versions of Dracula are given plot summaries while major films like Dracula: Prince of Darkness get nothing but a release date listed.

I own two good books that cover the Sherlock Holmes films, Sherlock Holmes On Screen by Alan Barnes and Starring Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies. Both books cover the Holmes films comprehensively, giving each of them anywhere from one to four pages, never neglecting a single one, no matter how obscure. I was hoping for and expecting a book that covered the Dracula films in a similar way, but I'll have to keep looking, because that's not what Hollywood Gothic is. Instead of giving each of the over 100 Dracula films a little coverage, Skal gives three of them (and the early stage plays) a whole lot of it, and then casually and carelessly skims over the rest. The final chapter is a disappointment, and the book would have been a waste of time had the rest of it been written in such a sloppy manner. Fortunately, however, the majority of it is informative, clever, insightful, funny, well-researched, and entertaining. Anyone wanting more than a sentence or two about films such as Son of Dracula, Blacula, and Dracula 2000 will be let down, but if your interests match Skal's, you're in for a good read.
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on October 8, 2004
I read this book years ago. It's good to see it's coming back into print.

Skal charts the history of Stoker's book, beginning with early drafts extant, following the tangled film history, including the legal battles over Murnau's "Nosferatu", Universal Studio's struggle to get the rights for the Lugosi pic, and everything that happened after.

It won't change your life, but its fascinating stuff. Skal's style is quick, clean, and to the point. This book is a lot of fun, giving insights into publishing, film, theater, and the audience reaction to and participation in all of those mediums. A must for all vampire buffs, film students, and those who are curious about the inner workings of popular culture.
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VINE VOICEon October 31, 2002
This is a good look at the early stage and film versions of Dracula; more impressive is that it's one of the very best works to look at the 1922" Nosferatu". The author details the occult beliefs of the producer of Nosferatu, and how it was really he (Albin Grau,) and not Director Murnau who was responsible for the verminous look of Count Orlok. Fans of the recent film "Shadow of the Vampire" will really enjoy the Nosferatu production details. Some of the Freudian psychosexual analysis is way over the top and should be taken with a grain of salt (or a clove of garlic?). However, the author is on to something when he points out the paralells between the economic paralysis and blood draining of the Great Depression with the similar symptoms of victims in the 1931 Lugosi film. Was the popularity of the film a mass catharsis? You can decide after reading this book. Skal does a great job of drawing eerie analogies between the plight of the real life players behind Dracula and characters in the novel and films.
You'll find yourself consulting and pondering over this book when watching the old films or reading the original Stoker novel. The social context in which Skal places the classical Dracula films will resonate for modern readers.
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on August 21, 2011
VERY exhaustive book on Dracula--the book, stage plays, movies etc etc. This gets into virtually every single incarnation of Dracula. There's nothing wrong with that but I couldn't get into Skal's writing. It comes across as very labored and (frankly) quite dull. The information on the book and movies are quite interesting but the ridiculously detailed decriptions of the plays and their productions go on forever. There's a huge amount of people involved in those chapters and I kept losing track of who was who. And, again, I just couldn't get into Skal's writing style. It kept throwing me out of the book and got wearisome. It's a worthy subject but badly written.
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on January 4, 2005
David J. Skal is as readable as ever is this newly revised edition of the definitive Hollywood Gothic as he covers the history of Dracula from his creation by Bram Stoker to the various and multiple version on screen and stage. The thrust of the story is, of course, on the novel and the iconic Bela Lugosi movie, with an additional nice, but smaller, chunk on Nosferatu. The author is particularly effective in combining, in an interesting fashion, the creative, financial, and legal elements. His analysis is always clear and interesting and will definitely send the reader on a viewing frenzy. Vampire movies seem always to be streaming forth from Hollywood and Dracula is and always will be the most tempting of the bunch. This book brings this fascination to life, as it were. A very good job.
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on November 5, 2015
The author, David J.Skal, develops a slowly unfolding story of how Bram Stoker came to write Dracula. Once the masterpiece, Dracula, comes into existence, that is, published in book form, it takes on a life of its own. It infects the psyche of mankind, slowly, diffusing into the minds and imaginations of a Victorian England -- just like a vampire bite. It spreads into the theater, where the author reveals that Stoker was deeply entangled in its dynamics. Skal goes on to give the history of how this vampiric count rose to Superstardom, once Bela Lugosi steps into the shoes of the character and dawns the cape. I was enthralled with all the nitty-gritty details of the mechanistic workings of Hollywood as well as the organic richness of all the talent it took to bring the movie to the silver screen. I highly recommend this book for both its historical perspective and its glimpse into the psyche of Bram Stoker and the host of Dracula's talented and dedicated followers.
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on September 16, 2005
I first heard of David Skal from the Universal Classic Monster series of DVD's. David was on the accompanying documentary and did the audio commentary for Tod Browning's 1931 classic, Dracula. If you own the set and have run the documentary and, particularly, the commentary, then you've already experienced about three chapters of this book. What remains is a rich mine of details about every aspect of Dracula, the book, movies, and culture. And what a lot there is.

David's writing, like his speech, is precise, educated, and loaded with literary allusions. While no dilettante, I consider myself well read and was still left with the occasional "what the hell is he talking about?" moment. The language is rich and occasionally reminds me of the mental images drawn by Anne Rice at the height of her powers. However, David is no snob and is not merely parading his impressive intellect - it's just that he knows so darn much about the subject.

And if I had any criticism of the book that would be it - David seems driven to exhaustively document every possible aspect of Dracula's existence. The detailed (and seemingly never ending) battles between Florence Stoker and the makers of "Nosferatu" is described in such detail that I wanted to scream "OKAY!! We get it! Nosferatu was a Dracula rip off and Flo didn't like it!!" But eventually the tale moves on and sets the stage for intricate negotiations between the Stoker estate and Universal. In retrospect (and considering how handsomely the studio profited) it's interesting to see that Universal bought almost unlimited use of the vampire for the paltry sum of $25,000.00 and is still making oodles of money hand over fist today. David covers all aspects of vampire lore from Byron's "The Giaour" (1813) to Mel Brooks' "Dracula, Dead and Loving It" (1995). And everything in between. Trust me, if it can be construed to be in any way connected with Dracula, it's in this book.

If you have any interest in gothic culture, or the movies that spawned it, this is a must have. Reading it is like enjoying an evening of conversation with a much beloved, if slightly eccentric, old friend, preferably over brandy in front of a glowing fireplace on a cold, cold night.
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on February 24, 2013
I was skeptical about this book because of its odd title, but from the first page I was hooked. There is such an incredible amount of information here and Skal presents it very well. It is very well researched and is an important book for all those with a serious interest in the subject.
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on November 12, 2015
Mank always writes illuminating stuff about a subject that has been done to death, like Tom Weaver and Mank he imbues the subject matter with both a scholarly point of view and a fan's love of the subject.
I just wish Skal's classic THE MONSTER SHOW was also kindelized
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