Dracula as You’ve Never Seen Her Before!

Featured image: Rachel Wiese as Dracula in a publicity shot. (Facebook/Dracula – 2015/Andrew Shanley). Above: Renfield (Allie Marshall) braces herself for Dracula (Rachel Wiese) in a promotional still for “Dracula’s Guest” (2014), a short film directed by Andrew Shanley. (Facebook/Dracula – 2015/Andrew Shanley)

Horror radio host, Chris Denmead, wants to turn Dracula into a woman—and he wants you to bankroll the operation.

On October 9, 2014, Denmead launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $12,000 for his dream project: “what if we take the idea of Dracula and gender swap the whole story”, adding, “Dracula VanHellsing [sic] and other male characters would be played by women. Lucy, Mina and the wives would be male actors. It will be set in a modern day in black and white.”

The project’s Kickstarter page features a teaser from a short film called “Dracula’s Guest,” directed by Andrew Shanley, intended to convey what the final film would look like. The short stars Allie Marshall as Renfield, Rachel Wiese in the Dracula role (“Vlada Dracul”) and Denmead makes a cameo as the Grounds Keeper. Shanley posted his “Director’s Cut” of the short to YouTube on October 10, 2014:

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iheJE3IQQwU”]

If you’re getting the same amateur porno vibe from it I do, “Keep in mind,” Denmead says on the Kickstarter page, “the short was shot on no budget and with a budget we can make a much more epic movie.” He has recruited award-winning short filmmaker, Skip Shea, to direct the final version—slated for a 70 minute runtime, according to its Kickstarter FAQ section.

Has It Been Done Before?

Denmead’s project is shadowed by other attempts at feminising Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) characters. David J. Skal’s V Is for Vampire: An A to Z Guide to Everything Undead (New York: Plume, 1996) reveals Van Helsing was a woman in Chris Bond’s 1984 Dracula adaptation for London’s Half Moon Theatre (p. 84) and “In recent years, the role of Van Helsing in stage productions has increasingly been the focus of nontraditional casting choices and has been successfully interpreted by women and minority performers.” (p. 209)

Count Dracula, on the other hand, is sometimes conflated with infamous Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory (1560–1610), as attested by the 1971 Hammer film, Countess Dracula, starring Ingrid Pitt, directed by Peter Sasdy; Raymond T. McNally’s biography, Dracula Was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania (1983); and Tony Thorne’s Countess Dracula: The Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess (1998).

The testimonial Dacre Stoker, author of Dracula: The Un-Dead (2009), gave to the project cements the links further: “I created a horrifying villain by turning the historical character Lady Bathory into a Vampire, so I am no stranger to female Vamps, and I firmly believe that variation and adaptation of the original keeps the genre alive.”

Denmead’s Dracula genderswapping idea—as novel as it may seem—is admittedly not a new one. Even bypassing the murky depths of fan- and slash- fic, I found a Dracula genderswap suggestion pre-dating Denmead’s project, on a Tumblr blog called In the Year of the Wolf. The blog’s author, “Rob”, who describes himself as “A mid-twenties geek with too much time on his hands, and a love for almost all things genre – most especially werewolves”, posted his own Dracula genderswap suggestion in untitled entry on December 30, 2012, “mostly based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula”.

“Arthuretta”? Seriously? Rob’s Dracula genderswap post from December 30, 2012. (Tumblr/In the Year of the Wolf)

Previous Dracula genderswap fantasy suggestions aside, Denmead’s project is the only serious effort I’m aware of to turn the concept into an actual movie. The closest analogues we could draw on—the theatre productions Skal mentioned—have been content to genderswap one or a few characters, but Denmead’s proposition to change all of them stands alone.

What’s the Point of Genderswapping Dracula?

Denmead first announced the project on in his Radio of Horror Blog post, “GENDER SWAPED DRACULA Movie” (August 29, 2014): “I am working on a Gender Swap Dracula movie. This means Dracula, Renfield VanHellsing, Harker, Morris Nd [sic] Holmwood will be Woman [sic]. Lucy, Mina, and Dracula’s wives will be men.” However, he didn’t make clear why he wanted to do it.

The teaser video on the Kickstarter page leads into Demead and the film’s star, Rachel Wiese, discussing the project. Demead mentions, “We feel as though the evil being portrayed in the films of Dracula is always being done by a man and we’re looking at how it can be done with a mostly larger female cast.”

David MacDowell Blue touched on the subject in his Vampires.com interview with Denmead, “New DRACULA via Kickstarter!” (October 13, 2014): “How do you think the story of Dracula changes by gender-swapping the characters? For example, does the “ick” factor increase if Mr. Westenra goes around biting prepubescent girls?” Denmead replied:

I think the female is the deadlier of the species and can be the more evil creature than man, yes Man is bad too, but woman are vindictive mean and nasty (as villains mind you not all woman are like this) and get what they want when they put their minds to it. My Dracula is clever and cunning will stop at nothing. We don’t over emphasis her as a woman except in the pronouns their is really nothing different

Interesting. Yesterday, I contacted Denmead via Facebook and asked, “why do you want to gender swap the characters at all? What’s the point behind it?” He said, “I thought the idea of doing a female draculan [sic] was more speaking and alluring than what we had seen so many times before”, adding, “Dacre stoker said its a great idea to keep the character fresh and put a new spin on it and keep it new and interesting“.

Has Anyone Else Taken an Interest in This Project?

Certainly. Apart from Blue’s Vampires.com interview,

As of this writing, the project’s also received $876 in pledges through its Kickstarter page. There are also plans to make a comic, with Deanna Collins to draw it. Indeed, Denmead mentions the following on the project’s page: “IF we don’t get funded we wont make the movie. The comic may still happen.”

Should This Project Be Funded?

The novelty value of genderswapping Dracula aside, the most obvious appeal behind the project is utilising women in traditionally male roles. If you’ve got any familiarity with the horror genre, you’d know why this is a big deal. And if you’re unfamiliar with it, read Plexico Gingrich’s Ruthless Reviews article, “What’s the Deal with Women in Horror Movies?” (May 13, 2014) as a starting point.

Denmead’s project intends to subvert a traditionally male role and bring something a little fresh to the table. No harm in that. And aren’t you curious to see how a whole genderswapped movie would pan out? If so, you’ve got till November 8, 2014—Bram Stoker’s 167th birthday. Yesterday, I asked Denmead, via Facebook, if that date was intentional. He said he “Realized that afterward”.

Go to this link to donate to Denmead’s Kickstarter project. Minimum pledge is $1. You can also “like” the project’s Facebook page.

If you’d like to connect with Denmead, visit his website, Radio of Horror Blog, “like” its Facebook page and find him on Twitter.

While we’re on the subject of women and horror films, give “Sisters and Shivers – Woman Who Make Horror Movies,” The Ditch (July 30, 2013) a read, too.