Author Kim Newman on his new Anno Dracula novel, Johnny Alucard (plus excerpt)

Johnny Alucard is the fourth book in the Anno Dracula series; the earlier novels are Anno Dracula,The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha — and the definitive Titan editions include the long novellas ‘Vampire Romance’ and ‘Aquarius’.

The premise is that in 1885 Count Dracula came to Britain, as Bram Stoker describes in his novel … but rather than being defeated by Van Helsing, he rose to power, becoming Queen Victoria’s second husband and popularising vampirism as a lifestyle choice at the heart of the British Empire. He also imported all the other surviving vampires of fiction as his retinue of hangers-on and toadies.

All this is in the first book — which revolves around Stoker’s Dr. Seward, who has become a vampire-slaying Jack the Ripper. The subsequent volumes cover the next hundred years and have a global reach, with Dracula moving from country to country and era to era … and manifesting the ills of the century even when seemingly dead again. In Johnny Alucard, the story moves from Europe to America, and we follow the rise of a Romanian orphan who becomes Dracula’s heir apparent as he conquers such American fields of endeavour as drug-dealing, movie production, serial murder, and covert military intervention in other countries.

The first novel was first published in 1992, and Johnny Alucard is out now … the recent Titan reissues of the earlier novels include much extra material, so that the four books are now one long, attenuated storyline.

I hit on this idea well before writing the book — in a footnote to a 1979 university essay about Victorian and Edwardian apocalyptic science fiction written for a course tutored by the poet Lawrence Lerner and Wells biographer Norman Mackenzie. I considered Stoker’s Dracula as an ‘invasion narrative’ — like The Battle of Dorking or The War of the Worlds — and filed away the notion of rewriting the latter stages of Stoker’s book so the Count’s arrival in Britain is less of a damp squib (he doesn’t even make his second convert and his first is killed within a week of her being turned into a vampire) and we see what a vampire regime might look like.

From then on, the notion of a vampire century became inescapable.

Vampires saturate our culture … they did in 1992, and even more so now. And vampires mean so many different things – as relevant metaphors or cartoonish exaggerations of everything from co-dependent relationships to the drift towards totalitarian government. It would be hard to find an area of human endeavour that couldn’t be covered within the Anno Dracula series …

… but I also want to enjoy myself. I grew up loving Stoker’s book and the Universal and Hammer Films versions of it, all the way down to ephemera like Billy the Kid Meets Dracula, Scream Blacula Scream and Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. It’s a fun genre, even at its most disposable – which, at a guess, would be porn movies like Dracula Sucks – and the trappings of vampirism are evocative, even when deployed in the most threadbare Hallowe’en costume.

I do not reject any version of the legend – even the vampires who sparkle, or slowly count numbers, or suck more than blood. Castle Dracula has many mansions.

Vampires, traditionally, have no reflections. As I worked on these books, I came to realise why – they are reflections, our reflections. And we need to see them in the mirror to recognise a fanged, predatory, bloodthirsty side of ourselves.

Excerpt from Johnny Alucard

Francis had first envisioned Dracula as a stick-insect skeleton, dried up, hollow-eyed, brittle. When Brando arrived on set, weighing in at 250 pounds, he had to rethink the character as a blood-bloated leech, full to bursting with stolen life, overflowing his coffin.

For two days, Francis had been trying to get a usable reading of the line ‘I am Dracula.’ Kate, initially as thrilled as anyone else to see Brando at work, was bored rigid after numberless mumbled retakes.

The line was written in three-foot tall black letters on a large piece of cardboard held up by two grips. The actor experimented with emphases, accents, pronunciations from ‘Dorragulya’ to ‘Jacoolier’. He read the line looking away from the camera and peering straight at the lens. He tried it with false fangs inside his mouth, sticking out of his mouth, shoved up his nostrils or thrown away altogether.

Once he came out with a bat tattooed on his bald head in black lipstick. After considering it for a while, Francis ordered the decal wiped off. You couldn’t say that the star wasn’t bringing ideas to the production.

For two hours now, Brando had been hanging upside-down in the archway, secured by a team of very tired technicians at the end of two guy-ropes. He thought it might be interesting if the Count were discovered like a sleeping bat.

Literally, he read his line upside-down.

Marty Sheen, over whose shoulder the shot was taken, had fallen asleep.

‘I am Dracula. I am Dracula. I am Dracula. I am Dracula. I am Dracula! I am Dracula?

‘Dracula am I. Am I Dracula? Dracula I am. I Dracula am. Am Dracula I?

‘I’m Dracula.

‘The name’s Dracula. Count Dracula.

‘Hey, I’m Dracula.

‘Me… Dracula. You… liquid lunch.’

He read the line as Stanley Kowalski, as Don Corleone, as Charlie Chan, as Jerry Lewis, as Laurence Olivier, as Robert Newton.

Francis patiently shot take after take.

Dennis Hopper hung around, awed, smoking grass. All the actors wanted to watch.

Brando’s face went scarlet. Upside-down, he had problems with the teeth. Relieved, the grips eased up on the ropes and the star dropped towards the ground. They slowed before his head cracked like an egg on the ground. Assistants helped him rearrange himself.

Francis thought about the scene.

‘Marlon, it seems to me that we could do worse than go back to the book.’

‘The book?’ Brando asked.

‘Remember, when we first discussed the role. We talked about how Stoker describes the Count.’

‘I don’t quite…’

‘You told me you knew the book.’

‘I never read it.’

‘You said…’

‘I lied.’

Johnny Alucard