Undead again: Stoker relative has 'Dracula' sequel

It is perfectly safe to invite Dacre Stoker to your Halloween party.

Never mind that he is the great-great-nephew of Bram Stoker, creator of "Dracula."

Actually, the Canadian transplant and author, a longtime resident of Aiken, looks far less forbidding than his collaborator, Ian Holt, who glares malevolently from the inside dust cover of "Dracula the Un-Dead," the official, family-sanctioned sequel to Bram's famous original.

The new book, released this month by Dutton, is based on Bram Stoker's own handwritten notes for characters and plot threads excised from the original edition of the 1897 Gothic masterpiece.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912), an Irish novelist and short-story writer, was better known in his own time as the personal assistant to fabled stage actor Henry Irving and the business manager of London's Lyceum Theatre. But his chilling book, and his literary elevation of the vampire myth, has had a decided impact on more than a century of popular culture.

Dacre Stoker wants to enhance his legacy.

'"The family did have a bit of a concern because in the 1930s, Bram's family - my cousins - lost the copyright, which happened through an oversight by Bram's attorneys. After Bram died, his book and his character were thrust into the public domain. As a result, it proliferated throughout the world. We in the family sort of joke that Dracula may not have 'gone so far' had the family had control."

For the past 112 years, no Stoker has had anything to do with the Dracula character, inspired, very loosely, by the historical figure of Vlad Tepes (or, alternately, Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Impaler), a Romanian warrior prince (1431-76) of somewhat harsh predilections.

Enter Holt, a screenwriter and Dracula scholar with an interesting notion for a screenplay.

"Ian hunted me down in 2003 and told me his idea, which was to do a sequel to 'Dracula.' But he knew he needed a Stoker," says Dacre Stoker, who convinced his collaborator-to-be that the proper way to approach a sequel and honor Bram would be to write a novel first, the screenplay second.

"It took us about two years to get it going, and I also needed to get my family's support. First, since I had never written anything, they had to take me seriously. They had to know I was not going to put the Stoker name on the cover just to cash in, that I'd genuinely be involved in the writing."

Holt wanted to modernize and merge the fictional Dracula with the historical Dracula, Vlad Tepes, Stoker said. "Then we went further. Once I found the 125 pages of Bram's handwritten research notes - I was the only family member ever to see these notes, which were discovered in the late '70s - it gave me insight into how Bram created his characters and which characters did not make it into his original book. So it gave me grounds for some of his original characters finding their way into the sequel."

Ever popular, vampire novels and films have inundated popular culture for decades, a veritable cottage industry.

Stoker also is well aware of the fact that other "sequels" to the original have been written, some even employing Bram's own alternate title, "Dracula the Un-Dead." But he is confident that his collaboration with Holt, which melds Bram's real world with the fictional world of his creation, distinguishes itself in any number of ways.

"What distinguishes us is that we are helping the reader reconnect with the origin of Dracula. Though Bram didn't invent the idea of vampires, he invented Dracula, the most famous one,'" he said. "People wonder, 'Where did the legend of this start?' There have been four biographies of Bram. I studied them, trying to get a feel for what kind of writer he was."

"Dracula the Un-Dead" opens in 1912 with the surviving characters of Bram's "Dracula," 25 years after Dracula "crumbled into dust."

"We pick up the action where Bram left off, though with a difference. In the original, they all come home to London in the end and live happily ever after. We don't believe that would have happened. And we see the events through the eyes of Quincey Harker, who appears in the last few pages of Bram's novel as a young boy.

"That was Ian's idea, as was connecting the story to the Jack the Ripper era."

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Holt had acquired the rights and developed a screenplay for the 1972 nonfiction book "In Search of Dracula" by professors Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu (a Vlad Tepes descendant).

It was this book that Francis Ford Coppola used to research his 1992 film, "Bram Stoker's Dracula."

McNally and Florescu became Holt's mentors, examining, among other things, the cultural implications and influence of Bram Stoker's novel on Western society.

Dacre's family has had a home in Aiken since the late 1970s, which he often visited before moving here permanently with his Walterboro bride, Jenne.

Today, his jobs consist of teaching CPR and first aid, giving fly-fishing lessons and serving as executive director of the Aiken Land Conservancy.

He notes that Bram never set foot in Transylvania or Romania, but that he embarks this week on a European book tour, which may or may not transport him to the darker realm.

"The closest Bram ever got was Italy, when he buried his father," says Stoker, who already has outlined a second sequel with Holt. "But he did a tremendous amount of research into the mythology of vampires and Vlad's history, only some of which made it into his original."

That's where the new book's authors come in, and perhaps a new movie as well. Holt is well into the screenplay he has longed to write.