Dracula has never discerned between men and women in matters of his own gruesome taste.
But a new BBC adaptation asks whether the cosmopolitan vampire desired more than the blood of both sexes.
The series suggests that the Eatern European aristocrat may have sex with men in a nod to theorised gay undertones of the original Victorian novel.
Characters open the BBC retelling of Bram Stoker’s gothic masterwork by interrogating a guest recently returned from the Count’s castle, asking if he was given a “contagion” by having “intercourse” with the blood-sucking villain.
“I think horror should be transgressive,” said writer Mark Gatiss, who brought Sherlock Holmes to the BBC.
“Horror over time becomes quite cosy. I think horror should not be cosy.”
Despite the immediately sexual context of the series, co-writer Steven Moffat claimed viewers should delete their dating apps if they see Dracula’s actions as lustful.
The new iteration echos theories that Irish author Stoker, who was friends with Oscar Wilde, a wit convicted for his sexuality, and who also wrote impassioned letters to poet Walt Whitman about being a “wife to his soul”, was himself a closeted homosexual.
A private man, married to a former love interest of Wilde, little is known about Stoker’s life beyond the 1897 epistolary novel which ensured his lasting fame.
This has been reworked in a BBC period adaptation airing on New Year’s Day, which hints at the sexual habits of the centuries-old vampire, equipped once again with his hallmark cape and castle, and finds laughs with a character writers originally dubbed “Atheist Nun”.
The habited sceptic opens the show by asking in a pre-credit sequence: “Did you have intercourse with Count Dracula?”
Insinuations are then made about what Jonathan Harker experienced of Dracula’s unusual hospitality.
The atheist nun, who jokes about her lustful dreams of women in the opening episode, tells him there is a “contagion” which creates an “incurable” state.
Despite the insinuations that Dracula is spreading this blight by means of more than a bite, Moffat has claimed otherwise, and said the series will depict merely mundane vampirism.
“He’s not actually having sex with anyone,” said the writer at a London screening. “He’s drinking their blood.
“You might need to delete your Tinder if that is what you think. Dracula has always fed off men and women.”
The script nevertheless suggests that the devilish Transylvanian wants to “reproduce”, and favours a male character for this task.
Anxiety over homosexuality has been theorised by some as a subtext in the original novel, written at the time of Wilde’s imprisonment. As a young man Stoker wrote to American literary giant Whitman, believed to be gay or bisexual, to thank him for the “love and sympathy you have given me in common with my kind”.
With its fresh take the new series, starring Danish actor Claes Bang as the evil Count, also returns to many time-honoured tropes from previous versions.
Moffat said: “It has been through so many iterations, it felt right to do big castles and capes and that sort of thing.”
The concept for the three episode series, each overseen by a different director, began “as a joke” while the writing pair were working on Sherlock. It features customary bats, wooden stakes, and fangs, along with added twists on source material.
John Heffernan stars Harker and Dolly Wells as the interrogating atheist nun.
The series will be shown across three days with the first instalment, The Rules of the Beast, airing on New Year’s Day on BBC One at 9pm.