(or "Undead Means 'Not Dead'")
When it comes to horror, Bela Lugosi's turn as the infamous Count Dracula has gone beyond simply being a classic, genre-defining role to become a pop culture touchstone. Millions (possibly even billions) of people who've never in their life seen the original 1931 film still know that vampires all talk in Hungarian accents and say things like, "Children of the night...what sweet music they make!" or "I never drink...wine." Universal didn't have to think twice to realize that they had a bona fide hit on their hands, and even in an era where horror was becoming increasingly neutered due to film censorship boards, they were thinking 'sequel'.
There's only one small problem. The movie, the stage play and the book that both were based on all end with Dracula getting a wooden stake pounded through his heart, finally ending his eternal life once and for all. Um...oops?
This is actually a problem with more storytelling engines than you might think, particularly those in the horror genre. Historically speaking, lots of people have failed to realize that they have a potential series of films on their hands, and they go for the closure of seeing the villain meet his or her grisly demise instead of disappointing audiences with a teaser ending. (Heck, it doesn't even have to be horror. The Joker was slated to be killed in only his second appearance as a Batman villain, and only a last-minute addition to the art saved his life. Anyone want to imagine Batman without the Joker?) Freddy, Jason, Michael (who seemed to survive the first movie, but bit it in the second), and the shark in "Jaws" all shared Dracula's remarkably definitive fate.
This problem--how to resurrect a very dead yet very essential character--shaped every subsequent appearance of the character. "Dracula's Daughter" tried to escape the snare by being about, well...Dracula's daughter, not the Count himself (I know, the title led you to suspect a twist.) In fact, it opens with Marya stealing and incinerating Dracula's body in order to try to escape her own curse of vampirism. Unsurprisingly, she fails. Even less surprisingly, the sequel turned out to be less popular than the original, in no small part because when people go to a movie with "Dracula" in the title, they expect to see Dracula.
"Son of Dracula" decided to skirt the issue by being ambiguous. Count Alucard could be a vampiric descendant of the original count...or he could be Dracula, concealing his true self behind a pseudonym. The movie never really decides one way or the other, and it almost feels like the screeenwriters (Curt Siodmak and Eric Taylor) were arguing about it behind the scenes. Whether imitating his famous father, or reprising his fate, Alucard nonetheless bites the dust (no pun intended.)
Which leaves the door open for the solution finally decided upon in the last two Universal films featuring Dracula, a solution later used by Hammer Films for their Dracula series, and for that matter by Freddy and Jason and all his pals. Namely, that Dracula's a resilient little cuss. "House of Frankenstein" has a scene where the evil scientist finds Dracula's corpse, stake still protruding from his chest...and wouldn't you know it? As soon as he pulls it out, phoomp! Instant Drac, just add blood. Sunlight, crosses, holy water, they all put him down but not out.
Which has also become part of the myth of Dracula. As Buffy says, "I've seen the movies. I know you come back." Dracula might have died back in 1931, but the power of imagination and our need to see him return has made him far more immortal than any vampire's bite ever could. It took Universal a little while (and several actors) to see that, but eventually they caught on to Dracula's eternal appeal.