Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, is apprehensive on his way to Castle Dracula in the province of Transylvania (in what is now Romania). His nervousness grows when he observes the curious, fearful attitude of the peasants and the coachman after they learn of his destination. He is on his way to transact business with Count Dracula, and his mission necessitates remaining at the castle for several days.
Upon his arrival at the castle, Harker finds comfortable accommodations awaiting him. Count Dracula is a charming host, although his peculiarly bloodless physical appearance is somewhat disagreeable to Harker’s English eyes. Almost immediately, Harker is impressed with the strange life of the castle. He and the Count discuss their business at night, as the Count is never available during the daytime. Although the food is excellent, Harker never sees a servant about the place. While exploring the castle, he finds that it is situated high at the top of a mountain with no accessible exit other than the main doorway, which is kept locked. He realizes with a shock that he is a prisoner of Count Dracula.
Various harrowing experiences ensue. When Harker secretly explores one of the rooms in the castle, three phantom women materialize and attack him, attempting to bite his throat. Then the Count appears and drives them off, whispering fiercely that Harker belongs to him. Later, Harker thinks he sees a huge bat descending the castle walls, but the creature turns out to be Count Dracula. In the morning, trying frantically to escape, Harker stumbles into an old chapel where a number of coffinlike boxes of earth are stored. He opens one and sees the Count lying there, apparently dead. In the evening, when the Count appears as usual, Harker demands that he be released. The Count obligingly opens the castle door. A pack of wolves surrounds the entrance. The Count laughs maliciously. The next day Harker, weak and sick from a strange wound in his throat, sees a pack cart loaded with the mysterious boxes drive from the castle. Dracula has departed and Harker is alone, a prisoner with no visible means of escape.
Meanwhile, in England, Harker’s fiancé, Mina Murray, goes to visit her beautiful and charming friend, Lucy Westenra. Lucy is planning to marry Arthur Holmwood, a young nobleman. One evening, early in Mina’s visit, a storm blows up and a strange ship is driven aground. The only living creature aboard is a gray wolflike dog, which escapes into the countryside. Soon afterward, Lucy’s happiness begins to fade because of a growing tendency to sleepwalk. One night, Mina follows her friend during one of these spells and discovers Lucy in a churchyard. A tall, thin man bending over Lucy disappears at Mina’s approach. Lucy can remember nothing of the experience when she awakens, but her physical condition seems much weakened. Finally, she grows so ill that Mina is forced to call upon Dr. Seward, Lucy’s former suitor. Lucy begins to improve under his care, and when Mina receives a report from Budapest that her missing fiancé has been found and needs care, she feels free to end her visit.
When Lucy’s condition suddenly grows worse, Dr. Seward asks his old friend Dr. Van Helsing, a specialist from Amsterdam, for his professional opinion. Examining Lucy thoroughly, Van Helsing pauses over two tiny throat wounds that she is unable to explain. Van Helsing is concerned over Lucy’s condition, which points to unusual loss of blood without signs of anemia or hemorrhage. She is given blood transfusions at intervals, and someone sits up with her at night. She improves but expresses a fear of going to sleep because her dreams are so horrible.
One morning, Dr. Seward falls asleep outside her door. When he and Van Helsing enter her room, they find Lucy ashen white and weaker than ever. Van Helsing quickly performs another transfusion and she rallies, but not as satisfactorily as before. Van Helsing then secures some garlic flowers and tells Lucy to keep them around her neck at night. When the two doctors call the next morning, they discover that Lucy’s mother removed the flowers because she feared their odor might bother her daughter. Frantically, Van Helsing rushes to Lucy’s room and finds her in a coma. Again he administers a transfusion, and again her condition improves. She says that with the garlic flowers close by she is not afraid of nightly flapping noises at her window. Van Helsing sits with her every night until he thinks her well enough to leave. After cautioning her to sleep with the garlic flowers about her neck at all times, he returns to Amsterdam.
Lucy’s mother continues to sleep with her daughter. One night, the two ladies are awakened by a huge wolf that crashes through the window. Mrs. Westenra falls dead of a heart attack, and Lucy faints, the wreath of garlic flowers slipping from her neck. Seward and Van Helsing, who has returned to England, discover her half dead in the morning. They know she is dying and call Arthur. As Arthur attempts to kiss her, Lucy’s teeth seem about to fasten onto his throat. Van Helsing draws him away. When Lucy dies, Van Helsing puts a tiny gold crucifix over her mouth, but an attendant steals it from her body.
Soon after Lucy’s death, several children of the neighborhood are discovered far from their homes, their throats marked by small wounds. Their only explanation is that they followed a pretty lady. When Harker returns to England, Van Helsing goes to see him and Mina. After talking with Harker, Van Helsing reveals to Dr. Seward his belief that Lucy fell victim to a vampire, one of those strange creatures who can live for centuries on the blood of their victims and breed their kind by attacking the innocent and making them vampires in turn. According to Van Helsing, the only way to save Lucy’s soul is to drive a stake through the heart of her corpse, cut off her head, and stuff her mouth with garlic flowers. Dr. Seward protests violently. The next midnight Arthur, Dr. Seward, and Helsing visit Lucy’s tomb and find it empty, but after Lucy returns the next morning, they do as Van Helsing suggested with Lucy’s corpse.
With Mina’s help, Seward and Van Helsing thereupon track down Dracula in London, hoping to find him before he victimizes anyone else. They decide their best chance lies in removing the boxes of sterilized earth he brought with him from Transylvania, in which he hides during the daytime. They finally trap Dracula, but he escapes. Before fleeing England, however, Dracula attacks Mina and promises that he will exact his revenge through her. Van Helsing puts Mina into a trance and learns that Dracula is at sea and that it will be necessary to follow him to his castle. Wolves gather about them in that desolate country. Van Helsing draws a circle in the snow with a crucifix, and the travelers rest safely within the magic enclosure. The next morning, they overtake a cart carrying a black box. Van Helsing and the others overcome the drivers of the cart and pry open the lid of Dracula’s coffin. As the sun begins to set, they drive a stake through the heart of the corpse. The vampire is no more and Mina is free.