Van Helsing, a hard-boiled detective, introduces the audience to the seedy world of Hollywood crime and to the case that would change his life forever.
A crazed mental patient, Renfield, interrupts the on-location filming of a monster movie starring Lucy Murray. The film’s writer and director, Jonathan Harker, argues with Dr. Seward, the sanitarium’s chief administrator about the impossible working conditions he is experiencing. This is heightened by the fact that Lucy, Harker’s ex-girlfriend, has been brought in to replace Lorna Mills, an actress who disappeared mysteriously the week before. After another of the patients has a severe neurotic episode, Dean, Lucy’s male co-star, discovers Lorna’s dead body, stuffed into a closet and drained of blood.
Lucy has a nightmare in which Lorna warns her that she will be the next victim of the mysterious killer. Dr. Seward interrogates Renfield about his recent habit of collecting and consuming insects.
Lucy attempts to hire Van Helsing to investigate the horrific goings-on at the sanitarium, but he refuses, until she reveals that Lorna was drained of blood. Van Helsing’s last murder case in London involved a similar method of death, and we learn that his wife was the final victim of a serial killer. Lucy invites him to a party being thrown the next night by Jonathan and Seward to solicit donations from a wealthy new neighbor, Count Dracula.
At the party, a flamboyant entertainment gossip columnist, Jessica Sheridan, infuriates everyone present with her insults and arrogance. Jonathan has invited Mina Holmwood, a young accountant from the studio, to help convince Dracula to make a contribution to the financially-ailing film. Dracula finally arrives and is smitten with Lucy. He agrees to help Jonathan fund his movie, if only to get closer to its beautiful star. After spending some time alone with the Count, Mrs. Sheridan returns to the party and passes out in a chair. Renfield causes havoc with a platter of dead animals that he regards as hors d’oeuvres. Dean discovers Sheridan is dead, and the killer has left Van Helsing a taunting note.
Van Helsing drinks himself into oblivion after the party, even though he knows he cannot refuse Lucy’s request for aid anymore.
Dracula berates Renfield for making such a public spectacle of himself at the party and forces him to watch over Lucy during the daylight.
Lucy sleepwalks outside and finds Dracula waiting for her. She confesses her love for him, and he kisses her, then bares her neck and drinks her blood.
Van Helsing has a nightmare about his dead wife.
Lucy and Dean shoot their final scene for the film, with no interruptions. Everything seems to have returned to normal. Even Renfield has become a model patient. However, Lucy has begun exhibiting strange, uncharacteristic behavior, and requests that Van Helsing abandon the case, since there have been no further strange occurrences since the party. Dean notices that Lucy has two unusual marks on her neck, but she brushes him off on her way to a date with Dracula.
Mina has begun to show a romantic interest in Dean, and they discuss the bizarre transformation that has come over Lucy since Dracula arrived. Dean describes a vampire movie he once worked on, as well as the similarities between it and their current situation. Dracula and Lucy return from the opera, and Mina and Dean hide in the shadows, observing them. Lucy thinks Dracula is about to propose to her, but in reality he drinks her blood then forces her to drink his, in order that she may be his eternal bride. Dean tries to interfere and is killed. Lucy screams in horror and Dracula disappears.
After witnessing Dean’s death, Mina calls Van Helsing from a street corner to come help her. She mentions Dean’s theory about Dracula being a vampire. Dracula steps out of the shadows and fog to dispose of her as well.
Van Helsing arrives, only to find Nurse Westfall being held captive by Renfield. Dracula has accused him of failing him, and now he is trying to prove his allegiance to his “Master” by getting rid of those who would stand in the vampire’s way. Lucy insists that Jonathan leave, because she is afraid that she will kill him when she finally transforms into a vampire. Dracula suddenly appears in a mist and swears to feast on the blood of all who oppose him and that Lucy’s soul will belong completely to him by the end of the following night. He calls Lucy to him; she cannot resist. As he holds her in his arms, they vanish into the mist.
Seward brings Renfield to Van Helsing’s office. Van Helsing questions Renfield for the whereabouts of Dracula, and the lunatic reveals that the Count has been hiding literally under their noses in the unused morgue beneath the sanitarium.
Renfield escorts Jonathan, Seward, and Van Helsing to the morgue. They find a coffin in a refrigeration vault. Jonathan opens it, and Lucy is inside. When she sees Jonathan, Lucy begins to feel the desire to feed. Van Helsing tries to hold her back. Dracula appears and taunts Van Helsing’s imminent failure. Van Helsing shoots Dracula with a silver bullet made out of his dead wife’s locket, and then Jonathan kills the monster by driving a stake through his heart.
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