Blog Archive

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dracula (1979)

Before there were vampires being interviewed and well before any of them sparkled there was John Badham’s Dracula in what must be the earliest truly romantic vampire movie. Now Dracula has always been tied with sexuality but this 1979 version, based on the Broadway play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, is more geared toward a female perspective than what you got from Bram Stoker’s novel.
nice chest 
“It’s ladies night every night at Castle Dracula.”

This version of Dracula begins with the wreck of Demeter as the ship is tossed by a storm while some horrible creature kills the crew. So right off the bat *snicker* we diverge wildly from the novel as this movie skips Transylvania completely. No poor Jonathon Harker being harassed by the Brides of Dracula and no final showdown between our heroes and Dracula on his home turf.

We may not get Castle Dracula but Carfax Abbey is pretty awesome.

The other major change is what I call “Character Scrabble” as in this version Mina (Jan Francis) is the first London victim of Dracula and it is Lucy (Kate Nelligan) that becomes the focus of the battle between Dracula and our heroes, a complete opposite of the book.  This Mina is also the daughter of Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) and not engaged to Johnathon Harker (Trevor Eve) while Lucy is now the daughter of Doctor Seward (Donald Pleasence) and is the one engaged to Harker. These changes seem completely arbitrary and made more to separate themselves from the original than for any artistic reason I can imagine.

A sickly Mina is the one that finds poor Dracula washed ashore after the wreck of the Demeter and she clearly immediately has the hots for him, and can you blame her? Sadly she is only the Count’s appetizer and it is Lucy that is the films main course.

sexy dracula 
Can you really blame her?

Dracula (Frank Langella) is more your Jane Austen type character than the one from Stoker’s book, he is a monster as so far as it goes that he must feed on blood to survive, but he and Lucy do seem to genuinely fall in love throughout the course of the picture. Langella originated this version from the aforementioned stage adaptation and he made it quite clear that he would not be wearing fangs or dripping blood in this movie, so the studio had to make due with vampire Mina and Lucy popping fangs.

Mina, not the most attractive of vampires.

Gone in this version of Dracula are Lucy’s suitors as the cast is cut down to just three heroes; Van Helsing, Harker, and Seward. At no point do these guys ever come across as a threat to Dracula, and Harker is so boring one cannot blame Lucy for picking Dracula over him.

The Men 
The vampire hunters.

It’s Mina’s death that summons the great Doctor Van Helsing and one can only thank the stars and John Badham for casting the great Laurence Oliver as he is just fantastic in the part, as well is the scene stealing presence of Donald Pleasence who is always a welcome addition in any movie. With these two great actors you know you’re in for a fun time and they both elevate the material.

“Jonathon, I think we should see other people.”

Now as good as Oliver and Pleasence are the star of this film is clearly Frank Langella as the title character. Langella’s Dracula is pure sex on toast. With flowing capes and low cut blouses, this Dracula is designed to get women’s juices flowing and almost every frame he is on he exudes raw sexuality. His vampire powers are almost unnecessary as what Victorian woman could resist his pure animal magnetism.

Look into my eyes.”

It’s the love story between Lucy and Dracula that really makes this version stand out among its peers, this Lucy is a strong and capable woman that though Dracula attempts a little vampiric mesmerism it is soon clear to all that he need no such tactics to win Lucy.
dinner with Dracula 
Dinner with the Count.

The one scene that is a bit of an oddity is when Dracula and Lucy finally do the nasty.  For the most part the film is a true gothic tale but once our two leads start to get it on we get an abstract laser light show.  It is a pretty enough visual, created by fame credit sequence designer Marice Binder, but doesn’t really fit in with the tone of the rest of the movie.

dracula sex 
Pink Floyd’s Dracula.

The heroes will of course try and thwart the evil Count.  They will hunt down his minions, figure out his game plan and do whatever it takes stop to his centuries long reign of terror.
Staking your daughter has got to be tough.

This is a rare Dracula movie that ends with a strangely hopeful ending. The Prince of Darkness, having escaped Carfax Abbey with Lucy, battles Van Helsing and Harker in the hold of a ship bound for Romania. Van Helsing is ironically staked by Dracula during the struggle but with his dying act he sends a cargo hook into Dracula’s back allowing Harker to haul him up out of the hold and into the sunlight. We see Dracula scream in rage as his skin begins to burn but we don’t get the shot of him turning to ash as has happened to poor Christopher Lee on so many occasions, what we see is a cape fluttering away on the winds. The music and Lucy staring up at fluttering cape with a wistful expressions makes one believe that she thinks he got away and that maybe someday they will be reunited.
Hoisted on his own petard.

John Badham’s Dracula is an excellent entry in the filmography of the world’s most famous vampire, Frank Langella’s creature is more charm than horror and vastly entertaining.  Another thing I shan’t forget to mention is the score by legendary film composer John Williams which is just hauntingly beautiful and quite memorable.


Sadly the poor box office results showed that maybe the public weren’t quite ready for a “tragic” vampire love story.  At least not quite yet.

No comments: