Dracula – film, USA, UK, 1979

‘A Love Story’

Dracula is a 1979 British-American horror feature film directed by John Badham from a screenplay by W. D. Richter (Needful Things; Invasion of the Body Snatchers), loosely based on Bram Stoker‘s novel and Edward Gorey’s 1977 staging of (John L. Balderston’s adaptation of) Hamilton Deane’s 1924 play. The Mirisch Corporation production stars Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence and Kate Nelligan.

Frank Langella, who had already played the Count for months in a successful Broadway stage production, said he wanted to explore sides of the character that weren’t shown before:

“I decided he was a highly vulnerable and erotic man, not cool and detached and with no sense of humour or humanity. I didn’t want him to appear stilted, stentorian or authoritarian as he’s often presented. I wanted to show a man who, while evil, was lonely and could fall in love”

Plot:

1913: In Whitby, England, Count Dracula (Frank Langella) is washed ashore when the ship Demeter runs aground one stormy night. Sickly Mina Van Helsing (Jan Francis), who is visiting her friend Lucy Seward (Kate Nelligan), discovers Dracula’s body.

The Count visits Mina and her friends at the household of Lucy’s father, Dr. Jack Seward, whose clifftop mansion also serves as the local asylum. At dinner, he proves to be a charming guest and leaves a strong impression on the hosts, especially Lucy. Less charmed by this handsome Romanian count is Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve), Lucy’s fiancé.

However, when Mina dies and her father, Prof. Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier), attributes her death to a vampire, evidence indicates that Count Dracula is the monster, and Lucy is his next target…

Reviews:

“The picture is weirdly glacial at times, lingering in stale mood and fatigued acts of seduction, while overall familiarity with the story lets a little air out of the tires as well. Reverence is fine, yet Badham and Richter don’t summon feelings of fright key to the success of the character.” Blu-ray.com

“Director John Badham, working with cinematographer Gil Taylor, brings more style to the film than one might expect. After a busy career in television, his early films at least maximize and make cinematic every scene, and Dracula, with its excellent blocking and compositions, is stately without ever getting dull.” DVD Talk

” …while we have a Dracula that is smoulderingly romantic, we also have one who never wields any threat. Rarely does this version ever engage as a horror film – we only ever see Frank Langella with fangs once […] There is one good shock scene where Van Helsing meets the undead Mina, all white faced, with blood red eyes, calling “Papa”, but that is about it.” Moria

“The film is a triumph of performance, art direction and mood over materials that can lend themselves so easily to self-satire. The art direction, the music, the special effects give us a 19th-century setting that is at once halfway convincing and charmingly unreal.” Roger Ebert

“The sight of Dracula climbing down a wall headfirst is the highlight of the entire movie; the rest of the film is just another plodding remake. The familiar story is given no new twists, save for an updated Edwardian setting and a few automobiles. Langella repeats his suave and seductive portrayal, and a hammy Olivier plays Van Helsing.” TV Guide

“Of course, many people would say in that that the film is way ahead of its time, it took writers and filmmakers at least ten years to jump on that bandwagon and turn the vampire into a sympathetic character – a love interest… Then there are those of us who realize that this is a monster, not some playboy of the night, and it deserves to be treated as such…” The Video Graveyard

Cast and characters:

  • Frank Langella … Count Dracula
  • Laurence Olivier … Professor Abraham Van Helsing
  • Donald Pleasence … Doctor Jack Seward
  • Kate Nelligan … Lucy Seward
  • Trevor Eve … Jonathan Harker
  • Jan Francis … Mina Van Helsing
  • Janine Duvitski … Annie
  • Tony Haygarth … Milo Renfield
  • Teddy Turner … Swales
  • Sylvester McCoy … Walter (as Sylveste McCoy)
  • Kristine Howarth … Mrs Galloway
  • Joe Belcher … Tom Hindley
  • Ted Carroll … Scarborough Sailor
  • Frank Birch … Harbormaster
  • Gabor Vernon … Captain of Demeter
  • Frank Henson … Demeter Sailor
  • Peter Wallis … Priest

Filming locations:

Black Park, Buckinghamshire, England
Cornwall, England
Shepperton Studios

Technical details:

  • 109 minutes
  • Technicolor
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39: 1
  • Dolby sound

Box office:

Distributed by Universal Pictures, Dracula took $31,235,812 worldwide on an estimated budget of $12,164,000.

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