Dracula (1979)

Undead Mina
Undead Mina!

Count Dracula (Frank Langella) arrives in Whitby on the doomed ship Demeter that runs aground during a stormy night. He is discovered by Mina Van Helsing (Jan Francis), who is visiting her friend Lucy Seward (Kate Nelligan). The suave Count visits Mina and her friends at the Seward’s mansion that is also the local asylum.

Dracula starts preying on the women, turning Mina into a ghastly vampire and offering Lucy eternal, undead life as his bride. Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve), Lucy’s fiancé, joins forces with Mina’s father, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier), to combat the charming-but-deadly Count.

Poster
Poster

Just like Universal’s 1931 production of DRACULA, that starred Bela Lugosi, the screenplay for this version of the Bram Stoker story was based on the 1924 stage adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John L Balderston. Langella starred in the Broadway play and had been nominated for a Tony Award for his performance.
(This version of the tale also changed characters and names around too).

A sailor has his throat ripped out
A sailor has his throat ripped out

I think this is a very satisfying, enjoyable, Edwardian period-set vampire movie.

I know some horror fans avoid this version because it’s a ‘romantic’ take on the story, but it is a great-looking production that boasts a fine score by John Williams, a memorable central performance by Frank Langella and a good supporting cast, including Donald Pleasence and Tony Haygarth, who is great as Renfield.

Frank Langella
Frank as Drac!
Lucy fears the cross
Lucy fears the cross
Creepy undead Mina!
Creepy undead Mina!

With a screenplay by W. D (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) Richter, the film has a bunch of well-done horror moments directed by John Badham, such as the underground encounter with a very ghoulish-looking undead Mina, Dracula twisting Renfield’s head 180° to break his neck and the Count crawling vertically down walls in slow motion.

Wonderful stuff.

Oh, and I like the love sequence between Dracula and Lucy (which many people knock), that uses the sumptuous John Williams score really effectively… and features laser effects!

Love scene
Okay, the love scene does go a bit ‘James Bond title sequence’, but that’s probably because Maurice Binder was Visual Consultant on this movie…
A beautiful matte shot by Albert Whitlock
A beautiful matte shot by Albert Whitlock
Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing
View from a spider's web
View from a spider’s web

About the colour timing…
In 1991 John Badham (who had originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white) tweaked the colour timing for home video with a desaturated look. This remains the most widely available version (it’s the version available on Amazon Prime, for instance).

Desaturated version
Desaturated version
Theatrical version
Theatrical version

For their 2-Disc Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, Scream Factory included the desaturated version plus the original version that screened in theatres (which I saw and enjoyed so much).

Mina gif
Thought I’d show Mina one more time!
Van Helsing confronts Dracula
Van Helsing confronts Dracula

2 thoughts on “Dracula (1979)

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