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Dracula (1979)

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Plot Summary:
"When a schooner is wrecked off Whitby the only survivor is Count Dracula who has arrived with large amounts of Transylvanian soil to take up residence in Carfax Abbey. He makes friends with Dr Seward who runs the local asylum and with his daughter Lucy, her friend Mina, and with Jonathan Harker, Lucy's solicitor fiance. But almost immediately, Mina dies from loss of blood, and just possibly this may not be a coincidence."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 27 June 2005 My Rating: out of 5


Director John Badham (whose 'Saturday Night Fever' is wholly overrated) moves the oft-filmed Bram Stoker tale (though it is based on a Broadway play with Frank Langella in the lead in both film and stage version) to England (Carfax Abbey serving as Dracula's abode) and makes a few minor changes here and there that might annoy Stoker purists (the only one that really annoyed me was the change to the 'Children of the Night' line).

Langella, perhaps second only to Christopher Lee as the definitive Count, capturing the suaveness, sexiness, and the aristocratic nature of the character, but also making him more human (and perhaps thus, more believable) and possibly even sympathetic than audiences might be used to. Kate Nelligan, a fine actress, is a little aloof as Lucy, given a sort-of feminist bent this time around that makes Trevor Eve's Harker a little useless. Thankfully, I've never taken much notice of the Harker character (except when Keanu was stinking up the screen in the appalling Coppolla version), and the other suitors are nowhere to be found here, Thank God. Donald Pleasence, forever seen with food in hand (a ploy to keep the audience's gaze on him) is terrific as Dr. Seward, who runs an insane asylum (cue Tony Haygarth's bug-chewing madman/Dracula's servant Renfield, one of the better interpretations of the character, I would've liked to have seen what Roy Kinnear could have done with the role, actually) and who is also Lucy's father. I just wish he was given more to do in the role.

Lord Laurence Olivier is generally fine as vampire expert Van Helsing, who in this version is also made into Mina's father. Unfortunately, the once-great actor (see 'The Entertainer' or 'Wuthering Heights') employs his stupid 'Boys From Brazil' accent here and it is a constant distraction that lessens his performance's effectiveness a little (he also looks like a cadaver, to be honest), though his grief over his daughter is quite touching.

Aside from Langella's commanding work (though, one glorious neck-snapping aside, I do miss some of the animalistic quality Christopher Lee brought, he gave us the most well-rounded Dracula), the other major plusses in this film are the fine music score by John Williams, the production design, and the Gothic, fog-heavy cinematography by Gil Taylor. The interior shots in the castle are particularly outstanding, with one shot involving a spider's web a personal fave. Unfortunately, whether it has simply dated or if this is the infamous re-tooled version by the director, the photography is somewhat muted and murky in the version I saw. I heard Badham wanted to have the film as close to black and white as possible and sought to drain the colour, and whilst I'm not actually sure what version I saw, I couldn't help but think it would've been better to just shoot in black and white anyway, and it annoyed me a little. Kudos, though, for whoever came up with the idea of tinkering with Langella's eyes to make them brighter and more hypnotic. The ending is quite an interesting idea, too, even if it is marred by some goofy FX (the less said about the kitschy love scene, the better, it looks like porno footage shot by legendary title designer Saul Bass!).

Quite violent at times, interesting 70s update of the Dracula story, with some fine performances, not the least being Langella's interpretation of the Count. Terrific sets as well. Muted colours and somewhat low-key tone hamper it a little, though.

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