DRACULA, in his 1979 incarnation, is not so much a bloodthirsting fiend as an undying romantic, played by Frank Langella in a manner to put the accent on seduction rather than savagery. It worked for him on stage, playing the role more than 900 times in a Broadway revival of the 1924 play based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. On film, it’s up to you to decide whether the actor’s much ballyhooed sex appeal comes across. From this cobwebbed corner of the castle, we can take Langella—an intense, studiously ‘serious’ actor—when he does offended power (Frost/Nixon, The Trial Of The Chicago 7) or frustrated pride (Robot & Frank) but are much less impressed by his aristocratic stalker. The puffed-up hair and flared collars don’t do the trick either.
Directed by John Badham, scripted by W.D. Richter, the movie has impressive production design and a lush John Williams score, but some of the effects (the bats) produce giggles rather than chills, key supporting players are wanting, a chase scene (carriage vs. auto) is poorly handled, and the end result is a shrug, akin to that evoked from the same era’s over-hyped Excalibur.
Laurence Olivier (as ‘Van Helsing’) and Donald Pleasence (‘Dr. Seward’) are there to deftly pick up checks, Kate Nelligan (‘Lucy’) and Jan Francis (‘Mina’) less than compelling, Trevor Eve a doughy pancake as ‘Jonathan Harker’. Even bug-gobbling ‘Renfield’ is a letdown as done by Tony Haygarth. Reviews were generally positive, and the $12,164,000 cost was cleared by a global gross of $32,600,000; it was 25th in the States that year. They expected it to do better, but the Count as wolf-in-disguise was beaten to the throat by the vamp camp of Love At First Bite. Other fans of the genre sought out Werner Herzog’s stylish Nosferatu the Vampyre with the effectively undead Klaus Kinski.
The most striking element of the Langella/Badham version was how great it looked, but in subsequent video releases Badham made the wan ‘creative’ choice to desaturate the color scheme, hopefully suggesting the aura of the archaic original: a print with that dulled pallor drains the most of the ‘eternal life’ out of experience. 109 minutes.
One thought on “Dracula (1979)”
I liked this movie a lot, but only because of the leads. Frank and Kate were great; everyone else sucked. But Love at First Bite totally rocked… I saw it like 12 times with my high school bestie. Probably wouldn’t like it now though. Dark Shadows starring Depp was the best vampire movie imo and I could still watch it again!