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Susan Saint James,
When a ship is wrecked off Whitby, the only survivor, Count Dracula, is discovered lying on the beach by the sickly young Mina Van Helsing, who is visiting her dear friend Lucy Seward. Lucy, her fiancé Jonathan Harker (a solicitor), and her father Dr. Jack Seward (who runs the local asylum) try to make the Count feel welcome to England. The Count quickly takes the life of Mina, and proceeds to romance Lucy, with the intention of making her his greatest bride. Soon after the death of Mina, the Sewards call her father Dr. Abraham Van Helsing to come to their home. As Lucy falls deeper under the spell of the Count, Dr. Van Helsing almost immediately comes to understand that his daughter fell prey to a vampire and discovers the culprit to be none other than the Count himself. Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, and Harker work together to foil the Count's plans to take Lucy away to his native Transylvania. Written by
Hillary Glendinning (email@example.com)
Reportedly, the theatrical print of this film looks markedly different to recent versions. In 1991, when the film was re-released on laserdisc, director John Badham changed the color timing and as such the vibrant look of the film was desaturated. The color scheme of the film took on a virtually colorless look and consequently debates occurred on Internet chat forums. See more »
A common problem with many vampire movies is repeated here: the bite marks on the ladies' necks are placed in such a way that the vampire's teeth would have to be one behind the other, not along side each other. The placement of the bites would have Dracula performing a serious contortionist act to get his teeth into the willing victims. See more »
Strange approach to an over-worked story. Doesn't work especially well as it prioritises stylishness while neglecting the scares.
Fresh from directing Saturday Night Fever, John Badham here tries to give the Dracula story a stylish makeover. However, in taking this fantastic tale of terror and smearing it with romance, elegance and charm, Badham has stripped the concept of its horror and its spooky atmosphere. Of all the Dracula films ever made, this one might well have the best photography but it also has probably the worst chill factor. I've seen "U" rated movies scarier than this. That probably explains why the film divides critics so much - there are those who rate it highly because of its sumptuous style, while others come away bitterly disappointed as a result of its total disregard for the "horror" side of the story. I must admit I'm not a great fan of this version - I'm a content-over-style man, and this one just doesn't deliver for me.
There's little point going into detail about the plot. Bram Stoker's story has been read and dramatised so many times that everyone knows how it goes. However, this version makes some changes to the source novel (it is based, actually, on a stage play by Balderston and Deane). For instance, Van Helsing is not merely a vampire expert, he is also the father of one of Dracula's earliest victims. Dracula himself is a sexy, charming society-gentleman as opposed to a reclusive, mysterious and creepy figure. These little changes freshen up the plot a little but are not in any other way beneficial to the film.
Performance-wise, the film is variable. Frank Langella plays Dracula quite well (he'd had plenty of practise after performing the role for months on Broadway); Donald Pleasance is great as Dr. Seward; Trevor Eve seems stiff and unconvincing as Jonathan Harker; and Laurence Olivier overacts hideously as Van Helsing. At this point of his career, Olivier was going through a phase of uncontrolled, hammy displays (see The Betsy, Inchon, The Jazz Singer and Clash of the Titans to see what I mean). One has to wonder if someone a little more restrained - say, John Mills or James Mason - might have made a better Van Helsing in 1979. There's great cinematography by Gilbert Taylor, making this a film most assuredly intended for the wide screen, and John Williams adds another memorable score to his list of impeccable film music from the '70s.
Dracula is an OK film, loved by some, detested by others, but it really needed more attention to the frightening aspects. After all, a great-looking horror film is rather a pointless thing if it lacks the ability to spook your mind or jolt you out of your seat.
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