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After so many years, Lugosi's performance of Dracula wilts into camp,
and the overblown Coppola version, while visually stimulating, comes
across as so much hyperbole. Oldman was brilliant, but a few of his
lines were poorly delivered, almost laughably so.
But Langella was the master of all vampires. His performance reels with sexual presence and a charm and sophistication that renders all other Dracula movies null and void. And why not? He had countless performances on Broadway to perfect his character, and perfect it he did. He insisted on touches, such as never wearing fangs, or never appearing with blood on his face, that added class to the vampire legend and places this version a cut above the rest.
Kate Nelligan (Prince of Tides) was so young and beautiful then and it was easy to believe that she could inspire a love that could transcend death and time. Olivier was already a ghost, and many of the scenes that involved activity no more strenuous than walking actually had to be shot with a stand in. It is rumored that Sir Larry's performance was so frail that impressionist Rich Little actually had to be called in to dub some of Olivier's lines, as he had done for David Niven in his final Pink Panther film, because the originals were virtually unintelligible given the poor health of the actors.
The brooding and regal score by John Williams drives the movie quite nicely. The film was edited by John Bloom, who a couple of years later would edit The French Lieutenant's Woman with a similar feel, and shot by Gil Taylor who shot, among other greats, the original Star Wars. Stoker would have been proud of the final result, particularly so with Langella's masterful and groundbreaking performance that launched a career. Dracula is a Gothic masterpiece that has never been given its due.
In 2004 director Badham decided to release a version in which the color had been drained from the movie, in much the same way as its central character drained color, blood and life from his victims, perhaps an intentional comparison. The "making of" featurette is delightful, and producer Mirisch's hilarious tongue in cheek observation of the "holy water" effect has already been misquoted by earnest IMDb reviewers. The remake is nice, but it was gilding the lily. And although the film was indeed improved by this modification, it had already surpassed any of its would be peers and remains the quintessential vampire movie.
For years, I've listened to horror fans talk trash about the 1979
"Dracula." It's not faithful to the book, they'd complain, it's not
scary, it's only made for the sake of middle-aged ladies who fancy
Frank Langella, etc. etc.
Well, I'm happy to report that the horror fans are way off base this time. This "Dracula" is a classy, creepy, and sometimes downright exciting production. Sure, the script doesn't follow the events of the book exactly - the whole thing takes place in England! - but it makes the most of its limitations, so to speak.
Langella makes a very classy Dracula. He apparently refused to wear fangs or demon eyes for the role, focusing instead on making the count more "human" - not to mention arrogant, intelligent, and, I suppose, sexy (for me and other guy viewers, though, the eye candy in this movie is Kate Nelligan). Perhaps Langella is a little too "normal," and his big hair is slightly amusing, but on the whole I think he plays the role with dignity, inhabiting Dracula in a far more convincing way than the likes of Gary Oldman.
The rest of the cast is pretty good, too. Nelligan makes a lovely, capable heroine, and Trevor Eve is an OK (if underused) Jonathan Harker. Laurence Olivier's Van Helsing is a lot better than most people say he is - he comes across as smart, brave and an overall worthy opponent for Dracula. Reviewers tend to mock his Dutch accent, but I don't get too wrapped up in stuff like that; it sounds fine to me. I certainly think the cast here is much better than the parade of wooden actors and crazy hams in the Coppola version.
I like the production values of this film, too. The special effects are mostly photographic tricks but they look cool, and they aren't overbearing like modern CGI effects. The sets and locations are attractive, though the designers went a bit overboard with the Gothic ruin of Carfax Abbey (probably because they wanted to make it a substitute for the absent Castle Dracula). And, of course, the eerie John Williams score is a treat, and rightly praised by most critics.
Another plus is that the movie features a number of very powerful scenes - I love Dracula's confrontation with Van Helsing in the study, and the terrifying moment when Van Helsing encounters his vampire daughter in the mine shaft. Creepy stuff; no wonder this movie freaked me out when I was a kid!
On the downside, I found Dr. Seward, as played by Donald Pleasence, slightly too grotesque and lame to be believed. And, as usual for these Dracula adaptations, Renfield seemed borderline extraneous. The plotting flakes apart a bit at the end, too, with the car chase scene coming across as silly - and what, exactly, does the final image in the film mean? It's slightly too enigmatic for my tastes. I am supposed to be rooting for Dracula to survive or something?
Still, this is one of the better Draculas. The 1977 BBC version is more faithful and probably better. But this is arguably the best adaptation of the story to come out of Hollywood.
It is surprising to me that, given the popular and critical praise so
many mediocre vampire movies have received( this includes the badly
dated Hammer flicks), this movie is often dismissed as minor and
forgettable. While it is true that the definitive version is still
Coppola's 1992 film, this overlooked gem deserves much more attention
and praise than it currently gets.
It was possibly the first vampire movie to play up the romantic and sexual implications of the vampire legend, while at the same time remaining faithful to the underlying idea of Stoker's novel( that is, a fight between good and evil). It is worth pointing out that the film depicts count Dracula as a good looking, seductive and charming aristocrat, rather than an impulsive blood-thirsty creature. He is a broody, lonely character, seeking for a female partner with whom share his everlasting loneliness, something he seems to find in the form of Lucy Seward, an independent and strong-willed Victorian lady.
But the fact that this Dracula has a romantic strain to him does not conceal his ultimately evil nature. He consciously seduces and attacks ill, defenseless Mina just for the excitement of it. When Dr Van Helsing meets her at the graveyard galleries, she is no longer that frail but charming girl, but a deathly-pale,putrid, disgusting figure. That is what Dracula's hobby implies.
Badham does an excellent job. He effectively uses Gothic imagery and low key lightning to create an eerie and slightly surreal atmosphere.But what really stands out in this version is the cast. Everyone fits their role perfectly.Langella plays a seductive count. Olivier,inspired by Cushing's performance in 1958 Dracula, puts in a riveting performance as a frail, tortured Van Helsing, with an emotional stake in the story (pun intended). Kate Nelligan( a fine Canadian supporting actress,also starring in Eye of the Needle) delivers a fresh performance. Even Harker's character , which is usually the main casting weakness when it comes to Dracula movies, is quite well handled here, played by an actor with the right appearance.
There are minor flaws, the most important of them being a lack of screen time devoted to the romance and a muddled color scheme, but this film is nevertheless worth a look, an engaging retelling of the classic horror tale with a poetic, broody edge to it.
Having seen almost all the Dracula and vampire movies ever made, I have to say this one is my modern favorite. I never understood why all those women went so willingly with Bela Lugosi. I mean, he scares me to death. But Frank Langella. Well. What can I say? He's so beautiful and suave, I started taking iron just in case he dropped by for a sip. About 1 hour into the movie is the sexiest scene I have ever watched. And there is NO nudity. All the women I know who have seen this movie know exactly where and when this scene is. Anything else that needs to taken care of is done BEFORE this scene plays. It is always very quiet while it plays and we always watch that it more than once.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm not sure why but when people discuss Dracula films, Frank Langella
is often looked over. He's my personal favorite Dracula, to me at least
he captures everything that Dracula is supposed to be. In the book, he
doesn't have an accent, he's just a charming gentleman who happens to
be a monster that will turn on you and destroy anything that will get
in his path of what he wants. So what makes this Dracula so different
from the previous two? The first Dracula played by Bela was suave, but
he was bent on making others into his slave. The second Dracula played
by Christopher Lee was charming but a true monster in every sense of
the word as well as a sexual predator. Frank Langella brings class,
charm, chills and oozes sex appeal. He's the first real romantic
Dracula who doesn't just bite the cutest girl next to him but actually
falls in love with someone. It's one of the rare times where we look at
Dracula not just as a monster but that he was human once and he still
has emotions, perhaps never lost from his mortal life. Good actors and
a chilling atmosphere gives this Dracula something special and that
should be looked at more often.
Count Dracula arrives from Transylvania to England one night through ship. Mina Van Helsing, who is visiting her friend Lucy Seward, discovers Dracula's body after his ship has run aground. After praising her as his "Savior," the Count visits Mina and her friends at the household of Lucy's father, Dr. Jack Seward, whose mansion also serves as the local asylum. At dinner, he proves to be a charming guest and leaves a strong impression on the hosts, Lucy especially. Less charmed by this handsome Romanian count is Jonathan Harker, Lucy's fiancé. Dracula later reveals his true nature as he descends upon Mina to drink her blood. The following morning, Lucy finds Mina awake in bed struggling for breath. At a loss for the cause of death, Dr. Seward calls for Mina's father, Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Van Helsing suspects what might have killed his daughter: a vampire. Seward and Van Helsing investigate their suspicions and discover a makeshift tunnel within Mina's coffin which leads to the local mines. It is there that they encounter the ghastly form of an undead Mina, and it is up to a distraught Van Helsing to destroy what remains of his own daughter. Lucy meanwhile has been summoned to Carfax Abbey, Dracula's new home, and soon she reveals herself to be in love with this foreign prince and openly offers herself to him as his bride. Now the men are determined to save her from Dracula before losing her forever like Mina.
My one complaint about the film is that it is dated with the weird James Bond like style of the love scene between Lucy and Dracula. It's very odd and not well placed with the style of the film. Lucy and Mina's names being switched didn't bother me at all, they're still part of the story. Honestly, I gave up a Dracula movie being 100% faithful to the novel years ago, it's just not going to happen, at least for a while. Dracula does not have fangs in this film, but Frank's performance is still very chilling and hypnotic. Mina as a vampire was just horrifying and gave me nightmares as a child. While the film could be considered slow paced, I still love this movie. I was watching the making of this film and the director mentioned how Dracula wasn't taken so seriously because that year Love at first Bite was also released, a clever parody on Dracula that I also happen to love, but that's sad that this Dracula has always been over looked. It's a very good movie and incredibly under rated. Come on, we have Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, and Donald Pleasence, you can't do any better than that.
I have seen many different DRACULA films since I could ride a bike, and I
have to say that this movie, was by far, the best of them all.
Okay, call me a sensitive, (lusting) hopeless romantic - if you will. But Frank Langella's exquisite performance was a new twist on the horrid, vengeful, bloodsucker from the classic Stoker novel.
For over two decades, women have found Langella's portrayal to be the most erotic, sexy and desirable by comparison, because of his physique, masculinity, voice, and natural charisma. In fact, to me - Frank Langella IS/WAS Dracula, not just an actor who played the role.
But, I wholly credit the film makers for opting to steer THIS film into a more romantic, passionate, sexual approach. With the dozens of DRACULA films produced---the flavor does begin to stagnate. After all, how many other (Dracula) films have flopped? Not just due to the poor casting, bad direction or writing either. A film goer can only stand to see exact or similar performances for so long---(remember the "FRIDAY THE 13TH" series?)
Also, the special effects used in this film were very impressive, for 1979. Most of the Dracula/wolf morph scenes were pulled off convincing, as was the Dracula/bat changes during the VAN-HELSING / HARKER / DRACULA scene at Carfax Abbey. I was duly impressed by the 'invisible man' door opening effect (after Lucy's seduction) when DRACULA pays VAN-HELSING a "surprise" visit -
"...I did not hear you come in, Count..."
In addition, Frank Langella's natural astigmatism or "dancing eyes" only completed an intensifying, dramatic effect, that no effort of modern technology could possibly recreate.
MOVING ON TO THE FILM: what woman doesn't dream of being kissed as Dracula kisses Lucy during (you know what scene I'm talking about). At first, they are standing atop the balcony, commenting about "the children of the night". Well, Dracula would have swept me off my feet too! And then, later in the bedroom scene, when Dracula seduces Lucy---well, what more can I say?
Stepping backward, if you please, to the intermediate `Seward Dinner', following the opening scene; when Count Dracula finally makes his first bold appearance. I felt as though I were actually watching the drama unfold on a live stage, in front of me!
Yes, Hollywood has been producing DRACULA films for nearly a century. However, the film producers really put the monster in a whole new, more human perspective - as only Frank Langella could do - with perfection.
In fact, it was Langella's stunning Off-Broadway performance that sparked the film maker's idea to adapt this script to the big screen.
Alongside a stellar cast of fine performances from Nelligan and veterans Olivier and Sutherland, this film deeply portrays DRACULA; at first as an alluring, romantic, sexy, suave Monarch. But then, gradually untwists to reveal the true lusting, hideous, destructive 'creature of the night'.
That's my say [for now]
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 (Panavision)
Sound format: Dolby Stereo
The vampire Count Dracula (Frank Langella) arrives in England from Transylvania and targets a wealthy middle-class family, including the daughter of arch-enemy Abraham Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier)...
John Badham's underrated adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel takes most of its cues from the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston (which had launched Bela Lugosi to stardom in 1927), and while it may not be entirely faithful to the book - events are compressed for reasons of timing - it adheres faithfully to the spirit of the thing. It's also an immensely CINEMATIC work which uses the wide Panavision frame in painterly fashion, creating a landscape of Gothic architecture and Victorian excess (note the breathtaking shot looking down from the ceiling inside Dracula's castle, where an ornate spider's web fills the entire screen). Badham and screenwriter W.D. Richter emphasize the film's Romantic elements - helped immeasurably by Langella's complex performance - though the corruption underlying Dracula's handsome exterior is often betrayed by certain details (the Count clawing at a windowpane, seeking entrance to his latest victim; the ghoulish vampiress who continues to rot even as she pursues her lust for human blood, etc.).
Olivier has been criticized in some quarters for his 'silly' European accent, and it's true that his performance lacks some of the dynamism Peter Cushing once brought to the role of Van Helsing, but Olivier comes into his own when confronting Dracula with evidence of his vampirism, and in the deeply moving moment when he drives a stake through his daughter's heart and cradles her corpse in his arms whilst sobbing uncontrollably. The fine supporting cast includes Trevor Eve, Donald Pleasence and a wealth of familiar British character actors (Tony Haygarth, Teddy Turner, Sylvester McCoy, etc.), alongside Canadian actress Kate Nelligan, giving a finely-tuned performance as a potential bride of Dracula. A beautiful film - romantic, tragic, Gothic and sinister, it satisfies in almost every respect, and is ripe for rediscovery. John Williams' glorious music score is the icing on the cake.
Having been privileged to see Mr. Langella in the Broadway production several times, This film is the best in the series. Mr. Langella is one of only a handful of actors and actresses whose persona is very keenly transferred to film. The film contained the same romance, suspense, horror and humor as the play, holding true to the Edwin Gory staging where possible. Mr. Langella's eyes danced, his stature towered and powered, and his presence was awesome. I was happy to read that there is a new DVD release from Universal. For anyone who has not seen a Dracula film, this one with Mr. Langella's fine performance is a must, to experience some of the more subtleties of the psyche of Dracula.
Now, I'm going to forward a controversial comment. This is the BEST
adaptation of Dracula yet seen and miles better than Coppola's version.
I liked this adaptation because it was a subtle take on the old legend, needing neither the overblown pretension of Coppola's rather lurid and purple-prosy presentation, nor the schlocky elements of the Hammer versions (as good as they are).
Frank Langella really was the definitive Count. He carried the role off with charm and calculation, making him far more rounded a character than Oldman did (but maybe not with the poignancy). What makes the difference though, is that Langella gets first-class back-up while (with the exception of Anthony Hopkins) Oldman was left on his own by the woodenly gruesome performances of the supporting cast (Wynona Ryder and especially Keanu Reeves were the chief culprits here). Kate Nelligan, Sir Larry and Donald Pleasance were in fine form and Trevor Eve made more of the Jonathan Harker character than Reeves ever could. Jan Francis made a believably frail Mina.
What really makes this film so good though is the superbly Gothic atmosphere. The set for the Count's castle was suitably creepy and the cinematography added to the feel of the period. Technically, Badham's version shows how much has now been lost by the reliance on CGI and digital add-ons.
That this Dracula takes it's cue from the stage adaptation rather than Stoker's original book adds a welcome element of variety. So what if it's not faithful? Does it matter? Very few films these days have this level of class and genuine skill injected into them. John Badham's version has been criminally underrated for years and slagged off by far too many ill-informed pedants. Judge for yourself. Maybe you will disagree about which adaptation is best but , pound to a penny, you won't regret watching it.
Frank Langella essays an excellent portrayal of the suave and commanding Count Dracula. And he is surrounded with a powerhouse cast, including Sir Laurence Olivier as van Helsing and Donald Pleseance as Dr, Seward. helped by the magnificent English scenery and splendid sets, such as the Carfax Abbey set with it's thousands of candles when Mina comes to dine. Also the character of Renfield is much more of a sympathetic creature in this version. This production, as was the 1931 Universal version, was taken by the Hamilton dean play, with quite a few script additions. And I agree with the young woman who said that she could understand how this Dracula, with his oozing sensuality, could so easily draw women to him. Of all the screen Draculas Langella is the one with the most sex appeal. Finally to round out the charms of this film is the fantastic sound score created by John Williams. (Where does he find the time to do all these film scores? And all of them so great.) Surprisingly, when it first opened this film version was a flop, which I feel was undeserved. But time has shown it to be a much better film than deemed.
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