According to the DVD Documentary 'The Revamping of Dracula', Donald Pleasence was a props actor who knew the movie game, and frequently would be seen utilizing props like a handkerchief or eating sweets from a bag, handling objects so his scenes would be difficult to cut due to the continuity issues that exist with handling objects between shots, thereby forcing more time on screen and reducing the chance of his scenes being cut out of the film.
Donald Pleasence was initially offered the role of the vampire hunter Professor Abraham Van Helsing, but rejected it, saying it was too similar to his role as Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween (1978). He accepted the smaller role of Dr Seward instead.
There were two stipulations that actor Frank Langella insisted upon when accepting the role of Dracula in this movie. First, there would be no scenes with fangs dripping blood and second, that Langella would not do any commercial promotions as Dracula.
Frank Langella suffers from an eye condition called nystagmus, which causes one's eyes to move involuntarily. The producers were aware that this might detract from the menace he was able to portray in the role, but cast him anyway as they trusted in his overall screen presence to make the role work. In many scenes his eyes are seen to be moving erratically, while in other scenes he can be observed to be keeping them still either through force of will or by focusing on objects in the distance.
Frank Langella also played the title character Dracula on the stage during the Broadway revival, was nominated for a Tony Award for his stage performance of Dracula. Langella once said of his interpretation of the Dracula character, "I don't play him as a hair-raising ghoul. He is a nobleman, an elegant man with a very difficult problem... a man with a unique and distinctive social problem: he has to have blood to live and he is immortal".
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.
According to the book "Lights! Camera! Scream!" (1983) by Stephen Mooser, Dracula's castle in this picture was not a real life location but a glass matte painted by special visual effects guru Albert Whitlock.
This movie was based upon the second revived theatrical production of the original "Dracula" play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. It is a play in three acts set in Purley, England during the 1920s. This third Broadway production opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York on 20th October 1977 and ran for 925 performances until 6th January 1980. The same Universal Studio's earlier Dracula (1931) film had also been based on this stage play, the play having been revived on Broadway in around April 1931 at the Revival Royale Theatre. The play was first performed on Broadway at the Original Fulton Theatre between the 5th October 1927 and May 1928.
Reportedly, the concept for this picture came when producer Walter Mirisch saw the Broadway theatrical production. Mirisch said: "I truly had no idea what to expect. But I found that [Frank] Langella had created a completely different character from the accepted sinister one - a character with charm, sex appeal, and most important of all, he endeared himself to the audiences. I decided right then to make the film!".
Laurence Olivier (Professor Van Helsing) was seriously ill during the making of this film and some cast and crew wondered whether he would be able to complete it. Ironically, working on this vampire film, Olivier had a disease that caused him to bleed incessantly at the slightest nick or scratch.
Director John Badham originally intended to shoot the picture in black-and-white to mirror the b&w scenic design of cartoonist Edward Gorey's sets and costumes of the stage play as well as Universal's original monochrome Dracula (1931) movie but the Universal Pictures studio objected. The film utilizes mostly warm and golden colors, black, white and muted greys with only intermittent garish colors, a look and feel that director Badham said was to evoke the romanticism of period pen-and-ink drawings.
The names of Mina and Lucy are inverted in this version of Dracula. In Bram Stoker's book and other movies, Mina was Jonathan Harker's fiancé and Lucy was her friend who becomes a vampire. Here, Lucy is the fiancé and Mina becomes the vampire lady.
When Dracula hypnotizes Mina, he uses the line, "When I will something, it should be done." A line once used by Bela Lugosi when he gave his "Great Vampire Bat Illusion" on an episode of "You Asked For It".