“Dracula” (1979) starring Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence & Kate Nelligan / Z-View

Dracula (1979)

Director: John Badham

Screenplay by: W. D. Richter based on DRACULA by Bram Stoker and Dracula (1924 play) by Hamilton Deane
and John L. Balderston

Starring: Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence, Kate Nelligan and Trevor Eve.

Tagline: Throughout history, he has filled the hearts of men with terror, and the hearts of women with desire.

The Story:

The ship, the Demeter, is found floating just off shore.  All of the crew have been murdered.  Count Dracula (Langella) is the only passenger to survive.  He’s unable to explain what happened.

Dr. Jack Seward (Pleasence) hosts a dinner party to welcome the charming new arrival to their community.  Dracula tells them that he has come to England to partake of all that life offers.  Lucy Seward (Nelligan) finds herself attracted to Dracula, despite being engaged to Jonathan Harker (Eve) who is there with her.  What nobody knows is that Dracula is a vampire with plans to make Lucy his bride.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)

I saw Dracula when it was first released in 1979.  I’ve rewatched it a few times since.  I liked it best on the initial viewing.  Since then I’ve found this version’s focus on making Dracula more of a lover weakens the character.

I also find the supporting characters in this version less interesting.  Reinfeld should be pathetic and sometimes scary.  This version’s Renfield is just gross.  The relationship between Harker and Lucy doesn’t have chemistry.  When she shows an interest in Dracula, Harker doesn’t look more than a little peeved.  The audience doesn’t have a lot of, pardon the expression, “stake” in what happens between them.  Finally, Dracula should be menacing.  He should be frightening. When he enters a room, men should get a feeling that a apex predator is among them. Here he looks like he would be more at home in a disco than a castle.

In the play Dracula, the two main females’ names are inverted. Mina becomes Lucy and Lucy, Mina.  Director John Badham also inverted the names.  His rationale?  He “felt like Mina was a dopey name and that Lucy was kind of a nice name.”

Frank Langella is quoted as saying that Sir Laurence Olivier only took the part because he needed the money.  It is also reported that Olivier would only appear in the film if his character was killed.  That way he wouldn’t be brought back for a sequel. Donald Pleasence said in an interview: “We had a really good time but it was an awful film…Larry (Olivier) and I did it for a laugh.”  Sometimes it is hard to love a film that the actors hold in such low regard.