Monday, May 25, 2009

Dracula Done Right

Dracula 1979
Director: John Badham
Writer: W.D. Richter
Starring Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Kate Nelligan and Donald Pleasance

Dracula is probably the most famous and beloved of modern horror film icons, and he has been portrayed from everyone like Bela Lugosi to Gerard Butler. When I think a perfect two names come to mind, Christopher Lee and Frank Langella. They both made him sinister and yet alluring and regal as well. They never tried to wink at the audience or make the character a joke, and that is one of the things I find most refreshing about their portrayals of the Count. In my book Lee and Langella are leaps above all the other actors who have taken over the role. Langella really embodies the role and you believe he is the Count. The film is very Gothic and it plays up that atmosphere without feeling hokey or campy in the slightest.
The plot basics are such, It is the late 18th century in England, and there is a horrible storm and a huge ship crashed on the beach. A clean up crew arrives in the morning and finds everyone dead with horrible marks on their necks. This is where we meet Dr. Seward (Pleasance) who runs the neighboring mental hospital, we soon also meet Jonathon Harker, a solicitor for Dracula, who was a passenger on the ship and he seems to have arrived intact and safely. In the evening we meet Dracula (Langella) at a dinner at Seward's house and he is charming and regal, but behaves strangely. Mina a girl living with Seward and his daughter Mina (Nelligan) dies mysteriously the next morning with 2 marks on her neck. Seward calls her father Van Helsing (Olivier) to come at once and he arrives, and makes the accusation that Lucy was killed by a vampire, he talks Seward into digging her up and finds her missing, but then finds her in the mines below the graveyard, alive or un alive as it were and Helsing has to put a stake through her heart to put her at peace. Now with proof they are all steeled to destroy Dracula before he takes Mina as well. There are many battles that lead up to a rousing climax on a ship, with a great demise for the Count.
This is my second favorite Dracula film after the Horror of Dracula. Badham does a great job with the direction, their is great use of fog, and also the muted color in the film gives it a perpetual gloominess, that keeps it moody throughout the film. The script by Richter is great too, Langella performs with relish, and his confrontations with Olivier are especially sweet to watch. Also, Pleasance is great as Seward, He is a little hammy, but not too much that it derails the film. The effects are minimal, most of them during the great mine sequence with Lucy and the death of Dracula at the end. This is also, one of the most faithful translations of Stoker's book too, leaps and bounds over the highly overrated Bram Stoker's Dracula. I highly recommend this one for fans of Dracula or the vampire genre in general.
This one gets 4 out of 5 bats

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