I discovered the novel of Dracula when I was 10. I was one of those kids who loved to watch black and white horror movies on TV on Saturday afternoons. One day my mom, a former English teacher who was soon to be a school librarian, pointed out to me that the monsters that I loved had, for the most part, originated as characters in books. There was no going back.
By the time I was in high school, I’d read Dracula several times. I’d seen the Lugosi movies, of course, and Christopher Lee, and everything else that I could find on TV. And then there was going to be a Dracula movie in the theaters!
I was very excited about seeing Frank Langella’s Dracula. The idea of visiting the Count’s castle on the big screen was a huge draw, but seeing the count as a young man was also appealing. I made a date with a girlfriend and we were ready to go…
And my mom said no. The movie was rated R. She thought it would be too sexy for a 16 year old. I was crushed.
I’d forgotten all this — the anticipation and the embarrassment — until I rediscovered the movie on Prime.
Wow, it is not the best movie rendition of the novel I love. It makes some weird revisions as a way to shorten the story to a marketable length: Lucy becomes the heroine of the tale. Now she is Dr. Seward’s daughter, who helps him in the asylum. She’s also engaged to Jonathan Harker. Mina becomes Dr. Van Helsing’s nervous daughter, the first to be preyed upon and killed by Dracula.
Carfax Abbey is no longer in London, but now the asylum’s neighbor in Yorkshire. The Whitby graveyard scenes remain. I’d love to know if they were really filmed in Whitby, or if it’s a set overlooking the sea. The credits say it was filmed on location on Cornwall, which would put the shipwreck and graveyard on the wrong coast. Either way, the steep graveyard with its jumble of markers makes a convincing setting for the exhumation of Mina’s grave (not a crypt, as in the novel) and the daylight beheading of her corpse.
The sets of Dracula’s Abbey looked very familiar, so I wasn’t surprised to see the movie had been made at Shepperton Studios, home of the Hammer Horror movies.
All of the actors in the movie have different accents. I mean, if you’re going to cast Donald Pleasance as Seward, why not just set the movie in America? Only Lawrence Olivier seemed to take things seriously, flogging his exaggerated Dutch accent for all he was worth.
Some the dialog was lifted straight from the novel, which made the changes all the more glaring. Although the movie makes a point of establishing that there are no wolves in England (other than the one that jumped from the shipwreck in the beginning of the film), wolves howl outside Carfax.
Dracula says, “Listen to them, the children of the night. What sad music they make.”
Lucy asks, “Do you think it’s sad?”
“So lonely,” Dracula answers.
Langella is sexy as Dracula, despite his distractingly American accent. He’s clearly having a great time in the role. He’s not particularly scary, but he’s got the smoldering thing down.
For an R-rated film, there’s no nudity and very little blood, even when Dracula opens the vein on his chest and baptises Lucy as a vampire. There is a long scene of full clothed bodies lying atop each other inside a swirl of smoky red laser light, but this was made in the 70s.
Really, the best part of the movie is John Williams’ sweeping score, orchestrated by the London Symphony. That holds up better than anything else in the movie.