Director: John Badham
Writer: W.D. Richter
Starring: Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier and Donald Pleasence
This film follows more of the play of Dracula than it does of Bram Stoker’s novel. With that said, many of characters are changed around, but the first names for the most part are the same. In this one, the professor Abraham Van Helsing is played by Laurence Olivier. His daughter is Mina in this one, played by Jan Francis. Dr. Jack Seward is Donald Pleasence. His daughter is Lucy played by Kate Nelligan.
This film begins on a cargo ship coming to England. The crew is scared and is being killed by someone. There is wolf growling and we see the captain tying himself to the wheel. His throat is torn out. We see the coastline and there is a light. There are also church bells. Francis isn’t feeling well and her best friend Nelligan tries to help her. Pleasence is trying to keep all of the residents of his asylum calm and he needs Nelligan to help him. While this is happening, Francis goes out and finds Count Dracula, played by Frank Langella, hiding in a cave.
The next morning a man in a car drives on the beach toward the shipwreck. He climbs up to the ship and talks to Pleasence. He is telling them that some of this cargo belongs to the man he is soliciting for, the man is Jonathan Harker who is played by Trevor Eve. He gets accosted by a man who is upset with him for selling off his family mansion, Carfax Abbey. The upset man is Milo Renfield and his played by Tony Haygarth. Despite being mad, he takes the boxes to Carfax and he is told by Pleasence to invite Langella to dinner.
At dinner, we learn more about some of the characters. Eve is to be engaged to Nelligan. Langella seems to be somewhat interested in the younger Francis as well. At dinner they are trying to understand why the ship crashed. They are trying to translate the log, but the only word they can make out is ‘nosferatu’ which Francis believes means undead. Langella corrects her saying that it means not dead. We then learn that Francis has been sickly girl most of her life. She is staying at the house, because Pleasence has been helping her. She faints and Langella hypnotizes her to help alleviate her symptoms. It seems to have worked. Langella then dances with Nelligan, we see the first spark between them.
Back at Carfax Abbey, Langella meets Haygarth who is moving his crates into the house. Langella turns Haygarth into his minion. He isn’t a vampire, but he will live a long life of eating insects and other small animals.
Later that night, Nelligan seeks off to see Eve in the greenhouse. While she is gone, Langella breaks into their room and bites Francis’ neck. The next morning, Nelligan finds that she has trouble breathing. Pleasence gets called in, but she dies before them. Pleasence sends a telegram to her father. He drops what he is doing and comes to England.
Eve goes to see Langella about what work needs to be done. Langella needs the deed and some other paperwork done that will send Eve out of town. He can’t leave until after the funeral, but he will take care of it. On his way back, he is attacked by Haygarth and this lands him in the insane asylum.
Pleasence goes to meet Olivier at the train station. Pleasence tries to explain what happened to Olivier who is visible upset by what has happened. While this is happening, Nelligan goes to see Langella for dinner. She falls in love with his charm and we now see that she is the true object he is after.
That night at the insane asylum, there is a ruckus where one of the patients baby has been taken by a woman. She claims that it was by Francis. Olivier has a lot of knowledge of the occult and after hearing how his daughter died, he has a suspicion. He takes a horse to the cemetery and it goes to her grave. She is dug up and she isn’t in the casket. There is a hole in it that leads to the mines below.
Olivier and Pleasence go inside and find Francis as a vampire. They take care of her. The next morning they have her dug up again and cut out her heart to prevent her body coming back. This bothers Nelligan who has been corrupted and Langella wants to make her his bride for eternity.
Can Olivier, Pleasence and Eve stop Langella before he completely turns Nelligan? Will they get away together to live for eternity and create more of their kind?
I have watched a lot of Dracula adaptations and now I look to see what sets films apart from the others. I liked that this one cuts out some of the story and puts it all in England. I also really liked the way that Langella played the role. He goes for being an attractive, suave and debonair version of Dracula. We believe that he convinces these women to let him bite them with his charm which I liked. This one is also more sexualized than many of the other ones, which I think adds more to this version that cuts a lot of the novel out. This one is also set a little bit later than many adaptations; there is a car in this one as well as a machine that plays music. I also liked the use of shape-shifting for the vampire as well.
Now what I didn’t like was the completely changing of the characters. I understand that this is based more on the stage play, where they try to cut out characters or change them to make the cast smaller. It is kind of awkward though that Seward’s daughter in this one is Lucy, when in the novel he is one of her suitors for marriage. Doesn’t ruin the film, but it changes the complicity of the story. I also didn’t like the assumed ability of Dracula that he has mind-control. The other films give us more understanding of this ability. Langella has some intense eyes as it is, so I couldn’t tell when he was using it or not. I also wasn’t a big fan of the ending, because it bends the rules and then drags out that the ending isn’t really complete.
I would recommend giving this one a viewing if you are fan of Dracula or vampire movies. This one isn’t your usual adaptations as this one does some different things. Langella plays a great, charming, sexualized version of Dracula. Olivier plays a solid Van Helsing and Pleasence a good Seward. It’s not too long and it isn’t the greatest, but definitely worth a viewing.
My Rating: 6 out of 10