Thursday, November 12, 2009
DRACULA (1979) Film Review
by Brian Holcomb
In 1976, Frank Langella starred in the tremendously popular Broadway revival of the Hamilton Deane-John L. Balderston play "Dracula". A slightly campy production, the show was distinguished by its dazzling black and white sets designed by Edward Gorey and a powerfully sexualized Count. Just like the play's original star Bela Lugosi, Langella too was spirited off to Hollywood for a film version.
This revamped Dracula is a sort of Saturday Night Fever version of the story with a stylish, afro'ed Langella walking around with an open shirt looking for girls to take to his Castle Disco. There's actually some really dizzying dance scenes and a psychedelic love sequence done with lasers and animated bats that has to be seen to be believed. Dracula isn't really scary in this version so much as he is a Eurotrash prick who decides on a whim to steal your girl at the prom. The girls are all whores in this too, all dumping their stiff upper lip lads for the Tom Jones experience and never looking back. Dracula is clearly more man than you.
There is ONE scary scene involving Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) coming face to face with his undead daughter in the creepy catacombs beneath Whitby Cemetery. This scene is extraordinarily well done and makes you wish director John Badham would've made a more frightening film overall. He certainly had the resources as this may still be the most elaborately mounted adaptation of Stoker's classic. Seaside locations are dripping with misty atmosphere and the photography of Gil Taylor is amazing. It's a very worthwhile film to watch but in the end proves to be more disappointing than satisfying. Perhaps the best thing about the film is the huge orchestral score by John Williams. Along with his score for The Fury it's among his most underrated.
As a more everyman Van Helsing, Olivier is good but somewhat feeble. Screenwriter W.D. Richter's idea to make Van Helsing the father of one of Dracula's victims was a smart change from the novel and play. But it's a character that should've become much more aggressive as the story developed making Van Helsing into a kind of revenge figure willing to stop at nothing in order to destroy the vampire. Along those same lines, Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve) should've also become more ruthless since the film really pushes the idea of a foreign intruder stealing women from the English. But really the cast is top notch from Kate Nelligan to Donald Pleasance. Not a weak link among them and of course Langella himself who is charismatic as hell. Besides he can vibrate his eyes. How many of us can do that?
KINETOFILM SCORE: 3/5