Blu-ray Review: Langella Hypnotizes in DRACULA 1979
I don't know the numbers, but Bram Stoker's book Dracula has been adapted quite a bit into theatrical productions, TV series, and movies. The property is up there with Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Predjudice, and The Three Musketeers as one of the most popular literary creations ever.
As far as Dracula goes, some of the numerous filmmakers and actors who have adapted and inhabited the role include: Francis Ford Coppola and Gary Oldham (Bram Stoker's Dracula); F.W. Murnau and Max Schreck (Nosferatu); Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu the Vampyre); Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi (Dracula); Dan Curtis and Jack Palance (Dracula); Paul Morrissey and Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula); Fisher and Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula and Hammer had its sequels); and even an NBC series that sadly lasted only one season, Dracula, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. (That tasty soap opera treat involved a Tesla-like Count who drank whiskey, bedded women repeatedly, and painful experiments with Van Helsing to be able to exist in sunlight.)
Here, we'll look into the recent Blu-ray release of the 1979 adaptation that Scream Factory has released. Directed by John Badham (War Games, Short Circuit, Saturday Night Fever), this version stars the silky-voiced Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Good Night and Good Luck) as Count Dracula. Other heavyweights include Donald Pleasance (The Last Tycoon, Halloween, 1984) as Dr. Jack Seward and Laurence Olivier (Spartacus, Rebecca, Sleuth) as Prof. Abraham Van Helsing.
As I mentioned above, there have been theatrical productions of Dracula, one of which included Langella as the titular Count. In this story, he reprises his role from the stage; having not been around to have seen the original stage version, I have nothing to compare the film to, but it opens with the Demeter as the ship washes upon British shores. Whitby, to be exact.
If you know the story, and it's likely you do, the vessel is empty. Strange boxes of earth are aboard and the Count is the only survivor. It's not long until Dracula ensconces himself with a local artistocratic family and young women begin to falter and the local crazies whip themselves up into frenzies.
However, this is one of those Dracula adaptations that takes liberties with the characters and mixes up the original love triangle. Here, Langella's smoky villain becomes enamored with Lucy Seward. Usually, it's with Mina Murray (soon-to-be Harker), and the Lucy character is Lucy Westenra. Anyway, Lucy here is played by the fantastic Kate Nelligan (Eye of the Needle, Frankie and Johnny) who's mesmerized by the Count and vice versa.
The rest of the plot you can likely imagine --- does the pair escape their human pursuers to live undead happily ever after? You'll have to watch to find out, but doing so is great fun. There's lots of really cool shots and special effects, least of which is Langella's peculiar shaky eye tic. It's a thing to behold, to see him as Count Dracula spasing out his eyeballs as he mesmerizes women and men alike. Unnerving and a happy accident to the film.
The John Williams score is great, and the restoration is on par with other Scream Factory releases. This edition comes with two versions of the film, a nearly black and white, super-desaturated version, and the theatrical version which offers more color and warmth, which I preferred.
The usual talking head interviews are here, and they're fine. Sound, like the picture, is also great. Here's the full list:
DISC ONE: DESATURATED COLOR TIMING
- NEW Introduction By Director John Badham
- NEW King Of My Kind – An Interview With John Badham
- NEW What Sad Music – An Interview With Writer W.D. Richter
- NEW Dracula’s Guest – An Interview With Camera Assistant Jim Alloway
- NEW Interview With Editor John Bloom
- NEW Interview With Make-Up Artist Peter Robb-King
- NEW Interview With Hair Stylist Colin Jamison
- NEW Interview With Assistant Director Anthony Waye
- NEW Interview With Production Manager Hugh Harlow
- Audio Commentary With Director John Badham
- The Revamping Of Dracula Featurette
DISC TWO: ORIGINAL THEATRICAL COLOR TIMING
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Best Available Original Film Elements
- NEW Introduction By Director John Badham
- NEW Audio Commentary By Film Historian/Filmmaker Constantine Nasr
- Theatrical Trailer
- Radio Spots
- Still Gallery
If you're a fan of this towering literary villain and you've never seen this, you owe it to yourself to fill out the gap in your Dracual film history, because this is a good one.
Again, this collector's edition (with poster!) Blu-ray of the 1979 adaptation of Dracula is already out. To check out the trailer and order, head to Scream Factory's page for the film here.
- John Badham
- W.D. Richter (screenplay)
- Hamilton Deane (play)
- John L. Balderston (play)
- Bram Stoker (novel)
- Frank Langella
- Laurence Olivier
- Donald Pleasence
- Kate Nelligan