In 1979 two very different screen versions of Dracula appeared. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and John Badham’s Dracula. Nosferatu has attained cult status as one of the cinema’s great vampire films, whilst the more traditional Dracula still remains in a bit of a limbo. Herzog employed Klaus Kinski to play the count. Whilst Badham’s choice was Frank Langella. Dracula is visually a throwback to Tod Browning’s 1931 film. However Bela Lugosi was not a role model for Langella. Of the three actors Langella is the most romantic and undoubtedly the sexiest Count Dracula. (Christopher Lee in the Hammer Dracula projected a dark primal eroticism but not couched in the Byronic style of Langella). Badham’s film exudes an energy that is enjoyably theatrical. Frank Langella had played the part hundreds of times on the Broadway stage. By the time Dracula went into production he’d honed his sophisticated performance. Thirty eight years on, Langella still manages to bestride the widescreen with vigour and conviction. Take for instance an early dinner table scene where Dracula is asked to more fully explain the meaning of the word Nosferatu. A guest says “Undead”. To which the count replies, “Ah, it means not dead.” At that moment a servant cuts his finger whilst carving a joint of meat. The man sucks his bleeding thumb. Langella observes him with a natural and heightened seriousness. Blood is Dracula’s vital life source. I doubt if today such a scene could be played so straight. A mannered jokiness would inevitably ensue. Now our times for Dracula, as well as the TV Sherlock, are too knowing.
Dracula is romantic but not romanticised. It’s handsomely mounted, intelligently scripted and well acted. The film has genuine “Romantic Agony values” and gothic spirit. It’s pleasingly anti-Victorian; covertly criticising social progress and the repression of any contrary and liberating energy that hints at the satanic. The count’s not the only sexy animal to be found on board here. His attractive admirer Lucy (Kate Nelligan) has a feisty strength. Her fiancé Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve) proves loving but rather stolid, failing to satisfy her once she’s experienced the count’s charisma. And after she’s been bitten by Dracula, Harker, Dr.Seward (Donald Pleasance) and Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) cannot physically restrain her from joining her dark soul-mate.
Dracula’s production values are impressive. The set design is authentically spooky (all those candles lighting the count’s residence). John William’s exciting music is charged with atmosphere, while Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography has been corrected to achieve the more monochrome look that the director intended.
At the home of Dr.Seward, Dracula expresses a desire to throw himself into the rush of humanity. To that Mina van Helsing (Jan Francis) declares, “You have a great lust for life, Count.” His reply is simply, “How well you phrase it.” Dracula then gives Mina a piercing look causing her to faint. If you like your Dracula to be irresistibly handsome and seductive then Frank Langella is the actor for you. This Dracula is a treat and one of the best screen outings the count’s ever had. Alan Price.
NOW OUT ON BLURAY