MAY 26, 2014
Now that my child is here*, I just have to count the 7-8 years' worth of days until he's old enough to watch horror movies with his old man, giving me a lot of time to think about what I'll show him and when. One thing I definitely want to do is make sure he sees stuff "in order", so that when he sees this pretty good adaptation of Dracula, it will be BEFORE he sees all of the movies (including Coppola's) that ripped off one of its new ideas: retrofitting Lucy (or Mina) into a reincarnation of Dracula's long lost love.
Indeed, since Coppola's film was one of (possibly THE) first one I saw adapted from Stoker's novel, I had assumed it was part of the story until I actually read it in college (especially when obvious inspirations, like Vampire in Brooklyn, carried over this concept). But unless my research has failed me, the idea started with this 1973 film from Dan Curtis, who was basically melding his own Dark Shadows ideas with the source material (way to branch out, buddy!). Coppola also ripped off the Vlad the Impaler idea, so for a TV movie that's premiere got preempted by a real world event (Spiro Agnew resigning), it's had remarkable impact on the undying, always strangely plotted story of a young man who travels to Transylvania and proceeds to disappear within the narrative.
Harker's even more backgrounded than usual here; Arthur Holmwood takes on the bulk of his role (including joining Van Helsing for the final battle), leaving Harker an afterthought before the halfway point. They also skip the Demeter almost entirely, opting for a "5 weeks later" title card and a single shot of the beached ship, so the already clunky shifting of protagonists is even more of an issue as Harker just all but disappears as a result (he briefly returns as a vampire). A voiceover only briefly explains the Demeter's significance ("No one on board", etc), but since I, like probably everyone (maybe even my son - I think I'll start with the Langella/Badham, if not the original Lugosi/Browning) has seen multiple Dracula movies, my mind filled in the blanks and kind of just went with it. Sort of like when you're watching one of the Harry Potter movies and mentally filling in the little side stories and character beats that weren't actually in the film.
Otherwise (and again, this is an issue stemming from the book; it's an ensemble piece where only 1/3 of the characters are worthy of the limelight) this one's pretty good. Maybe a bit TOO straightforward at times, but having just rewatched Nosferatu (Herzog version), I appreciated that element - I don't DISLIKE that film but I have to be in a certain mood to watch a bunch of folks walking around endlessly and what not. Jack Palance also made for a fine Count; I quite loved him in the "human" scenes (i.e. talking to Harker about Carfax), as he brought a fine weariness to it without being all creepy or weird. Another thing about Nosferatu - the makeup is awesome but Harker is way too OK with this bat-ghoul thing talking to him, so it's nice to see this scene play out sans distraction.
The rest of the cast was solid as well. Penelope Horner made for a fetching Mina, and I liked that Nigel Davenport as Van Helsing looked more like a gruff constable than a proper gent like Cushing (or kook like Hopkins). Curtis didn't rope in any of his Shadows stars (at least, none that I'm aware of), so even though he's borrowing some of Barnabas' character beats, I didn't think about that show too much. If anything I was more reminded of Hammer films - their style (sets, colors, lighting, etc) were clearly an inspiration on Curtis here, and since Hammer was kind of floundering at this point it's kind of funny that another group entirely was making something more up to their standards.
MPI released the film on Blu for the first time this week, offering a new transfer that is quite good - it's either funny or sad to see a television production given better treatment than some megabudget Hollywood films (I have a pristine 2K transfer of this but I'm stuck with a non-anamorphic DVD of The Abyss?). There are a few extras as well, obviously from a previous release as both Jack Palance and Dan Curtis both died in 2006, but their interviews are enjoyable all the same. Palance talks about his hesitance to take the role and how he approached it; it's a little dry but it's rare to see this sort of thing with the Oscar winner (though it does seem to be cribbed from a longer, career-spanning interview. Curtis' interview is even shorter but more thorough - he mutters about being ripped off by Coppola and keeps trashing it (when he comments about werewolves, it seems he's just taking another shot at the 1992 film's transformations), so it's pretty amusing. A collection of outtakes and, hilariously, a bunch of TV edits are offered as well (I had to laugh in the latter's case since NBC's Hannibal season finale just topped most R rated fare in the blood department), along with the trailer. The film's subtitles are also a bonus feature of a sort; I had them on frequently (volume low so as not to wake the baby when applicable - this took a few sittings to watch, obviously) and I was consistently delighted that the score was described. "Eerie music" "Sad, romantic music", etc. It's a good score, I should mention - it's even advertised at the end of the movie, rare for a television production.
On that note, I assume this was a theatrical release in some territories; honestly it could have played in theaters here too - it's a bit workmanlike, but again, sometimes it's nice to see a Dracula movie that's just "Dracula", not Dracula in space, Dracula in New York, Dracula turns into a CGI Mantis, etc. And I've never shined much to Curtis' body of work, so I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did.
What say you?
*I know I said I wouldn't be reviewing anything here for a while, but for some reason I thought this Dracula was from 1979 and planned to do a piece on Badass about all four of that year's Drac films (the Langella, Love at First Bite, and Herzog's Nosferatu being the others), but since this was 1974 that wouldn't work. So that piece (minus this one) will go up as the next Crypt, and you guys get a bonus review after all! Everyone wins very little.