While like Glenn Beck, I don’t have any actual substantive evidence to prove this, in 1979, Frank Langella fathered many children and didn’t even know it because of his role in this movie. I’m not going to waste time by bitching about how inaccurate this film is, partly because it has the same source material as Lugosi’s ‘Dracula’ (Balderston and Dean’s stage play), and also because it takes away from the fact that this rendition of Dracula is disgustingly sexy without being disgusting, and most of it is indeed due to Langella’s performance itself. If you were born in 1979 and there on wards, you can bet at one point or another your mum watched this movie. In his prime, with his seductive baritone voice, brown eyes, dark skin, full lips and overall dashing presence, you would have to be unspeakably silly to say that this man couldn’t inspire questionable thoughts in women. Speaking of the character himself, not once does he make an OSHIT or RapeFace, nor does he show any fang due to the fact Langella requested Dracula to not have any of those token trappings. In my estimation, it was a risky task, but it worked because you focus more on his performance than merely his appearance and parlour tricks. Dracula is still a predator through and through, and when you look at Langella’s eyes in particular, you see something insane and compelling inside of them, especially in an early scene when he pays particular attention to both Lucy and her fragile friend Mina (Jan Franis) .
Frank Langella had already played the role of the Count on stage for some one hundred performances, each receiving great reviews, so it seems like a no-brainer that director John Badham decided to translate his performance onto the big screen alongside a competent cast of other theatre actors. Let me just say this now- this isn’t a horror movie at all, yes, there is some nasty sights (a certainly family reunion being one of them), but this at it’s core is a love story that can transcend any translation of language because it’s themes resonate. Vivacious ‘modern woman’ Lucy (Kate Nelligan who we just don’t see enough of these days) is not just the object of Dracula’s desire, but also his adoration. He doesn’t just see her as a snack, he sees her as a mate, and the moment he claps eyes on her, you know he will stop at nothing to have her, despite the fact Lucy is engaged to Jonathan (Trevor Eve). It really is a melodramatic convention, but when you have charismatic actors like these, you can forgive that element easily. It also doesn’t hurt that you have two old school Hollywood stalwats Donald Plesance (who plays a bumbling yet well-meaning Doctor Seward) and Sir Laurence Olivier (delivering Van Helsing’s Dutch accent).
What I appreciate the most about this film is how tenderly it was handled- these days a story like this would have had an overload of sex and other excesses just because it’s Dracula (come on, you know it to be true) but here, it focuses more on the characters and their feelings rather than simply their actions. Lucy isn’t a fool when she is in love- she retains her individuality and she falls for Dracula of her own accord, despite her betrothal. This is certainly infidelity, but we get to know Lucy’s mind, and when Dracula enters her world, he represents something she truly wants- freedom, independent though and the right to choose, not the tight constraints of society telling her what to do. In an essence, this Dracula film is undoubtedly more for the women- it centers around what the women desire, not what the men want. Granted, some feminists may say that Dracula still has some degree of control over her, but I would contend that not once does he force himself on her. In fact, he warns her, that if she does not like his company, she would only have herself to blame because if she walks away, he would be sad if she did. Okay, at heart it’s a creepy piece of dialogue, but when Langella says it, the message is genuine- come to me of your own free will, I cannot make you, but we both know you won’t. This is also an allegory that at one point or another, everybody falls for somebody who they know deep down is bad for them, but they can’t resist them and so they are willing to go on that path. In the case of Lucy, she genuinely feels that her undead suitor could be The One and he is all too happy to live up that.
On a technical basis, this film basically has all of the token trappings of cinema from that era so one can certainly expect some visual cheesiness. It is pretty hard not to smirk when you watch the lighting scheme by Maurice Binder being used in an otherworldly love scene, because you automatically think of a James Bond movie when you see it. Another thing that somewhat stood out like a sore toe on an ogre was some of the use of music. I have nothing against the score itself, it is a rather nice one, but there are times of which it is used inappropriately at particular points that it takes you out a little. Add to that Langella’s rather…. wild hair. I love me some serious man-mane, but I have no idea what the stylist was thinking when they did Langella’s hair. He was a very handsome man back in the day (and I think he’s a lot sexier than Sean Connery as an older dude. YES I SAID IT!) and since this film had more of an idealistic female gaze it wouldn’t have hurt if they really made Langella up to look like a sex bomb. BUT THAT’S JUST ME.
A minor performance quibble I have: With every respect to Eve as an actor, I know Jonathan really had no hope of winning Lucy back by Dracula on his own, but I really wanted Eve to make his character more active when it came to fighting the Count for her. He was far too passive, he really did nothing but glare at Dracula and occasionally shot verbal barbs about him to Lucy, but not once did he try to confront Dracula head on about trying to steal his wife to be. I know he’s Dracula and all, but you gotta at least try, bro.
While this certainly isn’t the movie to watch if you are itching for a blood and tit fest, if you are in the mood for some cuddling and illusions of sweet romance, this is the movie for you. Make no mistake that this movie was certainly made in the 70’s and it is an adaptation of a stage play (some of the ‘bigness’ of the acting will obviously give that away) but this is certainly one of the most respectable versions of Dracula out there. No, it doesn’t follow the traditional formula, but it just might be enough to get you laid and we know love is what makes the world go round.
Trivia: A small piece of my boring biography here- when my mum was 8 months pregnant with me, my father worked night shifts at the prison, and mum, being pregnant and all, wanted company while her husband was out, so she invited a friend over to watch ‘Dracula’ with her. Like so many women, mum got goo-goo eyed for Langella the moment he appeared on screen. For the rest of her pregnancy, she didn’t have any morning sickness or pregnancy related complaints.
Review written by Bea Harper
Rating: Four out of five stars. The missing star depends on whether you get laid after watching it.