Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Count Dracula (BBC production, 1977)

Among the endless films based on Bram Stoker's iconic creature of the night, this BBC production, originally made for television in 1977, has over the years earned itself quite a considerable fan base. Gerald Savory's screenplay is one of the more faithful adaptations of Stoker's novel (if you haven't read the book, the plot closely resembles Coppola's film), with some minor departures from the text made to streamline the story - Mina and Lucy are now sisters; Arthur Holmwood, one of Lucy's suitors is combined into the character of Quincey Morris; and Dracula himself, is portrayed as an eternally youthful man, and not the aged vampire of the book.



Director Philip Saville brings a strong visual sense to the film, with some fine location work - crumbling castles, nocturnal graveyards, dark haunted woodlands, and the gloomy wind-swept coast of Whitby. Style wise the lacks the garish technicolor of Hammer, or the operatic bombast of the Coppola film, and bears more of a resemblance to Herzog's Nosferatu, both films rich in atmosphere. The film has few special effects shots, perhaps due to budget reasons, but the odd negative image effect strays in from time to time, adding a touch of weirdness to the proceedings.

Louis Jourdan plays Dracula with a quiet, understated power - charming, with impeccable manners and deeply sinister. His Dracula is refreshingly unpretentious, not simply some emissary from Hell, but rather a creature who needs to feed on the blood of humans to further his race. Impressive too is Frank Finlay as the courageous and strangely paternal Van Helsing, and Jack Shepherd as the twitchy and ill-tempered Renfield. Some of the minor players lack certainty, and Richard Barnes' Quincy is quite disastrous, his faltering Texan accent will remind you of the equally inept turn by Keanu Reeves in Coppola's film.

BBC's DVD (coded for R2 and R4) containing the full 152min film is completely barebones as one might suspect. It's a shame some liner notes could not be provided to shed some light on the production (which originally aired a few days before Christmas of '77). The image quality is good, if a little underwhelming. The transfer exhibits some noise not helped by a certain televisual blandness inherent in small screen productions of this vintage (think of BBC sci-fi series Blake's Seven, or the British serial Thriller for a visual reference). Still, the DVD comes highly recommended and for the best results see this one on a cold winter's night to generate the required thrills.

11 comments:

  1. A totally "spot-on" review Wes. I still fondly remember watching this made for tv movie when it originally ran. The overall mood and style worked a whole lot better for me than the big-screen Langella Drac. I thought Jourdan was quite good.
    best,
    r/e

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  2. Thanks for the comment Jay... I was reading back over the review and I noticed I took a few swipes at Coppola's Dracula - for what its worth, I actually like the film. And I must see the Jess Franco Count Dracula sometime as well...

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  3. Why this blog is full of gory movies only? I demand something more cheerful, like romantic comedies. It's also a good idea to review some religious drama - for example Life of father Pio or St. Anthony etc. Please take this into consideration.
    JPII

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  4. I remember this too - also just got the THRILLER box set as it happens - cheers

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  5. Jeremy I almost got the Thriller box a few months back but Amazon upped the price ! Next time it comes down, I'll grab it... I have one episode on Network's Countess Dracula disc...

    Thanks for the comment your Holiness, I promise more gore is on the way ! And more sex - I know that's what you really want !

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  6. Still IMO the best adaptation of Dracula. Would love to see it remade using the Gerald Savoury script. Wes, have you seen Frankenstein- True Story (1974), a TV movie with David McCallum & Michael Sarrazin?

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  7. I haven't seen the Frankenstein, Jon - I should track this one down ?

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  8. I remember it being a really good adaptation. Not sure of its availability on DVD.

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  9. Well thanks for the head's up Jon... I just checked out the extensive trailer (well, 6mins) on youtube and it does look very good.

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  10. I watched this on the American Public Broadcasting System (PBS) which in my youth was about the only source for anything British. (PBS showed me The Goodies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Doctor Who, and more). I liked this version - although no one is going to top Lugosi and Lee. I also watched Frankenstein: The True Story when it originally aired here on NBC in two parts - one of the first "miniseries" pre-Roots. I like that one a lot too - and wouldn't mind seeing it again.

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  11. I agree - it doesn't have the great atmosphere of the Universal film or the brilliance of Hammer's great classic, but still an enjoyable chiller and a fine one to catch in the bleak mid-winter. I hear about the Frankenstein film from time to time and it always sounds interesting - I seem to remember reviews of the DVD were underwhelming which might be the reason I haven't picked it up by now... Craig, has the monster-jamboree series Penny Dreadful washed up on American shores yet ? I've seen a few episodes of it and it's not bad at all !

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