31 Nights of Dractober: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1973)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1973)


Director: Dan Curtis

Dracula: Jack Palance

If you had always wondered where that trope of “Dracula falls in love with Mina because she resembles his centuries-dead true love” came from, well, it came from two places. First, it comes from The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932), but Dan Curtis moved it from mummies to vampires for the Barnabas Collins storyline in his TV soap opera Dark Shadows. And from there, to this TV movie — although in Curtis’ version, Dracula falls in love with a photograph of Lucy Westenra (a fairly dull Fiona Lewis) instead. Curtis (or perhaps screenwriter Richard Matheson) also borrowed Florescu and McNally’s 1972 identification of Stoker’s Dracula with Vlad Tepes for this film — this Dracula is Vlad. Francis Ford Coppola re-used more than the title of this version, in other words.

If you were paying attention, you noticed me say “screenwriter Richard Matheson” and indeed you are right: this is a Dracula where the script really works, and is surprisingly faithful to Stoker’s novel (hypnotized Mina!) despite eliminating not just poor un-loved Quincey Morris but Seward and Renfield, too. It’s just a Van-Dyck-bearded Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport, dashing and weirdly secretive) and blond, inbred-looking Holmwood (Simon Ward, petulant and ineffective) guarding Lucy in a suspiciously bucolic Whitby — the cool location work in a Yugoslavian castle probably meant no budget for London. Harker (Murray Brown) gets his heroic climbing scene, but winds up Bride-bait anyhow. Jack Palance’s Dracula, while driven by love and then revenge, is superbly feral, even animalistic. (Method-actor Palance apparently scared himself so much he turned down repeated offers to reprise the role.) The film reinforces that bestial force throughout: the first shot is a pack of wolves running along a road in the Borgo Pass, eager to follow Dracula to meet Harker; and Curtis stages the Brides’ attack more like zombie ravening than anything sexy or even lustful — an approach you might want to consider if your player characters are loading up on Binaca and Axe body spray instead of garlic and holy water when the Brides come by.

The 31 Days of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Driven by its long-dead love, it will revive and raven in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order brutal, animalistic hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!

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