31 Nights of Dractober: Count Dracula (1977)

Count Dracula (1977)


Director: Philip Saville

Dracula: Louis Jourdan

Generally (and correctly) hailed as the most textually accurate of the major Dracula adaptations, this BBC TV production has the advantage of time (three TV episodes, 160 minutes) to stretch out in. Every character has a recognizable motive and occasionally even an arc, and the human moments are well-written by Gerald Savory and well-acted almost without exception (I’m looking at you, Bosco Hogan as Pouty Shouty Harker). Although the script combines Arthur and Quincey into “Quincey P. Holmwood,” an American consular official (played by Richard Barnes with a Stoker-authentic stage-Texan accent), and simply cuts the Czarina Catherine-hypnosis-railway stretch of the chase back into Transylvania, its worst crime is the seemingly sensible shift to making Mina (strong, noble Judi Bowker) and Lucy (sexy, giddy Susan Penhaligon) sisters. Although it sets up some great character bits between the two, since Mina doesn’t need to stay in the asylum now (she can stay in her own house next door) the story has to invent a weird reason for Renfield’s sacrifice. And since Jack Shepherd’s Renfield is perhaps the best ever cast, it’s a shame he has to play his noble scene senselessly.

But you didn’t tune in for Renfield, and neither did anybody in 1977, either. Louis Jourdan and Frank Finlay as Dracula and Van Helsing have the best on-screen chemistry of any pair except Lee and Cushing. Jourdan and Finlay both play their roles as ironic gamesters, manipulating and maneuvering their way through the world of mortals and simpletons — but Jourdan’s Dracula is an inhuman sociopath, and Finlay’s Van Helsing is a lonely hero. The trippy 1970s visual and animation effects are what they are (dated), the budget-driven alternation of film and video sadly breaks the mood, and the less said about the thin and over-obvious Kenyon Emrys-Roberts score the better. But this Dracula gives us both Dracula and Harker climbing down the castle wall, a great location shoot in Whitby, a real live bat and wolf, and a rambunctious gunfight with the “Slovaks” at the castle. Most of all, it gives us superb incarnations of the three main roles, and that is more than close enough for British government work.

The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Given a certain Continental air by your comments and responses, it will stalk my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order suave, cruel 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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