Monday, October 14, 2019

Dracula Adaptations | Dracula (1974)

Who's in it?: Jack Palance (Shane, Young Guns, Batman, City Slickers), Nigel Davenport (The Island of Dr Moreau, the 1984 A Christmas Carol), and Penelope Horner.

What's it about?: Dark Shadows' Dan Curtis teams up with horror writer Richard Matheson for an extra gothic TV adaptation.

How is it?: Jack Palance sounded like an odd choice to play Dracula until I watched him and realized that his intimidating physicality is perfect for the role. He doesn't quite nail the accent, but it's not a problem. He's super dangerous in the tradition of Christopher Lee in the Hammer films.

Curtis and Matheson are a dream team of Dracula adapters and this film lives up to my expectations. In many ways, it's a remake of Hammer's adaptation with some cool stuff from the novel added back in. Like the Hammer version, it cuts out Renfield and all of Lucy's suitors except Arthur Holmwood, focusing on the team-up of Holmwood and a deadly, competent Van Helsing (Davenport) as they avenge Lucy's death and try to prevent Mina's. But unlike the Hammer version, this one gets the relationships right, with Holmwood connected to Lucy, and Mina as Lucy's dear friend (and fiancee to Jonathan Harker).

It also includes some elements from the novel that have been left out of the adaptations to date: for example, Dracula's using a wolf from the zoo to break into a house, or his forcing Mina to drink blood from his chest. Penelope Horner isn't especially memorable as Mina, which keeps me from loving it more, but generally speaking it's one of my favorites.

Rating: Four out of five Minas.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I’d seen photos of Jack Palance for this but never actually seen it.

I think because of that casting that I thought this was a setting update in America rather than London. I figured this Dracula was carried over from Europe to New England in the 1700s have him be responsible for the Roanoke disappearance and was being reawakened in the then modern day for an adaptation that could connect audiences who wouldn’t judge his 70s puffy shirt, but it sounds like a pretty straight forward adaptation otherwise. Though that adaptation being written by Richard Matheson has me a little more interested than before.

Michael May said...

Ha! That is a very specific, detailed misunderstanding. I love it.

Curtis and Matheson's take is (more or less) straightforward, but it wins all the points on atmosphere. That's what I dig most about it.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Thanks. I think I just saw oh, Dracula is being played by an American, set it must be set in America. That hair and clothes it best be set in the 70s too! My imagination just filled in the rest.

Caffeinated Joe said...

I haven't watched this version, but I want to! Sounds like good fun!

Anonymous said...

Pardon this act of Thread Necromancy, but one wanted to add my praise for this particular adaptation - extra points for a properly ginger Van Helsing (even if he's thoroughly British, rather than a double Dutchman), for making the Weird Sisters terrifyingly direct and for quite possibly the best casting choice associated with Lord Godalming (YOUNG WINSTON as the Hon. Arthur Holmwood? Perfection!).

I'd also like to say that Mr Jack Palance most definitely won a spot in the upper reaches of my Dracula rankings (up there with Sir Christopher Lee and M. Louis Jourdan, even): that he gives the strong impression of a Count who only LOOKS like a gentleman suits the character superbly well (and the fact he previously played Attila the Hun himself is icing on the cake - "The Blood of Attila is in these veins" indeed!).

In fact Mr Palance seems to have had something of a knack for the Victorian Penny Dreadful, since the only other example of his making a foray into that genre which I have seen (MAN IN THE ATTIC) is also rather good and another fine example of the actor playing a role quite different (or at least highly distinct) from the ones with which he was most famously associated.


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