Article 3210 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2010
Posting Date: 5-29-2010
Directed by John Badham
Featuring Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence
What it is: Another take on the Stoker classic
Dracula arrives in England and takes possession of Carfax Abbey. He begins preying on the women staying at Dr. Jack Seward’s home, which is also an insane asylum.
Sometimes I marvel at the way adaptations will take the various elements of a novel and rearrange them. Like most of the other versions I’ve seen, this adaptation dispenses with the Arthur and Quincy characters. However, in this one, Dr. Seward has been changed from one of Lucy’s suitors to Lucy’s father. Mina has become the daughter of Van Helsing. The roles of Mina and Lucy have been somewhat reversed, making Jonathan Harker (who never goes to Transylvania) the beloved of Lucy. This is one of the few adaptations to retain a character called Mr. Swales, (the role I played on stage in a local version of the story); however, his character has been completely changed to that of one of the asylum attendants.
None of these changes would really make a big deal of difference if the movie worked. And, to be truthful, the movie works middlingly well, thanks in part to an interesting performance by Frank Langella in the title role; he manages to come up with his own interpretation that doesn’t owe a lot to either Lugosi or Lee. Certain key phrases and moments do pop up in this version, though at odd and unexpected times, and some of the changes are clever. However, on the disappointing side, the character of Renfield is severely reduced here, and Van Helsing himself isn’t near as formidable a foe to Dracula as he was in other versions of the story. However, most disappointing at all is that the movie really isn’t scary; despite all the atmosphere, the movie feels a bit distant and dry. The movie also marks a turning point in the perception of vampires; the recent perceptions of vampires as hot, sexy, romantic figures may well have its start here. Granted, that’s been a subtext in the story for many years, but this movie moves it from subtext to text. Personally, I think something is lost when that happens, and I do feel it’s interesting that, unlike the original Universal and Hammer outings, this one inspired no sequels.