Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
Fangs for the memories!! My favourite Dracula so far!
on 28 January 2012
I was around 9 or ten when I first encountered this version of Dracula. We had recorded it on the video. And, after my first watch, the video tape itself acquired an aura of pure, unadulterated, unspeakable evil! I can safely say that it has been one of the most influential movies of my life and, together with the first three Omen films and, even earlier, the astonishingly scary Into the Labyrinth children's TV programme, Bill Bixby's Incredible Hulk TV series and Space 1999, it engendered a knee-trembling fascination with horror in me.
Until I accidentally rewatched Dracula the other day on DVD after nearly three decades (I had no idea this was the version I was about to watch), my memories of it were generally vague, but a few, key aspects had been deeply imprinted on me. The dramatic, ship-in-a-storm arrival of the Count into Whitby in the opening scenes, the horrifying madness of the insect-and-arachnid-eating Renfield and, most terrifying of all, the transformation of the fragile Mina into a grotesque abomination of womanhood!
Once I realized that the film I was watching was the one that had so deeply affected me all those years ago, I steeled myself for the inevitable disappointment that watching it with adult eyes would bring. I was resigned to the fact that the effects would be laughable, that the acting would be hammy, that the pace and atmosphere would be lumbering and tedious... and, worst of all, that it would no longer scare the pants off a flea!
But I was amazed to discover that, not only did it stand up to adult scrutiny, it is actually an incredible work, many of whose subtleties and qualities I had overlooked as a child. Up until the other day, I have felt short-changed by almost all of the Dracula films I have seen. Christopher Lee, while being imperious and believable in the Hammer films, is far better than the material he had to work with. Gary Oldman's performance, while a lot of fun, was overwhelmed by the baroque tricksiness and technicolour cartoonishness of Coppola's version which had a unique charm of its own, but didn't actually scare me at all.
But practically every single element in John Badham's Dracula coheres into a wonderful, unified whole that captures the eerie menace and dark romance of the peerless source novel while taking great liberties with it. (There are no scenes in Transylvania, the characters of Lucy and Mina are switched etc...) The costume design, the cinematography, the gothic sets, the understated-but-highly-effective special effects, the score which, in its way, is as important to the film as the music in The Exorcist or Omen films, the intelligent and believable dialogue, the dark eroticism... there is so much to relish in this Dracula that sets it apart from all the others. And I haven't even mentioned any of the actors yet!
Frank Langella is a brooding, cultured, seductive and truly formidable Dracula. Tony Haygarth is a wonderful treat as the wretched Renfield. Donald Pleasance as Dr Seward, Laurence Olivier (no less!) armed with a dodgy Dutch accent as Abraham Van Helsing, a youthful Trevor Eve as Jonathan Harker... this is top-notch acting talent and it shows in the utterly committed and effortless performances. But the absolute revelation for me is the Canadian actress Kate Nelligan as Lucy. Beautiful, for sure, but so much more than just that. She absolutely commands every single scene that she is in. Her screen presence is, in turns, hugely endearing, hypnotic, swooningly romantic, spine-tingling and just, so, damn watchable! And I love her distinctly feminist interpretation of the character too! And her voice is like the finest Manuka Honey! I really can't think of an actress with better - and more bewitching - diction! I know most viewers are unlikely to be drawn to a Dracula film because of the character of Lucy. But, in this case, Lucy is the beating heart of the film and Kate Nelligan is the star attraction in a film bursting at the seams with great performances. (Oh, and the scene in the mine with Mina trying, unsubtly, to 'convert' her father (Van Helsing) to her vampiric point of view, is as gut-wrenchingly frightening as I remembered it from childhood!)