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This review is from: Dracula [DVD] (DVD)
Like a lot of other psycho-sexually inadequate sickoes, I've had a pretty-much lifelong fascination with Vampires, so when this was released in 1979 I went along to see it. I was about 26 at the time, a more-or-less fully grown adult, with my own job and my own place, and (as I thought) enough experience of horror films to make me pretty immune to fright.
After I saw this film I spent the next four nights sleeping with the lights on.
It scared the living s**t out of me.
The film sticks only loosely to the overall plot of the book (I was disappointed at the end when it became clear that they wouldn't be going to Transylvania after all) and stays resolutely in Yorkshire. This is no bad thing in retrospect, however, as it concentrates the plot on the main elements of the story. It has wonderful touches, both of horror and humour. The scenes inside the Lunatic asylum are marvellously realised, with Laurence Olivier and Donald Pleasance grappling for screen-space and going gloriously over the top as Abraham Van Helsing and Dr. Seward respectively, while Tony Haygarth is simply wonderful as the simple-minded, querulous, bug-eating Renfield. The only less-than-perfect elements, to my mind, are the casting of Kate Nelligan as Lucy Seward, and Frank Langella as Dracula. Nelligan is too precious for words (as usual), while Langella (a good actor) is, to my mind, simply not right for the part, though he does his best and can be remarkably effective at times (see the part where he breaks into the asylum, kills Renfield - a really shocking moment - and makes off with Lucy).
The highlight of the film for me is where Van Helsing and Seward, having found that Van Helsing's niece Mina has been turned into a vampire by Dracula, unearth her coffin and find it empty. They go through a hole in the coffin's side into an old abandoned mine-working in search of her (Mine-workings don't appear in the original novel, but part of the film's ingenuity lies in making things like this add to the film's resonance and power). Van Helsing, searching the dark and dripping tunnels by flickering candlelight, drops his crucifix and, stooping to pick it up, catches sight of his niece reflected in a puddle at his feet. He looks up and sees what she has become. The beautiful Mina (played by the radiant Jan Francis) has become a thing of real horror, what a vampire would really be like if they actually existed - a loathsome, visceral fiend, living in the drains and feeding off rats and slugs. THIS is the bit that kept me awake for nights on end, and which still gives me the willies even now.
Though it takes liberties with the original novel, this is by far the very best film of the Dracula story ever to be committed to film. Its atmosphere is wonderful - dark, threatening and somehow real, with flashes of humour that make the shadows even deeper. If you want to run up your electric bill, watch this alone, with the lights off (and check behind the sofa first).
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Initial post: 25 Jan 2012 17:09:24 GMT
Guardian of the Scales says:
Good review, had me with the first sentence, but odd how you say the only flaws are the casting of Frank Langella and Kate Nelligan. Pretty serious flaws, as they're the two biggest roles in the film! Anyway, I liked them both. Langella's got that intense gaze and commanding physical presence that were needed in this role, as the film casts Dracula as irresistibly sexually attractive, and he's also a good actor. Kate Nelligan projects a very refined "English" persona, even though she's not English, and is beautiful. Works for me.
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