Count Dracula (1977 film)

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Count Dracula
1977 dracula 1.jpg
Louis Jourdan as Count Dracula
Directed by Philip Saville
Produced by Morris Barry
Written by Gerald Savory
Starring Louis Jourdan
Frank Finlay
Susan Penhaligon
Judi Bowker
Jack Shepherd
Music by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts
Edited by Richard Bedford
Distributed by BBC
Running time 150 min.
Country UK
Language English

Count Dracula is a British television adaptation of the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Produced by the BBC, it first aired on BBC 2 on 22 December 1977. It is among the more faithful of the many adaptations of the original book. Directed by Philip Saville, it starred Louis Jourdan as Count Dracula and Frank Finlay as Van Helsing.

Plot[edit]

Lucy Westenra spies on her sister Mina saying farewell to the latter's fiancée, Jonathan Harker. He is leaving on a business trip to Transylvania. The scene then shifts to the Borgo Pass where Harker is left alone by the local driver. He flatly refuses to wait for Harker and tosses his luggage out before driving away. Soon, another carriage approaches, from Castle Dracula (presumably) but the coachman does not speak. After reaching the ruined castle, Harker emerges and the coach drives away. Then Dracula himself opens the door for him, uttering the famous line "Welcome to my house. Enter freely and of your own will."

Harker, a solicitor, is there to expedite Count Dracula's purchase of several properties in England, including Carfax Abbey. The Count is urbane and gracious, but also vaguely sinister. He insists Harker stay for a month to tutor him on the finer points of English. As time goes by, Harker witnesses increasingly bizarre events. The Count—who has fangs and long fingernails—casts no reflection in the mirror. Twice Harker spots the Count crawling head first down the outside wall of the castle, seemingly defying gravity. Finally, he violates the Count's rules and goes to sleep in the library, where three beautiful women appear and seem to entrance him—until interrupted by Dracula himself, who gives the three a baby, which they devour. Harker explores and finds the Count asleep in a coffin, then tries to kill him with a shovel (which has no effect).

In England, Mina and Lucy go to the seaside town of Whitby and befriend an old sailor named Swales who tells them stories. One day, the three of them are atop a hill as a storm approaches, and the sailor notes a ship is in the storm, en route.

This ship is the Demeter, which goes aground. Swales is found dead the next morning, at the very spot where he'd last seen and chatted with Mina and Lucy.

Dr. John Seward, owner of a local asylum, is friendly with the Westenra family as well as Quincey Holmwood, an American diplomat who has become engaged to Lucy. Among Seward's patients is the madman Renfield who is somehow aware of Dracula's arrival, and worships (yet fears) him. Then, one night, Lucy goes sleepwalking into the local graveyard. Mina follows and briefly spots Dracula holding Lucy in his arms. From that night on, Lucy begins to change. She grows pale and weak, but rallies after sunset, and also begins to sport tiny fangs. While everyone worries over her, she welcomes Dracula to her bedroom where he drinks her blood.

Seward finally call on his friend Abraham Van Helsing for help with Lucy's strange illness. He almost immediately recognizes the signs and protects the girl's bedroom with garlic. Meanwhile, Mina receives word that Jonathan has turned up in a convent in Budapest, weak and delirious (having escaped from the castle). She goes to be with, and marry him. While she is gone, a final attack happens at the Westenra home as a wolf crashes through Lucy's bedroom window. The shock kills her mother (who has a weak heart). When found, Lucy is sprawled across the bed, pale and nearly dead.

As she fades, her manner shifts from her pure self to a kind of wild voluptuousness. When she finally dies, Van Helsing notices the wounds on her throat have vanished—and that she no longer casts a reflection.

Mina returns, deeply saddened at the loss of her family. Van Helsing takes Seward to Lucy's grave near dawn. They find a child nearby, dazed and talking about the "Bloofer lady" (i.e. "beautiful lady") and with tell-tale fang marks on his throat.

Van Helsing insists Seward and Quincey accompany him to Lucy's grave, where they see her approach—blood on her lips and gown. She speaks lovingly to Quincey, who nearly succumbs but flees when Van Helsing shows her a cross. In the tomb, Van Helsing explains what must be done and Quincey drives a wooden stake into Lucy's heart. Later, the professor fills her mouth with garlic and cuts off her head.

Harker, Van Helsing, Seward and Quincey all go to Carfax Abbey to sterilize the boxes of his native earth Dracula has had shipped there. They don't realize that now Dracula is visiting Mina and has bitten her. But Renfield does realize, and seeks to warn her and Seward. In revenge Dracula kills him, but before he dies Renfield manages to warn the men—who rush to Mina's bedroom, only to find her drinking blood from Dracula's chest. Dracula himself vanishes as they enter. Mina becomes hysterical, especially after Van Helsing touches her forehead with a piece of Holy Wafer and it sears her flesh. From that moment on, until Dracula's demise, she carries the scar as well as slightly noticeable fangs.

As they continue to find Dracula's boxes, rendering them useless to him with crosses and the Host, they realize he must flee back to his castle. They follow. Eventually, Van Helsing and Mina go directly overland to the Castle while the others follow Dracula's coffin, transported by Gypsies. In the Transylvanian wilderness, Dracula's brides approach the pair, but Van Helsing draws a circle around them, filling it with pieces of Holy Wafer. The Brides cannot pass, although they call to Mina to join them, naming her "Sister". The next morning, Van Helsing goes into the Castle, driving wooden stakes in each of the Brides' hearts (and Mina, sleeping, evidently feels the blows).

Finally, there is a chase. Harker, Seward and Quincey are chasing the carriage that carries Dracula's coffin. In the process, they must fight Gypsies loyal to Dracula. At one point, Harker is saved when Mina shoots a threatening Gypsy with a rifle. With hardly a moment to spare, the pursuers reach the coffin and pull off its cover. Inside, Dracula smiles noticing that it is almost sunset. But Van Helsing drives a long wooden stake into the vampire's heart, and his body erupts into a mini-sandstorm. All that is left are his clothes and ashes.

Cast[edit]

Transmission history[edit]

The film was originally shown on BBC 2 in the UK in its entirety (155 minutes) on 22 December 1977. It was repeated twice in 1979, the first time on BBC 2 in January and again on BBC 1 in December. On both of these occasions it was split into three episodes and shown on three consecutive nights.[1] It was repeated again on BBC 2 in April 1993 when it was shown in two parts.[2]

In the United States, the film was shown as part of PBS's Great Performances strand.[1]

Reception[edit]

Critical reaction to the film has been mostly positive. Writing in The Guardian, TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith stated it was "A nice plushy production with much galloping off in all directions and sulphurous smoke effects, a pleasant sensation of space and time and money. Something of a hole in the middle though, like a vampire after remedial treatment." She was less positive about the casting and performance of Louis Jourdan, however, which she felt "...emphasised the lover at the expense of the demon. It makes a change. Though, I would say, for the worst."[3]

Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV said that "Count Dracula remains one of the best-ever adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel" despite a "couple of missteps", remarking that "the cast is excellent", in particular praising the performances of Frank Finlay and Louis Jourdan, whom he calls "especially good."[4] Critic Steve Calvert agreed that Count Dracula was "one of the better versions" of Stoker's novel, calling it "perhaps even the best." He felt that "few actors have ever played the role [of Van Helsing as] convincingly" as Frank Finlay, that "without doubt, [Jack Shepherd is] the best on-screen embodiment there has ever been of the fly-munching Renfield", and remarked of Jourdan's performance, "[His] Dracula ... exudes a quieter kind of evil. A calculating, educated evil with a confidence and purpose all of its own."[5]

In his book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, David J. Skal calls Count Dracula "the most careful adaptation of the novel to date, and the most successful."[6] Brett Cullum of DVD Verdict said the special effects were the film's "biggest downfall" and that it was "perhaps the least visually interesting" Dracula adaptation, though he offered a mostly positive review, remarking that there is "plenty to admire in the production", in particular the "sublime acting".[7] MaryAnn Johanson of FlickFilosopher.com was less positive, writing: "Maybe it had more of an impact in the 70s ... but today, while it remains a stylishly surreal reinterpretation of Bram Stoker’s novel, there’s something a bit dated and stodgy about it."[8]

DVD releases[edit]

Count Dracula was released to DVD by BBC Video in 2007.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b British Film Institute ("Count Dracula")
  2. ^ BBC ("Count Dracula" episode listings, April 1993)
  3. ^ Nancy Banks-Smith (23 December 1977). "Television: Dracula". The Guardian. 
  4. ^ Count Dracula : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video
  5. ^ DVD Review: Count Dracula (1977)
  6. ^ Skal, David J. (2004). Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen. Paperback ed. New York: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-21158-5 - page 275
  7. ^ a b DVD Verdict Review - Count Dracula: BBC Mini-Series
  8. ^ FlickFilosopher.com: Count Dracula (review)

External links[edit]