Dracula (1979 film)

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Dracula ver2 poster.jpg
Official theatrical poster
Directed byJohn Badham
Produced byMarvin Mirisch
Walter Mirisch
Screenplay byW. D. Richter
Based on
StarringFrank Langella
Laurence Olivier
Donald Pleasence
Kate Nelligan
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyGilbert Taylor
Edited byJohn Bloom
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • July 13, 1979 (1979-07-13)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$12.2 million
Box office$31.2 million

Dracula is a 1979 British-American dark romantic horror film directed by John Badham. The film starred Frank Langella in the title role as well as Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence and Kate Nelligan.

The film was based on Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula and its 1924 stage adaptation, though much of Stoker's original plot was revised to make the film—which was advertised with the tagline "A Love Story"—more romantic. The film won the 1979 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.


In Whitby, England in 1913, Count Dracula arrives from Transylvania via the ship Demeter one stormy night. Mina van Helsing, who is visiting her friend Lucy Seward, discovers Dracula's body after his ship has run aground and rescues him. The Count visits Mina and her friends at the household of Lucy's father, Dr. Jack Seward, whose clifftop mansion also serves as the local asylum. At dinner, he proves to be a charming guest and leaves a strong impression on the hosts, especially Lucy. Less charmed by this handsome Romanian count is Jonathan Harker, Lucy's fiancé.

Later that night, while Lucy and Jonathan are having a secret rendezvous, Dracula reveals his true nature as he descends upon Mina to drink her blood. The following morning, Lucy finds Mina awake in bed, struggling for breath. Powerless, she watches her friend die, only to find wounds on her throat. Lucy blames herself for Mina's death, as she had left her alone.

At a loss for the cause of death, Dr. Seward calls for Mina's father, Professor Abraham van Helsing, who suspects what might have killed his daughter: a vampire. He begins to worry about what fate his seemingly dead daughter may now have. Seward and van Helsing investigate their suspicions and discover a roughly clawed opening within Mina's coffin which leads to the local mines. It is there that they encounter the ghastly form of an undead Mina and it is up to a distraught van Helsing to destroy what remains of his daughter.

Lucy has in the meantime been summoned to Carfax Abbey, Dracula's new home. She reveals herself to be in love with this foreign prince and openly offers herself to him as his bride. After a surreal "wedding night" sequence, Lucy, like Mina before her, is now infected by Dracula's blood. The two doctors manage to give Lucy a blood transfusion to slow her descent into vampirism but she remains under Dracula's spell.

Now aided by Jonathan, the elderly doctors realize that the only way to save Lucy is by destroying Dracula. They manage to locate his coffin within the grounds of Carfax Abbey but the vampire is waiting for them. Despite it being daylight, Dracula is still a very powerful adversary. Dracula escapes their attempts to kill him, bursts into the asylum to free the captive Lucy and also scolds his slave, Milo Renfield, for warning the others about him. Renfield apologises and pleas for his life, but Dracula snaps his neck, killing him. Dracula makes preparations for him and Lucy to return to Transylvania.

Harker and van Helsing make it on board a ship carrying Dracula and Lucy cargo bound for Romania. Below decks, Harker and van Helsing find Dracula and Lucy sleeping together in the coffin. Van Helsing attempts to stake Dracula, but Lucy protests, waking Dracula. Dracula impales van Helsing with the stake and throws him against a wall of spikes. Harker shoots Dracula with his revolver to no affect. Dracula grabs Harker by the throat, but van Helsing uses his remaining strength to throw a hook attached to a rope, which impales Dracula. Harker pulls a lever, hoisting Dracula up through the cargo hold to the top of the rigging, where is burned to death by the sun. Van Helsing dies from his injuries while Lucy reverts back to her normal self and embraces Harker. Lucy smiles as she notices Dracula's cape fly off into the horizon.



Like Universal's earlier 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi, the screenplay for this adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula is based on the stage adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which ran on Broadway and also starred Langella in a Tony Award-nominated performance. Set in the Edwardian period, and strikingly designed by Edward Gorey, the play ran for over 900 performances between October 1977 and January 1980. It is also known for switching names of characters of Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra. When Badham was asked, why he switched their names in his film, he said that he couldn't quite remember and that maybe he and Richter felt like Mina was a dopey name and that Lucy was kind of a nice name, so they rearranged it.[1]

The film was shot on location in England: at Shepperton Studios and Black Park, Buckinghamshire. Cornwall doubled for the majority of the exterior Whitby scenes; Tintagel (for Seward's Asylum), and St Michael's Mount (for Carfax Abbey). The Castle Dracula was a glass matte painted by Albert Whitlock.[2]

Gilbert Taylor was the cinematographer, while the original music score was contributed by John Williams.

According to Frank Langella, Count Dracula was "a dominant, aggressive force. He must have Miss Lucy or he dies. He wants what he wants and he doesn't analyze it. Dracula as a character is very erotic. ... A woman can be totally passive with Dracula: 'he made me drink, I couldn't help it.' ... Dracula seems to represent a kind of doorway to sexual abandonment not possible with a mere mortal. Besides, he's offering immortality. Actually, I can't think of a woman who wouldn't like to be taken if it's with love. If you take a woman by force and at the same time gently, you can't fail."[3]

Langella wanted to explore sides of the character which weren't shown before: "I decided he was a highly vulnerable and erotic man, not cool and detached and with no sense of humour or humanity. I didn't want him to appear stilted, stentorian or authoritarian as he's often presented. I wanted to show a man who, while evil, was lonely and could fall in love".[4]

Langella holds this view many years after the release of the movie. In his 2017 interview during SITGES film festival he said that he "saw a gentleman in [Dracula], while the bad guys were the ones who wanted to destroy him, and we see that today in many instances: ignorance leads to the desire to destroy different people, there is the suffering of homosexuals, or women." Langella remembers that the beginning of shooting was very disorganized. The cinematographer was changed and they had continual changes of plans. However, the actor mentioned that the process "turned out well" in the end.[5]

However, the most vivid memories were Langella's efforts to create a different Dracula. "I did not want to look like Bela Lugosi, or Christopher Lee", remembers Langella. He thus read the novel and found the character to be "gothic, elegant, lonely, without anyone who understood his problem, which consisted of the need for blood to survive." Langella also understood that the attraction that the character produced among women was key to realize his enormous "power of seduction", which Langella did not hesitate to use.[6]


Box office[edit]

In 1979, at least three Dracula films were released around the world: West German director Werner Herzog's re-telling as Nosferatu the Vampyre, this film, and the comedy Love at First Bite. The success of the jokey Love at First Bite, starring George Hamilton, may have had something to do with the muted response this version would subsequently experience. The film performed modestly at the box office, grossing $20,158,970 domestically, and was seen as something of a disappointment by the studio.

Critical response[edit]

Some critics reacted toward the film with praise, such as Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave it 3½ stars out of 4 and wrote: "What an elegantly seen Dracula this is, all shadows and blood and vapors and Frank Langella stalking through with the grace of a cat. The film is a triumph of performance, art direction and mood over materials that can lend themselves so easily to self-satire...This Dracula restores the character to the purity of its first film appearances..."[7] Others reacted with less praise, such as Janet Maslin of The New York Times, who wrote: "In making this latest trip to the screen in living color, Dracula has lost some blood. The movie version ... is by no means lacking in stylishness; if anything, it's got style to spare. But so many of its sequences are at fever pitch, and the mood varies so drastically from episode to episode, that the pace becomes pointless, even taxing, after a while."[8]


Year Award / Film Festival Category Recipient(s) Result
1979 Saturn Awards Best Horror Film Dracula Won
Best Actor Frank Langella Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Donald Pleasence Nominated
Best Director John Badham Nominated
Best Make-up Peter Robb-King Nominated

Home video[edit]

In the home video market of the early 1980s, John Badham's Dracula made it onto Variety's All-Time Horror Rentals in 1993, but it eventually seemed to fall into relative cinematic anonymity for several years (partly due to it having a very limited video release outside of the USA).

Video re-coloring[edit]

The 1979 theatrical version looks noticeably different from recent prints. When it was re-issued for a Widescreen Laserdisc release in 1991, the director chose to alter the color timing, desaturating the look of the film.

John Badham had intended to shoot the film in black and white (to mirror the monochrome 1931 film and the stark feel of the Gorey stage production), but Universal objected. Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor was prompted to shoot the movie in warm, "golden" colours, to show off the distinctive production design. The original version has not been widely screened since the 1980s. Other than an occasional broadcast, such as on TCM in a pan and scan format the movie has effectively been out of print.

In 2018, an unofficial fan edit English language 2.35:1 aspect ratio version of the original theatrical color timing emerged online, and began circulating among fans.

In July 2019 Shout! Factory announced that it had purchased the rights from Universal Pictures to release the original 1979 theatrical color version of Dracula on Blu-Ray and DVD in November 2019. This is the first time the original 1979 Dracula has been made commercially available since first being released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1982.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tom Weaver (2004): "Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks", p.36
  2. ^ Mooser, Stephen (1983). Lights! Camera! Scream!. Julian Messner. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-671-43017-7.
  3. ^ "Dracula 1979: Celebrating Frank Langella's Rock Star Count". Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  4. ^ Film Review: 25. October 1979. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Sitges 2017: Press conference – Frank Langella". YouTube.
  6. ^ "Frank Langella: Drácula no era un chupasangre, sólo era un hombre con miedo". La Vanguardia. 13 October 2017. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (20 July 1979), "Dracula", Review, rogerebert.com
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (13 July 1979), "Screen: Langella's Seductive 'Dracula' Adapted From Stage", The New York Times

External links[edit]