Whitby, Yorkshire. Count Dracula pays court to independent-minded Lucy Seward. Dr Van Helsing, father of the murdered Mina, diagnoses vampirism.
One of three Draculas released in the same month in 1979, in competition with Love at First Bite and Nosferatu the Vampyre, this was the lushest, highest-budgeted vampire movie made up to that date. It was produced as a setting for Langella’s bubble-permed, disco-look Dracula, a role he had played with great success on Broadway.
Scripted by W.D. Richter, who had just reworked Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and directed by John Badham, hot off Saturday Night Fever, the film throws all the expected elements and characters in the air, then has them fall in new, unexpected, not-always-workable ways. Well before Gary Oldman, Langella played Dracula as a romantic as much as a monster, with his influence proving liberating for the frustrated heroine, casting her usually heroic fiancé Jonathan (an understandably grumpy Trevor Eve) as a smothering drag and making Van Helsing (Olivier, doing one of his accents) a fussy old killjoy.
It boasts wonderful gothic art direction, with Dracula as a spider in the centre of a deep-focus cobweb in his ruined abbey, and unexpected bits of humour, courtesy of Donald Pleasence’s always-hungry doctor and Tony Haygarth as the lunatic Renfield. However, the busy chase scenes, John Williams’s overblown score and many pompous smoochy interludes don’t quite fit with the leftover Hammer horror stuff about a fanged bride of Dracula (Jan Francis) attacking in catacombs beneath the graveyard. It’s nevertheless entertaining. Badham has insisted most DVD and video releases present the film with the colours bleached almost completely – muting the lavish look the film had in theatres.
Some interesting creative choices make this more a curio than a great film.