Thursday, October 27, 2016

Dracula 1979

Toho’s new Godzilla Resurgence (Shin Gojira for purists) got a recent, week long, limited release in select theaters in the states and I was ready to see it…

At least that’s what the announcement said. What it should have said was, “During this week in the States, in the area you live Godzilla Resurgence will be shown exactly one time when you are otherwise occupied.”

Therefore another classic monster is showing up in this Halloween post (Click here for when I finally saw Godzilla): 

 In the grand tradition of me focusing on movies years after they were released for no good reason:

Now is as good a time as any to point out that I finally saw the 1979 Universal Dracula starring Frank Langella after avoiding it for mostly forgotten or at least probably dumb reasons.

I borrowed it from Mom, naturally.

I also watched the making of to insure my post is up to my expected levels of useless information.

Because I also haven’t done a top ten list in a while, here are ten observations from that flick.

Because the thing is thirty-seven years old, I’m not sweating spoilers this time.

10)  Its a spectacle genre film from the Seventies…of course John Williams did the score, and of course it was perfectly haunting, gothic, enchanting and dramatic. 

I am embarrassed to admit I lack any excuse for having absolutely zero idea that he did this movie.

9)  Renfield is normally a high point in versions of this tale.

Dwight Fry sinister giggler was the most terrifying thing in the 1931 Lugosi classic.

Tom Waits amplification of his usual over the top personality was a scene stealer in Coppola’s excellent 1992 release.

Peter MacNicol’s spoof of Frye in Mel Brooks’ 1995 underrated comedy had some of the funniest moments.

The other Dracula film of 1979, Love at First Bite had Arte Johnson in the role.  I don’t think anything else needs to be said to highlight the awesome quality of that one. 

This film had Tony Haygarth being adequate but not really standing out in any of his scenes.  What makes this a horrendous tragedy, is that Sylvester McCoy was RIGHT THERE in the movie as Walter, one of Doctor Seward’s aides, but tried out for Renfield.

Given how we’ve seen glimpses of the darker side of his loopyness as both the Seventh Doctor and Radagast, this was a HUGE missed opportunity.

8)  The Director, John Badham originally wanted to film in black and white but the studio wouldn’t let him. He used washed out colors to simulate it, and the DVD release was even more dulled down.

The problem with that strategy is (As Mel Brooks knew very well when making young Frankenstein) black and white only looks as crisp and clear as it should if it’s shot on black and white film, otherwise it looks like an old movie that has faded.

7)  A final Mel Brooks reference.  I recognized almost all of the sources in Dracula Dead and Loving It from being a lifelong fan of horror movies. However, it was only after seeing this 1979 version that I realized that Mel and Harvey Korman’s performances as Van Helsing and Doctor Seward were based more off Laurence Oliver’s and Donald Pleasance’s performances in that film than any other.  

Doctor Seward replacing the original Laudanum for everyone with Enemas was no doubt pure Mel however.

6) Its hard to tell what came from the original 1920’s play both Universal Draculas were based on, and what were filmmakers’ decisions, but it doesn’t matter. 

The Dracula story, and many other vampire tales, tend to be allegories for the sexual awakening and independence of women. 

It’s a shame and pretty strong kick in the pants to that idea having the two main female characters be both interchangeable:
Kate Nelligan and Jan Francis as Lucy and Mina have roles and personalities completely swapped and exchanged from the book.

And Marginalized:
Mina Murry and Lucy Westernra become Mina Van Helsing and Lucy Seward in this version, changing from independent characters to being almost totally defined by their fathers, the main vampire hunters.

More positive stuff next time, I promise.


longbow said...

I somehow remember seeing "Love at first bite" in the movie theater and then asking my parents about the line "..with you, never a quickie, always a longie"

Jeff McGinley said...

Awesome line!

That film, and Zorro the Gay Blade insured I'd be a life long George Hamilton fan from a young age.

Thanx for sharing.