Thursday, July 17, 2008

Film Review: Dracula (1979)

Reprising the role he played on Broadway in this 1979 film, actor Frank Langella’s interpretation of “Dracula” is stylish and sexy with the requisite undercurrent of evil. In this film version, Lucy’s fascination for the mysterious, charismatic Count causes her fiancé Jonathan Harker to be wary of Dracula even before there is cause to suspect the Count of any wrongdoing. After Lucy’s friend Mina dies unexpectedly, Harker slowly comes to realize that much more is at stake (forgive the pun) than merely Lucy’s affection. This movie is heavy on atmosphere; with foggy exterior locations and evocative settings that include a decaying abbey and a convincingly rendered insane asylum.

This is one of the better Dracula movies for several reasons, not the least of which include quality performances by the entire cast, Sir Laurence Olivier in a late- career performance as Van Helsing, and a sweeping, dramatic score by film composer John Williams (“Jaws,” “Star Wars”). It takes more than one viewing of this film to fully appreciate its sly humor and inventiveness. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that Professor Seward (Donald Pleasance) is almost always eating and perpetually wears the evidence on his shirt front.

There are subtle, creepy hints of menace such as an overhead shot of a large spider traversing its web as Lucy (Kate Nelligan, “Eleni,” “Without a Trace,”) simultaneously enters Dracula’s home in response to his dinner invitation. Director John Badham (“WarGames,” “Saturday Night Fever,”) artfully delivers the scares at regular intervals; the pace is deliberate and the visual impact carefully calculated. The scene in which Van Helsing discovers that his daughter Mina has become a vampire begins as a claustrophobic search of the tunnels beneath the cemetery and builds during a nail-biting sequence that slowly moves from Mina’s decayed slippers to the horror of her demonic, ruined face. For lovers of the genre, this is a satisfying entry.

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