Sunday, October 7, 2012

HALLOWEEN MONTH, PART 1: COUNT DRACULA (BBC, 1977)


I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it here again: Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. Some of you reading this no doubt remember my infamous Halloween horror movie marathons, and the extent to which I would go to celebrate the Day of Black and Orange. So throughout this month, my plan is to watch at least two horror movies a week and write about each of them here. Not nearly as ambitious as the one-movie-a-day project that my dear friend Steve Bunche now has underway at his blog, but this should be fun nonetheless.

I’ll begin with one I’d never seen before: Count Dracula, a 1977 BBC adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel produced as a TV mini-series, starring Louis Jourdan as the Count, Bosco Hogan as Jonathan Harker, Judi Bowker as Mina, Susan Penhaligon as Lucy, Jack Shepherd as Renfield, Frank Finlay as Abraham Van Helsing, and Richard Barnes as the imaginatively named Quincey Holmwood—an amalgam of two characters from the novel, Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris.


Despite the bold claim of the 1992 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this BBC production is, as far as I’m concerned, the most faithful adaptation of the novel ever produced. Nearly every essential element is there, nearly every major plot point and character bit. For authenticity, some of the filming was even done in Whitby, the seaside town in England where Dracula arrives from Transylvania and targets his first victim, the lovely Lucy Westenra.

Of course, there are some deviations from the novel. The combining of Arthur and Quincey mentioned above is just one. Lucy and Mina are now sisters instead of best friends. And this production, like most others, leaves out the part about Dracula being an old man at the beginning of the story and regaining his youth once he’s in England. But none of these is a deal-breaker for me.

Louis Jourdan would not have been my first (or probably even my fourth) choice to play Dracula, but his performance is very good. He plays the Count as superficially polite and friendly, but with an undertone of genuine menace and evil lurking just below the surface. There are some subtle moments that are wonderful. For example, when Jonathan Harker finds Dracula in his coffin but can’t bring himself to destroy the vampire lord, Jourdan gives a look of arrogant triumph and confidence that can’t be beat.

My main gripe with Jourdan is that he didn't alter his appearance at all, not even his hairstyle—he looks almost exactly the same as he does several years later in 1982’s Swamp Thing and 1983’s Octopussy. His look just doesn’t scream out “Dracula!” to me. 


But his wardrobe is spot-on—he’s dressed completely in deep black, as described in the novel. And I like the way his outfit has a built-in cape that seemingly appears out of nowhere whenever he needs it to.

The rest of the cast is very good. Frank Finlay seems to be having the time of his life playing Van Helsing, a mixture of wisdom, compassion, and determination. Bosco Hogan is probably the best Jonathan Harker on film—very much the character as conceived by Stoker. The same can be said about Judi Bowker as Mina. Jack Shepherd is extremely compelling as Renfield. Susan Penhaligon does a masterful job showing the corruption of Lucy.

The only real weak link in the cast is Richard Barnes as Quincey Holmwood. The character is the least developed, and Barnes, who looks like a skinny Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, delivers the least convincing American accent (Texan, no less) that I’ve ever heard. Even his final fate is unsatisfying—I found it both amusing and perplexing that in mixing the novel’s Arthur and Quincey together, the filmmakers decided to leave his status at the end unresolved. (In the novel, one of those two characters doesn’t survive.)

Don’t expect a Hollywood blockbuster here. The production values are modest: there’s constant shifting from film (during the exterior scenes) to videotape (during the interior scenes); the special effects are extremely limited; and there’s no all-star cast. But let’s face it, this was made for British television—and in the late 1970s to boot! Despite that, it definitely captures the spirit and the details of the novel far better than the lavish, big-budget, supposedly faithful Coppola film did.

For any true Dracula fan, this is a must-see. 


© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2012.

6 comments:

  1. I saw this when it first aired in the States, but I remember nothing about its content. I need to see it again.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Haha, I knew you would love it. Its rapidly become my favorite film version, for all the reasons youve listed. All the Dracula films have their own unique qualities, but this is the only version that "feels" like the book to me. Cant wait to discuss

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nick --

    The only real gripes I have:

    1) It didn't include one of my very favorite scenes from the novel--when the peasant woman shows up outside the castle screaming, "Monster, give me back my child!"--she's referring to the baby that Dracula has given to his three brides as a meal--and Dracula sics the wolves on her. Positively chilling.

    2) There's a scene in this where Harker realizes just how screwed he is and he collapses face down on his bed and starts sobbing and biting his pillow--it kind of looked like he was getting buggered in the rear by Simon Adebisi of the HBO series OZ.

    ReplyDelete
  4. now you're splitting hairs! Agreed, those are both flaws, but, come on! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. only a straight man would think Louis Jourdan needs to alter his appearance to play Dracula. Dracula would need to alter his appearance to resemble Louis Jourdan, a great goth lead as well as a great actor

    ReplyDelete
  6. If you are looking for an excellent contextual ad network, I suggest that you check out PropellerAds.

    ReplyDelete