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Film / Dracula (1979)

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"Throughout history he has filled the hearts of men with terror, and the hearts of women with desire."

Universal's second screen version of Dracula, directed by John Badham and released in 1979, was adapted from the same stage play that its predecessor was based upon, in the wake of a successful Broadway revival. The star of that production, Frank Langella, reprises his role as Dracula, while Laurence Olivier as Abraham Van Helsing and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Seward head up the supporting cast.

In 1913, a ship (with its entire crew dead) arrives at Whitby in North Yorkshire, England. With it arrives the Romanian Count Dracula, who has bought the disused Carfax Abbey, located near Dr. Seward's sanitarium. Dracula sets upon furthering his kind. First, he seduces and turns Mina Van Helsing (Jan Francis), a guest in the Seward home, and then — more romantically — pursues Lucy Seward (Kate Nelligan). When Professor Abraham Van Helsing arrives in Whitby upon word of Mina's sudden, mysterious death, he suspects that a vampire is involved and begins an investigation into Dracula's true nature... but is it already too late to save Lucy's soul?

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Location Change: Unlike the novel and most screen versions, this film confines the action entirely to Whitby and environs.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Mina Murray and Lucy Westerna's names are changed, just the start of their substantially different characterizations.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: Van Helsing here is Mina's father, while Dr. Seward is Lucy's father and Jonathan Harker is Lucy's fiance (though Lucy here is essentialy re-named Mina character).
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Jonathan Harker. He is not supportive of Lucy here, suppressive of her career endevours and emotionally unavailable.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Dracula, while still quite evil, isn't quite as monstrous here as in his previous Universal Horror appearances, and definitely leans closer to Affably Evil than his 1931 counterpart.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Mina and Lucy swap personalities here; Lucy is the strong willed, proto-feminist who is the Count's main target, Mina is the fragile ill girl who becomes the Bloofer Lady.
  • Adapted Out: No brides, Arthur Holmwood, or Quincey Morris. No Transylvania or London scenes.
  • Age Lift: Jack Seward, who in the novel is similar in age to Lucy and Mina, is played by a then-60-year-old Donald Pleasence.
  • Answers to the Name of God: Grieving in the wake of destroying his vampirized daughter, Prof. Van Helsing holds his hands to his face and proclaims, "Oh, the devil." Dracula, who has entered the room without him noticing, answers "Come, come, surely not as bad as that."
  • Antagonist Title: Spoilers — Dracula is the villain!
  • Badass Boast: Dracula is not impressed when Van Helsing and Jonathan arrive in Carfax Abbey to slay him.
    Dracula: You fools! Do you think with your crosses and your wafers you can destroy me? Me! You do not know how many men have come against me. I am the king of my kind!
  • Big "NO!": Lucy does this when Van Helsing is about to stake the sleeping Dracula. This wakes him up...
  • Black Eyes of Crazy: Both Mina and Lucy have black eyes with red pupils after they have been turned by Dracula.
  • Book Ends: The film starts and ends onboard a ship.
  • Creepy Long Fingers: Dracula's clawlike hand movements make his fingers appear very long.
  • Cross-Melting Aura: Jonathan tries to ward off Dracula with a wooden cross, but he just smiles and grabs it, making it burst into flames.
  • Demoted to Extra: Jonathan Harker. He never goes to Transylvania here and his role of a hero is almost entirely given to Van Helsing.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Ironically it's Mina who is the one to turn into a vampire here and ends up staked.
    • Van Helsing is killed by Dracula with his own stake.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the novel, Dracula is killed via knife blows to the heart and neck. Here, he burns to death in sunlight while tied to a ship.
  • Eats Babies: After Mina turns, one of her first acts as a vampire is to sneak into the asylum and feed off the baby of an inmate.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The final moments suggest that while Lucy's humanity has been restored, Dracula might yet "live" to see another day.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Van Helsing confirms his suspicions about his late daughter's vampirism by investigating her resting place with a horse. When the horse arrives at her grave, it starts stomping the ground with its hooves, and then runs away in terror. Van Helsing and Dr. Seward then start digging...
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Since 1991 with the Laserdisc edition, every home video release of the film has muted, desaturated colors to better reflect the original intent of the director, who wanted to film in black-and-white. The 2019 Shout! Factory Blu-Ray release will contain both versions.
  • Ghost Butler: Anyone entering Carfax Abbey soon has the doors closing by themselves behind them.
  • Haunted Castle: Carfax Abbey is a massive disheveled building; its interiors are covered in layers of dust and cobwebs.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Dracula impales Van Helsing with his own stake.
  • Missing Reflection: Van Helsing discovers that vampires don't have reflections in mirrors when he comes face to face with Dracula for the first time. In addition, when Van Helsing tells the other men Dracula is behind the attacks after he and Seward had staked Mina, the men exhume Mina's body to show Jonathan that Mina also doesn't have a reflection, then they cut out her heart to free her from the curse.
  • Neck Snap: Dracula punishes Renfield for his treachery by twisting his head around.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Somewhat: the usual weaknesses are shown though when Mina turns, she looks more like a zombie then a vampire, as she's somewhat decayed. This is oddly in contrast to Dracula who still keeps his good looks despite being a vampire himself. Even more oddly, when she's staked her features return to normal.
  • Quivering Eyes: Accompanies some of Dracula's more intense stares that he gives to the ladies.
  • Related in the Adaptation: In this film, Lucy is Dr. Seward's daughter rather than simply his ward. Additionally, Mina is Van Helsing's daughter.
  • Setting Update: A relatively mild example, but this version moves the story forward by about twenty years.
  • Shovel Strike: Enraged by Dracula's words on how he is going to make Lucy his bride, Jonathan tries to whack him with a shovel, but the count just turns into a bat to avoid it.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Lucy survives to the end of the film, despite coming very close to being turned by Dracula.
    • Of course, it's more of a zig-zagged trope, as Lucy in this film is essentially Mina from the novel but with her best friend's name.
  • Staking the Loved One: Van Helsing is forced to stake his daughter, making things very personal between him and Dracula.
  • Super Window Jump: After feasting on the infant child of one of Dr. Seward's patients, the vampirized Mina escapes the scene of the crime by jumping through a window and fleeing into the night.
  • Uncertain Doom: While Dracula seemingly dies, the ending shots of the movie show his cape flying off into the horizon, hinting that he may have survived.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: This film is really the first attempt to deliberately present Dracula as a romantic and attractive figure. At the time, it was mentioned that Dracula being attractive actually makes him more terrifying, as it effectively hides the monster underneath — misleading the audience this way was quite novel.
  • Vertigo Effect: Used when Dracula hypnotizes Mina during his social visit to Dr. Seward.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Dracula can become a wolf, a bat, or mist as needed.
  • Wall Crawling: Dracula scales down a wall to get into first Mina's and then Lucy's bedroom. He also does this when he "rescues" Lucy from the asylum.