Judge Brett Cullum's love for garlic caused a few unexpected complications with this review.
Jonathan Harker: You must know a great deal of the history of
Count Dracula gets the Masterpiece Theatre treatment in this oddly compelling adaptation of the Bram Storker novel starring Louis Jourdan (Octopussy). It was a long coveted title available as an import DVD directly from the BBC that had gone out of print, and at long last we get a North American release. As you would expect, the British version is a more literal translation of the novel (though still not completely faithful) with sublime acting. Jourdan makes a sexy Dracula, and the long format of the miniseries allows for a languid pace that creeps along nicely allowing the narrative breathing room. There's plenty to admire in the production, but don't expect more than the 1977 spectacle on this DVD.
Facts of the Case
Jonathan Harker (Bosco Hogan) goes to Transylvania to seal a real estate deal with what he thinks is merely an eccentric wealthy client interested in an old English castle. Harker finds himself soon imprisoned, and witnesses dark evil things. His host is a monster heading to England to enslave the ones Harker loves. Chief among the demon's targets is his fiancee. With the help of Dr. Van Helsing (Frank Finlay), the bad guy is chased back to his European homeland where good and evil must battle for a girl's soul.
The production does benefit a great deal from the casting of Louis Jourdan who plays Dracula calm and calculating with black shark eyes and a sly tight smile. Where Bela Lugosi and Gary Oldman were eccentric and over the top in their portrayals of the infamous figure, Jourdan keeps his cool and never works up a sweat. He maintains steely control, and waives off his blood lust as merely what a man would do to a chicken. People are food, and they are good for little else. He is a superior being looking to create disciples to follow the vampire's lead. His evil is comprised of ambivalence about man and his religion neither of which is sacred in his regard. The night attacks on women are played for sexual metaphor, and there is much writhing and groaning with pleasure when Jourdan gives killer hickeys. Dracula is portrayed deliberate and aloof. He is a monster when seen in psychedelic flashes as a bald rat featured nosferatu, but to the rest of the world he is urbane and sophisticated.
Fans claim this BBC production is the most faithful to the literary source material, and in many ways Count Dracula sticks to the Stoker text where it counts. This is the first time we see Dracula feed his brides an infant, and the Count is seen flopping down his castle wall like an insect. Both of these passages were missing from other silver screen adaptations, and a lot of the narrative is afforded development by the over two and a half hour running time. Still the BBC Count Dracula takes liberties in many cases. Mina and Lucy are sisters, and Mina's role in the climax is diminished from what she got to do on the written page. Two of Lucy's suitors Quincy P. Morris and Arthur Holmwood are combined to form a single character named Quincy P. Holmwood. There is no playing with Dracula's age which was so key to the book. It comes close to being faithful, but we have yet to see a film truly slavish to the original novel's details.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
BBC Video has made this a bare bones affair offering up nothing but the program itself. Count Dracula arrives on store shelves without so much as a booklet to tell the tale of the history of how and why all this came to the BBC. The transfer is a full screen monaural affair that doesn't diminish the film and video which appear crisp and clean enough, but it doesn't make things lively. About half of Count Dracula was shot on video, and it looks like a Dark Shadows marathon. When you start up this DVD there are unskippable commercials for BBC America, and then a simple menu with episode and chapter choices. This is just a stripped down release provided for people who just want the feature for repeated viewing during the Halloween season.
Thirty years later, and the biggest downfall of Count Dracula are the "not so special" effects and television production values which make this Dracula perhaps the least visually interesting. Coppola drowned viewers in excess of design when he told the tale, and viewers weaned on the 1992 version will be left wondering what all the fuss is about when they view this version which relies more on acting. While exteriors were done on location sites, all the interiors are obvious sets that look more theatrical than filmic. Even the 1931 Universal film executes Castle Dracula with more success than this one does at creating an elaborate setting. There are some nicely done psychedelic sequences to amp up the fear, and these include old school video composite tricks which look like a moving picture negative. They are inventive given the technical constraints of the era, but can come off cheesy when compared to todays technology.
The BBC production of Count Dracula is a classic for its concentration on acting and a more literal treatment of the Dracula story. Louis Jourdan turns in a terrific performance as the legendary king of all vampires, and it's wonderful we finally get to see him on DVD. Much like the book, the Dracula character is only used sparingly to great effect. The longer running time makes the story feel complete, and the English cast play everything serious and tight. It's what you would expect from a Masterpiece Theatre production—smartly literate, a bit long, and well acted. It's a shame BBC America has only given us the miniseries without any supplemental material, but nice to see the Jourdan Count Dracula available by traditional means again in North America. This one seems to get short shrift in the many versions of Bram Stoker's novel, and hopefully now more fans will get to see why it has been a favorite for decades. It truly is one of the best adaptations of the story ever produced.
The court allows Count Dracula the BBC Production to go free into the misty night. BBC America owes a pint of blood for giving this release no extras.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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