DraculaFest: Dan Curtis’ Dracula

How did this happen? I’m not at all sure. But I appear to have embarked on a Dracula film kick. It isn’t even Halloween. I’m not even a huge vampire fan, though I do love a good scare. For whatever reason, I’ve taken it upon myself to watch every iteration of the Good Count I can get my hands–or eyeballs–on and report the results here. Welcome to DraculaFest 2016!

Clearly, I’m not working in chronological order. First up is Dan Curtis’ Dracula (1974) because of the low barrier to entry–it appeared in my Hulu queue while browsing. Perhaps that’s what kicked off this whole thing.

Careful of that window, Count.

Careful of that window, Count.

One might ask, who the hell is Dan Curtis, and why does he deserve his own Dracula? The simple answer is that Dan Curtis brought us such legendary horror fare as Trilogy of Terror and the supernatural soap opera, Dark Shadows. (Fun fact: my short story Method was inspired by the hilarious blooper reel from the latter show.) Though originating as a made-for-TV movie, Dracula shows what Curtis can do with multiple takes, as opposed to DS’ “live without a net” methodology.

Turns out higher production values allowed Curtis to move from silly to scary. This is about as traditional as renditions come, featuring all the familiar beats from Stoker’s novel along with a few surprises. Very little camp here, unlike the shovelfuls deployed in his previous outings. Jack Palance, of City Slickers and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! fame, delivers a faithful and Stoker-esque take on the Count, lying somewhere between Max Schreck‘s rodent-like freak and the more modern Casanova stylings. He’s quite effective in the role, though I will always remember him attacking Buck Rogers with his glowing hands and his psychic powers.

Come at me, Buck!

Come at me, Buck!

Richard Matheson provided the screenplay, which accounts for a great deal of this adaptation’s overall success. I’ve never been shy in my admiration for Matheson, who gave us classics like Hell House in addition to everything from Westerns to science fiction to romance(!). He never strays far from the source material, and the results are solid if unsuspenseful for the initiated.

Though the story skews closer to the novel than many others, some curious adjustments have been made. Jonathan Harker apparently never makes it out of Castle Dracula, and his role in later events is subsumed by Lucy’s suitor, Arthur Holmwood (Simon Ward), who spends much of the film following Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) around in a state of befuddlement. Like many versions it chooses to tack on the unimaginative new-girl-is-Dracula’s-lost-love-reincarnate angle; unlike most of the others, it’s Lucy and not Mina who embodies the Count’s old flame. This makes a bit more sense than with Mina, as Dracula’s indiscretions with Lucy draw Van Helsing’s suspicion and seal his eventual fate.

This is a fun, if predictable, version that outmaneuvers many of the bigger-budget cinema varations on this theme. And it’s widely available, so why not? I give it 1.5 out of 2 fangs out!

Next up: Dracula Untold (2014). Hey, it was on HBO.

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