It's been a long, long time since I've seen Dracula (1979). I remembered not caring for it very much and have avoided it ever since. The only scene which really struck a chord with me is the scene in with Professor Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) encounters his daughter, Mina (Jan Francis) who is now a vampire. The image of Mina with her chalky gray skin, bloody mouth and glowing red eyes, kept cropping up in my mind, so I decided it was time to revisit this interpretation of Dracula.
If you've read the novel, then the scene I briefly mentioned above should indicate the great liberties that this movie has taken with the source material, which also includes the stage play that served as the source material for the 1931 Universal movie. This movie skips all of the scenes in Transylvania and begins with a ship at sea as the sailors try to throw the box Dracula is in overboard. Instead they are all killed by the wolf that Dracula has transformed into, and the ship crashes upon the shore with Dracula, the sole survivor who is found by Mina Van Helsing who is staying with her friend Lucy Seward (Kate Nelligan) and her doctor Father (Donald Pleasance) who runs a mental institution. Dracula is not seen in his human form until about half an hour into the movie. Frank Langella is great as the suave, charming, count who wins the hearts of both Lucy and Mina, but is not nearly as convincing as the predatory vampire. His animalistic snarling during the climax of the movie is more goofy than threatening.
This was meant to be a sexier Dracula, and it is. not content with merely drinking their blood, this Dracula also makes love to his victims set against a background of really cheesy optical effects. The look of the movie, overall is terrific, everything looks cold and clammy, and the sets, particularly of Carfax Abbey look fantastic. If you're willing to overlook the tremendous deviations from the source material this is a rather enjoyable, and often exciting movie. At times, however, it comes of as a bit stagey, which is not surprising since this movie was an adaptation of the Broadway play that was running just before production, which is now known for sets designed by Edward Gorey. It often feels like a play that was opened up for its movie version. The weakest link, as is the case with just about all of the Dracula movies, is Jonathan Harker, who is a rather bland character who can't possibly compete with Dracula as anyone's romantic interest, and I place the blame more on the script than on actor Trevor Eve who plays him, though it's hard to say. The movie does tend to appear a bit dated with its blow-dried Dracula, and solarized optical effects, but it feels genuine, as if director John Badham was truly aspiring to make an epic scale Dracula movie. The score by John Williams does a lot to give it a feeling of grandeur.