Friday, October 10, 2014

Top 5 Dracula Films - #4 "1977 Version"

One of the most highly revered adaptations of Dracula was produced for the BBC in the late 1970's. Re-released in America as part of the program Great Performances, the 1977 version of Bram Stoker's horror novel stands out as not only the most faithful adaptation of Stoker's novel, but surely one of the creepiest.

At two-and-half-hours, Count Dracula as the program became titled, there is plenty of room for all of Stoker's original plot points. Scenes which had seldom been committed to screen were preserved, such as the nightmarish sequence in which Jonathon Harker watches Dracula crawl spider-like down the side of Castle Dracula. A number of minor details which had often been overlooked were also included (Dracula's hairy palms for instance). Lastly, much of the original dialogue was lifted verbatim from the novel. To fans of the original story, 1977's Count Dracula stands as favourite version.

While I love the fidelity to Stoker's novel (and it's truly the only one to remain true to the book on this list), that's not the reason why I have included it. Count Dracula has surely got to be the most surreal, nightmarish adaptation of Dracula I have ever seen. The truly spine-chilling stuff begins with Louis Jourdan's Dracula. Jourdan is an actor of some renown, sadly rather forgotten today. He had incredible range appearing in everything from Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case to the famed musical Gigi to the role of the villain in the James Bond film Octopussy. Here, Jourdan approaches the role of Dracula in an interesting way. Dracula is cold and somewhat aloof, but this only makes his performance all the more intense and scary. Jourdan's Dracula never looses his cool, even when faced with the gang of intrepid vampire hunters.

Louis Jourdan - a truly nightmarish Dracula
What's more, Louis Jourdan is very human as Dracula. There are not many instances in the film where Dracula bears his fangs or has red eyes. However, when he does, the sudden appearance of these vampire traits is surprising, taking the audience off guard. Some of these scenes are heightened by coloured-filters which makes Dracula's skin white and lips and eyes red. Count Dracula (1977) truly is a nightmare brought to life, and for that it makes this top five list.

The other characters are portrayed on screen just as they appeared in the novel. The always-welcome Frank Finlay co-stars as Professor Van Helsing. Through no fault of his own, Finlay's vampire hunter is pretty underwhelming. Though portrayed per Stoker's novel as a middle-aged, Dutch professor, Van Helsing just doesn't come across as an exciting antagonist for Dracula. The script, slightly deviating from the source material, does allow the two opposing forces to exchange a few words as the story reaches its climax which really increases the tension. Also worthy of note is Susan Penhaligon as Lucy, Dracula's first victim. Her appearance as a vampire, wreathed in smoke, bearing fangs and red eyes, is really chilling stuff.

Count Dracula approaches Bram Stoker's novel not with bombast, but with a conscious effort to portray the story accurately and with great surrealism. A truly blood-chilling two-and-half-hours, if you're a fan of Stoker's novel or Dracula in general and haven't seen this adaptation, it is highly recommended. Next Friday we continue the Dracula countdown, this time featuring one of the biggest-name actors to play the vampire, with a script provided by one of horror's biggest names.

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