Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974) | Jack Palance bears his fangs in Dan Curtis’ macabre melodrama

Dan Curtis' DraculaIn the 1970s, the name Dan Curtis was synonymous with horror and fantasy on TV. Having cut his fangs on the long-running Gothic soap Dark Shadows in the late-1960s, he gave many a young horror fan sleepless nights – myself included – with genuinely frightening TV movies like The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror, adaptations of Victorian horror classics, including Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, and big-screen forays (Burnt Offerings being my favourite).

And towering above them all (to use a line from the trailer) is this handsome adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from a screenplay by the legendary Richard Matheson, with Jack Palance (who’d previously done Jekyll & Hyde) pulling on the well-worn cloak and fangs.

While the influence of Universal and Hammer’s Gothic classics is evident, Curtis’ teledrama aims to be more faithful to Stoker’s source material, but flavors it with some high romance by fusing the Count’s connection to real-life 15th-century soldier statesmen Vlad Tepes with a subplot about him pursuing the reincarnation of his beloved Elizabeth, who died at the hands of an invading army (something Coppola would also do in his 1992 adaptation).

Jack Palance reigns in the over-acting to give a deeply affecting performance. He plays Dracula as an obsessed stalker and a caged animal waiting to explode. And boy, doesn’t he so when his coffins are set on fire and he looses his lost love (a sensuous looking Fiona Lewis) a second time? Nigel Davenport gives his Van Helsing muscle, guts and intelligence, but Simon Ward is quite insipid as the floppy-haired Holmwood. However, it’s Penelope Horner’s brave Mina (oddly pronounced here) who comes off the real hero when she puts herself up as bait so the vampire hunters can capture, corner and kill the bloodsucker.

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Now Curtis always made his images count (I still cant forget Trilogy of Terror‘s Zuni doll), and this macabre melodrama provides many that continue to haunt: the mist rising from a black Transylvanian lake; the pack of Alsatians racing toward Dracula’s mountain-top castle; Lucy’s tear-stained corpse and her rain-swept funeral cortège decked in the finest Victorian mourning garb (Goths will love that one), not to mention Palance’s vengeful Dracula pacing the room in circles, his cloak flapping about like some hideous black spectre.

The classy period drama also makes splendid use of the British and former Yugoslavian locations; a fleet of vintage carriages; a real-life castle (Trakoscan in Croatia); and some grand homes – especially so that old favourite, Oakley Court, in Windsor, which serves as the exterior for Carfax Abbey.

This Screenbound Pictures presentation (available on region free Blu-ray and DVD) has been transferred and restored in 2K HD from the original 35mm camera negative which gives great justice to Curtis’ atmospheric cinematography and is a fitting addition to their Screenbound Classic Movie Collection.

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About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on December 23, 2015, in British Film, Horror, Must See, Must-See and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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