DRACULA (1973 United States)

dracula_palanceThis average yarn about the notorious vampire was produced for television in America, and released theatrically in Europe. (I think watching this on a big theatre screen would be very interesting) Director Dan Curtis and writer Richard Matheson turn Dracula  into a tortured, sympathetic character haunted by his distant past and the woman he lost centuries ago. Sound familiar? I do admire its matter-of-factness though. More like a play than a movie.

Unlike Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman, Jack Palance does not shape-shift into either a bat, a wolf, or a cloud of mist. Matheson and Curtis have scaled back his supernatural attributes, instead they turn him into a sort of wrestling champion. The stoic Nigel Davenport is exceptional as Dr. Van Helsing and Simon Ward plays a rather wimpy Arthur Holmwood. The chief complaint here is that Curtis and Matheson have deleted the characters of Dr. Seward, Renfield, and Quincy Morris, as well as the sanitarium setting. It smacks of cheapness.

The opening bell takes us to Castle Dracula as the wolves howl at dusk. Dracula descends from his room to go outside. The first thing that differentiates this “Dracula” from others is the tidy abode. Dracula does not walk through any giant cobwebs, and everything looks clean and well-kept. No dilapidated edifice here. He is a tidy tenant. Unfortunately, this lackluster entrance by the lead character adds little to his larger-than-life lustre. After this expendable scene, we are told that the year is 1897, and the setting is Bistritz, Hungary. And we’re off.

SIMON WARD DRACULA 5Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) has arrived to show Dracula several real estate properties that might interest the nobleman in England. But once the Count has finished his business affairs with Harker, he allows his vampire brides to feast on him, while the Count sets sail in the Demeter to Whitby, England. Harker is quickly written out of the story in another break with the novel. Curtis and Matheson do not take us on the rough seas voyage either. They encapsulate everything with one shot of the beached ship and Dracula standing by his coffin.

Writer and director pile on the exposition in a way that calls more attention to itself than it should. They make it a point to address Dracula’s past and his service as a military chieftain who commanded armies. Sadly, Palance doesn’t get any memorable dialogue. There is something very tough and masculine about Jack Palance though.

He did well acting as a menace, but poorly as a seducer. He’s not really smooth enough.

DanCurtisDracula (1)He comes off more as an animalistic brute with few social skills. Most women would faint with fright than walk willingly into his arms. For some reason the script has him throwing people around, to demonstrate his strength. The scene where he gets into a brawl with the locals at an inn is nowhere in Bram Stoker’s novel. It seemed more like a tavern fight straight out of a western. It also was reminiscent of Dan Curtis’ production “The Night Stalker”, where the vampire there physically fights off a dozen Las Vegas policemen.

Curtis appeared to be restaging elements of “The Night Stalker”, only this time with Dracula as the vampire. This version also faintly resembles a Hammer Dracula with its period settings, the heavy-handed music, and finale where the principals rip the curtains down to expose Palance to sunlight. The commander in chief is no more… If you need to relax, maybe fall asleep in front of your TV screen and there is no valium to hand, this might do the trick.

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