Revolutionizing the concept of Dracula (using an afro)
Frank Langella took the role of Dracula in 1979, making him into a character of gothic romance, thereby contrasting everything that came before. Dracula (1979) earned 3 1/2 stars out of 4 from Roger Ebert, who was pleased as punch with this movie. I can’t see why. He couldn’t stop talking about its innovative moments and the thrilling tone, which he called “fresh” and interesting in his 1979 review. He kicks dirt on the “overacting” and the endless amount of “fangs” in previous versions, but you know he doesn’t like those movies because they aren’t “artsy” enough. This Dracula is artsy, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad, just really…different. In any case, the public must have been REALLY tired of Universal or Christopher Lee parading out Dracula every other year, if they liked this Saturday Night Fever version so much. Disco on.
There are quite a few positives to like about the 1979 version of Dracula. The cast includes Donald Pleasance and Laurence Olivier, so you might expect solid acting and drama from this movie. In my opinion, the results are only average, and the four star cast can’t quite reach past two stars. The mood is probably the best part of this movie, and there are many scenes set up to be threatening and fearful. The problem is that Frank Langella’s version of Dracula doesn’t fit those scenes.
Frank Langella doesn’t bare his fangs like Christopher Lee, and he doesn’t inspire fear like Bela Lugosi. It’s as if Langella is trying for the opposite of threatening, like a stoic figure of an earlier century. He doesn’t overcommit like Gary Oldman, and he seems focused on developing a seductive quality, which he shows on several occasions. He unbuttons his shirt because that is Langella’s dream of romance. Gag me.
The real revolution is some of the dialogue, and I was ignoring the stupid wardrobe to listen to it. Langella’s Dracula feels trapped in his current state as a vampire and is envious of others who can lead a normal life. Other versions of Dracula have no such comparable feelings, and the closest thing to this tragic tone is Coppola’s film from 1992. Gary Oldman and Coppola also show the “tragic” Dracula, and both succeed in some ways at capturing that. Of course, Dracula 1992 is way more in-your-face about it.
The pace of this movie just drags and drags. The stoic nature of almost everything is very tiresome after a while. I was begging for Gary Oldman in a Bat-Costume to drop in. There’s something to be said for being authentic, but this movie goes way over the edge, and I got to wondering why a fancy pants guy like Dracla was living in such a grotesque castle. The only reason is because it is there for the camera to soak up. As the camera lingers over the landscape, all the environments look amazing, but they just go on and on. Maybe David Fincher did some of this movie in studying for Zodiac (2007).
Overall, this movie feels as melodramatic as any of the other versions, but pushes that romantic button over and over. And over. Dracula gazes romantically and women undress. Dracula waggles his fingers and women start fainting. He never does anything to actually earn their adoration, because it’s just enough that he is Dracula, so women love him. Maybe it’s the afro. The ladies might actually like this glorified love story, but the pure gothic tone didn’t do it for me, even with John Williams in the background.