Dracula (1974)
By: Paul Ryan on September 12, 2011  | 
Beyond Home Entertainment (Australia) | Region 4, PAL | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 | 93 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Dan Curtis
Starring: Jack Palance, Nigel Davenport, Simon Ward, Pamela Brown, Fiona Lewis, Murray Brown
Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Country: UK
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Best remembered for the long-running gothic soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-71), cult telemovie Trilogy of Terror (1975), and for bringing Cark Kolchak to the small screen, Dan Curtis also dabbled in numerous adaptations of classic horror novels for the small screen. These included The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1968), Frankenstein (1973) and The Turn of the Screw (1974). Among these was this 1974 adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula.

English solicitor Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) journeys to Transylvania to broker a real estate deal with the wealthy – and much-feared – Count Dracula (Jack Palance). While looking over photos of various properties in England, the Count is transfixed by a picture of Harker's fiancee Mina Murray (Penelope Horner) and her friend Lucy Westenra (Fiona Lewis), the latter of whom he believes to be a reincarnation of his late wife. Ultimately imprisoned in the decrepit, rotting mansion, Harker is tormented and tortured by the vampire Count and his three comely brides. Back in England, a ship carrying several coffins runs aground, it's captain dead at the wheel. It is here that Lucy Westenra becomes gravely ill. She becomes gravely allergic to sunlight and garlic, while violently recoiling from religious symbols and disappearing during the night to be in the clutches of the newly-arrived Dracula. It's up to Mina, Lucy's fiancee, Arthur Holmwood (Simon Ward) and the unconventional Dr Abraham Van Helsing, (Nigel Davenport) to defeat the malign Count and save Lucy's soul...

Scripted by the venerable Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), this version was promoted at the time as a serious attempt to recapture the essence of the novel. There are some notable deviations from the book (such as the addition of a back story for the Count's fixation on Lucy, while the characters of Renfield, Quincey Morris and John Seward are entirely absent here), and while some of the changes are tolerable, others – particularly the off-handed resolution of Jonathan Harker's story, given that a good quarter of the film sets it up – really don't work. Curtis' direction is solidly atmospheric – aided immeasurably by the moody camerawork of Oswald Morris, whose credits include The Dark Crystal and The Man Who Would Be King – and manages some stark horror imagery despite the constraints of television censorship.

Avoiding hamminess and silly accents, Palance makes a surprisingly credible Count. He's menancing, charismatic, and pleasingly subtle. Less impressive is Nigel Davenport's far too low-key Van Helsing. Simon Ward (or, I'll always remember him, Supergirl's Dad), is a solid Arthur, while Murray Brown is a fine, empathetic Harker. As Lucy and Mina, respectively, Fiona Lewis and Penelope Horner are fetching, but not overly memorable. Keep an eye out for Sarah Douglas (Superman I & II, Conan the Destroyer) as one of Dracula's brides, too.

There's a curiously uneven energy to this version, which has a very strong start and finish, but numerous slow patches in between. Devotees of the novel will bristle at some of the changes, but the main problem is the erratic pacing, which stumbles every time the film builds up a head of steam. Despite this, Palance's fine work as Dracula makes this a worthwhile curiosity.
A disclaimer at the start of the film warns of imperfections in the picture quality, and it is worth heeding. The source for this DVD transfer is an analogue tape, and an NTSC-to-PAL conversion at that. There's ghosting and flicker, weak colours, poor shadow detail and the red titles show noticeable bleed. Also, minor tape artefacts are visible (mainly when Dracula's wenches attack Harker). The print this was taken from is also not much chop, being overly grainy and carrying minor traces of damage.
Acceptable, mostly clear Dolby 2.0, and in better shape than the vision.
Extra Features
Not a lot, but more than you'd expect for a nearly 40-year-old telemovie. A pair of interviews – recorded about two decades after the fact – with Palance and Curtis. Jack speaks thoughtfully about his approach to the part and his fears of getting a bit too much into his character. Interestingly, Palance says he never had the courage to watch his performance as the Count. Curtis discusses the history of the film and how he added "a Dark Shadows love story" (the Dracula-Lucy reincarnation subplot) to the novel's plot. He suggests this element influenced "the most recent version", which would have been Coppola's at the time this was taped. Lastly, there's the trailer from the film's European theatrical release.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Well produced and generally well-acted, this is a disjointed, but noble stab at a serious adaptation of the venerable novel. Like many of Beyond's horror releases of late, this is simply a reissue of an earlier pressing by the now-defunct MRA label (complete with their logos), so there's no need to double dip if you've already got it.

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