Dracula ver2 poster.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by John Badham
Produced by Marvin Mirisch
Walter Mirisch
Written by Bram Stoker (Novel)
Hamilton Deane
John L. Balderston (Stage play)
W. D. Richter
Based on Dracula by
Bram Stoker
Starring Frank Langella
Laurence Olivier
Donald Pleasence
Kate Nelligan
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Editing by John Bloom
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) July 13, 1979
Running time 109 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $20,158,970

Dracula is a 1979 American/British horror film starring Frank Langella as Count Dracula. The film was directed by John Badham and the cinematography was by Gilbert Taylor. The original music score is composed by renowned composer John Williams.

The film also starred Laurence Olivier as Professor Abraham Van Helsing, Donald Pleasence as Dr. Jack Seward, Kate Nelligan as Lucy Seward, Trevor Eve as Jonathan Harker, Tony Haygarth as Milo Renfield, and Jan Francis as Mina Van Helsing. It won the 1979 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.

Plot summaryEdit

Set in 1913 Whitby, England, Count Dracula (Frank Langella) arrives from Transylvania via the ship Demeter one stormy night. A sickly Mina Van Helsing (Jan Francis), who is visiting her friend Lucy Seward (Kate Nelligan), discovers Dracula's body after his ship has run aground. After praising her as his "Savior," the Count visits Mina and her friends at the household of Lucy's father, Dr. Jack Seward (Donald Pleasence), whose clifftop mansion also serves as the local asylum. At dinner, he proves to be a charming guest and leaves a strong impression on the hosts, Lucy especially. Less charmed by this handsome Romanian count is Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve), Lucy's fiancé.

Later that night, while Lucy and Jonathan are having a secret rendezvous, Dracula reveals his true nature as he descends upon Mina to drink her blood. The following morning, Lucy finds Mina awake in bed struggling for breath. Powerless, she watches her friend die, only to find wounds on her throat. Lucy blames herself for Mina's death, as she had left her alone.

At a loss for the cause of death, Dr. Seward calls for Mina's father, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier). Van Helsing suspects what might have killed his daughter: a vampire. Moreover, he begins to worry about what fate his seemingly dead daughter may now have since her encounter with the creature. Seward and Van Helsing investigate their suspicions and discover a makeshift tunnel within Mina's coffin (clawed by hand) which leads to the local mines. It is there that they encounter the ghastly form of an undead Mina, and it is up to a distraught Van Helsing to destroy what remains of his own daughter.

Lucy meanwhile has been summoned to Carfax Abbey, Dracula's new home, and soon she reveals herself to be in love with this foreign prince and openly offers herself to him as his bride. After a surreal "Wedding Night" sequence (employing lasers and shot by famed James Bond title sequence designer, Maurice Binder), Lucy, like Mina before her, is now infected by Dracula's blood. However, the two doctors manage to give Lucy a blood transfusion to help prevent her vampirism, but nothing can stop the inevitable now.

Now aided by Jonathan, the elderly doctors realize that the only way to defeat Dracula (and save Lucy) is by destroying him. They manage to locate his coffin within the grounds of Carfax Abbey, but the vampire is waiting for them (despite it being daylight Dracula is still a very powerful adversary to his enemies). Dracula escapes their feeble attempt to kill him and bursts into the asylum to free the captive Lucy. While there he murders his one-time slave, Milo Renfield (Tony Haygarth) for warning the others about him. Dracula now intends for him and Lucy to return to Transylvania together.

In a race against time, Harker and Van Helsing just manage to get onboard a ship carrying the vampire cargo bound for Romania. Below decks, Harker and Van Helsing find the Count's coffin; upon opening it they see Lucy sleeping beside her new "husband", Dracula. Again they try to destroy him, but the Count awakens and once more fights with his assassins. In the struggle, Van Helsing is fatally wounded by Dracula as he is impaled by the stake intended for the vampire. As the enraged Count now turns his attention to Harker, the dying doctor uses his remaining strength to throw a hook (attached to a rope, from the ship's rigging), into Dracula's back. Harker seizes his only chance and hoists the Count's body up through the cargo hold and into the sunlight above. Dracula then suffers a slow and painful death as the solar rays burn his body to ashes.

Lucy, now apparently herself once more, reaches out to Harker tenderly, but Harker, still feeling betrayed, turns away coldly as he stares at the dead Van Helsing. It is at that moment that she looks up to see Dracula's cape flying away in the wind, where she smiles enigmatically.


Like Universal's earlier 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi, the screenplay for this adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula is based on the stage adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which ran on Broadway and also starred Langella in a Tony Award-nominated performance. Notable for its Edwardian setting, and strikingly designed by Edward Gorey, the play ran for over 900 performances between October 1977 and January 1980. It is also notable for switching the character's roles of Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra.

The film was shot on location in England: at Shepperton Studios and Black Park, Buckinghamshire. Cornwall doubled for the majority of the exterior Whitby scenes; Tintagel (for Seward's Asylum), and St Michael's Mount (for Carfax Abbey). The Castle Dracula was a glass matte painted by Albert Whitlock.[1]

Deviations from the novelEdit

This list is not exhaustive, but intended to convey a sense of the differences between the film and the novel:

  • The setting is shifted to 1913.
  • The entire storyline about what happens in Transylvania is omitted (as, consequently, are the Brides of Dracula).
  • Renfield is a laborer who goes to work at Carfax Abbey, encounters Dracula and goes insane.
  • Dracula already has a young appearance.
  • The characters of Mina and Lucy are exchanged and altered:
    • Mina is Van Helsing's daughter and becomes a vampire.
    • Lucy is Dr. Seward's daughter and engaged to Harker.
  • Contrary to vampire lore, the undead Mina casts a reflection in a pool of water. In the DVD documentary, director John Badham designed the shot because it was clever and then a crew member pointed out it conflicts with vampire lore. Badham justified it, explaining vampires reflect in holy water and prior to the reflection, Van Helsing drops a cross in the puddle.
  • The characters of Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris are omitted.
  • Dracula does not have multiple coffins (though the possibility is discussed).
  • Harker kills Dracula on board ship, by forcing him into the sunlight. According to the novel, while Dracula's powers are not as potent in sunlight, the sun is not fatal to him as it is here.
  • The romance between Dracula and Lucy, while a popular film contrivance, does not exist in the novel.
  • Dracula is never seen with either fangs or wolf eyes (though the female vampires in the film do sport these). This was because of the insistence of Langella, who argued the case for a more believable monster.

Critical responseEdit

In 1979, three major Dracula films were released simultaneously around the world: Werner Herzog's arthouse re-telling Nosferatu the Vampyre, John Badham's Dracula, and the comedy Love at First Bite. The success of the jokey Love at First Bite, starring George Hamilton, may have had something to do with the muted response Badham's film would subsequently experience.

The film performed modestly at the box office, grossing $20,158,970 domestically, and was seen as something of a disappointment by the studio.

Some critics reacted positively toward the film, such as Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave gave it 3½ stars out of 4 and wrote: "What an elegantly seen Dracula this is, all shadows and blood and vapors and Frank Langella stalking through with the grace of a cat. The film is a triumph of performance, art direction and mood over materials that can lend themselves so easily to self-satire. There have been so many Draculas (Bela Lugosi played him two times, Christopher Lee eight) that the tragic origins of the character have been lost among the gravestones, the fangs and all those black cloaks. This Dracula restores the character to the purity of its first film appearances, in F. W. Murnau's 1923 Nosferatu and Bela Lugosi's 1931 version."[2] Others reacted less positively, such as Janet Maslin of The New York Times, who wrote: "In making this latest trip to the screen in living color, Dracula has lost some blood. The movie version ... is by no means lacking in stylishness; if anything, it's got style to spare. But so many of its sequences are at fever pitch, and the mood varies so drastically from episode to episode, that the pace becomes pointless, even taxing, after a while."[3]

In the home video market of the early 80's, John Badham's Dracula became a very popular title (making it into Variety's All-Time Horror Rentals - published 1993), but it eventually seemed to fall into relative cinematic anonymity for several years (partly due to it having a very limited video release outside of the USA). In more recent years, however, the film has undergone a bit of a revival, thanks to being made widely available on DVD and shown often on cable television, enabling new audiences to discover the film.

DVD and video re-coloringEdit

The 1979 theatrical version of the movie looks noticeably different from all modern prints of the film. Up until the early 1990s the film was shown in full Technicolor; however, when it was re-issued for a special Widescreen Laserdisc release in 1991, the director chose to alter the color timing and desaturated the once vibrant look of the film. The controversial choice left all subsequent prints (including DVDs) virtually colorless, prompting many arguments on internet movie forums.

The reason for the change is that John Badham had originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white (to mirror the monochrome 1931 film and the stark feel of the Gorey stage production), but at the time Universal refused and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor was instead prompted to shoot the movie in very warm 'golden' colors, helping to show off the stunning production design. The original version has been out of print for several years and it remains to be seen if it will be given a re-release by Universal at some point in the future.

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit

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