IF YOU haven’t heard of Dan Curtis’ Dracula, there are several reasons why. For one thing, it was made for television by a man who’s name shall always be most closely associated with another vampire from a different TV production, namely, Barnabas Collins. Second, it emerged during an era in which Christopher Lee virtually owned the character. On top of that, it took until 2014 for the film to finally get a complete, unedited release on home video.
But it’s been worth the wait. The film has been transferred and restored in 2K HD from the original 35MM camera negative, in glorious widescreen, and after watching it on Amazon Prime Video the other night I am happy to report that it has never looked better.
At least not on TV. After all, television sets in the early ’70s were a far cry from what we have today. If this movie had played theatrically in America back in those days, as did in parts of Europe, we’d probably esteem it alongside the great Hammer Studios Dracula films of the period—because it looks like a Hammer film, and I swear Jack Palance is as good in the role of Dracula as any actor before or since.
THIS ADAPTATION of Bram Stoker‘s novel was the first to suggest that Count Dracula is actually the infamous historical figure Vlad the Impaler, a 15th-century prince here cursed to spend lifetimes as an undead creature of the night, endlessly pining for his lost love. It’s but one of several liberties that Matheson took with the novel, while nevertheless retaining the familiar central thrust of Stoker’s story.
As for the filmmaking, you know you’re in good hands right from the opening sequence, a wordless series of shots showing us Dracula’s nighttime world as it stirs to life. Dan Curtis was a gifted filmmaker, and this bit of visual storytelling is him at his best—allowing sounds and images to draw us subtly out of our own world and into the world of the story.
And from there the story rumbles forward on the strength of great writing, lush cinematography by Oswald Morris (The Guns of Navarone), a score by frequent Curtis collaborator Bob Cobert (Dark Shadows; The Night Stalker), timeless locations in England and Yugoslavia, and a solid cast which includes Simon Ward, Nigel Davenport, Penelope Horner, Murray Brown, and Fiona Lewis (below) as Lucy, the ill-fated object of Dracula’s obsession.
BUT IT’S Oscar-winner Jack Palance who steals the show here, with a robust performance that manages to package both the tragedy and depravity of Count Dracula in the regal bearing of a once royal figure who’s been reduced to a parasite.
As of this writing, the restored version is available on Blu-ray and streaming platforms only, not DVD, so check the details carefully before making a purchase.
Here’s the trailer.