Bram Stoker’s Dracula is probably my favorite horror novel for numerous reasons. I have said on numerous occasions that I think Count Dracula is the greatest literary villain ever created. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, the film adaptations have done the titular vampire wrong over the decades. The two I present tonight were pretty damn well done, plus I have a third film to get us caught up on the countdown.
24. Dracula – 1979
Frank Langella takes a turn as Count Dracula in this stylish, dramatic 1979 production. Langella’s Dracula is more romantic and devilishly handsome than seen before when it comes to Dracula adaptations, even more so than Louis Jourdan (see below). Sir Laurence Olivier plays Professor Abraham Van Helsing and Donald Pleasence plays Dr. Jack Seward. This is another instance, like the original 1931 film, where Seward and Van Helsing are contemporaries. Kate Nelligan (Eye of the Needle, Wolf) stars as Seward’s daughter Lucy and Jan Francis plays Mina Van Helsing. Once again, characters are changed around a bit from the novel. The Transylvania part of the story is completely skipped.
As much as I am a purist and an evangelist for the novel, there is a lot to like in this production. Langella adds a modicum of charm and sexuality not seen in the character before, yet there is an underlying malevolence. John Badham directed the W.D. Richter screenplay. Trevor Eve (A Discovery of Witches) plays Jonathan Harker.
23. Count Dracula – 1977
We go from one of the least faithful adaptations of Dracula to one of the most faithful. Louis Jourdan (Octopussy, Swamp Thing) donned the cape for this BBC two-part mini-series production billed as a “Gothic Love Story,” which you can find streaming on Amazon Prime right now. Philip Saville directed the screenplay written by Gerald Savory. YouTube channel Cinemassacre compared a slew of Dracula adaptations and scored them in an effort to discern the most faithful and this one came out on top.
Frank Finlay (Lifeforce) does a decent job as Van Helsing, Mark Burns is pretty good as Dr. John Seward, Bosco Hogan (The Tudors) is serviceable as Jonathan Harker, and Jack Shepherd (The Golden Compass) is understated and nuanced as Renfield. Lucy and Mina are now sisters, which isn’t that big of a stretch, and Arthur Holmwood and Quincey P. Morris have been combined into a U.S. diplomat/cowboy named Quincey Holmwood played by Richard Barnes. Barnes is absolutely awful. His attempt at portraying a Texan, let alone an American, is laughable at best and either he or the stuntman really struggles with horsemanship. Barnes almost ruins the movie. Almost.
This film, however, gets most of the salient details correct and Jourdan is excellent and malicious in the role as Count Dracula despite some very odd television visual effects.
22. The Vampire Lovers – 1970
Ingrid Pitt makes her second appearance in the countdown, and this definitely won’t be the last Hammer Studios production that’ll make the list either. Harry Fine and Tudor Gates adapted Sheridan Le Fanu’s famous lesbian vampire tale Carmilla for Hammer and Roy Ward Baker directed. Peter Cushing stars as General von Spielsdorf.
Pitt plays the lead character(s) Marcilla, Carmilla, Mircalla Karnstein, a vampire succubus who slinks her way into many a bedroom to seduce and murder. One of the more overtly lesbian stories in Gothic horror history, but also for mainstream cinema. Pitt’s character is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that no one suspects (sound familiar?) until it is too late (for many). Unlike her character in Countess Dracula, Pitt’s Carmilla can’t help what she is and does what comes natural to survive. It is the devious ways she and her mother go about it that make this an entertaining film.