Dan Curtis’ Dracula (initially called Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is so devoid of sex appeal that I joked with my wife that it looked like a made-for-TV movie. That turned out to be true. The network intended to broadcast it in October of 1973, but Nixon pre-empted it to explain why Vice President Spiro Agnew was resigning. Nixon himself would be resigning about ten months later, but fortunately for Curtis, Dracula had aired the preceding February.
Dan Curtis’ Dracula doesn’t immediately look like a TV movie. The version in circulation now is in high-definition, the costumes are fantastic, and the shooting locations --- in Yugoslavia and England --- beautiful. The castles, sitting-rooms, bedrooms, and hotels in the movie all put me in mind of Vincent Price’s Poe films or 60s Hammer movies. Every indoor scene is full of antique clutter, and that’s half the reason I love those movies so much.
Dan Curtis is not a familiar name now, but in the 60s and 70s, he produced many horror-related television shows. The vampire soap-opera Dark Shadows made his career.
Jack Palance plays the hell out of Dracula. One of the challenges of playing the character is balancing Dracula’s courtly alter-ego with his savage, predatory attacks. Palance’s Count is either seething or feeding. He tells Harker to sit and eat, but the instant Harker picks up his fork, the Count demands Harker give him the real estate listings immediately. These he snatches out of Harker’s hands. He is a showboating, arrogant blowhard of an aristocrat used to getting his way.
Richard Matheson’s script sticks pretty closely to the novel, which is not necessarily a good thing. The result is there’s a good deal of back-and-forth. There’s even a montage sequence where Arthur and Van Helsing track Dracula down by tracing his household goods through several shipping companies. You think you want vampire action, but are you prepared for the horrors of flipping through bills of lading?
Arthur is dull. Lucy is dull. Mina is dull. It would be an upsetting novelty if it were otherwise. Van Helsing, in an unforeseen twist, is tedious. On the bright side, there’s plenty of eye-candy in the sets and clothes. We don’t want actors upstaging their clothes anyway. It’s called “costume drama” for a reason.
Palance is the saving grace for this movie. He could have reprised the role many times, but Palance always declined. That is a goddamned shame and more evidence that we are inhabiting the worst timeline. If you can find this film for streaming free, watch it. And think of what could have been.