For years, I've listened to horror fans talk trash about the 1979 "Dracula." It's not faithful to the book, they'd complain, it's not scary, it's only made for the sake of middle-aged ladies who fancy Frank Langella, etc. etc.
Well, I'm happy to report that the horror fans are way off base this time. This "Dracula" is a classy, creepy, and sometimes downright exciting production. Sure, the script doesn't follow the events of the book exactly - the whole thing takes place in England! - but it makes the most of its limitations, so to speak.
Langella makes a very classy Dracula. He apparently refused to wear fangs or demon eyes for the role, focusing instead on making the count more "human" - not to mention arrogant, intelligent, and, I suppose, sexy (for me and other guy viewers, though, the eye candy in this movie is Kate Nelligan). Perhaps Langella is a little too "normal," and his big hair is slightly amusing, but on the whole I think he plays the role with dignity, inhabiting Dracula in a far more convincing way than the likes of Gary Oldman.
The rest of the cast is pretty good, too. Nelligan makes a lovely, capable heroine, and Trevor Eve is an OK (if underused) Jonathan Harker. Laurence Olivier's Van Helsing is a lot better than most people say he is - he comes across as smart, brave and an overall worthy opponent for Dracula. Reviewers tend to mock his Dutch accent, but I don't get too wrapped up in stuff like that; it sounds fine to me. I certainly think the cast here is much better than the parade of wooden actors and crazy hams in the Coppola version.
I like the production values of this film, too. The special effects are mostly photographic tricks but they look cool, and they aren't overbearing like modern CGI effects. The sets and locations are attractive, though the designers went a bit overboard with the Gothic ruin of Carfax Abbey (probably because they wanted to make it a substitute for the absent Castle Dracula). And, of course, the eerie John Williams score is a treat, and rightly praised by most critics.
Another plus is that the movie features a number of very powerful scenes - I love Dracula's confrontation with Van Helsing in the study, and the terrifying moment when Van Helsing encounters his vampire daughter in the mine shaft. Creepy stuff; no wonder this movie freaked me out when I was a kid!
On the downside, I found Dr. Seward, as played by Donald Pleasence, slightly too grotesque and lame to be believed. And, as usual for these Dracula adaptations, Renfield seemed borderline extraneous. The plotting flakes apart a bit at the end, too, with the car chase scene coming across as silly - and what, exactly, does the final image in the film mean? It's slightly too enigmatic for my tastes. I am supposed to be rooting for Dracula to survive or something?
Still, this is one of the better Draculas. The 1977 BBC version is more faithful and probably better. But this is arguably the best adaptation of the story to come out of Hollywood.