Dan Curtis’ Dracula: My TV Movie Trifecta

Dracula Blu-rayIn the 1970’s, there were three names that evoked terror in most people but filled me with pure joy – Dan Curtis, Richard Matheson and Dracula.

Dan Curtis was the man behind Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror.

Richard Matheson was one of my favorite authors and screenwriters. He penned the infamous “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” for Twilight Zone, the TV movie Duel and he also worked on The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror.

Dracula – well, that’s an easy one. I’ve been a Dracula fan since I was a teen. I bought every book, every statue, every poster and model kit. If it was about vampires, I wanted it.

When I found out that these three powerhouses were teaming up on a new TV movie, I knew it would be special and it was. But things I loved in 1974 don’t always hold up under the harsh light of 2014. I was worried that when I sat down to review the new Blu-ray release, I’d be bored.

I wasn’t. In fact, I was pulled in just like I was all those years ago. It’s moody, it’s beautifully shot. It’s suspenseful and best of all, it’s closer to Bram Stoker’s original novel than we’d seen before. Since then, there have been dozens of remakes that are true to the book, but at the time most people only knew Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and a few had seen Christoper Lee take on the role.

Jack Palance didn’t play “the Count”, he played the Wallachian war lord known for his rampant killing sprees. A man who can’t believe his eyes when he sees a woman who is the twin of his one lady love. Driven by desire, he puts down anyone who gets in his way and you almost feel sorry for him. He’s a man out of his time but a man used to getting what he wants by any means. And what he wants is Lucy.

Now this is where Dan Curtis’ version of Dracula gets interesting. Lucy is engaged to Arthur Holmwood, played by a baby-faced Brit Simon Ward. A very important character in the book version, he’s rarely used in the film versions. In this movie, it’s Arthur and Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) who fight against the forces of darkness. There is no Renfield and no Doctor Seward and just a little Jonathan Harker. This pairing creates a different tone, one I like very much.

The entire movie has a wonderful, old world feel to it. It was shot on location in England and Yugoslavia and it shows. The scenes around Dracula’s castle are cold and lonely, many with an eerie blueish tint. Once we’re in England, we’re caught up in restrictive Victorian clothing and fussy decor. It’s all very claustrophobic and proper, so when Lucy rips the garlic flowers away from her throat it’s as if she’s anxiously shedding the Victorian rules in favor of a wanton romp with her new lover.

There are several shocker moments and since the Blu-ray version is the theatrical edit, there’s quite a bit of blood. (According to the featurette on the DVD, the blood wasn’t shown in the TV version.) It’s nowhere near as brutal as the horror movies we see today but that suits me fine. Dracula shouldn’t be about the blood shed. It’s about lust and power and the pros and cons of immortality.   Dan Curtis gets that right.

If you’re a Dracula fan, this DVD is a must see. The release, which comes out on May 27, includes interviews with Jack Palance and Dan Curtis. Outtakes  (including some funny vampire moments), the movie trailer and scene comparisons showing what was cut for TV. There are also French and Spanish audio tracks and English SDH subtitles.

You can pre-order the movie right now on DVD but the Blu-ray version is only $17.98, so there’s no reason not to go with the high quality picture.

Dan Curtis’ Dracula – still compelling after all these years.



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