TV Terror Guide: Count Dracula (1977)


During the last few years, I’ve increasingly heard people mention how much they like Count Dracula, the 1977 BBC version of the classic 1897 novel by Bram Stoker. When it’s original broadcast date finally arrived within my TV Terror Guide series, I was eager to watch it. For me, however, it was a real mixed bag, ranging from some of the worst elements I’ve ever seen in a Dracula film, to some of the best. I’m a goblet-of-blood-half-full kind of guy, so the best triumphed over the worst and I ended up liking it overall.

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Count Dracula is considered in most circles to be one of the most faithful adaptations of the novel and I don’t disagree. However, billed as “a gothic romance,” I expected more emphasis on Dracula’s (Louis Jourdan) relationship with Mina (Judi Bowker.) He doesn’t seem to be particularly “in love” with her and she could very well have been any woman. Sure, she’s drawn to him, but not in a romantic way. I consider the trope first presented in Dark Shadows, that the female lead is the reincarnation of Dracula’s long-dead love, more romantic.

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The production itself is highly praised but feels outdated. I’m not talking about the mix of video and film; that technique was common in BBC productions at the time. It’s the use of the video to create special effects, though, that are bothersome. There are several scenes in which the images switch to the look of a colorless negative. It’s not with any consistency and doesn’t seem to represent anything specific that I can tell.


Also, when the three vampire women surround Johnathan Harker (Bosco Hogan) in the castle, he's shown as a tinted “cut-out” while the vampire women are shown as black-and-white. It distracts the tone of what’s happening rather than emphasize the horror of it. This isn’t Creepshow. Similarly, when Dracula enters Lucy’s (Susan Penhaligon) room, it’s via the use of animation, a cheap effect within an otherwise gorgeous production design.

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If there’s something worse than the visuals (sometimes), it’s the music (all the time.) I can best describe the primary instrument as a xylophone. It doesn’t carry enough weight to match, again, the gorgeous production design. It’s neither foreboding nor scary.

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Technical elements aside, let’s switch focus to plot points that stand out in this version of the story. It’s been too long since I’ve read Dracula, so I can’t speak to how faithful they are. However, I see Dracula and vampire films frequently, so I recognize parts of the story that may be unique among them. For example, we don’t often see the Count scaling the castle wall outside Jonathan Harker’s (Bosco Hogan) room. Here, it’s done with creepy effect, so unique that I’m not sure how to describe it.

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Also, we have rarely (if ever) seen Dracula, when he tells the three vampire women to leave Harker alone, toss them a burlap bag with a baby inside. I believe Dracula says he’s brought them a baby. Whatever it is, the three women’s mouths are soon covered in blood.

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Character-wise, Renfield (Jack Shepherd) is more calm and sedate than in most Dracula films. Nevertheless, he’s scary when, after we’ve witnessed him eating flies, he asks for a kitten because “it will give life” to him. Also, Abraham van Helsing (Frank Finlay) is a more religious man than I remember seeing in most Dracula films. There’s no scene I recall in which he puts his theories and the rules of vampirism in front of the other characters. Except for the fact that he makes cocoa, he’s more ambiguous a character than usual.

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I enjoyed watching Count Dracula; however, I prefer the 1974 version from Dan Curtis, Dracula. It’s nearly half as long, moves at a more rapid pace, and is more entertaining. As you would expect from a BBC production that aired in the States as part of Masterpiece Theater, Count Dracula is more serious… more highbrow. Jourdan’s Dracula isn’t as savage as Jack Palance's; he’s more reminiscent of Frank Langella’s 1979 version. He, and the movie, are just another adaptation of a beloved story for which each version has a different style.

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Count Dracula as well as all the great movies from this series.

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