The Frank Langella Dracula is glorious. The Frank Langella Dracula is ridiculous.
The Frank Langella Dracula is glorious in its ridiculousness. It is sweeping, boring, riveting, annoying, puzzling, absurd, and sad. It has some of the coolest scenes in the history of Dracula on film. It has two of the most risible scenes in the history of Dracula on film. The Frank Langella Dracula is… problematic.
I give Scream Factory so much love and credit for its restoration of the color version of this film. Though I swear I haven’t seen this Dracula since its opening day in movie theaters when I was seventeen, it seems the only version commercially available on video since the 1981 VHS tape was a director-approved “de-saturated” version, which drained the colors out to yield what was practically a black and white film. Supposedly, director John Badham wanted this version to play theatrically too, but a skittish Universal Pictures refused. The bottom line is that the color version hasn’t been seen in almost forty years. This is ironic because, though I usually prefer monochrome, here I really love the color version and think it looks marvelous. Scream Factory provides both versions here—one on each disc—so both camps can have their (bloody, delicious) cake and eat it too!
The first scene in question is Dracula’s seduction of Mina… sorry, Lucy. (I told you this gets confusing… because of course he seduces Mina too!) I’m not talking about the famous scene that appears in the book (and most movie versions) where our Count opens a vein for his intended. No, this is something special that appears only in the Frank Langella Dracula: an old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood, kissy-kissy, romantic love scene. (Die-hard Dracula fans, you may discuss this directorial decision amongst yourselves!)
So here’s how this weirdness goes down: Dracula and Mina… sorry, LUCY… start kissing, the camera tilts on its side, the background drops away, and our two lovers are bathed in… piercing laser light beams that form shimmering, throbbing, blood red clouds above and below their writhing figures. Although the movie is set in 1913, the red-cloud effect is not unlike a late-1970s rock concert—and with good reason. The filmmakers borrowed the lasers from The Who, and they appear in the Who documentary The Kids are Alright when the band plays “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and lead singer Roger Daltry steps into the awesome laser light and undulates his shoulders like a golden-tressed rock god. At a Who concert, this effect may remind you that you are pleasantly stoned. In Dracula, these laser effects are so laugh-out-loud funny, so dated, and so hopelessly faddish, that they almost sink the whole enterprise under their very weight. Unfortunate.
Constantine Nasr provides the audio commentary on Scream Factory’s new color version of the film, and it stands as one of my favorite commentary tracks of the year. Nassr wrote the definitive history of the film’s production for Little Shop of Horrors magazine in 2016. That piece ran more than 100 pages. It is safe to say that Nassr is the world’s expert on this film; it’s also one of his favorites and his enthusiasm informs the track. I learned the complete production history of the film. I also learned about the neat “actor’s trick” that Donald Pleasence used because he realized he had to share the screen with both Broadway star Langella and Greatest-Actor-Of-All-Time Olivier. Here’s the trick: Pleasence is shown eating in every scene. Whenever actors do that, editors take pains to make the continuity match and the actor ends up with more screen time. (This made me wonder if this were one on the reasons Brad Pitt is constantly eating in the remake of Ocean’s 11.)
You may wish to purchase some optional lasers too.