I saw a movie!

A.K.A. Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Think of your favorite variations on the theme from Lugosi to Christopher Lee, to more modern efforts with Gary Oldman and of course the ridiculous iterations with Edward and Bella. Or maybe Nosferatu is more your cup of tea? I’m especially partial to the Herzog film, and the excellent remake that included a lot of meta story about the amazing lead actor Max Schreck actually being a vampire playing a vampire and excellently played by Willem DeFoe who seemed made for the part. But, put all that aside for a moment. Did you know about the Dracula as played by Jack Palance? I sure didn’t!

This is a made for TV lockstep version of the Stoker tale that we’re all quite familiar with by now. Castle-bound Dracula living out his long life in some rural aspect of Hungary in the late 19th century meets up with a real estate broker, falls for the ditzy fiance (Mina) in a the fellow’s (Johnathan) photographs and goes on a nostalgia binge for his own long lost love of centuries past that eventually leads to his silly demise after a bit of a chase back home. Still, however, it’s Jack Palance! And Palance is great! He’s actually got the stature to be somewhat intimidating and, of course, his shark-like grin lends itself well to a very large set of vampire dentures. Jack was around in films for a long time playing intimidating characters, after a crash and burn as a fighter pilot in WWII his reconstructed face was unlikely to ever give him a sweet leading male role, but hell he could give you nightmares as everything from a wicked trigger-happy gunslinger (seriously if you’ve never seen Shane (1953) do so) to an old guy sparring on stage with Billy Crystal–“I crap bigger than that.”–and doing push-ups at the Oscars. As far as I’m concerned Jack was the best damned Dracula I’ve ever seen. And for a made-for-TV movie, it’s at least as impressive as the much later early 90s version with Oldman and Winona Ryder as Mina (who despite my having a longtime crush on couldn’t really save it).

Dracula’s arrival in England is done in one excellent panning shot, across the deck of a beached ship with a terrifying dead man, gaping in horror and strapped to the wheel, still holding his crucifix, while Jack, in capes, stands by his luggage on the beach. Apparently waiting for a taxi. It sounds silly, but it works! Arthur (looking like a member of Herman’s Hermits) and Lucy are soon involved and Dracula lays into the lass leading to the now very familiar tale of drained blood and weakness that the good Dr. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport best known for Zulu Dawn) soon reveals is the unmistakable sign of a vampire. Of course, what we now understand this condition was most often the result of a not understood tuberculosis slowly wasting folks.

OK here’s my problem with the Dracula story in general. I hinted at it earlier. The problem is nostalgia. It’s a serious problem that too many people exhibit. Nostalgia isn’t good for us. It is anti-progressive and most often badly loaded with crap information that is generally just wishful thinking on our parts! In this case it actually gets the old vampire killed. He was doing just fine with his bevy of vampire babes in his huge castle. Why’d he need to spend all his time pining over a painting of his long lost “true love”. And, honestly do you just love a woman because she happens to resemble another one you loved? As the story goes, Dracula corners Mina right in front of Arthur and Van Helsing and compels her (mind control) to partake of his blood, which, frankly, I suppose was meant to imply he was brazen. He wasn’t terribly impressed with their resistance. But again, this compelling kills love. Or at least as I understand love. You can’t really love a compelled slave, can you? Doesn’t a loved one need to be able to surprise you occasionally? Rest assured if I ever become a vampire this won’t be my methodology. Early on, I enjoyed that during a battle of wits between the now trapped Johnathan and his captor, Vlad, the vampire points out the foolishness of the tet a’ tet as he is a man who had commanded armies and Johnathan is no match for his intelligence. It is a great detail that the vampire would bother to want to roll out his resume – after all he’s a centuries old, super powerful goddamned monster, but, he’s kinda most proud of his military career. Nice stuff. Similarly, in the Nosferatu remake the monster, as played by DeFoe points out a thing he thinks of as very sad to some folks discussing tragedy. It’s not death or mayhem he considers sad, it’s a place setting at a table for someone who isn’t coming. The creature is most upset by being stood up! And that somehow makes perfect sense.

Anyway, stakes and crucifixes and finally, you know how it goes, sunlight does the job. But throughout Jack is really good, and his expressions and presence are brilliant. The director Curtis is best known for Dark Shadows. And it was written up by Richard Matheson who penned the famous novel I Am Legend (which I read one day in my high school in house detention) which later became a bit of a vampire franchise as well. So this thing was just a vampire fan’s dream project.

For free on Prime! Enjoy!

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