Dracula (1979)

Ohhhh boy.

As far as I call tell, this is where the Dracula/Mina romance started to develop in film adaptations.  She plays the victim for the most part in the previous films.  In the 1979 Universal remake, she moves away from the victim role and becomes a character who sympathizes with Dracula and defends him from the men trying to save her.  Count Dracula is still the monster who murdered her best friend, but somehow she never finds out about that particular flaw in his character.

First, however, there are some other interesting changes to the source material.  Unlike the other adaptations, 1979 Dracula skips the first four chapters entirely.  Jonathan is still the Count’s solicitor, but they only communicated through letters.  Instead, the film begins with Dracula attacking the crew of the ship that brought him to England.

Once again, Dr. Seward is the leading lady’s father instead of her peer.  But this time, he’s Lucy’s father, not Mina’s.  Again, Mina and Lucy’s roles get switched around.  “Mina” is Dracula’s first victim who dies, and “Lucy” is dating Jonathan and becomes Dracula’s second victim.  I don’t really understand why the movie does this.  It’d be like Sherlock or Elementary casting Dr. Watson as the detective with amazing observation skills and Sherlock as his/her amazed sidekick.  What’s the point if the only aspects of the characters to change are the names?  Why not just keep them as they are?

That’s not a big deal in the long run; it’s just kind of weird.  Also, there are two other weird changes that I felt had a negative impact on the plot.

Change #1: According to Jonathan, Dracula was supposed to be traveling aboard the ship that wrecked in Whitby.  The Count presents himself as the sole survivor of the wreck.  Okay…but he also ripped the crews’ throats out while murdering them.  Why do that?  Doesn’t he think the humans will wonder why they were killed so brutally from something that obviously had nothing to do with a shipwreck, and he got away fine?  In the book, he appears to have sent them overboard after killing them.  The only man they find on board is the captain, because he’d tied himself to the wheel with a Rosary to protect himself.  So the people all assume, based on the dead captain’s log, that the first mate lost his mind, murdered the crew, and killed himself. It’d be hard to make that same assumption in the movie with all the messy evidence that Dracula left lying around. Luckily for him, only Jonathan really wonders about it.

Change #2: Renfield’s role got reduced.  Dracula turns him into a man who hungers for blood and lives, but then he never does anything with his new servant.  Apparently, he doesn’t need Renfield to get into Dr. Seward’s house like he did in the book.  So what was the point of using him?  Come to think of it, this happens a lot.  Either Renfield doesn’t appear or his role from the book becomes irrelevant because Dracula regularly socializes with the heroes.  Drac always seems to “need” him for something, but we never find out what that something is.  It happens again in the 1992 version, but that’s the least of the 1992 version’s problems.

Also, Mina is Van Helsing’s daughter for some reason.  He doesn’t get involved until after they tell him that she died.  I don’t really care one way or the other about this change.

On the bright side, the movie has nods to the book and the 1931 film that I appreciated.  Dracula gets to keep most of his powers from the book: shapeshifting into wolves, bats, or mist, climbing up down walls like a lizard, possibly controlling the weather, etc.  His showdown with Van Helsing from 1931 improves in this movie.  Langella’s vampire actively tries to attack him instead of just glaring and one attempt at hypnotism.  Van Helsing fights back with garlic and the Holy Eucharist.  It’s cooler than it sounds and it makes more sense for the Count to up and leave as opposed to how he did it in the 1931 confrontation.  Unfortunately, however, he dies by sunlight again.

Aside from the romance angle, Frank Langella is honestly one of the best Draculas I’ve watched.  His attack on Mina (now playing the part of Lucy) is genuinely scary, where he pulls out a window pane with his nails and stares at her through the window.  He does a great job of balancing sophistication with the monster hidden underneath.  While I don’t like the romance, there’s a scene where he discusses business with Jonathan and concludes by asking him to tell Lucy that she’s always welcome to stop by and visit.  Then  he adds, “You’re welcome, of course, but you are leaving, are you not?”  That sneaky taunt disguised as a nice invitation felt very in-character for Dracula.

Then there’s the romance.

(Gif taken from GIPHY)

…I’m not a fan, as you’ve figured out already.

At first, with Lucy, all seemed great.  She’s proudly feminist, which actually doesn’t fit her character in the book.  Stoker’s Mina conducted herself as a hardworking, self-sufficient woman, but she didn’t recognize the “New Woman” in herself.  However, I happily accepted the change because it seemed better than the crying damsel alternative who’d showed up previously in 1931.  This Lucy loves Jonathan and Mina- at first.  When Mina dies, she’s devastated and tells Jonathan that she doesn’t think she wants to be happy again.

Not even five minutes of screen time pass before her father tells her that the Count has invited her to dinner.  Does she accept the invitation, even though she just finished saying that she didn’t want to do anything fun after Mina’s death?  Of course she does!  Soon the Count has her smiling and laughing and making out with him.

The fact that he’s the one who murdered Mina never gets addressed.

Unlike other Dracula adaptations, this one includes a romance without the reincarnation plot.  It’s implied that Dracula loves Lucy because of her intelligence and independence.  That’s an element that reappears in the TV show.

Okay, but I have to ask: why should any woman have to date a serial killer to feel empowered?  What kind of message is that?  That’s awful.  It’s not accurate to the book either.  Book!Dracula partially targets Mina because she’s smart and she’s volunteered to help stop him.  Jonathan, in contrast, worries about leaving Mina out of the vampire killing plans because he never wants to leave his wife in the dark about anything.  He respects her.  Dracula does not.

In the end, Van Helsing and Jonathan destroy Dracula while Mina screams and tries to stop them.  Even worse, because she helps Dracula, he is able to impale Van Helsing and the good professor dies.  But at least the men burn Dracula with sunlight and Mina loses her fangs, so all is well…right?

Not exactly: the movie ends with Dracula’s cloak flying away like a bat, with the sound of wolves howling in the distance.  Mina watches from the ship and smiles.  The monster who murdered her best friend and her friend’s father might have escaped.  Hooray…?

I don’t get it and the 1992 version will continue to confuse me even more.  Stay tuned…


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