Dracula (1979): John Badham’s Version of the Popular Mythic Tale, Starring Frank Langella

Fresh off  from his musical hit, Saturday Night Fever, John Badham directed this darkly romantic horror version of Dracula, with an all-star cast, headed by Frank Langella in the title role, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence and Kate Nelligan.

Dracula ver2 poster.jpg

Official theatrical poster

The film was based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula and its 1924 stage adaptation, though much of Stoker’s original plot was revised to make the film more accessible by emphasizing the romantic angle.

Grade: B+ (*** 1/2 out of *****)

The tale begins in Whitby, England in 1913, when Count Dracula arrives from Transylvania via the ship Demeter. Mina van Helsing, who is visiting her friend Lucy Seward, discovers Dracula’s body after his ship has run aground and rescues him.

The Count visits Mina and her friends at the household of Lucy’s father, Dr. Jack Seward, whose clifftop mansion serves as the local asylum. At dinner, the charming guest leaves strong impression on the hosts, especially Lucy. However, Jonathan Harker, Lucy’s fiancé, is less charmed by the mysterious Romanian count.

While Lucy and Jonathan are having a secret meeting Dracula reveals his nature as he descends upon Mina to drink her blood. The next morning, Lucy finds Mina awake in bed, struggling for breath. Powerless, she watches her friend die, only to find wounds on her own throat. Lucy blames herself for Mina’s death, as she had left her alone.

Dr. Seward calls for Mina’s father, Professor Abraham van Helsing, who suspects that a vampire might have killed his daughter. He’s worried about the fate of his seemingly dead daughter.

Seward and van Helsing investigate their suspicions and discover a roughly clawed opening within Mina’s coffin. It leads them the local mines, where they encounter the ghastly form of an undead Mina; the distraught van Helsing destroys what remains of his daughter.

Lucy, who has been summoned to Carfax Abbey, Dracula’s new home, is in love with this foreign prince and offers herself to him as his bride. After a surreal “wedding night,” Lucy, like Mina before her, is now infected by Dracula’s blood.

The two doctors manage to give Lucy a blood transfusion to slow her descent into vampirism but she remains under Dracula’s spell.

Aided by Jonathan, the elderly doctors realize that the only way to save Lucy is by destroying Dracula. They manage to locate his coffin within the grounds of Carfax Abbey but the vampire is waiting for them. Despite it being daylight, Dracula is still a very powerful adversary. Dracula escapes their attempts to kill him, bursts into the asylum to free the captive Lucy and also kills his slave, Milo Renfield, for warning the others about him. Dracula makes preparations for him and Lucy to return to Transylvania.

Harker and van Helsing are on board a ship carrying Dracula and Lucy cargo bound for Romania. Below decks, Harker and van Helsing find Dracula and Lucy sleeping together in the coffin. Van Helsing attempts to stake Dracula, but Lucy protests.

Van Helsing is fatally wounded by Dracula as he is impaled with the stake intended for the vampire. Van Helsing uses his remaining strength to throw a hook attached to a rope into Dracula’s back. He dies a slow and painful death as the sun rays burn his body.

Lucy, back to her own self, embraces Harker, then smiles as she notices Dracula’s cape fly off into the horizon.

Made on a budget of about $12 million, Dracula was a commercial hit, earning $31.2 million at the box-office.

Frank Langella as Count Dracula
Laurence Olivier as Professor Abraham Van Helsing
Donald Pleasence as Dr. Jack Seward
Kate Nelligan as Lucy Seward
Trevor Eve as Jonathan Harker
Jan Francis as Mina Van Helsing
Tony Haygarth as Milo Renfield
Sylvester McCoy as Walter Myrtle
Janine Duvitski as Annie
Teddy Turner as Swales


Directed by John Badham
Produced by Marvin Mirisch, Walter Mirisch
Screenplay by W. D. Richter, based on Dracula (1897 novel) by Bram Stoker and Dracula (1924 play) by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston

Music by John Williams
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Edited by John Bloom

Production company: The Mirisch Corporation

Distributed by Universal Pictures

Release date: July 13, 1979

Running time: 109 minutes


TCM showed it on October 2. 2020.