Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974, Dan Curtis)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Note: This American TV movie was originally called Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, in the early 1990s Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights to that title for his own adaptation, so this has since been renamed Dan Curtis’ Dracula or simply Dracula. Aptly, Coppola’s movie owes it a certain debt …

Setting: Like in the novel, we start in ‘Bistritz, Hungary’. (Part of Romania since the Second World War, the city is now usually called Bistrița.) After the lengthy sequence at Dracula’s Transylvanian castle, we cut to Whitby. The Westenra home, Hillingham, is said to be 10 miles away from Carfax, the house Dracula buys – both seem to be nebulously close to Whitby. There are also quick scenes set in Stockton, Darlington, Richmond and at Scarborough Zoo. The story begins in May 1897 and takes place over a few weeks.

Faithful to the novel? More than most adaptations. It captures the spirit of the book even if a number of plot changes have been made. It’s one of the few Dracula movies to commit to the book’s lopsided opening, for example. We’re with Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown from Vampyres) and Count Dracula (Jack Palance) for half an hour before we cut to other characters. And it’s apparent very quickly that Richard Matheson’s script is a truncated retelling of Stoker’s story – Harker already knows that friends Lucy Westenra (Fiona Lewis) and Arthur Holmwood (Simon Ward) are engaged, which in the book happens while he’s away, and he also realises he’s Dracula’s prisoner very quickly. The biggest tweak to the established tale is the addition of an entirely new subplot. Harker spots a 1475 painting on a wall of the castle showing Vlad Tepes and his wife. We immediately see that the man in the painting looks identical to Harker’s host. The idea that the fictional Dracula *is* the historical Vlad III (aka Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad Dracula, aka Vlad the Impaler, who lived circa 1428-1477) is a literal-minded reading of the novel. Bram Stoker certainly reused one of Vlad’s names and some of his history, but it’s doubtful he intended the character to be a real person. Thanks to movies like this one, though, this is now an essential part of the mythology. Another huge addition this film brings to the canon is the notion that one of the female characters is a reincarnation of Dracula’s long-dead wife – an idea totally absent from the novel. In this telling, the Count sees a photograph of Lucy and recognises her from 500 years earlier (and we recognise her in the painting). We even see soft-focus flashbacks to the couple’s happy life together, scored by a whimsical music-box tune. The idea has an interesting history. Producer/director Dan Curtis had previously created Dark Shadows, a US TV soap opera with supernatural characters and concepts that ran from 1966 until 1971. Its most popular character was a Dracula-like vampire called Barnabas Collins, who had lost the love of his life centuries earlier and now encountered her doppelgänger. Curtis happily admitted that he ‘plagerised himself’ by adding the concept to this adaptation of Dracula. (A year or so before this film was made, blaxploitation movie Blacula also used the same conceit, but this seems to be a coincidence.) Like with the Vlad the Impaler notion, Dracula meeting the reincarnation of his lost love is now used so often that many think it’s from the novel. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film is the most famous example, though it has Mina as the double rather than Lucy. Anyway, back to this version… At the half-hour point, we cut away from Harker and switch to Whitby – as in the novel. But the plot is speeded up here quite a bit: Dracula has landed in the Demeter and Lucy has started sleepwalking by the time Mina (Penelope Horner) arrives to visit. It also becomes clear that the script has culled a few characters and subplots. There’s no Quincy Morris or Jack Seward: both men have been merged with Arthur, who now carries the bulk of the story. (Losing Seward means we also get no hospital storyline and no Renfield, of course.) The story now starts to deviates more from the novel. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) is English in this version and is said to be a friend of Arthur’s. Having deduced that Dracula is in the area, he and Arthur move Mina and Lucy’s mother (Pamela Brown) into a hotel for safety. But Dracula tracks them and attacks the hotel staff to gain entry. Meanwhile, Arthur and Van Helsing travel to Whitby to investigate the vampire’s arrival in England. When the pair and Mina later track Dracula to his castle, there’s a superb twist… Jonathan Harker hasn’t been seen or heard from since his escape attempt. An hour of screen time has passed so we’ve kind of forgotten about him. (In the book he goes missing for a while, but then Mina learns he’s in a Romanian hospital and goes to fetch him.) Van Helsing and Arthur search the castle… and are attacked by Harker, who’s now a vampire!

Best performance: Jack Palance is terrific. He’s honouring the text, rather than the cliché, and is commanding and – in a strange way – sympathetic. The actor loved the role, but said he worried he was getting lost in the darkness. He was later offered further Dracula scripts but turned them all down. Though proud of this performance and the film, he hadn’t watched it when interviewed about it in the 1990s.

Best bit: Dracula has ‘turned’ Lucy, who of course he equates with his long-dead love, so sneaks down to her crypt. He’s actually smiling at the thought of being with her. But when he reaches her coffin he’s distraught to find that Van Helsing has staked her…

Review: This is broadly enjoyable stuff if you know the novel well and enjoy spotting the ways the script is concertinaing in order to cut sections out. It’s engaging, creepy, and there’s plenty of fine location filming in eastern Europe and England (including at Oakley Court, a house seen in various Hammer horrors, Vampyres and The Rocky Horror Picture Show). However, the briskness comes at a cost. We power through the story at such a rate that there’s no time for any depth. No character is especially interesting (except possibly Dracula himself, thanks to Palance’s charisma) and we never get to know any of them. Even worse, the women are barely more than plot devices. Lucy is a very important character, but is turned into a vampire so swiftly that it’s difficult to care about what happens her. Also, because the film was made for TV, there’s a distinct lack of sex, violence and genuine scares. Originally planned for broadcast in October 1973, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was pulled in favour of news coverage of US Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation and eventually screened in February 1974.

Seven John Challis cameos out of 10

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Vampyres (1974, Joseph Larraz)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The south of England in the 1970s.

Faithful to the novel? This low-budget erotic horror film has no real connection to Stoker’s book, other than the fact it was released in America under the title Vampyres, Daughters of Dracula. It tells the story of two bisexual vampires, Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka), who lure men to their stately home so they can drain them of two key bodily fluids. Ted (Murray Brown) is one such victim, who picks Fran up as a hitchhiker. There are vague hints the two have met before, but this subplot doesn’t go anywhere. Meanwhile, a young couple called John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner) are caravanning in the grounds of the house, and Harriet becomes obsessed with the vampires, who by the way have no problem with daylight.

Best performance: Michael Byrne was later a bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (and also Gail’s dad in Coronation Street). He shows up near the end of this film as a wine buff who can’t identify a vintage Fran gives him. She says it’s from the Carpathian Mountains; it’s actually blood.

Best bit: Oh, I don’t know. The nudity?

Review: The film opens with a scene of two attractive, naked women having sex and then being violently killed. So, our attention is certainly grabbed. But the moment doesn’t seem to fit into the story, which then trundles along very blandly for 90 minutes. The movie is shot entirely on location (in and around Oakley Court, an old Hammer staple and soon to be used in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and does have a creepy, unsettling vibe. But there’s just not enough substance.

Five B-roads out of 10

Carry On Dick (1974)

Dick

A new police force called the Bow Street Runners is formed to help combat a spate of highwaymen in 18th-century England – but little do they know that the infamous Dick Turpin is masquerading as the local reverend…

What’s it spoofing? Dick Turpin (1705-1739), a highwayman whose fame only rose after his death in many embellished tellings of his life story.

Funniest moment: Rev Flasher’s sermon contains a moment where he asks if any man present can say they haven’t committed adultery. If so, they are free to leave. One man gets up and makes for the door. Flasher praises him, but the man replies, “No, Reverend. I’ve just remembered where I left my hat last night!”

The Big 10:

* Sid James (19) plays Dick Turpin, who is posing as Reverend Flasher while conducting his crime wave. James gives each persona a different feel, which is more acting than he usually provides. This was his final Carry On movie. He died on 26 April 1976, after a heart attack on stage in Sunderland.

* Bernard Bresslaw (13) is pretty poor as Sir Roger Daley, the boss of the Bow Street Runners.

* Kenneth Williams (23) plays lead agent Captain Desmond Fancey. It’s remarkable how the actor was able to be both rubbish and entertaining at the same time.

* Barbara Windsor (9) is Harriet, one of Turpin’s sidekicks who’s similarly hiding in plain sight in the village. We get yet another flash of her tits.

* Peter Butterworth (13) plays Tom ‘Doc’ Scholl, Turpin’s other hanger-on. He and Sid James have to drag up at one point.

* Joan Sims (21) plays the pretending-to-be-French Madame Desiree (which is the same character name the actress had in Don’t Lose Your Head). She has a troupe of women who put on shows for local punters.

* Hattie Jacques (14) appears in a Carry On film for the final time. She plays Flasher’s housekeeper, Martha Hoggett. Jacques died on 6 October 1980.

* Kenneth Connor (14) hams it up as the local constable, who’s a randy old goat.

Notable others:

* Jack Douglas plays agent Jock Strap.

* Margaret Nolan appears with little dialogue as Sir Roger’s wife, who is forced to strip off a couple of times by highwaymen.

* Sam Kelly cameos as Sir Roger’s coach driver.

* John Clive’s back from Carry On Abroad to play a tailor.

* Bill Maynard plays a barman (he’s the guy mentioned in the Funniest Moment section above).

* Patrick Durkin, who later lost a drinking contest with Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is one of the locals.

* Patsy Rowlands appears briefly as Mrs Giles, a villager at the jumble sale.

Top totty: Margaret Nolan.

Kenneth Williams says: “I walked to Peter Eade [his agent] and read the script of Carry On Dick – said I’d do it if they cut the stocks scene (where I’m pelted with rubbish) and pay the salary after the tax period, ie April 6th. The script is utterly banal. It is incredible that human minds can put such muck on to paper.” – Thursday 31 January 1974 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p466)

“To see Carry On Dick (trade show) at Studio One in a downpour of rain. Met Peter Butterworth & sat with him. It was diabolical. The pace is deadly… at one point I thought it looked like everyone was ill or something.” – Wednesday 10 July 1974 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p476)

Review: A comedy without any real laughs – unless you’re endlessly amused by puns on the word dick – this film actually works okay when it’s being a low-key historical romp. But when it tries for silly or overtly humorous, it falls flat. On the plus side, a lot of effort has clearly gone into the sets, props and costumes, while the lighting is probably the best we’ve seen in the series since the mid-60s.

Five bell-ringing ropes out of 10

Waterloo (1974)

Waterloo

Note: I’m reviewing the albums as available in the UK on CD. Track listings sometimes vary from original Swedish releases.

Cover: After the success of Ring Ring, the group shelved their solo careers and put all energies into what was now labelled ABBA. The cover image of this, their second album, features the foursome in the costumes they wore at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. Napoleon is stood behind them, looking out of the window.

Best song: Again, it’s the title track. Waterloo has an odd lyrical metaphor, Napoleon’s famous defeat in June 1815 standing in for an addictive romance. But the song is catchy, energetic and full of attack. In effect, it’s just one three-minute-long ‘hook’. After it stormed Eurovision in Brighton on 6 April 1974, it became a global hit single.

Honourable mentions:

* Hasta Mañana is a gentle, swaying, effortlessly pleasant ballad. The lyrics were written by ABBA’s manager, Stig Anderson, while on holiday in the Canary Islands. For a time, it vied with Waterloo as the song the group wanted to enter for Eurovision. It would have been a safer choice – the previous four winners had been female-sung ballads – but they decided to risk the rocker Waterloo and it paid off. Nonetheless, Hasta Mañana has a terrific lead vocal from Agnetha, a nice spoken-word interlude, and a general feel of Mediterranean bliss.

* My Mama Said has a hip, jazzy vibe, a cool bassline and delicate high vocals during the verses. (The recording session for the song was the first time the band called themselves ABBA.)

* Dance (While the Music Still Goes On) steals its beat from the Ronettes classic Be My Baby. It’s powerful, multi-layered pop, let down perhaps by the vocals being shared around. It took the group a while to learn that the girls should just sing everything.

* Similarly influenced by 1960s girl-group pop, Honey Honey and What About Livingstone are both good. The former has a nice, light-touch bridge section, while the latter sounds like prime Motown.

Worst song: King Kong Song is a lumbering rock track with muffled singing and some strange bass-deep backing vocals. An irritating comedy song. (After I’d written a draft of this review, I read on Wikipedia that Benny and Björn consider King Kong Song to be the worst thing they ever wrote. Great minds…)

Best CD extra: The disc comes with a bonus DVD, which features the band’s triumphant Eurovision performance. The BBC’s David Vine tells us accurately: “If all the judges were men, which they’re not, this group would get a lot of votes.” He’s then taken by surprise because conductor Sven-Olof Walldoff walks onto the stage dressed up as Napoleon Bonaparte. ABBA then burst into action – the costumes are as camp as anything, but the performance is committed (if not as polished as the LP version). They look like they’re having so much fun! They sing the song in English, unlike during the Swedish heat also available on the DVD.

Best video: The group’s promo film for the title track has a dramatic opening. It’s quickly cut and full of crash-zooms. But then it calms down for a reasonably straightforward performance of the song. Like the video for Ring Ring, which was made at the same time, the group are in a blank, white room. But they’ve changed into their Eurovision costumes and lost the backing band.

Review: There are traces of both 1960s Phil Spector and contemporary glam rock. The album is full of energy, is very dynamic, and is generally great fun.

Eight history books on the shelf out of 10.

The Sugarland Express (1974)

SugarlandExpress

Lou Jean Poplin breaks boyfriend Clovis out of prison so they can stop their child being put into care – the pair are then chased across the country, take a policeman hostage, and are soon local celebrities.

Seen before? No, never.

Best performance: Goldie Hawn is feisty and fun, but the star of the show is William Atherton (who was later excellent as odious TV reporter Richard Thornburg in the first two Die Hards). He gives Clovis bravado and warmth in believably equal measure.

Best scene/moment/sequence: There’s a very funny moment when Lou Jean and Clovis run out of gas and have to ask one of the dozens of cops following them to push their car to a petrol station.

Review: Very much in the mode of boyfriend/girlfriend-on-the-lam movies such as Bonnie and Clyde or True Romance, this is sadly not as engaging as it should be. The setup is fun enough, and it’s then entertaining seeing more and more police (and media, and public) get involved in the chase. But the movie is not especially dynamic: once underway, it rolls along at a middle-gear pace and gets a bit dull.

Five Dodge Polaras out of 10.

The Man With The Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton, 1974)

The Man With The Golden Gun

This is one of the Bond films I know least well. It’s very much a join-the-dots plot, Bond following clue to lead to informer, and exposition is poorly handled. There’s a big info-dump 40 minutes in that gives us the context of a struggle over a new energy source, then further inelegant scenes after 60 and 90 minutes where Scaramanga spells out his plan. Not that this is unique in a Bond movie, but it all feels a bit mechanical. There’s fun to be had with Scaramanga, though: Christopher Lee plays up his suave charm, highlighting that he and Bond are two sides of the same coin. It’s entertaining enough stuff, but on the whole, the sparkle of the previous few films is missing. The best thing about the whole movie may be the tremendous studio sets of the half-sunken RMS Queen Elizabeth – all the walls and floors on a slant. Seven superfluous papillae out of 10.

Bond: He’s so Roger Moore. I can’t think of anyone who’s more Roger Moore-ish, frankly. (Having said that, there’s a terrifically cruel Connery-esque scene when he twists a girl’s arm to get information.) His habit of smoking big fat cigars continues.

Villains: Scaramanga keeps the film afloat. He has a third nipple, he treats Bond like his best mate, he potters around his secluded hideaway in a tracksuit, he strokes his phallic golden gun all over Maud Adams… Christopher Lee has some CV: Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Fu Manchu, Rasputin, Lord Summerisle, Count Dooku, Saruman, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow’s Commandant Alexandrei Nikolaivich Rakov, and an entertaining Bond villain. Not bad going. Scaramanga’s bodyguard is the 3’11” Nick Nack, who Bond defeats in the closing moments of the film by locking him in a suitcase.

Girls: The most interesting woman in the film is Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s mistress, played by icy cool Scandi-strumpet Maud Adams. There’s also Saida, a Beirut belly dancer with a spent golden bullet in her belly button; Chew Mee (geddit?!), a cute girl swimming naked in a villain’s swimming pool; and the two martial-art-savvy schoolgirl nieces of Lieutenant Hip. The main Bond girl is Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland). Apparently an MI6 operative, she’s essentially the film’s comic relief. Inexperienced and inept, she’s there to get into trouble and show off her figure. It’s a refreshing change when – over drinks and with John Barry’s score swelling – she knocks back Bond’s presumptive advances. However, in the very next scene, she turns up in his bedroom with a wide-on.

Regulars: M, Q (back after one film off) and Moneypenny go out to the Far East to brief Bond. M has a Chief of Staff – though unnamed, he’s presumably meant to be book character Tanner, who will be in later movies. Sheriff Pepper returns from Live and Let Die. He’s on holiday with his wife and gets caught up in the action: a back-by-public-demand cameo, one assumes.

Action: Bond has a brawl in the belly dancer’s dressing room, which knocks a mirror and reveals the camera crew! In short order, 007 has a fight with two sumo wrestlers, is tended to by geisha girls, has to take part in a scene from Enter the Dragon, and gets helped in a mass punch-up by two schoolgirl-uniformed ass-kicking karate experts. (They weren’t worried about cliché in 1974, were they?) There’s a good car chase – both Bond and Scaramanga in AMCs for product-placement reasons – which ends with a famous and fantastic 360-degree car twist.

Comedy: Lots of quips, mostly successful. “Who’d pay $1 million to have me killed?” asks Bond. “Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors…” suggests M. Scaramanga’s melodramatic story about his favourite elephant is a hoot. And we get another classic ‘Bond shows up M’ scene. I’ll quote it in full:

M: “What do you know about a man called Scaramanga, 007?”

Bond: “Scaramanga? Oh, yes! The man with the golden gun. Born in a circus. Father, the ringmaster, possibly Cuban. Mother, English, a snake charmer. He was a spectacular trick-shot artist by the time he was 10 and a local Rio gunman at 15. The KGB recruited him there and trained him in Europe, where he became an overworked, underpaid assassin. He went independent in the late 50s. Current price: $1 million a hit. No photograph on file. But he does have one distinguishing feature, however. A superfluous papilla.”

M: “A what?”

Bond: “A mammary gland. A third nipple, sir. He always uses a golden bullet, hence ‘’man with the golden gun’. Present domicile unknown. l think that’s all. Why, sir?”

Music: The title song – a bouncy, poppy, boring effort from Lulu – is quoted comically in the score during the pre-titles scene. The incidental music itself is classic John Barry.