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Jack Palance is Dracula, 1973.

From the DVD case: Filmed in England and Yugoslavia, it [Dracula] stars three-time Academy Award nominee and 1991 Best Supporting Actor Jack Palance as the immortal vampire, Count Dracula, whose centuries-old existence is threatened after he attacks the lovely Lucy Westenra (Fiona Lewis). When Lucy’s fiance (Simon Ward) calls in Dr. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) to investigate, a spine-tingling hunt for the vampire follows. (1973, color)

Mark says: Fans of monsters and TV are lucky that Dan Curtis came along. Not only did he bring the vampire series Dark Shadows to the small screen, but he also produced innovative TV movies like The Night Stalker and 1968’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1973, Dan Curtis directed and produced Dracula, casting Jack Palance (who also starred in the Jekyll and Hyde TV movie) as the famous bloodsucking Count.

What Curtis brought to the Dracula table is romance. He believed Dracula needed proper motivation to pull up his Carpathian Mountain roots and transplant himself in England. That motivation, in Curtis’ version, comes in the form of Fiona Lewis (Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Fearless Vampire Killers) as Lucy Westenra. Lucy is a (ahem) dead-ringer for Dracula’s true love from the 1400s. In fact, Curtis suggests that Lucy is the reincarnation of Dracula’s long-dead lover.

Fiona Lewis is Lucy. Not looking so hot here.I know what you are thinking: you’ve heard this twist before. But not before 1973’s Dracula, you haven’t. This innovation was dreamed up by Dan Curtis himself (taken from a plot line from his old Dark Shadows series) and written into the script by Richard Matheson (Duel, The Incredible Shrinking Man). This romantic element has been copied since, most notably in Francis Ford Coppola’s production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it was Curtis’ production from which the idea originated.

Dracula having a tragic love interest brings a certain pathos to the character. When Dracula sees or thinks of Lucy, we hear a music box melody and are permitted brief flashbacks of Dracula’s beloved running to him in slow motion, or the two lovers engaged in passionate kissing. To be honest, Jack Palance passionately kissing a woman is far more disturbing than Dracula drinking her blood. And that’s not just hyperbole.

Many critics have bestowed praise on Jack Palance for his performance as the lovestruck vampire. Dan Curtis asserts in an interview (included as a bonus feature on the DVD version I own) that Jack Palance is the best Dracula that has ever donned the cape. In another interview (on the same DVD) Mr. Palance speaks of how he feared the role and eagerly awaited the production’s end because he got into the part so deeply he was afraid he’d “become Dracula” (now that’s hyperbole!)

From my point of view, Palance’s portrayal is competent, but not much more. Sure, he’s a scary-looking guy, and he snarls, hisses and roars with the best of them, but he doesn’t inspire the sense of dread that other Draculas do. Not in my book, anyway. Max Schreck (1922’s Nosferatu) is a much scarier-looking beast, and Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula) has a more commanding presence than Palance. Even Lugosi’s Dracula has his creepy iconic mannerisms that make him memorable. I’m not saying that Jack gives a poor performance (I wouldn’t dare!), but I am saying that I have seen the role played more convincingly.

Nigel Davenport (1977’s The Island of Dr. Moreau) as Dr. Van Helsing turns in a believable performance. Likewise, Fiona Lewis as Lucy, and Penelope Horner as Mina, are both capable actresses. Simon Ward (Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) seems a little lacking in the role of Arthur Holmwood, but this may be because he isn’t given much to do except to look up at Dr. Van Helsing with a countenance of utter concern. That’s Murray Brown (Vampyres) in the role of Jonathan Harker.

Penelope Horner is Mina. She is about to taste the blood of dracula.The film has a visually appealing aesthetic, with the interior sets bathed in rich, bold reds. The exterior scenes, on the MPI Home Video transfer that I own, are sometimes a little dark, but effective. Unfortunately, the story tends to drag, and its 100 minute running time seems longer than what is needed.

For a TV production, Dan Curtis’ Dracula is a very fine effort, and Dracula aficionados will certainly want to judge its merits for themselves.

Scene to watch for: After finding his beloved has been staked, Dracula throws one heck of a temper tantrum.

Line to listen for: “If the cause of your fiancée’s affliction is what I think it is, then beside it the most venomous serpent in the world would seem a plaything for children.”

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ½ out of 5.

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11 Comments

  1. Hi Mark, I’ve always wanted to see this version of Dracula…although I’ve always put it off as the thought of Jack Palance as the count does’nt appeal to me at all! Although curiosity mat get the better of me! Like you said Max and Chris are very hard to beat

  2. Iron Inspector: The movie is certainly worth a view and definitely rates in comparison to other TV movies. The tricky part for me is watching Jack Palance and trying to keep in mind that he is Dracula, not Jack Palance. He just does not draw me in like other Draculas.

  3. This one was a treasure to finally find on DVD! I had seen it when it was broadcast, probably the first time it was, back in 1973. Since as I teen at home I had absolutely no TV privileges (thanks to a stepdad who delighted in depriving me of any fun), I could only catch stuff like this when at someone else’s house. In this case I was babysitting for a young couple about every Saturday night, and it was on one of these that I saw it. It made a big impression on me, and I was moved by Drac’s pathos.

    I was so happy when it recently came out on DVD and I relived the experience. It holds up wll and I watch it each October now.

  4. Fred: For a TV movie this was especially innovative. I was lucky. By the time these movies were coming out on television my family had two TVs. My parents would watch their shows in the living room, and my little brother and I would watch the scary movies in my parents’ bedroom. I think they were just happy to have us out of their hair. Not only were we allowed to watch this particular program, but we watched The Night Stalker movies and the series as well. Of course, I may be psychologically damaged now, but those days were definitely worth it!

  5. Mark: I remember watching this during its original airing. The same goes for Jekyll & Hyde. I haven’t seen either one since. For some reason I was thinking these were videotaped (like Dark Shadows) as opposed to film.

    I really wasn’t a Jack Palance fan until “City Slickers” and found his appearance on the Acadamy Awards show entertaining, when he did his push-ups. He was always a little creepy, like Christopher Walken, only not as funny.

    As you know by now, I tend to be nit-picky. Maybe you were just refering to Dracula movies, but in your review you state the reincarnation of Dracula’s long-dead lover was the first time this innovation was used and was created by Dan Curtis. Actually, the use of reincarnated lovers goes at least as far back as 1932s The Mummy, where Im-ho-tep attempts to resurrect the mummy of his long dead love, Princess Anck-es-en-Amon, only to discover her “soul” is now in the person of Helen Grosvenor. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  6. Paul: Yes, you definitely have a point there. I was just referring to Dracula pictures, but the reincarnation motif was certainly used much earlier. Speaking of reincarnation, did you ever see a TV movie (at least I think it was a made-for-tv movie) called The Reincarnation of Peter Proud? I haven’t thought of that movie in a long time, but as I was responding to your comment I started listing films in my head that used reincarnation as a central theme. If I remember correctly (and I may not) that film had some disturbing twists in it. I’ll have to look it up sometime.

  7. Sorry, but I’ve never seen the film you mentioned, although I do recognize the title.

    While I personally don’t believe in reincarnation, I have experienced déjà vu numerous times in my life. I don’t think the two are connected, but it is hard to explain the feeling of repeating an experience you are actually encountering for the first time. Sort of like some of the plots in “One Step Beyond.”

  8. Paul: I looked up The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and found it was obviously not a made-for-tv movie. So what I saw must have been some horribly butchered version (it appears it had some fairly explicit scenes in the original cut).

    I don’t believe in reincarnation either, though I think it is an interesting concept. Déjà vu has always interested me. I used to subscribe to Psychology Today when I was a teenager. I think I remember reading an article (I’m sure I must be mistaken) about déjà vu once stating that psychologists had isolated the chemical in the brain that created the sensation. In fact, when subjects were given extra dosages of the chemical they would have déjà vu about getting the shot! When I think back, however, I probably mixed up the facts of the article with a short story idea and the two combined as truth in my ever-aging brain.

    Still, an interesting concept.

  9. Boy you is sooooooooooooooooooo ugly

  10. Brittany: I prefer “aesthetically challenged,” but thanks anyway.

  11. Dan Curtis was a classic. I loved all his Vampire shows. He always seem to set the tone, even though the old movies aren’t as advanced as they are today


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  1. By 55 Dracula Movies You Should See Before You Die on 28 Apr 2009 at 12:40 pm

    [...] Dan Curtis’ Dracula – 1974 – Stars Jack Palance as Dracula. (He was the inspiration for the Marvel Comics version of the character, so great minds must think alike.) [...]

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