Christopher Lee is a tough act to follow, especially in the realm of vampirism, but it is possible. Made by the BBC in 1977 and released in 1978, Count Dracula, starring Louis Jourdan in the title role, remains the best adaptation of Stoker’s novel, and boasts one hell of a vampire, too. Incidentally, that’s not cursing. It’s a technical term when used in relation to vampires.
Anyway, the movie begins traditionally enough. Harker the solicitor arrives at Castle Dracula and gets a suitably spooky welcome from the count. Things get spookier when Harker hears a weird noise outside his room and finds the count crawling down the side of the castle like a lizard. See photo for details.
Later, Harker encounters Dracula’s three brides. They try to bite him, but the sudden arrival of the count stops them. He scolds them, playfully chucks their chins, and embraces them; but then the scene gets incredibly dark and utterly terrifying when he gives them a baby for their nightly nourishment.
Back in England, Mina frets over Jonathan’s absence as her sister Lucy, who is engaged to the very Texan Quincy Holmwood, begins to get sick. At John Seward’s insane asylum next door (not really) patient R. M. Renfield develops an obsession with food chains and eating flies. Mina goes to look for Jonathan, and Seward sends for Dr. van Helsing, who realizes that a vampire is at work. Unfortunately, Lucy’s mother removes the garlic from her room, sees Dracula, and suffers a heart attack. Lucy also dies, but tries to infect Quincy before she does. The men drive a stake through her heart, and Mina and Jonathan return to England.
Van Helsing realizes from Jonathan that Dracula is their man (such as it is), and while the men go out vampire-hunting, their quarry begins to make Mina his victim. Oops. Now I include that sarcasm, but that’s really to lighten the incredibly grim turn of events that things take. Mina visits Renfield and confides in him her fear of having to stay in Purgatory for all eternity; he then turns against Dracula, but dies spectacularly. Crazy people have unusual strength, but he’s no match for a vampire. Dracula spars verbally with his hunters (one wishes Hammer had given Christopher Lee lines like this), and then forces Mina to drink his own blood. This scene is very disturbing on many levels, and the rape allegory is pretty apparent. Mina’s reaction afterward is just heartbreaking. It’s a touch ironic that this was released from such an ultra-respectable source.
Because of their now shared connection, she can sense Dracula’s movements– that he is returning to Transylvania. The vampire hunters follow him, splitting up into two teams: Mina and van Helsing and everyone else. The brides attack Mina and the professor’s camp, but he drives them off, and Mina makes him promise to “do what is necessary” to her, should she become a full vampire. The other men come across the count (in his coffin) and his servants and have a spectacular gunfight. A stake is driven through Dracula’s heart, and Mina is freed from her curse. However, Quincy was mortally wounded in the fight, and the travelers have a bittersweet ending.
As Dracula, Louis Jourdan is of the Lugosi type: articulate, intellectual (“It always sounds more convincing in Latin,” he says after van Helsing commands him to leave), and able to drop the occasional morbid double entendre. He never explodes into savagery like Lee and Marshall’s vampires, although he can be quite frightening. Jourdan makes good use of his expressions and gestures. The vampirism here is treated very sexually, although it has a predatory edge that leaves the viewer uncomfortable and never wanders into “paranormal romance” territory. However, he is attractive enough to always be tempting– the earmark of a truly dangerous vampire.