Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Frank Langella, Sexiest Dracula Ever

I suppose it's a moot point to pick on Twilight--the last movie in the series aired some time ago. But the whole time this phenomenon was in full swing, I was shaking my head, at a loss to understand why so many women--some of them my age--were drooling over that character of Edward Cullen and the actor who played him, Robert Pattinson. 

You see, the vampires that I grew up with were supposed to be scary, not dudes that you would disrobe for in a heartbeat and jump into bed with. Count Orlock from Nosferatu, the first true vampire film that started it all? Downright ghoulishly fugly. Bela Lugosi? The quintessential Dracula of his time, but again, not sexually appealing. Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows? Sorry, no...and hell-to-the-no to Johnny Depp's version. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt never did a thing for me, either. But at least these dudes were grown up men and didn't have skin that sparkled in the sunlight (a character trait of Edward's that I don't get...isn't sunlight lethal to vampires?) And I'm sorry, Twilight fans, but out of all of these guys, Edward Cullen would easily be at the bottom of my list. The reasons why would take up this entire blog post, so let's just leave it at that. 

There was, however, Gary Oldman from the 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula--and he was attractive during the scenes where he played a younger Count Dracula, dressed in Victorian garb. But then I remembered another Dracula from my childhood...a Dracula movie that I watched on TV and even as a young girl, I could see that there was something different about this count. He was a little less scary than other Draculas...he didn't show his fangs and there was no blood smeared on his face. When he broke into the bedroom of the woman he intended to seduce he looked downright appealing...I could totally understand why she sighed and unbuttoned the top buttons of her nightgown, willingly giving him access to her neck. And the scene I remember most (and that has stayed with me to this day) is the eerie ending--a lone cape flapping away over the ocean, looking just like a bat flapping its wings as I remember my father remarking. 

I'm talking about the 1979 film Dracula, starring Frank Langella. After viewing clips of this movie, which I haven't seen in several years, I can honestly say that as much as I'm not fond of vampires, I would gladly throw back my head and offer my neck to Frank Langella as Dracula. His has to be the sexiest portrayal of the count even to this day. Edward Cullen isn't fit enough to polish this man's coffin, as far as I'm concerned. 

I think it's safe to say that Langella and the moviemakers took Dracula to a whole new level with this movie. There's a really awesome documentary on the making of the film uploaded to YouTube in five parts called The Revamping of Dracula. In it, Langella discusses how he had control over how this Dracula would be portrayed, right down to the height of his collars. He wanted the count to be a departure from Bela Lugosi's cartoonish, heavily accented character; instead, he would play him still as intense, but romantic and sexy as well. Langella was 40 at the time of filming, with trademark 1970s machismo: a tall frame, great hair, and exotic good looks. He was actually starring in a stage version of Dracula when movie makers watched him and knew that he'd be perfect for their film adaptation.

Langella and the filmmakers also saw Dracula as not so much scary, but a tragic gothic hero. Where Bela Lugosi reveled in the darkness and thought his "children of the night" made beautiful music, Langella's Dracula thinks they sound sad and lonely--a metaphor for his own existence. As a result, this Dracula was closer to his portrayal in earlier plays and the book. This was one classy and charming count. 

The late movie critic Roger Ebert said it perfectly: "Most of the previous Draculas we carry in our imaginations share two things: fangs and overacting. They come on so strong that potential victims shouldn't let them within yards of their necks. Frank Langella gives us a character who 'acts' as if he's a count: He has royal manners, he is irresistibly attractive to women, he would have impeccable table manners if only, of course, it were not forbidden for him to eat." 

Even the movie's lobby card alludes to this Dracula's eroticism:
Check out the scene where Dracula climbs down his castle's wall into Lucy's (Kate Nelligan's) bedroom to seduce her--it's both scary AND sexy!


What follows this scene has actually been criticized by many fans--as Dracula and Lucy make love, the sequence is bathed in red laser beam light, psychedelic style, and graphics by Maurice Binder, who did the opening credits for many James Bond films. The director of Dracula was John Badham, who had previously made Saturday Night Fever, and the laser beam trend was finding its way into rock shows and movies. It's out of step with the rest of the film, but it's a sign of its time. 

The movie also costarred two veteran actors, Donald Pleasence and Sir Lawrence Olivier. Olivier was apparently very ill during the making of the film. 

And that purposely ambiguous ending? It's sad to see Dracula get hoisted by a hook into the sunlight and incinerated into ashes...but there's also a sense that somehow he lives on. I'm sure that was the sympathetic ending Langella and the filmmakers were hoping for. 

There was another Dracula movie released the same year that also showed the character in a more positive light--the comedic, campy Love at First Bite, starring George Hamilton as a disco dancing Drac. It's entertaining and funny in its own right, but for pure sex appeal, my vote is still for Frank Langella.

Here's part 1 of the featurette The Revamping of Dracula. You can watch all parts on YouTube. 


9 comments:

  1. Awesome. I have this Dracula on DVD, but haven't really sat down to watch it. I think maybe a top 10 hottest vampire list might be fun. I thought of few while reading this (Kiefer Sutherland first popping to my brain because I'm still super hot for David in Lost Boys). Also, Richard Lynch and Michael Nouri were kind of fierce too.

    I think Frank Langella is super sexy so I agree with most of what you said without even seeing the movie!!! :)

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  2. No opinion on Christopher Lee then?

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  3. Oh my goodness, Amanda, you will have to watch it! It's a well done movie regardless of the sexiness of Dracula. You could say that Langella's performance opened the door for sexy portrayals of vampires as you so noted. David Bowie also played a vampire in 1983's The Hunger.

    Rich - I've never seen any of the Christopher Lee films but after googling them I don't think he would have done much for me.

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  4. Langella as Dracula, but later got truly scary and turned into Nixon! (chuckle)...
    Actually Bela Lugosi was a heartthrob in his early days. Sadly, his drug addiction and deterioration took their toll. Ending his career in what is oft-considered amongst the worst flicks ever made: Plan 9 From Outer Space.
    Rich's mention of Christopher Lee reminds me: he was the baddest Drac. At 6&1/2', he could kick some mortal butt!

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  5. Thank you very much for the article, Pam, excellently written as always. I was lucky enough to see this Dracula at the movies and have always loved this version. The movie is sexy AND scary, something modern day teen vampires are not. Kate Nelligan who played Lucy was also quite attractive.
    Even so, for my money the absolute best Dracula is French actor Louis Jourdan (who made ladies swoon back in the day) in the BBC mini-series of the late 70's. Check it out if you can, it's on DVD (which I own) but I believe it's on Youtube.

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  6. You and I are on the same page here Pam. I have always been a Frank Langella fan even to this day. But it was THIS movie, and my coming of age, so to speak, that turned Dracula form a monster to a sex object.

    Of course you and I would have been better for him than Kate Nelligan, who seemed too old for him even in THOSE days. Right?

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  7. I so agree. He was tall, handsome, charismatic, sexy, had a great voice... he came across as the best, most convincing Dracula, among the ones I've watched in film and tv.

    Too bad nowadays many seem less manly, more boyish...

    Kate Nelligan was attractive too, wouldn't mind being bitten by her. ;)

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  8. In regards to the ending. I believe he lived on because why else would Lucy (Kate Nelligan) give that little smile at the end?

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  9. In regards to the ending I feel like he lived on. It looked like an eclipse to me and then of course, Lucy's little smile when she looked up and saw him.

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