06 June 2008

dishing Dracula

Dracula and The White River Kid were waiting for me when I got home yesterday. After calling to check on my dad's progress with returning from D.C., I grabbed my Chinese leftovers and popped in Dracula.

I can appreciate what Masterpiece Theatre was trying to do, mostly. They're trying to mix in some real medical concerns to explain why Harker would ever go to Transylvania. Vampires and syphilis. Ummm ... wow. Okay, so Lord Holmwood is engaged to Lucy Westerna, but he finds out his father is dying of syphilis, and that his mother committed suicide when she found out that she had caught it from the father and that Lord Holmwood was infected at birth. So, good fiance that he is, he tells Lucy and calls off their engagement, right?


Um, no. Let's contact this London blood cult and see if they can cure Lord Holmwood's terrible affliction. Ah, yes, we can do that--the the help of this guy in the Carpathian Mountains--and some money and property would be nice as well.

Well the cult can't contract a very large firm to deal with these matters. No, much too easy to track. So they contact a two-man operation, and this mini-firm sends the younger partner, Jonathan Harker (engaged to Lucy's friend Mina, by the way), to Transylvania to talk to their employer. And just after he leaves, the blood cult murders the other fifty percent of the firm.

This is where this version actually begins to resemble the Gary Oldman version. Harker arrives in the dark and magnificently damp and muddy Castle Dracula. Count Dracula appears to be a sick old man with very dirty fingernails. The fingernails never improve, actually; they're pretty gross for the full extent of the movie. He asks after England and its fade of religious belief, becomes enamored of Harker's folding picture-frame of Mina with a lock of her hair attached to the interior, and--after Harker discovers Dracula in his coffin covered in every kind of insect the crew could get their hands on--drains the trepid young lawyer.

Meanwhile, Holmwood and Lucy marry, but Holmwood won't consummate the relationship until he's cured, so they've gone north to live in a lonely castle on the edge of the ocean. Mina, ever more concerned about Harker from whom she's heard nothing since his arrival in Transylvania, goes to stay with them.

The blood cult, keeping tabs on Dracula's scheduled passage, hears that the ship by-passes London and continues up the coast toward Holmwood's estate. Not to seek out Holmwood, but because Dracula is on Mina's scent thanks to the lock of hair that Harker kept with him. The ship beaches itself below Holmwood's estate, but the crew has disappeared, and there's no sign of Dracula besides an inexplicable crate full of dirt.

Mina is wandering through the graveyard when she thinks she sees her Jonathan, and runs to him only to find--Count Dracula, who is looking much better after some steady and proper vamp nutrition. The sexually frustrated Lucy also appears, and, after her invitation (vampires and invitations), the Count accompanies them back to the estate for wine and sexy brooding.

Eventually Holmwood shows up in a temper, because Dracula isn't much interested in helping him with his condition, and is much more interested in, in his words, "enjoying" the ladies of the house. Holmwood becomes violent. Dracula is more violent--and informs Holmwood that he's going to take everything he loves.

As per the original, the sickness of blood loss visits Lucy while she sleeps. Difference--Masterpiece Theatre actually gets some brownie points, by the way--Lucy and Dracula both become less frustrated in the process. It's a lot more believably sensual than Oldman's bouffanted version, and a lot more sensual than I expect from Masterpiece Theatre. Good for them!

Lucy dies, of course, and the story and characters return to London. Mina is lonely. Her best friend is dead, and her fiance is presumed dead. Who else should show up to be a shoulder of comfort but our good Count Dracula?

I think my primary complaint is that the film spends a lot of time leading up to all of this with a reasonable explanation, but very little time is actually devoted to Holmwood, Seward, and Van Helsing hunting down Dracula. It all happens too quickly. Good lead-in, but it could've stood another half-hour of running time with more advantage taken of Marc Warren's youthful version of Dracula. But then I felt the same way about Gary Oldman's performance.

I did enjoy it. I think I'll keep the DVD until tomorrow. I think I'm also adding the first three series of Hustle to my Netflix queue. Hustle weirdness: Robert Vaughn. He does commercials for various law firms around the country, and definitely one here in Massachusetts. He was also Napoleon Solo and General Stockwell, but that was kind of a long time ago ...

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