Dan Curtis’ version of Dracula is in many ways relatively faithful to the novel (although some elements are changed or omitted altogether, such as the character of Renfield), but it adds a romantic element not present in the Stoker original, which would be touched upon again in the 1992 film version.
The change in the emphasis was done to give Dracula an apparently more plausible reason for coming to England, as he wants to find the reincarnation of his lost love, although to be fair I always thought fresh blood and good old fashioned vampiric invasion were good enough reasons on their own.
This version of Dracula is generally engaging and entertaining, although I thought it lacked the genuine horror and style of the best adaptations. What this version has going for it is some strong story telling and decent performances (some of them surprisingly restrained). Jack Palance wouldn’t have been my first choice as The Count, I have to say, but he is extremely effective, and he strikes a fearful figure throughout, especially when he is angered by the destruction of his vampire bride. He is a driven and obsessed version of the character, driven as much by a twisted love as he is by a lust for blood. Palance dominates the picture, even when he’s not there on screen, and all the film’s strong points seem to be lifted further by a great central perfomance. Incidentally Palance was the visual inspiration for Marvel Comics’ version of the character in their long running ’70s title Tomb of Dracula (1972-77), although ironically this was before Palance actually got the role as Dracula.
It has more violence than in previous versions, which does tend to add to Dracula’s menace, but sometimes the film feels overlong. Some of the chracters are redefined as well, which is still annoying, having occured in previous films. What is wrong with the way Stoker wrote them? Expanding Dracula’s history is fair enough, but changing the personalities of other characters seems pointless. As mentioned, Renfield is again missing and I wonder why some writers find it so hard to include him; I feel he adds a lot to the story. Elsewhere, Nigel Davenport’s Van Helsing comes across as a reliable and sobre adversary to the count, but not the dynamic individual we’ve come to expect. Davenport is fine, but it’s not really the Van Helsing I believe the story needs … Simon Ward as Holmwood, Pamela Brown as Lucy and Murray Brown as Harker are all fine performances, but after viewing so many ‘Dracula’ films I fail to see them adding anything special to their roles, but in the context of this one film it’s not bad work and their more subtle performances are a nice change from the stilted or hammy turns in older films.
Overall, I did like this version, but it never quite rises above it’s TV movie origins, despite some very pleasing direction, location work, interiors and costumes (even if they do look slightly anachronistic). Ultimately it’s Palance’s fine performance that made this more captivating that it would have been otherwise. He’s not the Dracula that Stoker wrote, but he’s a very enjoyable romantic and desperate interpretation.