In 1977, the John Balderston-Hamilton Deane Dracula had a successful Broadway revival with stylised Edward Gorey sets. Around the same time, Bob Hall (a comics writer who created The West Coast Avengers) and David Richmond wrote a hipper stage adaptation*. Oddly, W. D. Richter’s script for John Badham’s 1979 Dracula, in which Frank Langella reprised his Broadway star turn, junks the Balderston-Deane for something closer to Hall and Richmond’s take on Bram Stoker. This as-live television production of The Passion of Dracula, taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater, aired on a series called Broadway on Showtime.
Set in 1911, it limits the action to the drawing room of Dr Seward’s sanitarium near Whitby and begins with Wilhelmina Murray (Julia Mackenzie) – Willie for short, not Mina – already mysteriously ill and her uncle Dr Cedric Seward (Gordon Chater), a Nigel Bruce-ish tubby moustached buffer, calling in Dr Abraham Van Helsing (Malachi Throne). Also on the case is accented Dr Helga Van Zandt (Alice White), an Austrian disciple of Freud (‘ze patient manifessted severe depression und recited Tennyson for two hours … it is not unusual in English women of her age’) who has an affair with married Lord Gordon Godalming (K.C. Wilson). Helga later transforms into a Morticia-Lily-look vampire. Newspaperman Jonathan Harker (Samuel Maupin) shows up to investigate because people hereabouts suggest a link between recent throat-ripped-out deaths and lax security at the asylum, which boils down to Renfield (Elliott Vileen) running about pursued by Jameson the butler (Brian Bell).
Cheaper and more soapoperaish than BBC-TV productions of stage plays which ran as Sunday Night Theatre for decades, this limits its effects to one dissolve disappearance and a lot of spilled dry ice fog. Some theatrical coups – like the ringing of Dracula’s voice in the dark as Van Helsing tries to hypnotise Renfield – don’t translate to TV and there’s much running to the French windows and peering offstage (or, indeed, shooting at that pernicious bat – ‘I’ll have you this time you flying bastard!’). Christopher Bernau, who created the role on stage, is a ranting, strutting, snarling Dracula – not the romantic figure suggested slightly by the title. After Willie has briefly vamped him, he gets bent over a footrest and staked onstage. The body count is low – even Renfield doesn’t die in this adaptation. Throne and Mackenzie are good, but others veer between terribly earnest and knowingly camp. Studio director J. Edward Shaw adapts the stage direction by Peter Bennett.
Extract from Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon.
*London productions starred Terence Stamp and George Chakiris; neither were hits.