The early 1970s made possible a very cool television movie starring legendary tough guy actor Jack Palance as Dracula. Imagine Clint Eastwood as Dracula. Close, but no cigar. Today, Liam Neeson could do it, but he probably won’t. The ’70s were a good time for vampires, along with zombies. It was a more innocent time. They had not even begun to claw the surface of today’s oversaturation. Dracula, as both a literary and horror figure, played well with audiences. And certain older actors were welcome too. There was something about Palance, his affinity for the dark side, that made him a natural for the role.
The level of production for this “Dracula” is impressively high for a TV-movie: everything from on location shooting in Hungary and England, authentic interiors, and period costumes. It’s part of a line of high quality work in television from that era, including 1971’s “Duel.” Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for both “Duel” and “Dracula.” Around that same time, he also wrote an especially chilling take on “Rosemary’s Baby,” starring Barbara Eden, entitled, “The Stranger Within.” But that’s only touching the tip of the Matheson canon. Well known for such iconic work as “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” for “The Twilight Zone,” a work by Richard Matheson is a gem in touch with the human heart.
“Dracula” is also remarkable for its director, Dan Curtis, who created and produced the classic soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” To have both Curtis and Matheson in charge, with Palance as the lead, all adds up to a most intriguing Dracula. This is a Dracula with lots of blood and, strangely enough, lots of heart. Yes, Dracula is in love, or something like that. It’s more of a primal thing, an animal attraction, that only an actor of the caliber of Palance could pull off.
It is this Curtis production of Dracula that makes two significant changes to the story that have been borrowed by others ever since, most notably by Francis Ford Coppola. Dracula, the character from the 1897 Bram Stoker novel is aligned with the historical Dracula, The Impaler. And Dracula is given a love interest: he believes he has found his lost wife of hundreds of years ago in the form of a contemporary woman.
And talk about scary. Jack Palance was a big no-nonsense sort of guy. When he needs a solicitor to sign some documents for him, he isn’t going to play nice and be polite about it. When push comes to shove, that solicitor, that sea captain, that innocent bystander, all of them are toast. If he needs to sink his teeth into you, he won’t hesitate.
Curtis and Palance worked together before on 1968’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” And that too is an excellent example of what you can do without relying on CGI. Both “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” and “Dan Curtis’ Dracula” are presented by MPI Home Video which you can visit right here.