Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mystery and Imagination: Dracula – review

dvd set
Director: Patrick Dromgoole

First aired: 1968

Contains spoilers

Mystery and Imagination was a series of horror based plays that ran from 1966. Whilst this episode, an adaptation of Dracula that formed part of the fourth season, has survived the ravages of time it is sad to note that currently (and probably forever) lost is the adaptation the series created of Carmilla.

The series replaced “armchair theatre” and we must note that the idea was to produce a three act play. Consequently there is a stagy feel and the majority of the episode was filmed at Teddington Studios. Thus we get some set wobble occasionally, a recoiled Dracula makes a wall wobble, a gravestone does shift ever so slightly etc. I mention that now and say that I can live with this, it was occasional, noticeable but forgivable. To add to the normal “contains spoilers” note, I will say that my expectation is that you, dear reader, will know Dracula as a story and my aim will be to show how this differed from the book and what it did well, so it will be fairly blow by blow.

ready for escape
As always with a film, stage or television adaptation of the novel, this was free and easy with the characters, many of the main characters are merged. Bar a flashback sequence the entire Transylvanian sections of the novel are missing, all the play taking place in England and all of the English scenes have been transposed to Whitby. The adaptation starts in the asylum where two guards are asked to provide water by inmate 34 (Corrin Redgrave). They agree, remove his restraints and he makes a break for it.

Seward's guests are shocked
Dr. John Seward (James Maxwell) is holding a dinner party. At this point he and his guests have retired to the drawing room. With him are his fiancée Lucy Weston (Susan George) and her mother, Mrs Weston (Joan Hickson). Someone unseen plays piano. The fact that Lucy’s familial name has been contracted from Westenra is obvious. Seward is now engaged to her and the other two suitors, Arthur and Quincey, are no longer part of the story. The genial atmosphere is smashed as 34 comes bowling through the French Windows.

groovy shades
He drops to his knees and refers to the piano player as Master. Indeed Dracula (Denholm Elliott) is the piano player. He commands 34 back to his cell, and the lunatic complies, but when Seward asks if the Count knows him, both Dracula and Renfield deny knowledge of each other. Seward mentions that 34 was found on a beached Russian ship, the Demeter, and it is observed that Dracula was on that ship. He says that he saw no other passengers for his habits are nocturnal, as they know, due to the fact that the sun greatly pains him.

I am Dracula
Let us look at Elliott as Dracula. The look is fantastic, with the actor sporting a goatee beard he really looks quite sinister. When we first see him he is wearing dark glasses – which he removes to play eye mojo with 34. These are clearly an affectation (and the design seems out of the Victorian period, to say the least) to give credence to his cover story of an inability to withstand bright light for medical reasons but it is interesting that such a groovy pair of shades should have been used as a prop almost quarter of a century before the Coppola version. Not so groovy is the accent, which does slip occasionally. For the main this is a very English production, and the mainly plumy accents reflect that, but Elliott and Bernard Archard as Dr Van Helsing do affect other accents and neither is really that wonderful – not enough to spoil the show but enough to mention. During these scenes Elliott manages to get in the “I do not drink… wine” line. We also get a shot, unseen by the characters, that evidences to us that Dracula casts no reflection.

vampire brides
The next day Van Helsing arrives to take a look at 34. It is noted that he is zoophagous and he seems to become more aggressive as the sun sets. Van Helsing hypnotises him and he describes his encounter with the brides (Nina Baden-Semper, Marie Legrand and Valerie Muller) in the castle. This is the only scene we get from Transylvania and the look of the brides had my opinion split. Generally they are fantastic, more animalistic or primal than in other productions but with a raw sexuality that clearly affected 34. Then we get to the teeth, however, and I was not sure what was going on there. In some shots they look blackened, as though they are rotten, in other more distant shots they look like they are rows of sharp teeth. I think the effect was meant to be the latter but they didn't work that well as an effect - we shall discuss teeth/fangs again, very soon.

Lucy and Mina
Dracula is speaking to Lucy and his monologue is the “We Szekelys have a right to be proud,” speech from the novel, which is curtailed and yet accurate enough to be still recognisable, except, of course, the one he speaks to is Lucy and not Jonathan. They are interrupted by Seward, with news of Mrs Weston – though the seriousness of her illness seems to have little impact on Lucy. Mina (Suzanne Neve) then arrives. On meeting Dracula she recognises the name for it is to his castle her missing husband went to on business. Dracula claims that they parted ways and that he received a letter from Jonathan written in Prague – Mina received a letter from Prague as well, but has heard nothing since.

bit of a poor husband
When Mina and Seward are walking later, and he confesses his jealousy of the Count and the fascination that Lucy seems to have for him, 34 sees them from his window and calls out Mina’s name. They rush to the cell and Mina recognises her husband. He hugs her but then denies knowledge of her as soon as the sun sets. Yes, 34 is Jonathan Harker, the character of Renfield and Jonathan being merged into one. This actually works rather well as a concept and is only a stone's throw from other adaptations except, of course, this has the lunatic's wife on hand.

Lucy visits Dracula's house
In this adaptation Dracula has not bought Carfax but rather Glebe House and, despite the impropriety, Lucy goes there for a visit. However the house is abandoned, it seems, and certainly no one is around. Suddenly scared she runs back to the carriage, her mad pace causing her to fall. Back in the carriage she snarls and then realises, with shock, what she has done. I did like the way that the production turned the nature of the women who came under Dracula’s influence, making them quick to anger in a way that was out with their personalities.

rising from Cannon's grave
Seward has made the obvious connection between Harker and Dracula (and Dracula’s denial of knowing the man) but Van Helsing dismisses the notion as jealousy of the Count on Seward’s part. Meanwhile Lucy and Mina go to the graveyard. Now, this is a fantastic Gothic looking Graveyard that looks nothing at all like the graveyard at St Mary’s, Whitby (not that it overly matters but I thought I’d mention). They are approached by the almost mercurial Mr Swales (Hedley Goodall) and it was great to see that character appearing as he is oft missed out. He tells them the tale of the grave of George Cannon, a suicide. When they leave Dracula rises from the Cannon grave, his home due to the fact that it is un-consecrated.

Lucy has an orgiastic response
A really crap bat is in Lucy’s room that transforms into Dracula, in a scene that demands scrutiny. His presence disturbs her sleep and she starts to twist and moan in an orgiastic way. He bites her and she cries for a moment with pain before moaning with pleasure. The sexual simile here is absolutely obvious but incredibly well done. If Stoker hinted at a sexual aspect to vampirism then this production screamed it and, going back to the bride scene, the animalistic sexuality displayed is almost primitive and Dracula’s words of “He is mine” and Jonathan’s look of longing clearly offers a bisexuality aspect into the mix.

front fangs
Now let us speak of fangs for I loved the juxtaposition of the sinister and yet still suave look of Dracula, that almost cracks when he concentrates to use his psychic ability, against the Nosferatu style teeth. With Dracula they worked… however… I have mentioned them in terms of the brides (who seemed not to sport front fangs) and when Lucy turns (for she will, that is still in this version) we see a few fang shots and one of them is too close and you can see they are a moulded set. The other Lucy/fang shots do work, to be fair.

protected by the cross
Seward and Van Helsing examine the insensate Lucy the following day and Van Helsing spots the fang mark on her neck. He will not tell Seward what he thinks but states that he needs to do a transfusion, noting that Seward is sceptical of such procedures due to the safety aspects (a nice add in, given that surely it was Van Helsing who killed Lucy in the novel by repeated un-typed transfusions from a variety of donors!). When done he looks to place a rosary over Lucy, she reacts to it in her sleep so he puts it next to her. The weakened Seward protests – his mention of idolatry coming from Jonathan’s reaction to such religious paraphernalia in the novel. When Dracula returns he recoils from the cross (and the set wall wobbles under the force of his recoil). He uses his eye mojo to make Lucy shift the cross and then he is on her again.

Van Helsing and Mrs Weston
Seward and Van Helsing have to perform another transfusion (again from Seward) but first Van Helsing festoons the room with Garlic vines. He tells Seward that he suspects Lucy is being predated upon by a vampire – though it is clear that the younger Doctor does not entirely buy what Van Helsing is selling. Interestingly Van Helsing says that he garlic vines must be in unbroken chains to keep the vampire at bay. They refuse Mrs Weston entry to the room.

checking old books
The woman, however, has another key and – spurred on by Dracula’s telepathic suggestion – she looks in on her daughter, breaking the chain on the door. Dracula is quickly back and having his toothsome way with her. Meanwhile Van Helsing shows Seward written evidence of vampires and one mentions an outbreak in Transylvania. The image looks like Dracula and suddenly the penny drops. Soon Van Helsing is hypnotising Jonathan again, to discover more about his Master’s whereabouts, when Dracula takes over the unfortunate lunatic and, speaking in his own voice, mocks them and brags that he has already won.

unfortunate fangs
They race back to Lucy, who is led on the floor – Van Helsing says they are too late. Seward carries her to the bed and suddenly she speaks, asking him to kiss her. Van Helsing pulls him away just in time and we get a rather effective rabid moment before she drops dead to the bed. It is here, with fangs on show, that we get the unfortunate fang shot that I mentioned earlier.

a Sapphic moment
Mina goes to the graveyard and she suddenly sees Lucy, who approaches her and tells Mina that she has returned. She explains that she “has not found rest but joy, joy beyond understanding.” She tempts Mina and when the bite comes we see Mina succumb to an orgiastic feeling, giving a Sapphic element and changing the bloofer-lady thread from the novel as it is Mina whom Lucy predates on. Suddenly Lucy is gone and Mina falls to the floor, Dracula appears to continue the seduction. Mina has already started acting, in moments, in a more primitive manner – angrily bemoaning her lot and spitting. She also throws herself at the Count and peppers him with kisses before realising what she has done.

Lucy is a vampire
Van Helsing has brought Seward to the Weston tomb and shown him the empty coffin. Lucy comes back and Seward goes to her, saved at the last minute by Van Helsing and a cross. They find her in her coffin, blood on her chin and Seward stakes her. They then try to discover Dracula’s whereabouts through Jonathan, they ask Mina to question him.

marked by the cross
She does so but Jonathan realises that it is now Mina that Dracula has cast him off for and thus reveals Mina’s secret. Van Helsing places a cross to her forehead and it burns. He has her taken to a room and suggests sedation. Once back in his cell, a bat comes to Jonathan and the cell door opens, he has to lead Mina to Dracula. Wily old Van Helsing guessed this might happen and he and Seward are hidden and follow them to the graveyard, discovering Dracula’s resting place.

Van Helsing's display of faith
Van Helsing throws holy water over it, presumably denying Dracula re-entry to the grave. Dracula (who was with Mina and Jonathan at this point) turns to his tormentors. They hold up a cross and a bible and he tries to use eye mojo to make them lower the icons. Seward does but Van Helsing finds a hidden reserve of faith and defeats the mojo, whilst reciting the Latin sign of the cross.

the death of Dracula
The sun is rising and Dracula tries to tempt the men with knowledge and power. In a somewhat confused ending he runs at the men and Van Helsing pushes the cross into his chest. This causes a psychic flash, making Mina and Jonathan fall to the ground and Dracula staggers back. He starts to melt – a wonderfully done effect with acid melting a prop face – but what killed him, the cross and Van Helsing’s faith or the sun? We don’t actually know but he turns to dust.

Hammer Time
There is a coda twist that, having spoilt everything else, I won’t spoil here but let it be said it was a great little moment. The acting was stagy, as I mentioned, but rather well done. Barring accent I really enjoyed Elliott as Dracula and thought that Corrin Redgrave was excellent as Jonathan – pirouetting between psychotic and morose, he displayed a manic nature that worked really well for the character. The fact that this was filmed in studio actually isn't a detriment, despite the wobbly moments, and they were able to inject some real moments of atmosphere.

atmospheric moment
The changes, also, were fine. We are used to Dracula being noodled with and this had some very interesting moments along with parts kept in the production that are usually lost. Given the budget and stage restrictions the changes were necessary.

All in all this version has been too long out of the public eye, despite a few minor flaws it is a fine version of Dracula (though not the best) and was, for its time, quite a bloody and sexually charged production. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

So glad you finally got to see this! In general I really liked this version--including the ratlike fangs amidst the sexuality. As usual, the "good guys" as less interesting than Dracula himself.

A detail I particularly liked was that Lucy, in an unguarded moment within the carriage, snarls in a totally bestial (i.e. vampiric) manner for just a second, then covers her mouth.

Elliott was such a fine actor, and I must say the cast overall did a marvelous job.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Zahir,

Yes I liked the Lucy moment also. It was interesting that it was, as you say, bestial or primal... a very nice way to take the descent into vampirism.

Anthony Hogg said...

To cement the sexual angle further, that "woodcut" is based on a medieval (?) rendering of an incubus.

Obviously, the original incubus figure has been replaced with Elliott's Dracula.

I remember seeing the original woodcut in one of the issues of The Unexplained. If I can trace that picture, I'll send it along to ya.

Anthony Hogg said...

Hahaha found it!

Check out the first image of this page, and this scan, pointing to its original source.

Christine said...

Sounds good, this fan of Stoker´s tale say! I must try to see it, too.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi guys...

Anthony, now you point it out it is a rather famous pic methinks... cheers for tracking it down.

Christine, I think you'll really like the film.

Anthony Hogg said...

No worries, mate.

Wrote a bit more about the image (and yours) here.

Oh, and loved the review! Certainly sounds like an interesting flick. Even sounds quite ahead of its time. Especially for something originally screened on telly.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Anthony, yes, read your article and enjoyed it. Re the flick, very interesting and, as such, I find it even more frustrating that their make of Carmilla has been lost.

House of Karnstein said...


Excellent review and fantastic blog! I feel like I have finally stumbled upon my long lost vamp brother. I'm a HUGE vamp head and have been collecting movies for years. It's nice to see such rarities reviewed like "They've Changed Faces", "The White Reindeer", & "Dorabella". Anyway, I have a soft spot for Mystery and Imagination's Dracula and Susan George has to be considered amongst the most sexist/desirable of all Lucy's. Some other Dracula television adaptations I recommend are Purple Playhouse's Dracula with Norman Welsh (who looks a lot like what Stoker had in mind) 1973 and Passion of Dracula (Showtime 1979). Super rarities, these two are and perhaps I could review them for you in the future with some screencaps!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hello House of Karnstein and welcome to the blog. As you'll have noticed I genuinely - eventually, lol - want to touch on all the vampire material.

Re the idea of guest reviews, lease contact me at taliesinloki (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk and we can discuss further.

House of Karnstein said...

Will do and it's nice to run into another so passionate about this fascinating genre. I first fell in love with the vamp genre in October of 1978 when our local station here in the USA (PBS)broadcast Philip Saville's Count Dracula starring Louis Jourdan. Shortly after, I checked out Stoker's novel and the rest, as they say, is history..But, getting back on topic about Dracula 1968, despite it being a low budget TV production, had some wonderful moments that will always stay etched in the back of my vampy brain. One of my favorites is the long shot of the vampire brides inside the castle, standing by the 3 large windows and gracefully jumping down as Jonathan watches on. Wonderfully surreal, haunting, and expressionistic, this is a beautiful moment within the production. Another fave moment comes when the vampiric sexually-charged Lucy confronts Mina and puts the quick bite on her. Susan George really shifting vampiric gears here and it's quite entertaining to watch. I particularly find the "broken teeth" Drac vamp brides quite disturbing with their "hopping" that predates Asian Hopping Vampires a good 15 years, perhaps? And you were ever so right about those shades Dracula sports in this, extremely hip/cool for that time. Bottom line, Mystery and Imagination's '68 Dracula holds it's on quite well against other Dracula TV productions that would follow in the next 10 years...It breaks my heart that Mystery and Imagination's CARMILLA episode seems lost forever. Those few stills we see inside the (highly recommended) dvd boxset look fascinating, and I really like they way Carmilla looked.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

HofK, all fans of the genre are welcome here - your right, it is a fascinating genre and, as you have a search through the blog, I am sure you'll find as much that you and I disagree about as agree about. To me that is the great thing about the genre, it is so broad that we all find bits that we love and bits we love a little less!

Looking forward to ur comments.

marcco said...

taliesin-- spot on review as always! i'm really glad you got to review this rare version of dracula.

i myself enjoyed this version immensely. i thought denholm elliot was excellent as dracula, and susan george & corin redgrave also gave amazing peformances.

i also liked that the vampire wives each had a different ethnicity- this is a dracula that gets around!

and drac has no coffin of his own in this version. and the way he begs for his 'life' before his destruction. and the twist ending.

i really love the original spin this production put on the dracula legend.

unfortunately for me, the dvd-r copy i bought has stopped working after only 2 full viewings... i really miss having access to it.

taliesin you are 'the man' for all things dracula!!!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Marcco. What is left of the series (as some episodes are missing) are now commercially available so you should be able to pick this up in a less degradable format - it be a shame not to have it in your collection :)

marcco said...

thanx a lot for the heads-up that this is on dvd!

i found the 'mystery and imagination' dvd set on amazon for about 95 US dollars. i will be buying soon.

hope the other programs on this set are as good as 'dracula'!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

no probs Marco