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Old 10-08-2004, 01:34 AM
 
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Default Dracula: Special Edition




Reviewer: Styx
Review Date: January 25, 2000

Released by: Universal
Release date: December 21, 1999
MSRP $24.98 (OOP)
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1



Universal's classic tale of Count Dracula and his ill-fated pilgrimage to England have now been released on DVD from Universal Home Video. Dracula marks the fifth entry in Universal's "Classic Monster" line. In this release Universal presents both the Todd Browning English version and the George Melford Spanish version, both of which were filmed at the same time using the same sets. Let's take a look at one of the milestones of the horror genre, Dracula.

The Story

inline Image Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) is a little tired of life in Transylvania; after all he has lived there for what seems like centuries. Dracula wants a change of scenery and has decided to procure a residence in England, Carfax Abbey. Mr. Renfield (Dwight Frye) arrives in Transylvania with the lease to Dracula's new home to conclude the purchase. Upon arriving, Renfield is warned by the superstition driven townspeople not to venture forth to Dracula's abode. Renfield dismisses the local's warnings and at night journeys to meet Dracula's carriage at Borgo's pass. After a treacherous journey to the Castle, Renfield arrives and is greeted by Dracula who "Bids him Welcome".

inline Image Inviting him inside, Dracula proceeds to accommodate Renfield by providing him with some food and drink. Dracula looks over the documents and tells Renfield he has charted a ship to take them to England. He leaves Renfield by himself who soon collapses after he sees a bat outside his bedroom window. Three hungry vampire women approach him, but before they can attack Dracula returns and motions for them to back away. Dracula finally arrives in England by ship along with a now deranged Renfield. Trying to adapt to his new home the Count ventures fourth into the crowded streets of London. He attends an opera in which he meets Dr. Sewerd (Herbert Bunston) who is in charge of the local Sanitarium, which adjoins Carfax Abbey.

inline Image He is also introduced to Lucy (Frances Dade), Jonathan Harker (David Manners) and his lovely fiancee Mina (Helen Chandler). The Count is fixated on Lucy and soon she falls victim to Dracula's bite. Lucy later dies due to an unknown loss of blood which baffles doctors. The case attracts the attention of Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), who soon becomes certain that the deaths were caused by an undead "Nosferatu" - a creature that feeds on the blood of the living. Soon after Mina becomes ill. When Dr. Van Helsing examines her he discovers two marks on her neck, "the Mark of the Vampyre". Concerned that Mina may be the next victim, Van Helsing monitors Mina at her home.

inline Image When Dracula pays the Sewerd's a visit it becomes clear that he is the Nosferatu after Van Helsing notices he casts no reflection. Now it's up to Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing to put an end to the Count before he makes Mina one of the undead.

inline Image Dracula, the mere mention of the name conjures up a long history of great vampire films starring the undying count. Played by so many talented actors who have each immortalized the role in some way. Universal's first foray into the horror genre hit it big and opened the door for many other horror films which have since become legendary. Todd Browning's 1931 classic, Dracula, introduced us to Bela Lugosi and one of the most memorable if not THE most memorable portrayals of Count Dracula. Directed by Todd Browning, who was a big director during the silent era, and photographed by Karl freund the film is loaded with gothic atmosphere and excellent sets.

Based more on Dracula plays than Bram Stoker's novel, the film is part romance, part horror and all Lugosi. Todd Browning, who worked on many silent horror films with The Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney, obviously has his flaws. His slow and deliberate pacing during the second half of the film may make this film hard to watch for those who think a film like Armageddon is a masterpiece. However, for horror buffs and people who love performances, this film can still thrill with its wide-eyed sets and larger than life characters and performances.

inline Image In this DVD we have the opportunity to view the Spanish version of Dracula, which was directed by George Melford. Though I liked the Spanish version and think it's more expansive and better directed, Todd Browning's version will always be my favorite for a number of reasons. The biggest one, of course, is Bela Lugosi who for me will always be my vision of Count Dracula. Carlos Villar, who plays the count in the Spanish version, just didn't have the same presence that Lugosi had. Also, the character of Reinfield I feel is much better in the English version than the Spanish one. Dwight Frye gives an inspired performance with an unforgettable laugh. His portrayal is a more reserved and twisted Renfield, where as the Spanish version, played by Pablo Alvarez Rubio, is overacted and simply consists of him mostly screaming at the top of his lungs.

One more thing I enjoyed about the English version that wasn't in the Spanish one are the nods to Nosferatu. Many times during the film the Count's mannerisms and sometimes the way a shot is composed is definitely inspired by F.W. Murnau's silent classic. One instance is the manner in which Dracula looks over the document Renfield gives to him. The Spanish version does have its bright spots, including the fact it stays much truer to the shooting script than the English version. It's also better directed with more creative camera movement. Though I agree the Spanish version is better from a technical standpoint, I'll always prefer Todd Browning and Bela Lugosi's version of Dracula. Both I think are required viewing for horror fans.

Image Quality

inline Image English- Universal present's the English version of Dracula full frame, the way it was filmed. The B&W transfer is a bit disappointing on this one and I expected better. The image is very grainy almost throughout the film. The print damage is at time very severe and distracting. For example, some of the worst is when Renfield arrives at Dracula's Castle here we see innumerable scratches and specks. Contrast is also very poor and the transfer is dark and not very detailed at all. Additionally, contrast tends to flicker making things brighter and darker. This is very disappointing, I realize Dracula is an old film but I've seen much better restoration jobs of films around the same age - Universal's own Frankenstein, for example.

Spanish- The Spanish version fares much better. Contrast wise the image blows away the English version creating much better, deeper blacks with better shadow detail. Print wise there is some damage, but it's not as severe as the English version.

Sound

English- Presented in mono, Dracula being 69 years old isn't in the best of shape. Some background "noise" and "hiss" can be heard throughout the film. Films of this period didn't have the musical scores of today's films and the scenes are mostly dialogue only. For the most part, dialogue is clear and the "hiss" and "pops" didn't become too distracting.

Spanish- Like in Image, the Spanish version fares much better than the English version. Here dialogue is clearer and there is very little if any background noise or hiss.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Universal once again presents a pretty sweet DVD in terms of supplements. What the DVD may have lacked in terms of presentation is somewhat made-up for by the excellent bonus features.

The DVD contains an audio commentary with David J Skal, who produced the supplements for all the Classic Monster DVDs including this one. The commentary is very good and is the best I've heard so far on the classic monster DVDs. David Skal has an easy voice to listen to and provides a well-rounded commentary. Skal Opproprietly explains the characters of the film as well as the background information on the actors that portray them. He also goes into detail on Bram Stoker's novel and the various play adaptations. Skal makes a lot of comparisons to the shooting script and what is actually in the film. He also talks about the Spanish version and the differences between the English version.

inline Image The documentary "The Road to Dracula", written and directed by film historian David J. Skal and hosted by Carla Laemmle is excellent as are all the other documentaries featured on the Classic Monster Collection. For this documentary, David Skal stays much closer to the film instead of straying too far into other vampire films and myths like The Wolf Man documentary did.

inline Image Road to Dracula features interviews from (Director) Clive Barker, (Rosenbach Library and Museum director) Michael Barsanti, (Author of "Our Vampire, Ourselves") Nina Auerbach, (Director, Universal Studios Archives and Collections) Jan-Christopher Horak, (Son of Playwright) John Balderston, (Son of Bela Lugosi) Bela G. Lugosi, (Make-up Artist) Rick Baker, (Writer/Director of "Lugosi: Hollywood's Dracula") Gary Don Rhodes, (Son of Dwight Frye) Dwight D Frye, (Producer; friend of Bela Lugosi) Richard Gordon, (Actress) Lupita Tovar Kohner and Film Histroians David J Skal, Bob Madison, Lokke Heiss, Scott Macqueen and Ivan Butler.

Road to Dracula is a very thorough documentary covering the origins of Bram Stokers novel to the first film adaptations of Dracula and so on. The documentary discusses the lost Dracula film, Dracula's Death, which was a Hungarian production as well as F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu. In addition to the documentary and commentary, there is a new music score by Philip Glass performed by the Kronos Quartlet. The alternate score is all right, but seems out of place most of the time. I'm glad Universal provided this as a supplement instead of replacing the old score like a certain other horror film, which recently got a new score. Also on the disc is another poster/photo gallery montage, cast and crew bios, production notes and a theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts

Well, this is the last of the first wave of Universal's Classic Monster DVDs and I'm a little disappointed that Universal didn't spend more time and effort on the transfer. It's certainly watchable, but it is definitely the weakest looking of the 5 classic monster DVDs. The supplements are great and having both the Spanish and English version of the film on one disc is cool. I just hope Universal will put more effort into the presentations on the next batch of Classic Monster DVDs.

Rating

English
Image Quality - C+
Sound - C+

Spanish
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B

Supplements - A

Technical Info.
  • Running time (English) - 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Running time (Spanish) - 1 hour 44 minutes
  • B&W
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • 16 Chapter Stops
  • Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 (Philip Glass score)
Supplements
  • "Audio Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal
  • "The Road to Dracula" an Original Documentary
  • New Optional Score by Philip Glass Performed by Kronos Quartet
  • Poster and Photo Montage
  • Production Notes
  • Cast & Crew Bios
  • Theatrical Trailer

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