Dracula: The Legacy Collection
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: Various
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1)
Captions: English (except for the Spanish version of course)
Subtitles: French, and Spanish (English/French on Spanish version)
Audio: English – Dolby 2.0 Monaural – All Films (except Spanish version – which is Spanish 2.0 Monaural); Original with Philip Glass Score is Dolby Digital 5.1
April 27th, 2004
Running Time: 75 Minutes
“The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.”
The original version of Dracula, which first frightened movie patrons way back in 1931, is a bona-fide classic, and a landmark achievement that laid the groundwork for an entire genre of films. Further, with all due respect to all those that have played “The Count” in the intervening years, including two guys by the names of Christopher and Gary, this early “talkie” benefits immensely from the presence of Bela Lugosi. For me it is simple- Lugosi was the f%^&king man, and his portrayal of Dracula is easily among the eeriest and best performances in any horror film ever made. In my mind, not only is his rendition of the Count still memorable almost three-quarters of a century later, but it makes the movie.
Now I am sure you are probably familiar with this film (if not stop reading immediately and go find some way to watch this – for you are a sorry excuse for a horror fan! ), so forgive me if I just gloss over the story. Basically, Tod Browning’s version of Dracula chronicles Count Dracula’s (Lugosi) ill-fated journey to Carfax Abbey in England, where he embarks on a search for fresh victims.
As the film opens, a man named Renfield (Dwight Frye) arrives in Transylvania, and against the advice of the locals, he travels to Castle Dracula so the Count can complete the paperwork needed to finalize the lease agreement for the Abbey. Unfortunately for Renfield, Dracula soon enslaves him, and travels to England on a chartered ship, with Renfield and his three vampire wives in tow. Once in London, the Count becomes a man about town, and eventually attends an opera, where he happens to encounter (seemingly on purpose) Dr. Jack Seward (Herbert Bunston), who runs the mental institution adjacent to Carfax Abbey. As they chat, Seward introduces him to Lucy (Frances Dade), Jonathan Harker (the bitchy, annoying David Manners), and Harker’s fiancée Mina (Helen Chandler).
Almost immediately, Dracula becomes intent on quenching his unnatural thirst with Lucy’s blood. Not surprisingly, since we know what Dracula is, Lucy later dies due from unexplained blood loss, but the local doctors remain dumbfounded. The peculiarity of Lucy’s demise piques the interest of the well-respected Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), who finds evidence that recent deaths were attributable to an undead creature known as a “Nosferatu” – which must drink the blood of living creatures to sustain its own life.
In the meantime, the Count has now set his sights squarely on the lovely Mina, who soon becomes stricken by a mysterious illness. After an examination by Van Helsing, he becomes concerned that Mina may be the next to die, so he mandates that she be confined to her home and monitored continuously. Shortly thereafter, Dracula visits the Seward residence; at which point Van Helsing becomes convinced the Count and the Nosferatu for which he is searching are one and the same. But will he be able to stop Dracula’s trail of bloodletting before it is too late?
In comparison to the horror films of the last thirty years or so, Dracula is somewhat tame, perhaps even a bit campy, and the pacing is obviously much slower than that of modern horror films. Still, however, it has perhaps the most eerie, despair-filled atmosphere of any horror film, with the entire sequence where Renfield arrives at Castle Dracula being extremely impressive in scale and somber in tone. Couple this atmosphere with quotable dialogue, grandiose sets, and generally excellent performances, especially those of Lugosi, Frye, and Van Sloan, and the movie is still enjoyable in spite of the passage of a great many years. Simply put, Dracula is not only one of the best horror films ever made, but a motion picture for people who can appreciate the historical values of a true classic like this, and the influence it has had on countless films since.
NOTE: As with the “Classic Monsters” DVD, viewers can select either the recently recorded Philip Glass/Kronos Quartet score or the original score.
DRACULA – ORIGINAL SPANISH VERSION
Running Time: 104 Minutes
“La sangre es la vida, Señor Renfield.”
The Spanish version of Dracula (1931), which was filmed simultaneously to the English language version (at night), but with a different cast, is really cool! Also offered on the previous “Classic Monsters” DVD as an extra, it still features a lengthy (but nice) introduction by Lupita Tovar, who plays Eva, the counterpart to the English version’s Mina, in the film.
In some respects, the Spanish version is spicier, and features better acting from some of the supporting players, but the roles of Dracula (Carlos Villarías), Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena), and Renfield (Pablo Álvarez Rubio) are all portrayed so much better in the English version that I far prefer it. Sorry, but Villarías is no Lugosi, and instead of being creepy and sophisticated, he comes off as dazed and disoriented (or just plain goofy-looking) most of the time. Likewise, Edward Van Sloan was very commanding as Professor Van Helsing, exhibiting the intelligence and toughness required by the role.
As you undoubtedly noticed from the running time, the Spanish Dracula is approximately a half-hour longer than the English version. It is also worth noting that the Spanish version is far more adventuresome, in terms of its camera work, and the print also appears to be a bit better looking than the Browning version of the film. More specifically, the image exhibits far less print flaws than the English version, contrast is better, and blacks appear to be more defined, leading to better shadow detail. While it doesn’t quite kick ass the way Browning’s version does, this is still a good film in its own right, and a must watch for fans!
Running Time: 71 Minutes
In Dracula’s Daughter (1936), we meet up with Professor Von Helsing (whose last name has changed slightly for some reason), right after his run-in with Count Dracula. Unfortunately, the authorities do not believe the Count was an undead creature, so Von Helsing is arrested for his murder. Hey, he said it himself in the original Dracula: “The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him.”
Now in a world of legal trouble, the professor calls on one of his former students, Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) to help him. Understandably, Dr. Garth doesn't believe Von Helsing’s wild story either, but his sense of loyalty intervenes, and he agrees to come his former mentor’s aid anyway. In the meantime, Dracula's lovely daughter, Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), shows up in London to destroy her father's corpse, which she hopes will free her own cursed soul. Unfortunately for Marya, despite returning the Count’s soul to the “dark gods”, she finds that her fate cannot be escaped, so she proceeds to satisfy her need of warm blood – with victims from both sexes!
Desperate for a cure, Marya also seeks help from Dr. Garth, who is still busy trying to keep Dr. Von Helsing out of prison. As she consults with the good doctor, she begins to develop feelings for him. Now only time will tell if Dr. Garth will escape her clutches or be doomed to the same eternal but miserable existence.
Considering the time period in which it was produced and released, Dracula’s Daughter is on the edgy side, with its lesbian undertones and what not. The film also clips along at a faster pace than Dracula did, in large part because Tod Browning was a director who developed his deliberate, atmospheric style doing silent pictures. Although it is not a true classic, and it is probably a bit too melodramatic for its own good, it is still a decent follow-up to Universal’s hugely successful Dracula.
SON OF DRACULA
Running Time: 80 Minutes
To be brutally honest, Son of Dracula, which has a somewhat vague relationship to the previous Dracula films, is marks a sharp decline in the quality of the “series”. In the film, Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), the daughter of a wealthy Southern businessman, invites the Hungarian Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr.) to America for a visit at Black Oak, her father's plantation. However, no sooner does the Count arrive than her father mysteriously dies, and unfortunately, things only get worse for Katherine from there on out.
Specifically, although Katherine is set to marry Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), she begins sneaking around with Alucard after dark, which threatens to put an end to her impending marriage. Acting against the sound counsel of her sister, Claire (Evelyn Ankers), and the family doctor, Harry Brewster (Frank Craven), Katherine persists in seeing the foul thing of the night. Once Frank finally get wind of Katherine's involvement with the Count, he confronts her, but she assures him it is all part of a plan she has conceived.
However, when Count Alucard and Katherine become united in the bonds of matrimony, and Alucard is declared the new head of Black Oak, Frank shows his disapproval of Kathy’s plan by confronting the newlyweds. During this confrontation, things appear to spiral out of control when Alucard attacks Frank, who mistakenly shoots his beloved Katherine while acting in self-defense. Since he believes he has committed murder, Frank surrenders himself to the police, but Katherine is soon seen at Black Oak – no worse the wear from her gunshot wound.
Shortly after this astonishing discovery, Dr. Brewster and Mr. Stanley consult a Hungarian professor named Laszlo (J. Edward Bromberg), and begin to believe that Alucard is not only a vampire, but the offspring of the infamous and evil Count Dracula! Working together, they try to hurriedly unravel the mystery behind Katherine and Alucard's ungodly union, before it is too late to save her soul.
Well, that is the plot, in a nutshell, but how does the film measure up? In my opinion, Son of Dracula is a less interesting and entertaining a film than Dracula's Daughter, and there is absolutely no point in comparing it to the original Dracula. Why you ask? Well, this is only my take on it, but I thought the storyline lacked suspense, and that Lon Chaney Jr. was absolutely horrendous in the role of Alucard, turning in one of the most wooden and flavorless vampire performances ever put on celluloid.
Lastly, although this observation doesn’t really matter, the question as to whether Alucard is really the son of Dracula is never answered. Hmmm….maybe the title was just a cheap attempt to bilk the unsuspecting public into thinking this shoddy film was somehow linked with the timeless original, or even the decent Dracula’s Daughter?
HOUSE OF DRACULA
Running Time: 67 Minutes
Like Son of Dracula before it, House of Dracula (1945) is not exactly a good film, and appears to be yet another attempt to ride on the coattails of the initial round of classic Universal horror films. For one thing, it is an extremely campy film, and tends to generate a lot of unintended laughter with its over-the-top dialogue and “cheesy” nature. Can you say melodrama? After watching this film, I know I can!
I suppose a little melodrama is OK, but this film also suffers from a premise is that it is as simplistic as it is ludicrous. As the film opens, we learn that both Dracula, aka “Baron Latos”, and the Wolfman have traveled (separately) to the “office” of the bizarre Doctor Franz Edelman (Onslow Stevens) to see if they can be cured of their respective curses. Why they choose to seek out this particular individual for assistance is never explained, so we can only assume that they believe he has the capability to cure them of their supernatural afflictions.
In any case, the filmmakers decided that two monsters was just not enough for this train wreck, so they decided to have the Frankenstein monster join in on the fun! Shortly after their arrival, the Wolfman and Dr. Edelman discover the Frankenstein monster in a cave near the castle, in some sort of hibernation. Now inundated with undead patients, the creepy Dr. Edelman tries to restore these ghoulish creatures’ good health (e.g. Frankenstein’s monster is given a dose of electricity). We are not even done yet, as the story even contains the requisite hunchbacked assistant for Dr. Edleman, who is on board to assist him in the rejuvenation of the fiendish trio.
Sadly, Dr. Edelman becomes contaminated by Dracula’s blood while performing research, which transforms him into a cackling madman! Can the doctor treat his own illness, revive the Frankenstein monster, solve the riddle of Dracula, and survive a showdown with the Wolfman. Watch and see…
Summing things up, I found House of Dracula to be too chock full of clichés, and lacking in suspense, tension, or action, to be effective as a horror film. It also has way too many characters in it for such a short film, which means none can be dealt with for any length of time. Basically, what we have here is a “horror” flick in search of some semblance of a more substantial storyline. Hell, even if this film’s content does manage to scare you a bit, the seriously overdone score will most likely sap every ounce of fear right back out of you. Oh, by the way, the monsters simply up and vanish for large portions of this film, which is not a good thing, since it clocks in at barely over an hour.
Oh well, at least fans of Universal horror will be getting their first look at this film on DVD! That has got to count for something, does it not?
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Dracula is presented by Universal in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and it appears that the transfer is the same as what was available in its last DVD incarnation, which means it looks very good for its age. Of course, it goes without saying that the source material of this great old film is not in the best shape, and as a result the picture is too dark in places (spotty contrast) and the image also exhibits a fair amount of flickering throughout the film. Further, there are plenty of scratches, film grain, and specks visible, especially in the sequence where Renfield is traveling towards Castle Dracula.
Obviously, the visual quality of Dracula leaves something to be desired, but this film is now 73 years old, and Universal has actually done a pretty good job of cleaning it up. The scenes in brightly lit interiors look particularly good, with subtle gradations in gray being readily apparent. Clearly, there have been better restorations of films of similar age, like Frankenstein, which is also a part of this “Legacy Collection” series, but I cannot imagine the Count looking too much better than he does here.
Moving along, the wonderful black-and-white cinematography for Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula, and House of Dracula is also faithfully reproduced, with transfers that exhibit consistently solid black levels and fairly well balanced contrast. Since these films are not much “younger” than Dracula, I was anticipating worse image quality and much more print damage.
Happily, only a nominal amount of film grain is present in these films, and though none of the source elements leads to an exceptional transfer, spots, scratches, and flickering are all much less evident than they are in Dracula. Shadow delineation is also far better in these later films. The Spanish version of Dracula also looks quite good, exhibiting far less print flaws and better contrast than its more illustrious English counterpart.
To be sure, there are some flaws here and there, such as some edge enhancement applied to portions of the source material that were of lesser quality, the occasional evidence of pixelization (e.g. the fog-blanketed cemetery in Dracula’s Daughter), and a bit of flickering. Fortunately, none of these issues are too severe, and as was the case with their earlier DVD releases (except for House of Dracula, which is debuting on DVD), it is arguable that these films have never looked better.
While I would have preferred new transfers, especially for Dracula, it is rather unlikely that these films would appear too much better than they already do (especially the later films) without a massive investment. Considering that they already look very good, especially for their age, I can understand Universal opting not to give these films a further visual overhaul.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
For Dracula, the audio has been re-mastered to “restore the clarity of the original recording”, and there are two options: the film with its original score in 2.0 monaural sound or the film with the new Philip Glass score in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although the original track sounds about as good as one could expect, it is no longer the one I will listen to, even though I prefer the original score (slightly). Simply put, the 5.1 track is much clearer, especially when it comes to the score. Hindered by its monaural presentation, the original score sounds very abrasive at times, whereas the Philip Glass score sounds wonderful, and provides a really engaging experience. I know it is not a fair comparison, since the Glass score was recorded with high fidelity equipment in 1999, but it is what it is.
On the 5.1 track, the hissing that is present on the original monaural track is also gone, and the characters’ speech sounds fuller and more vibrant. Indeed, the only quibble I had with the 5.1 audio track is that scenes where the characters are speaking softly, dialogue and effects are slightly obscured by the score. This did not surprise me though, as the original sound elements for Dracula were recorded so long ago, and with far inferior equipment than what is available today. To be sure, even the 5.1 channel track cannot overcome all of the obstacles thrown in its path by the source material, but it is a cleaner mix, slightly less center-oriented and distorted than its predecessor.
For the Spanish language Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula, and House of Dracula we receive very center-oriented Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural mixes that have their share of audible distractions, although dialogue always remains both warm and easily discernable. Really, I was expecting worse given the age of these films. To be sure, these monaural tracks have limited dynamic range, and lose their coherence whenever a lot of sounds occur simultaneously, or during louder passages in the scores, but these problems appear to be inherent in the source material. After all, only so much can be done with audio recordings that are limited by the technology available in the 1930s and 1940s.
Feature Length Commentary
For Dracula, feature length commentary (also available on the previous DVD) is provided by film historian David J. Skal, who is very well informed on all manner of things concerning this film. Better still, Mr. Skal is easy to listen to, and his comments are quite comprehensive. Indeed, after listening to this commentary, fans will know a great deal more about this film, as well as Bram Stoker’s development of the Dracula novel, the historical figure Stoker’s story is based on, and the impact that the film has had on both the horror genre and cinema in general.
What more can I say, other than this is a good track? Indeed, the only real quibble I had with it was a couple of instances where there are prolonged breaks between Skal’s comments. Overall, however, I must say that the sheer amount of insightful information provided for one of my favorite films makes this track well worth a listen. I just wish he had offered an opinion on why there were armadillos in Dracula’s Transylvanian castle…I have been wondering about that for 20 years! Anyone else have a thought on this???
The Road to Dracula
The “Road to Dracula”, which runs 35-minutes, is a very well produced featurette that offers viewers a fascinating look at the creation of what is perhaps the greatest horror film ever made. Hosted by Carla Laemmle (producer Carl Laemmle’s niece), who speaks the first line in Dracula, this featurette treats with a variety of topics pertaining to the creation of Dracula, via interviews with film historians and relatives of the stars/filmmakers. There is also a bit of “lost” footage shown, which apparently was trimmed from the end of the film. On the whole, the “Road to Dracula” compliments the commentary track by David Skal nicely.
This cool bonus feature consists of a wealth of production photos, posters, and sketches of the players in Dracula, some of which are in color (the posters only). Unfortunately, these stills are shown over music, so they cannot be perused individually. Still, there are some very cool photos here, including one of Lugosi in costume puffing on a cigar!
Stephen Sommers on Universal’s Classic Monster: Dracula
In this brief featurette, director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns) discusses the films in the Dracula series and how they have influenced his work, particularly on the upcoming film Van Helsing. There is also an interview with the gentleman cast as Count Dracula, who talks about how hard he worked to put his own spin on a character that has been played many times, and by some wonderful actors no less.
The theatrical trailer for Dracula is included.
The theatrical trailers for Dracula’s Daughter[/i] and Son of Dracula are included.
NOTE: Happily, there are NO “forced” trailers on either disc!!! Hopefully this is a sign of things to come (fingers crossed)…anyway, my thanks go out to Universal for not mucking up this release with forced trailers.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
The Count is back, and he is better than ever, baby! Obviously, the set’s main draw is Dracula (one of my all-time favorite films), which contains Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance of the legendary vampire. As if that is not enough, however, this slickly packaged 2-disc set retains all of the extras from the prior “Classic Monsters” DVD (including the Spanish version of the film), and offers three other films, one of which is debuting on DVD, for essentially the same price as the previous release! In my mind, that makes this “Legacy Collection” edition of Dracula a tremendous value, even though two of the other films really are not all that great!
Oh, and just for good measure the audio for Dracula, which has been re-mastered to “restore the clarity of the original recording”, sounds better than it ever has (if only slightly). If you are a horror fan, make a date with the Count and his offspring on April 27th.…just don’t forget to bring along your wolf’s bane! Very Highly recommended!!!