A few words about…™ Dracula (1979) – in Blu-ray

4 Stars

John Badham’s 1979 production of Bram Stoker’s original 1898 masterpiece of horror literature is a very interesting, if imperfect take on the subject.

Especially with Frank Langella in the lead, and Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing. Kate Nelligan makes an interesting Lucy.

Shout Factory has given us two takes on the subject. First the original 1979 film, as released, and then (on a separate disc, Mr. Badham’s desaturated version (1991), which I rather enjoy.

Presumably derived from the same IP, both versions are a pleasure to watch, albeit never fully cleaned of detritus, cob webs and blood spatter.

For those who may have never encountered this version, you’ll find it a worthwhile expenditure of time.

A wonderful score by John Williams.

Image – 4

Audio – 5 (DTS-HD MA)

Pass / Fail – Pass

Recommended

RAH

Published by

Robert Harris

editor,member

51 Comments

  1. Badham muted and desaturated the colors for its DVD release–but the film was acclaimed for its more dramatic hues. So this will be a best-of-both-worlds release, as the original theatrical colors haven't been seen in decades.

  2. Bob Cashill

    Badham muted and desaturated the colors for its DVD release–but the film was acclaimed for its more dramatic hues.

    By whom? Pure black and white would have worked better than this "desaturated" crap. Spielberg can get away with it, but Badham and his DRACULA redux look like crap to me. Sorry, RAH. Great to have debates here!

  3. Dick

    By whom? Pure black and white would have worked better than this "desaturated" crap. Spielberg can get away with it, but Badham and his DRACULA redux look like crap to me. Sorry, RAH. Great to have debates here!

    Seemed more like a rant then a debate to me.

    What is a cow web?

  4. Dick

    By whom? Pure black and white would have worked better than this "desaturated" crap. Spielberg can get away with it, but Badham and his DRACULA redux look like crap to me.

    By whom? By me! 🙂 If this blu hadn't included the desaturated cut I'd have zero interest in it.

  5. Nice to hear from the two of you…I respect your positions. I already have the de-satch version and have kept it for the commentary…now I want to purchase the original. Generally, if a movie is made in color, I want to see color. I get that directors like to manipulate the look and mood of color in order to achieve a particular atmosphere, and that is their right. This goes back at least as far as 1956 with Huston's MOBY DICK (which, of course, looked as it does since its original release). But the altered DRACULA didn't do a thing for me except to piss me off. Same with Friedkin's redux of THE FRENCH CONNECTION. However, as long as the original theatrical appearance is made available, I have no objection to these modified transfers.

  6. Thomas T

    By whom? By me! 🙂 If this blu hadn't included the desaturated cut I'd have zero interest in it.

    But…but, the desaturated version has been out on Blu-ray for five years, surly if you were just interested in that, then you would have bought it by now, & have absolutely no interest in this new release.:)

  7. I saw the first showing of this "Dracula" at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on a July Friday afternoon in 1979. The John Williams credit in the opening titles got a big, unexpected but deserved ovation from the audience. I also remember some grumbling about the reflection of the vampire in the puddle. The film I saw back then did not have any Gorey-ish desaturated look to it and though I understand (and kind of like) the look of the DVD and the older Blu-Ray, I've wished to retire my laserdisc copy in favour of something with better resolution because of the memory of my theatre experience. So I'm in for Scream's 2-disc set, and the additional extras are icing on the de-desaturated cake for this fan.

  8. Revisited the wonderful ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ on Saturday night with my family. In the scene where the simmering volcano of a network chief, Frank Langella, enters the lift with Ed Morrow’s producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney), my daughter said that Frank Langella always terrifies her in every role, yet his commanding screen presence and voice is so mesmerising that she can’t possibly want to look away.

    I agreed with her completely. Can’t believe I still haven’t seen him in this, as Dracula, a role that would seem tailor-made for him based on my daughter’s summation. Shall have to rectify this omission presently.

  9. Billy Batson

    But…but, the desaturated version has been out on Blu-ray for five years, surly if you were just interested in that, then you would have bought it by now, & have absolutely no interest in this new release.:)

    Duh! Of course I have the DVD. 🙂 But it's a film I like enough to upgrade to blu. If it didn't have the desaturated version I would have just stuck with the DVD.

  10. Thomas T

    Duh! Of course I have the DVD. 🙂 But it's a film I like enough to upgrade to blu. If it didn't have the desaturated version I would have just stuck with the DVD.

    Maybe you missed it, but it's been available on blu-ray since 2014.

  11. Thomas T

    Duh! Of course I have the DVD. 🙂 But it's a film I like enough to upgrade to blu. If it didn't have the desaturated version I would have just stuck with the DVD.

    He's not talking about DVD. This film was already released on blu-ray several years ago. The disc discussed in this thread is a re-release special edition by Shout!

    If you only want the desaturated version, you can likely find the old blu-ray for a lower price.

  12. My favorite Dracula film after the 1931 original. I saw it in its original theatrical release and loved the color and was disappointed to see the desaturated home video releases. It has a conflicted history because it was filmed in vivid color but the director requested they desaturate it for home video releases because he had originally wanted it filmed in black and white. I'm very excited for this release and it is nice to have the film in its original form.

  13. Dave H

    I've never seen this and will probably pick it up. I like much of the Hammer types and older classic horrors for that matter.

    It's the complete antithesis of the Hammer films which is one reason why I like it so much. I can't stand the Hammer monster films.

  14. And you will notice the press release states that only the theatrical version is a new 4K remaster. I take it to mean that the desaturated disc is the old master which means those who only care about that version need not bother to upgrade.

  15. Argh! This, done on Broadway before the film with Langella and Edward Gorey's sets, was wonderful (different script). The film they made from it is an entirely different matter. It screws with much vampiric lore to no end. And killing off that major character at the end is like spitting in the eye of the audience. Francis Lederer was a better Dracula!

  16. This is my favorite version of the story, I saw it on TV when I was much too young and the scene where Mina re-appears in the catacombs scared the living *&$% out of me. The scene with… the reflection in the puddle just works so well that it had to stay in, vampire lore or note (I believe the producers are able to explain it away it one of the featurettes). Very much looking forward to seeing the “non-de-saturated” version.

  17. yamato72

    This is my favorite version of the story, I saw it on TV when I was much too young and the scene where Mina re-appears in the catacombs scared the living *&$% out of me. The scene with… the reflection in the puddle just works so well that it had to stay in, vampire lore or note (I believe the producers are able to explain it away it one of the featurettes). Very much looking forward to seeing the "non-de-saturated" version.

    The loss of the "feeling" of that scene is the one I most lamented from the de-saturated version. It can't hold a candle to that scene in full color.

  18. I was also quite scarred as a child by Mina's appearance in the catacombs. It's still one of the most horrific depictions of a vampire on film, as far as I'm concerned. I watched the film several times when it was in heavy rotation on HBO back in the early-80's and each time that scene started, I had to cover my eyes. I rewatched it a couple of years ago via a fan-made version that did a fairly-decent job of "re-saturating" the colors and still enjoyed it, though I can definitely see flaws that went over my head as a child. It has a lot going for it, but the pacing is a little too languid for my tastes. John Williams' score is one of his great ones that has been sadly overlooked over the years. While I know that Badham originally wanted to make the film in black and white to better mimic Edward Gorey's stage scenery designs, I just don't think that the desaturation performed on the film works. It may have worked better had the production originally been designed and shot with black and white (or even minimal color) in mind, but it wasn't. IIRC, Universal put the kibosh on black and white before production started, so everything was designed to be seen in color. The best black and white films chose costumes, paint colors, etc. specifically for how they would look on the monochromatic film stock. Dracula just looks like a color film that has had the colors severely dialed down. That's why I haven't really bothered with watching the black and white versions of some other films that have come out, done seemingly for the sole reason that the directors of these films thought it would be cool to have a black and white version. They weren't designed for black and white, so why bother?

    I have nothing against people who like the desaturated version. Personal taste is relative. I'm just glad that we're finally getting a decent version of the film with its original coloring intact. I've held off buying the film on DVD or Blu-ray until a widescreen version with the original colors came around. At one point, I even looked into buying an old laserdisc of the film until I realized that the only release with the original color was also P&S. To be honest, until Shout announced this set, I had given up on such a release ever happening. This release is a very pleasant surprise and I'm more than happy to throw some coin toward Shout to support it.

  19. When I think of this film, I think mostly of the scene where Mina is discovered in the cave after she is dead and is first revealed in the puddle of water. I never had any trouble with that because it was explained that she wasn't yet a full vampire or something like that. (***SPOILER FOLLOWING***) I also am blown away by the special effects stunt of the spear going through her by Laurence Oliver followed by his howls of anguish at having killed his own daughter. I also concur with Brian Kidd that the production design for this film was designed for brilliant color not de-satured or black and white. I think this is one of the most exciting releases of the year.

  20. warnerbro

    When I think of this film, I think mostly of the scene where Mina is discovered in the cave after she is dead and is first revealed in the puddle of water. I never had any trouble with that because it was explained that she wasn't yet a full vampire or something like that.

    That's always what I assumed as well, though she was pretty "vamped-out" for her not to have been fully-turned. It didn't bother me so much. I look at it like I look at any work containing a creature from folklore in that, although there are certain "rules" that frequently appear concerning their strengths and weaknesses, these often change depending upon the author. Heck, what we now commonly refer to as Zombies, post-Romero, are a far cry from their origins in folklore. There have been so many Dracula films over the years, but very few of them adhere closely to the novel, so I'm willing to give Badham a break on this one.

  21. Brian Kidd

    There have been so many Dracula films over the years, but very few of them adhere closely to the novel, so I'm willing to give Badham a break on this one.

    I feel the same way, Brian, and the sense of overwhelming dread we get we she first appears reflected in that puddle is worth any deviance from "canon," IMO.

    It's the moment in the movie where "shit got real."

    I am so looking forward to this, it can't come fast enough.

  22. Richard Kaufman

    Argh! This, done on Broadway before the film with Langella and Edward Gorey's sets, was wonderful (different script). The film they made from it is an entirely different matter. It screws with much vampiric lore to no end. And killing off that major character at the end is like spitting in the eye of the audience. Francis Lederer was a better Dracula!

    I saw it on Broadway with Raul Julia as Dracula against those black and white Gorey sets and it was amazing. At first I was really psyched about seeing Langella as Dracula, but when the reviews came out, realized it had nothing to do with the Gorey stage production, and lost interest.

  23. I also watched this film a number of times on HBO and even my own VHS taping from that service. Then I bought the widescreen LaserDisc and really tried hard to appreciate the dialed-down color; I tried to see it as an old classic-type horror film with a hint of color, but it never really clicked.

    When the DVD came out, I once again attempted to appreciate the blandness of the director's new version, and I think I only watched it once – and turned up the color to "max" to try to enjoy it. But the DVD's resolution really didn't allow that to be too effective.

    I almost sprang for the older Blu-ray, again hoping that my TV-tweaking would work better at Blu's resolution, but I never did. Now I'm looking forward to the full-color version that's still coming from Amazon.

  24. I love the color in the new release. It has a golden and mauve color scale, but what I don't understand is that it is so soft as to be almost blurry. The desaturated version is razor sharp. Hmm. Don't understand it. It also has an intro by the director John Badham who says they just couldn't decide which version they liked best so they decided to just include both. Huh?! I'd always heard he had wanted to originally film it in black and white and the producers wanted it to be in color, so he had them desaturate the laser disc. The commentary also says the original cinematographer quit because of disputes with Badham during the filming.

  25. warnerbro

    It has a golden and mauve color scale, but what I don't understand is that it is so soft as to be almost blurry.

    I just received mine and can confirm this. The desaturated version appears to remain sharp all the way through, but the theatrical color version gets really soft – almost DVD-soft – at about the 15:40 point, all the way through 35:45. I don't know if this corresponds to the length of "film reels", but it's soft all the way through that section.

    It then appears to be sharp all the way through the rest of the movie. I only skimmed at fast speed, but it all looked sharp.

    Is is possible that Shout/Scream botched one of the reels?

  26. warnerbro

    I love the color in the new release. It has a golden and mauve color scale, but what I don't understand is that it is so soft as to be almost blurry. The desaturated version is razor sharp. Hmm. Don't understand it. It also has an intro by the director John Badham who says they just couldn't decide which version they liked best so they decided to just include both. Huh?! I'd always heard he had wanted to originally film it in black and white and the producers wanted it to be in color, so he had them desaturate the laser disc. The commentary also says the original cinematographer quit because of disputes with Badham during the filming.

    I am Disappointed about the Color Disc 2 PQ. Very soft not Sharp at all. : ( It's like they said ..You want it here it is, take it or leave it. ? : (

  27. Powell&Pressburger

    I agree the Image quality on the theatrical version is just a blah soft looking transfer.

    But it's not the whole thing. The soft/blurry section is only in that one 20-minute stretch from 15:35 to 35:45.

  28. Harry-N

    But it's not the whole thing. The soft/blurry section is only in that one 20-minute stretch from 15:35 to 35:45.

    Yes, this is true. I checked it out last night. The chapters change at those spots where it goes from Sharp to Soft. ?? : (

  29. With the issue of the blurriness on the color version, I've sort-of forgotten my biggest misgivings about this release: the timing. Here we are at Thanksgiving, the official start of the whole Ho-Ho-Ho season, and this "horror" release would have been more at home as an October release. But that's minor. I'm happy it's finally here, but wish it were perfect. Sigh.

  30. i think now that i will put this title on the back burner and buy it before next halloween. maybe Shout Factory will fix by then or i can catch a sale. i'm double dipping on the desaturated version and really am buying again only for the full color version.

    Oooo the money i have spent over the years for your monster movies Universal!!!

  31. Brian Kidd

    That's always what I assumed as well, though she was pretty "vamped-out" for her not to have been fully-turned. It didn't bother me so much. I look at it like I look at any work containing a creature from folklore in that, although there are certain "rules" that frequently appear concerning their strengths and weaknesses, these often change depending upon the author. Heck, what we now commonly refer to as Zombies, post-Romero, are a far cry from their origins in folklore. There have been so many Dracula films over the years, but very few of them adhere closely to the novel, so I'm willing to give Badham a break on this one.

    I could have sworn I read somewhere, or maybe I heard it from an interview with Badham, that the cross falling into the pool of water blessed it, allowing for the reflection revealing the vampire. Creative!

  32. Felix Martinez

    I could have sworn I read somewhere, or maybe I heard it from an interview with Badham, that the cross falling into the pool of water blessed it, allowing for the reflection revealing the vampire. Creative!

    Sounds like a liturgical loophole. 😉

  33. Yes, there is a long blurry section in the color version, but the desaturated version is razor sharp during this same section! I recommend you just turn up your color on the desaturated version. It looks much brighter and sharper. The color version looks like something they found in someone's garage. And why can't Badham reveal who Langella couldn't stand working with? By not revealing it, we might assume the wrong person. He also said Kate Nelligan did not enjoy the experience either and wouldn't comment on it.

  34. warnerbro

    Yes, there is a long blurry section in the color version, but the desaturated version is razor sharp during this same section! I recommend you just turn up your color on the desaturated version.

    I, on the other hand, would recommend making "do" with the "best available" second reel elements on the theatrical since the original colors cannot be reconstructed by turning up the color on the digitally manipulated version. It would be nice if it matched the sharpness of the other disc but, alas, it doesn't. It's still preferable, IMO, to finally have it with the original color timing. I can put up with the softness during the second reel and let my brain correct the issue.

    Shout told us right up front that the color version was scanned at 4k using the best available original elements. This is the result so I'm not sure why people are waiting for Shout to "fix" something that they don't consider a problem and WOULD have fixed it in the first place if they COULD.

  35. The best available original elements, that a bit of a weasel term, so what were they? I'd think it was the interpositive, but then I'd think that they would have used the same interpositive for the original transfer, but everyone was very keen on over sharpening the image up in those days. As for the blurry bit, who knows, maybe it was fixable, but at what price? There is a budget on all this stuff, esp. if Shout paid for it themselves.

  36. Will Krupp

    This is the result so I'm not sure why people are waiting for Shout to "fix" something that they don't consider a problem and WOULD have fixed it in the first place if they COULD.

    When an issue like this is first encountered, one can't tell whether it's an error, a fault in mastering, or what it might be. As this is a discussion forum, it seems like a place to discuss an issue like this.

    If this is the best that can be managed, then I'll ultimately be OK with it. But if it turns out to be some kind of error, isn't it better that it be brought up rather than shoved under the carpet?

  37. Harry-N

    When an issue like this is first encountered, one can't tell whether it's an error, a fault in mastering, or what it might be. As this is a discussion forum, it seems like a place to discuss an issue like this.

    If this is the best that can be managed, then I'll ultimately be OK with it. But if it turns out to be some kind of error, isn't it better that it be brought up rather than shoved under the carpet?

    I certainly never said (or even implied) it should be "shoved under the carpet" and we ARE discussing it. I said that waiting for Shout to "fix" the softness of the second reel, given the disclosure of the pre-release materials, is likely a fool's errand.

  38. I would be happy if Shout at least addressed the issue with a statement. And they still may. I'm very patient. You're probably correct in that there's nothing that CAN be done. But I'd like to hear that from Shout.

  39. I've had a bit of a change of mind about this issue. I had occasion to sit down and actually watch the full color version today and the total experience was better than I'd thought it would be. While the degraded section is a little less sharp, the colors are still vibrant and the movie is still as good as ever.

    I now think my earlier opinions were a bit harsh. Perhaps I've mellowed, but I'm overall happy that I have this release.

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