Dracula appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I thought the transfer came with some problems but it usually seemed satisfying for its age.
Overall, sharpness looked positive. At times, I thought wider shots appeared a smidgen soft, but those examples created only minor distractions. The majority of the flick provided quite good definition. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and I noticed no edge enhancement.
Blacks seemed solid. The film’s many dark shots demonstrated fine depth and contrast looked positive. Low-light shots occasionally seemed a little murky, but they usually offered acceptable to good delineation. As I anticipated, source flaws distracted, but they remained within reasonable levels for a movie from 1931. I mostly saw a mix of specks, blotches and lines. Though these took away from the viewing experience to a degree, they never harmed it, especially since we must expect them from such an old flick. Despite the various issues, I thought Dracula looked perfectly solid.
I also felt the monaural soundtrack of Dracula held up acceptably well for its age. The biggest distraction came from background noise. Though without clicks and pops, the audio suffered from a hissiness that could be rather loud. Nonetheless, the source noise was well within the levels expected for a movie of this one’s vintage, so I had no complaints about that side of things.
The rest of the mix was fine given the flick’s vintage. Speech showed a thin, trebly side but was perfectly acceptable and lacked significant edginess or other flaws. The original soundtrack featured almost no music; films of the day generally didn't offer scores, so we only hear music to accompany the opening credits and also in a theater scene. Effects were a bit harsh but didn’t suffer from significant distortion. I felt that the audio represented the original mix in an appropriate manner.
How did the picture and sound of this “75th Anniversary Edition” of Dracula compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? Both showed notable improvements. The new transfer was substantially cleaner than its predecessor, and it also boasted improved sharpness and shadow detail. The audio cleaned up matters as well. The old track was a noisy mess, while this one seemed more natural. The 2006 DVD definitely acted as a step up when compared to its 1999 predecessor.
This “75th Anniversary Edition” of Dracula offers extras found on the prior DVD as well as some new ones. I’ll mark elements exclusive to this set with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, then that component already showed up on the old disc.
We open on DVD One with two separate audio commentaries. We first hear from film historian David J. Skal, as he offers a running, screen-specific chat. I found this piece helpful but not tremendously compelling. Skal covers the basics well and gives us a nice overview of the film's creation and history, but it simply wasn't as interesting as the much better commentaries from the two Frankenstein films and The Wolf Man. Still, it's worth a listen.
We also get a commentary from *film historian/Dracula: Dead and Loving It screenwriter Steve Haberman. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion that looks at the same kinds of production and cast and crew elements covered by Skal, but Haberman also offers his comparison between the English and Spanish versions of the flick. He strongly prefers Tod Browning’s English edition and tries to convince us that he’s right.
I don’t agree, and I think he too easily dismisses the Spanish version. However, it’s interesting to hear his rationale, and he provides a spirited look at the production’s ins and outs. Again, much of this becomes redundant after Skal’s track, as both men detail the flick’s path to the screen. Haberman does it better, though. He offers more depth and less down time. Haberman creates a satisfying track that’s probably the superior of the two.
More info appears in *Monster Tracks, a subtitle commentary. It covers basic facts about the film’s production and its various participants. Given all the info that appeared during the two audio commentaries, it becomes inevitable that quite a bit of redundant material appears. Nonetheless, “Monster Tracks” covers the movie in a satisfying manner and creates a good synopsis.
Next find a 35-minute documentary called The Road to Dracula. The Skal-produced program is hosted by Carla Laemmle, niece of producer and Universal founder Carl Laemmle - and also an actress who appears in one of Dracula's opening scenes. It mixes archival elements and interviews; we hear from Skal, author/filmmaker Clive Barker, film historians Scott MacQueen, Ronald V. Borst, Lokke Heiss, Ivan Butler and Bob Madison, Rosenbach Library and Museum’s Michael Barsanti, author Nina Auerbach, Universal Studios Archives and Collections director Jan-Christopher Horak, playwright’s son John Balderston, makeup artist Rick Baker, writer/director Gary Don Rhodes, actor Lupita Tovar Kohner, Bela Lugosi’s friend Richard Gordon, and actors’ sons Dwight D. Frye and Bela G. Lugosi.
It makes for an interesting discussion of the film's history, though it's a fairly undistinguished piece, and one that suffers from more of that inevitable redundancy; as our fourth look at the flick, it can’t avoid repetition of many facts. Still, some new info does appear. For instance, the documentary indicates there actually is a fourth version of Dracula from 1931: since at that stage, many theaters were not yet wired for sound, an alternate English edition intercut title cards for all the dialogue. The program does not mention if a Spanish release did the same.
DVD One finishes with *Lugosi: The Dark Prince. This 36-minute and five-second documentary includes remarks from Haberman, Gordon, biographer Gregory William Mank, director Joe Dante, author/screenwriter Peter Atkins, author/film critic Kim Newman, screenwriter Christopher Wicking, film historians/authors Sir Christopher Frayling and Darryl Jones, author Ramsay Campbell, screenwriter/director Jimmy Sangster, and author/editor Stephen Jones. I figured that “Prince” would provide a standard biography of Lugosi, but instead, it concentrates on the actor’s work on Dracula and his subsequent career. The latter elements are the most interesting since the former material gets covered pretty thoroughly in the prior commentaries and programs. Too much of “Prince” comes across as a simple appreciation of Lugosi, though, so it doesn’t present a lot of facts. Nonetheless, it’s good to see clips from Lugosi’s career, and we learn a reasonable amount about him.
One thing I noticed as I watched these snippets: Lugosi bore a stunning resemblance to Robert De Niro at times. They don’t look a ton alike, but some of Lugosi’s expressions really remind me of De Niro.
Over on DVD Two, the main attraction comes from the Spanish version of Dracula. Since I already discussed it during the body of my review, I’ll not say any more here other than that we get a four-minute and 15-second Introduction by actress Lupita Tovar Kohner. She gives us her memories of the production and her co-workers. It’s really a short interview, not an intro, but it’s interesting.
The Poster Montage offers the usual conglomeration of film posters, lobby cards, and both production and publicity photos but it does so in an unusual manner. Normally these would appear as still frames, but in this case, the entire program runs as a video, with pans in and out from different images, and all accompanied by music. I like this presentation; it may ultimately be a little more awkward than the usual frame-by-frame access, but it shouldn't be a problem so one can easily fast-forward through the show, and I think the addition of the audio makes it a more dynamic and involving process. The total running time goes for a little more than nine minutes.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, DVD Two finishes with a documentary entitled *Universal Horror. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, this one-hour, 35-minute and 16-second program includes notes from Skal, Tovar, author Ray Bradbury, Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara, collector/historian Forrest Ackerman, art director Ben Carre’s widow Anne, author/screenwriter Gavin Lambert, Dracula script girl’s son Nicholas Webster, biographer James Curtis, film historian George Turner, director Curtis Harrington, screenwriter Curt Siodmak, and actors Nina Foch, James Karen, Carla Laemmle, Gloria Stuart, Fay Wray, Gloria Jean, Turhan Bey, Rose Hobart, and Arianne Ulmer Cipes.
As implied by the title, “Horror” mostly concentrates on the flicks made by Universal in the 1920s and 1930s. In an odd choice, however, it occasionally discusses successful non-Universal films of the era like King Kong. Due to its scope, the discussion of the various movies remains superficial, but the show creates a generally satisfying view of the subject matter. It becomes an enjoyable overview of the “classic” era of horror movies.
Does this set lose anything from the prior Dracula release? Yes, though not much. It drops some cast and crew biographies as well as some production notes for both the English and Spanish versions of the film.
Despite its status as a classic, I have to admit that I'm not wild about Dracula. However, I did really enjoy the Spanish version of the film made simultaneously; it offers a very creepy and exciting rendition of the story. The DVD provides dated but generally good picture and audio along with a fine roster of supplements. Overall, I feel very pleased with this excellent release.
Should fans who already own the original 1999 release pick up this 2006 “75th Anniversary Edition”? Yeah, I think they should. The newer release provides substantial picture and audio improvements, and it also throws in a few good new extras like a consistently involving audio commentary. It goes without saying folks who possess no Dracula on DVD definitely will want to go with this one.