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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Tod Browning
Cast:
Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston, Frances Dade
Writing Credits:
Bram Stoker (novel), Hamilton Deane (play), John L. Balderston (play), Garrett Fort

Tagline:
The story of the strangest passion the world has ever known!

Synopsis:
The legend of Dracula continues in this gripping, masterful 2-disc edition of cinema's most ominous vampire, digitally remastered for the 75th Anniversary Edition. Relive the horror, the mystery, and the intrigue of the original 1931 vampire masterpiece starring Bela Lugosi and directed by Tod Browning. The inspiration for hundreds of subsequent remakes and adaptations, this classic film launched the Hollywood horror genre with its eerie passion, shadowy atmosphere, and thrilling cinematography. The children of the night are calling ...

Box Office:
Budget
$355 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French

Runtime: 75 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 9/26/06

Bonus:
DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian David J. Skal
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian/Dracula: Dead and Loving It Screenwriter Steve Haberman
• “Monster Tracks” Subtitle Commentary
• “Lugosi: The Dark Prince” Featurette
• “The Road to Dracula” Documentary
• Philip Glass Score Performed by the Kronos Quartet
DVD Two:
Dracula Spanish Version with Introduction by Lupita Tovar Kohner
• “Universal Horror” Documentary


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RELATED REVIEWS


Dracula: 75th Anniversary Edition - Universal Legacy Series (1931)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 4, 2008)

Right off that bat I'll warn you: this is going to be a slightly oddly constructed review. That's because Universal's DVD release of 1931's Dracula is a very unusual disc, and my reaction to its contents compels me to address it in an atypical manner.

Normally I'd start my review with a discussion of my reactions to the film itself, and that indeed is what I will do, but the movie I'll describe may not be the one you expect. This DVD includes two full-length versions of Dracula (actually, three, but more about that later). One of these is the famous Bela Lugosi picture directed by Tod Browning, which is the movie most people think of when they hear the name "Dracula".

However, another version of Dracula also appeared in 1931, and it bears an awful lot of similarities to the better-known edition. Cheap rip-off? On the contrary - it's actually a companion piece made by Universal as well. Back before dubbing into foreign tongues was typical, studios would sometimes make entirely different versions of films that would be shot in another language. This second Dracula used the same sets and essentially the same script, except it featured a different cast and crew and is entirely in Spanish. The English film shot during the day and the Spanish crew took over at night.

Normally one might regard this alternate version of Dracula as nothing more than bizarre curiosity, a cheap thrill that can't compare to the English edition, especially since the latter is considered such a classic. However, one would be way off base if one thought that way. Not only is the Spanish Dracula a competent piece of film, I think it's vastly superior to its more famous brother.

Almost everything about the Spanish film tops the English one. The movie runs for almost an extra half of an hour, and director George Melford makes good use of that time. While none of the scenes added to the Spanish edition seem crucial, they nicely flesh out the piece and make it feel more complete. Even before I watched this version I felt that the English Dracula appeared choppy and rushed; seeing a more full film made the pacing of the English edition even more problematic.

Ironically, although the Spanish version is almost 40 percent longer, it seems to go by much more quickly than the English film and actually felt like a shorter movie. I occasionally grew impatient or bored during the English Dracula; as it plodded along, I kept waiting for something to happen that would spark some suspense or excitement, but those instances were pretty rare.

Not the case in the Spanish version, which may feature mostly the same scenarios and sets but seems much better executed. Take two early examples to see what I mean. First, compare our introductions to the Count himself. The English edition abruptly jettisons him from his coffin; we start to see him emerge and there he is! In the Spanish film, however, Drac's appearance comes about more slowly and eerily; a much greater air of mystery and suspense is maintained.

Even more glaring is the difference in the scene that takes place during Dracula's boat voyage to England. Both feature carnage, but the English film simply depicts Drac's release from his coffin (by Renfield) and the aftermath. In the Spanish edition, the scene remains similar except one wonderful touch is added: we watch Renfield and his maniacal laughter as he witnesses the violence. It may not sound like much, but it makes the entire scene much scarier and more compelling.

In the Spanish Dracula, little touches abound that add to the film's atmosphere. Sound effects are used more skillfully. For example, doors creak open ominously, while they just open in the English film. The list of differences is long, and virtually all of them favor the Spanish edition.

For the most part, the Spanish cast offers much better acting than the English performers. Of the five main performers, I think two of the Spanish actors are much better, one's a little superior, another's a draw, and only one is inferior. That latter role is Dracula himself. Bela Lugosi remains the definitive Count not just because he was first (which he wasn't) – he was the best. His combination of menace, charm and creepiness made him perfect for the role.

His Spanish counterpart, Carlos Villarias, does a decent job as Dracula but he doesn't approach Lugosi. Villarias' Count has the charm down pretty well, but he can't muster much terror. Whenever Villarias - who bears a certain resemblance to Nicolas Cage - tried to look scary, I thought he just looked goofy and semi-psychotic; there's a disturbed look in his eyes that seems more appropriate to Renfield.

Speaking of whom, Renfield is one of the two roles that I definitely prefer in the Spanish film. English-speaker Dwight Frye was a solid actor who made his Renfield (and other spooky parts) memorable, but he was pretty hammy as well, and I thought he made the character seem too cartoonish; that silly laugh of his was unusual but it didn't work for me.

On the other hand, Pablo Alvarez Rubio turns Renfield into a much more believable person. With Frye, you get the impression he was always like that, but Rubio creates a more effective transition in the character. Renfield spends much of the movie battling his urges and wishes to regain his humanity - he knows what he does is wrong but he's too weak to stop himself. That sense of pain comes through much more clearly in Rubio's performance, and he gives Renfield's more lucid moments greater heft and reality.

Also superior to her English counterpart is Lupita Tovar as Eva, who completely outdoes the milquetoast Helen Chandler's Mina. (Most of the characters in the Spanish version either retained their English names or altered them slightly - as for "Juan" Harker or "Lucia" - but this name has been completely changed for some unknown reason.) Chandler is so dull that you think zombies beat the Count to her; she barely registers in all of her screen time, and I couldn't help but wonder why Drac was so drawn to such a dud.

In the Spanish film, we get a better idea of the attraction. Tovar provides a full-blooded and well-rounded portrayal of Eva. She's believable at all times, whether as proper young lady or as lusty vampire-to-be. The difference between the two actresses comes out most clearly in those latter instances. Chandler can handle acting like a priss; she just has no idea how to display other emotions. Tovar made Eva come to life, and we really see the changes through which she's gone during the scene with Harker in which it becomes most clear that she's on her way to undead status. Never for a second did I buy Chandler's "transformation", but Tovar makes it convincingly real.

Speaking of Harker, Argentinean Barry Norton slightly tops the work done by David Manners in the English version. Harker remains a terribly flat and dull character - I don't think any Dracula has made him seem otherwise - but at least Norton creates a bit more passion in the part; I found his love for Eva more convincing and true. The only drawback to Norton is that the guy looked like he was about twelve-years-old (he was actually 25).

The one part I find to be a toss-up is that of Professor Van Helsing. Overall I think Eduardo Arozamena to be a more natural and honest actor, but Edward Van Sloan scores points just because he looks better in the role; he seems a lot closer to my idea of Van Helsing, unlike the kind of tubby and unimposing Arozamena. Both men are good actors, though, so both work well.

While I clearly prefer the Spanish version of Dracula to its English counterpart, as I noted earlier, there's actually a third version of the film on this DVD. That would be the English version with a new score written by Phillip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet. (During the period, most movies didn't feature actual scores.) Although the Glass work is not terrific, I must admit that I prefer the version with its music to the score-less edition. I just don't find Browning's Dracula to be a very effective film, and the music at least adds a layer of tension and atmosphere to the experience. For the Spanish version, I wouldn't have wanted any changes, but the much less compelling English film needs the help.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus A

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main