Reviewed August 21st, 2000 by Chuck Arrington
I mean really, does this film really need any introduction?
Deep in the recesses of the Carpathian Mountains, a wealthy nobleman awaits the unsuspecting English Solicitor, Renfield. Like the spider to the fly, the trap is set & the prey willingly walks into the clutches of the master of the un-dead! Dracula! No other name does what this one does when called on a lonely windblown cove just after sunset! This is THE quintessential version of this literary classic! Bela Lugosi’s performance as the Count is definitely the shadow in which all later performances have stood. Death to him is life, Blood his only sustenance, the grave his only home. In an attempt to spread his essence abroad, he travels to England where he takes up residence in the dilapidated Carfax abbey on Whitby Island. It is there that he involves himself with the hoi polloi of society. They find him charming yet mysterious, he finds them easily manipulated & quite delicious! Wherever he travels, death soon follows. The Lord of the Undead has found new “life” in England & he intends to make the best of his stay.
The story of Dracula has been told & re-told hundreds of times in various machinations. While Hammer films created some of the most memorable & graphic incarnations, Universal’s 1931 classic remains the pinnacle to which all others have attempted to achieve.
Another treat on this DVD release is the Spanish version of Dracula. Filmed on the very same stages yet at night, this version is in some estimations better than Lugosi’s Dracula. While I love both of the films, Carlos Villarias cannot hold a candle to Lugosi’s interpretation. Now, in his defense, Villarias is very good! Overall, the Spanish version is a better film than Universal’s Lugosi entrance, primarily because the feel of the Spanish version is wholly different than that of the Universal version. It’s as though you’re watching two different movies altogether! Watch both of them & make your own decision but, I think you’ll love them both as I do!
The Audio is presented in Dolby Digital remastered 2 channel Mono. There is nothing wrong with the platform as it’s presented in the way I’ve always heard it. No sub activity & no surround, just good old-fashioned mono audio! As an added bonus, The Kronos quartet recorded new “atmospheric” music for Lugosi’s Dracula. In some places it’s a very welcome addition, while in other places it’s very distracting. The film’s original score is relatively absent throughout the feature. The newer score is conversely all over the film & it makes it a bit much to take at times. The most notable problems are that the newest score is way too clean making the language track on the feature sound more like a sound bite in a current “sampled” song as opposed to being an integral part of the film. Additionally, the new score has a tendency to be too loud for the film. While the score never muddies the audio/language track, it isn’t at helped by its presence either. In all, there are elements of the Kronos score that are really neat however; on the whole, I prefer the film without the new orchestration.
The video is without a doubt the best Dracula-1931 has ever looked! Keeping in mind, the scratches, flecks & hairs have largely been removed however, there were some stragglers! Nothing short of an absolutely horrible transfer could ruin the look of this film. That having been said, the transfer is not that bad. It looks much better than the VHS versions I’ve owned & far better than anything on cable or satellite. So in all, it’s a good transfer of an excellent movie. Full Frame & Black & white in all!
The extras are incredible! The most awesome extra is the “Road to Dracula”. A thirty-minute retrospective hosted by Carl Laemmle’s niece, Carla. It covers everything you’d ever want to know about Universal’s Dracula, Lugosi & the Spanish Version. Next is the poster & photomontage. All the publicity materials for the film are presented with the film’s original score playing over the images. They are in such good shape it’s remarkable that they’ve survived this long! Production notes, cast & filmmakers bios, the trailer & web links round out the balance of the special features. Lastly, a commentary by film historian David Skal is provided. His insights on Dracula & the Universal house of horror are incredibly detailed & very interesting. The problem is his commentary for the film is incredibly boring. It probably would have helped had he spoken about the film in a casual manner, rather than by reading his notes for the entire commentary.
The only extra for the Spanish version is an introduction by Lopita Tovar, The Spanish, Helen Chandler if you will! She does a great job re-telling the tales of production & the intricacies involved in the actual filming. She describes a difference in the filming due to the night shoots as well as the relaxed atmosphere brought about by the censors allowing her to show a bit more skin than Helen chandler! The result is a more sensuous & charged feature given these allowances.
Overall, I have loved all of the Universal monsters ever since I was a child. It’s something of a family tradition to watch all of the films from Thanksgiving to Christmas & all year round as well! Dracula in particular has been a favorite of mine for the past 20+ years! While I am a tremendous fan of Christopher Lee’s interpretation, Lugosi is the one that made it all possible! Dracula is an incredible piece of filmmaking that introduced the vampire to a legion of soon to be American fans! In 1928 Max Schreck terrified Germany as the evil & rat like, Count Orlock. Later came, Lee in Hammer films interpretation, Peel, Carradine, Langella, & of most recent note, Gary Oldman in The film that had the least to do with Bram Stoker’s novel- Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”.
With all of these different flavors added to the original vampiric mix, one stands out as the clear leader & that’s 1931’s Dracula starring Bela Lugosi! Technically, it must be said that the Spanish version is a better film in almost every regard. Primarily due to the fluidity within the script as demonstrated by the actors. The Spanish Renfield has to be seen to be believed! He’s just as good as Dwight Frye IMHO. In any event you have them both on the disc & you can judge for yourself, whose version is the better!
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