Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on May 16th, 2002
“Among the rugged peaks that frown upon the Borgo Pass are found crumbling castles of a bygone age.” Carla Laemmle read these the first words ever spoken in a horror film that featured sound in the opening moments of Dracula. The film was based more on the Broadway play version of Dracula than the famous Bram Stoker novel. Who better to play the Count than the young Hungarian actor who immortalized him on the stage, Bela Lugosi? Lugosi brought more immortality to Dracula than the blood of his victims. Even today over 70 years later the flowing cape, the hypnotic gaze, and the accented “Good Evening” of Lugosi is the image most of us draw upon when we think of Dracula specifically or vampires in general. Tod Browning’s ingenious use of lighting combined with the maniacal laugh of Dwight Frye’s Renfield still manage to be effective.
Count Dracula (Lugosi), a centuries-old vampire, has run out his string in his own Transylvania. He sends for a real estate broker to purchase a home in London where he intends to make his home. He converts the agent Renfield (Frye) into an insect-eating slave and makes his way to London. Dracula is taken with the lovely Mina (Chandler) and is pursued by the knowledgeable Van Helsing (Van Sloan).
Dracula is presented in a digital reconstruction of the original mono. There are obvious defects in the original print that result in several moments of distortion in the sound. Although this audio is not as well done as that of Frankenstein one must remember that it was almost made as a silent film. The highs are harsh and the lows almost nonexistent.
There is a second music soundtrack provided by Philip Glass. The music is overpowering and quite distracting to the film. The original film made use of music only during the credits. Although I found Glass’s music good it did not fit the mood of the film at all.
There is an audio commentary by film historian David J. Skaal, who wrote a compelling book on the history of both Bela Lugosi and this version of Dracula. The commentary is a wealth of information, almost too much at times.
Dracula is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The print is not in good condition, and although Universal obviously worked hard to restore it, the plethora of defects is at times overwhelming. If you look past the damage to the original print the transfer is actually quite good. The blacks are amazingly deep and rich in detail. What is left of the original atmosphere does come through admirably.
This is the best of the Universal Creature Collection in features. The most notable bonus is the Spanish language version of the film. It was shot at the same time as the English version using the same sets and shooting script. The Spanish crew had the sets at night. Carlos Villaries does a good job as Count Dracula. There are some who believe the production values on this film to be superior, and there are moments when that is certainly true.
Another new documentary by David Skaal called “ The Road To Dracula” is about as informative as it is possible to be in an hour. Skaal is the world’s foremost expert on Lugosi and was given generous access to Universal and the Lugosi family archives to create this feature, a true masterpiece in its own right.
There are also the usual collections of stills, production notes, bios, and web links.
My father introduced me to the Universal horror films when I was quite young. We would sit up together and watch Dr. Shock Theatre in Philadelphia, and I fell in love. More than any of the monsters Dracula had a flair that has made quite an impression.If you are already a fan then you simply must own this DVD. You’ll never see a better version. If you have never seen Dracula you owe it to yourself to look at the origins of one of the most filmed characters in movie history. When you play it turn it up a little and “Listen to the children of the night.”