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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Dracula: The Legacy Collection (1931-1945)

"I never drink...wine."
- Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: July 20, 2004

Stars: Bela Lugosi, Edward Van Sloan, Gloria Holden, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine
Other Stars: David Manners, Dwight Frye, Helen Chandler, Carlos Villarias, Lupita Tovar, Otto Kruger, Irving Pichel, Robert Paige, Louise Allbritton, Evelyn Ankers, Frank Craven, Martha O'Driscoll, Lionel Atwill, Glenn Strange
Director: Tod Browning, George Melford, Lambert Hillyer, Robert Siodmak, Erle C. Kenton

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (vampirism, mild violence)
Run Time: 06h:35m:52s
Release Date: April 27, 2004
UPC: 025192445521
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BBC- B+

DVD Review

The horror boom of the 1930s was ignited with the spark of Dracula, featuring Bela Lugosi. In addition to the handful of sequels that are presented on this collection together with the original, the character became universally known (pardon the pun) through this first talking horror film. Audiences the world over were enthralled, and Universal suddenly found itself with a horror cash cow. Dracula (1931) started it all off with the memorable opening sequence of Renfield (Dwight Frye) going to Castle Dracula, there to be met by the vampire count (Lugosi) and ensnared to his will. Taking a ship to England, the Count and Renfield set up shop vampirizing the local women, though Renfield ends up raving in a mental hospital. Mina (Helen Chandler) is next on the vampire's list when Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) comes to the rescue.

Although the opening is splendidly atmospheric and chilling even to this day, in no small part due to the cathedralic set design and Lugosi's charisma, the last two thirds have a staginess that goes nowhere. That's in part due to the cost-cutting use of Hamilton Deane's stage play, which gives this production a highly static feel. Matters are not helped any by the complete absence of any music except under the main titles. Garrett Fort's screenplay does add some classier elements to Deane's potboiler, including references to Shakespeare and the Bible. There's some dispute as to whether director Tod Browning actually spent much time on the set, or whether cinematographer Karl Freund actually was directing the film. Freund's touch from the German Expressionists can certainly be seen in the early part of the film, but who's responsible for the stagy last part is certainly open to interpretation. There are plenty of little tidbits throughout for the viewer paying attention, such as opossums and armadillos (!) standing in for rats, which were considered to exceed the bounds of good taste.

In the early talkie era, frequently there were simultaneously filmed silent versions and versions in other languages. The Spanish version of Dracula, shot simultaneously at night on the same sets but with a Spanish-speaking cast, has long had a reputation as a lost classic. Although most of the nitrate negative resided in Universal's vaults, the third reel was decomposed and thus the film was seldom seen until a print turned up in Havana. That reel is here reinstated to its proper place, allowing for a candid assessment of a film that had grown to legendary status as being far superior to the Lugosi/Browning version. The cast and crew did have the clear advantage of seeing the rushes of the Lugosi cast before they shot their own takes of the same scenes; while the script is the same, the action is much more vivid and the camera is a good deal more active. Lupita Tovar makes for a terrific heroine, and although Carlos Villarias takes a stab at imitating Lugosi, he doesn't measure up to the one-and-only. Interestingly, his angular face anticipates that of Christopher Lee, who would put on the cape 27 years later. There are some interesting differences, including a shot of a rat in addition to the opossums and armadillos, plus the women get sexier costumes in the Spanish version. The shots have a more expansive feeling to them, with a better view of the classic sets of Castle Dracula and Carfax Abbey. On the whole, it is indeed a better-made picture. One wishes that Lugosi could have appeared in both versions!

Dracula's Daughter (1936) picks up immediately after the end of the first film, with Dr. Van Helsing (Van Sloan again) emerging from the crypt only to find himself under arrest for driving a stake through the Count's heart! Van Helsing relies on his friend Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) to provide the evidence that will free him, but Marya Haleska, the title character (Gloria Holden), is equally determined to prevent this, seeking revenge for Dracula's destruction with the help of her sidekick Sandor (Irving Pichel). This is certainly an interesting concept on the vampire hunter, looking into the repercussions of the deed, something usually glossed over when the curtain falls and the exit music plays. But as far as horror goes, this picture's a pretty serious disappointment. Almost entirely devoid of action, it's just endlessly talky. To top matters off, Van Helsing's fate is never really resolved at all, giving it a half-finished feeling.

Lon Chaney Sr. was supposed to play the vampire in the 1931 film, but died of cancer in 1930 before filming could begin. Lon Chaney Jr. takes on the mantle in Son of Dracula (1943), as the mysterious Count Alucard (ho ho!). The count has come to America for a land full of new and virile blood, summoned by the morbidly-obsessed Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) to be her husband. Her former lover, Frank Stanley (Robert Paige) doesn't take kindly to this, and with the aid of the local doctor (Frank Craven) tries to prevent the vampire's plot and to somehow rescue Katherine. Chaney is a husky fellow, and hardly seems appropriate for the cadaverous count, but this role did allow him to make the unique claim he'd played all four of Universal's great classic monsters at one time or another. There are some odd touches, such as Kay's insistence that "Vampire" is a politically incorrect term and that the preferred term is "Undead." The print here is complete with the war bond tag at the end.

In House of Dracula (1945), the Count (John Carradine) and Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf Man (Chaney again), are seeking cures for their respective conditions from Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens). Edlemann gives blood transfusions to cure Dracula, while a concentrate of mold offers promise both to Talbot and to Edlemann's beautiful but hunchbacked assistant Nina (Jane Adams). Along the way, this motley crew rediscovers Frankenstein's Monster, setting up this last of the monsterfests. Edlemann's transfusions backfire when the vampire's blood contaminates his own, with bad results for just about everyone. The piece feels a bit slapdash, though Stevens is interesting to watch and Carradine's a bit more restrained than usual. There are some interesting uses of shadow, particularly in a chase sequence reminiscent of the closing of M. There's very little continuty with the previous entry, House of Frankenstein (1944), other than a brief mention of that film's Dr. Niemann.

The series was clearly on the ropes by 1945, and all that lay ahead for these classic monsters were predictable romps with Abbott and Costello. House of Dracula was the only film in the series not previously released in Universal's Classic Monsters Collection, and this set will accordingly be a must-buy for classic horror fans, even though it offers little that was not present on the earlier discs, and (as discussed under audio) manages to bungle one aspect of the Lugosi Dracula's soundtrack.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The picture quality varies significantly from film to film. The Lugosi version is a film in desperate need of restoration, and it's too bad that Universal didn't take the opportunity to rescue this film that rescued the studio itself more than once. It looks soft and dupey, tends to be contrasty and suffers from substantial speckling. The grain is extremely heavy throughout. The Spanish version looks excellent (except of course for the substituted third reel, which looks atrocious by comparison, but there's no helping that). There's only modest speckling on this version, with good black levels and a wide greyscale, plus plenty of sharp detail. The remaining films are in pretty good shape, just a notch below the Spanish film in quality. Dracula's Daughter looks practically pristine at times. I'd grade the Lugosi at C-, the Spanish version at A and the balance of the films around B+

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanish (on Spanish Dracula)yes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English (on Lugosi Dracula)yes


Audio Transfer Review: All of the films bear 2.0 mono soundtracks that have prominent hiss and occasionally significant extraneous noise. The Lugosi film also features a separate 5.1 track with music composed by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet. Although the original suffers from not enough music, Glass rather overdoes it and provides music at nearly every moment, ruining the impact of several dialogue scenes. It's an interesting experiment, but it doesn't quite do the job. The sound quality of the quartet is very striking, however, so from a purely technical standpoint it's quite good. There's another problem with the Lugosi film, which on the prior DVD had all three of the death groans of the vampire on the main audio track. Here they've been reduced again to just the one, though the three can be heard on both the commentary and the Philip Glass track. Purists therefore may well want to keep hold of the old disc. The later reels of Dracula's Daughter have an irritating deep bass hum that seems to be electronic in nature.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 90 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian David J. Skal
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: DVD-18

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster and still gallery
Extras Review: Disc 1 carries the Lugosi film, together with a slightly skimpy documentary, The Road to Dracula (35m:01s). Carla Laemmle, niece of studio head Carl Laemmle and the woman who speaks the first lines in the Lugosi version, serves as host for this program that emphasizes the stage roots of the film as well as the influence of Murnau's Nosferatu. The making of the Spanish version is also briefly touched on. Horror historian David Skal contributes another excellent commentary to the feature that covers the literary antecedents, vampire mythology, early film versions as well as the careers of Lugosi and Browning. He also discusses the Spanish film and points out egregious errors in the Browning picture such as a piece of ragged cardboard that keeps showing up on screen. He also describes some scenes that either were cut or were never filmed. It's a pretty thorough presentation between the commentary and the documentary and will satisfy most fans. Disc 1 also contains a Realart reissue trailer and a poster/still gallery with well over a hundred images. Stephen Sommers, director of Van Helsing provides a brief (6m:42s) discussion of the influence of the original films on his picture. It's safely ignored.

Disc 2 is a DVD-18 containing two of the remaining films on each side. Star Lupita Tovar provides a nice little (4m:15s) introduction to the Spanish film, which is the only one of the five that lacks Spanish subtitles. Apparently Universal believes that only English speakers are hard of hearing. Realart reissue trailers for the two films featuring Dracula's progeny are the only other extras, making these other films feel like an afterthought to the set. Except for the Sommers featurette, all of these extras appeared on the first release of these films on DVD by Universal.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A generally good collection of Universal's Dracula films, with some nice extras on the original film, but very little related to the others. The transfers are quite good on everything except the Lugosi film, which needs restoration quite badly.

 


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