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"Dracula: The Legacy Collection"
Reviewed by: Wayne A. Klein
Genre: Horror
Video: Full Screen 1.33:1 Black and White
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono) and 5.1 Surround Mix for Philip Glass music score
Languages English
Subtitles English
Length 398 minutes
Rating NR
Release Date 4/27/04
Studio Universal Home Video
Commentary: By film historian David Skal on "Dracula"
Documentaries: "The Road to Dracula"
Featurettes: None
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Original theatrical trailers
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: None
Other: New music score for "Dracula" by Philip Glass; Introduction to Spanish "Dracula" by star Lupita Tovar; original posters, photo gallery
Cast and Crew: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chantler, Dwight Frye Lon Chaney, Jr., Evelyn Ankers, John Carradine, Onslow Stevens, Gloria Holden, Otto Kruger, Edward Van Sloan, Carlos Villaris, Lupita Tovar
Written By: Garrett Ford, John L. Balderston, Hamilton Deane, Baltasar Ferandez Cue, Edward T. Lowe, Jr.
Produced By: Carl Laemmle, Jr, Paul Malvern
Directed By: Todd Browning, Lambert Hilyer George Melford, Enrique Tovar Alovas Erle C. Kenton
Music: Philip Glass, William Lava, Heinz Roemheld
The Review:

Whether it be sinking his teeth into another victim or having a stake driven through his heart, Bram Stoker's character Dracula continues to fascinate even today. First adapted in 1921 (illegally)as the German film "Nosferatu", the source material allowed Z-Movie producers and directors to churn out dozens of bad movies. None of these films, though, have ever quite captured the audience impact of the original English version starring Bela Lugosi. Lugosi, in fact, played the role so well he was typecast in horror films despite his training on the stage in his native Hungary. Lugosi played in films on one other occasion for "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein". The role made his career and pushed him into the ghetto of horror films for years to come. ***

Despite Todd Browning's stilted and static direction, the 1931 English version of "Dracula" can still be occasionally effective and creepy. Luckily, though, the Spanish language version gets the royal treatment as well. Shot at the same time on a swing shift schedule, this version surpasses Browning's and provides far more serious chills despite the limitations of the time. With an entirely different cast and director, the Spanish version looks markedly different from Browning's film with a number of notable sequences that were better shot and edited. ***

Also included is the blood relation "Dracula's Daughter". The film focuses on a Countess who continue the family tradition of blood letting. The imaginative sequel was suggested by David O. Selznick (under a nom de plume) and Stoker's story "Dracula's Guest". The direction by Hilyer provides subtle pleasures but lacks the fire that a James Whale or Robert Siodmak might have given it. ***

The Dracula franchise lay dormant until Robert Siodmak's fine "Son of Dracula" with Lon Chaney, Jr. taking on the Count. Chaney gives a pretty solid although mannered performance. What matters, though, is Siodmak's atmospheric direction and the fine production design produced on a very small budget. With a solid script from Siodmak's brother Curt (who also wrote a number of other Universal horror films), "Son of Dracula", despite its limited budget, comes across much more effectively than later the first film and the last. ***

Finally we get "House of Dracula" the grand finale for the Universal horror monsters (with the exception of the Mummy and the Invisible Man). Overcoming a low budget and the franchise formula, "House of Dracula" has its moments. Although the horrible trio would appear in one more film ("Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein") this really became their sawn song. Onslow Stevens plays a scientist who believes he can cure both Dracula (John Carradine) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.) of their afflictions. Unfortunately, Dracula insists continuing with his deep hickeys and sucking blood for a living. Believing that science, not superstition, will save his patients he cures the Wolfman. When the doctor tries to cure Dracula using his own blood for transfusions, Dracula taints the good Dr.'s blood with his own turning him into a mad scientist. The Dr. remains in control long enough to put Dracula out of everyone's misery but then turns revives the Frankenstein Monster long enough to raise havoc. ---

Image and Sound:

All five films look particularly sharp although I was most impressed by the restoration done for the Spanish version of "Dracula". The image sharpness and resolution turned out to be much better than I expected given the age of the films involved. The black and white cinematography occasionally looks a bit muddy but, again, that's probably due more to the source of the films than the actual transfer itself. ***

The outstanding, unusually creepy Philip Glass score lends extra atmosphere to Browning's 1931 "Dracula". This isn't anything new, though, as it was available on the previous DVD edition of the film. The sound varies quite a bit from average to pretty good depending on the age of the film and the restoration of the soundtrack improves the clarity of the sound for most of the movies. ---

The Extras:

The documentary "On The Road to Dracula" actually appeared on a previous DVD edition of "Dracula" so it's nothing new although it's a welcome addition to this set. We get quite a few vintage and more recent interviews including the grandson of Dwight Frye (who played Renfield in the 1931 Lugosi version of "Dracula"), Bela Lugosi, Jr. on the legacy and difficulties faced by his father particularly later in life when his addiction to morphine helped derail the rest of his career. Including film historians such as Skal and MacQueen on the impact of "Dracula" had on audiences, the film industry and the performers provides insight into a world long gone. It's a pity that Universal chose not to do any other featurettes about the remaining films as, no doubt, their archives are filled with interesting production notes and various versions of scripts. ***

We also get a glimpse behind the scenes of Steven Sommers' reinvention of the Universal horro monsters in the film "Van Helsing". The featurette will wet fans appetite for Sommers' breezy feature. Although it's nothing more than a glorified commercial , it's a pretty good one. ***

The inclusion of trailers for most of the films also adds value particularly for those who value older films. These trailers were melodramatic and wonderfully over-the-top. They acted as the perfect enticement to kids, teenagers and adults for these types of films. It's a lost art and looking back at these trailers provides us with a glimpse into the past. The photo gallery and original poster art round out a set that has considerably less in the way of extras compared to "Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection".

Commentary: David Skal's commentary track appears for the second time on this reissue of "Dracula". I personally also would have liked to see Skal provide a commentary track for the Spanish version of "Dracula" as well as "Dracula's Daughter". Skal provides a number of interesting insights and bits of trivia about the making of the film. ---
Final Words: As undead as ever, "Dracula" returns with four sibling films in hopes that fans will fly out to purchase this second set. Including the previously unavailable "House of Dracula", "Dracula: The Legacy Collection" provides an entertaining alternative to the living dead of reality television. The extras although leaner than on the "Frankenstein" collection, are considerable considering the price of the set.

 

 
 
 
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