In the late 1800's, Bram Stoker created a character on paper that has remained unequalled in cinematic draw. Dracula, the name itself conjures notions of broken down battlements and dark dank locales. Not too mention, fear, loathing & most lethal, fascination! The story goes like this: An English Solicitor (attorney) is on his way to Transylvania to ink the deal on a massive sale of English property, Carfax Abbey to be specific. His instructions are simple & succinct. Once he arrives in Transylvania, he is to press on to Borgo pass where, the buyers' coachmen will take him the rest of the journey onto Castle Dracula. However, when Renfield (Dwight Frye) reaches Transylvania, he is beset upon by villagers and townspeople who beg him not to travel further. It seems that if he could at least wait until dawn their fears for his safety would be allayed. Ever the professional, Enfield presses on to Borgo Pass. When he arrives, the hour is quite late and the coachmen, throws his bags to the ground and leaves in a terrible hurry. Unable to fathom their strange behavior, he hardly has time to reflect when out of the darkness comes a black coach borne by black steeds. It would appear that his ride has arrived. With not a word of exchange, he is ushered into the coach and carried off to meet his mysterious host. Upon his arrival, Enfield enters the castle only to find it in terrible shape. For all intents and purposes, it would appear that no one has lived here for ages yet; the Count calls this place home…at least for the time being. As if out of the night air, The Count appears and descends the massive stairway in the center of what must have been a great hall. When at the mid point of the stairs he announces " I am Dracula, I bid you welcome"! Unaware of the terrible danger he is in, Enfield accepts the Count's hospitality and retires to his room. The count joins him to peruse the documents of the sale and offers Enfield a glass of "very old wine". Again, we are treated to words that have taken their rightful place in infamy as Enfield offers to pour the Count a glass…"I never drink…wine". In all that he does, the Count is cloaked in mystery and foreboding. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on where you stand, Enfield never figures it out until it is everlastingly too late. The story of Dracula is one that has been told countless times and not always tastefully. Herein is the fountainhead of all the versions that followed. Universal's Dracula is a masterpiece in every regard. The acting, set design and special effects were all cutting edge for 1931 and Bela Lugosi crafted a role that has never been equaled. There are many pretenders to the throne but none can surpass, the timeless mastery of this unparralled classic!
This newly restored edition carries three versions of this incredible film. The first is the film as it's always been seen. Cleaned up and the audio has been boosted provided a wonderful mono aural experience. The second version is the film presented with Phillip Glass's original score produced solely for this release. Upon my initial viewing, I found his score more distracting than anything else however, after repeat viewing, I found that it offered a twinge of nostalgia to the film that was always there. Glass's score merely amplifies the already eerie feel of the picture. While the audio is still in mono, the newly creates score is in 5.1. I still think that at times it can be too much for the presentation. And it still renders the main characters as sound bites in a "sampled" piece of music. Once you get past that, it does add another element of enjoyment to the film. Make no mistake, if it's still not your cup of tea or …er whatever, you can watch the film with it's original Spartan soundtrack. Lastly, the Spanish version of the film is included starring Lopitha Tovar and Carlos Villarias. I don't care how many times I watch it hearing Villarias say "Soy Dracula" is worth the price of admission! While the flavors are different, the spirit is the same. There is a bit more "Life" in the Spanish version but more on that later. The audio for the Spanish version is presented in it's original mono as well. The video for the three varies only on the Spanish version. The American version is full of flecks and scratches that seem to be more evident than I remember ever seeing them. It could be because the black level on the remastered version was brought up and everything else can be very easily seen. If memory serves, the B&W editions prior to this were not nearly as dark and defined. The print itself is full of scratches, hairs and flecks however; it can't detract from the film's overall attraction & performance.
Another Bravo for Universal's efforts concerning these much-loved classics! Carla Laemmle, the niece of the studio head at that time, Carl Laemmle, 30-minute retrospective hosts the Road To Dracula. All I can say is it covers everything on this film and does it in a wonderful way. There are photos and publicity materials included from all over the globe that play under the score of the film. David Skal gives the commentary provided. His knowledge of all things monstrous is fabulous. However, his commentary tracks leave something to be desired. They come off like all the other tracks in this series, like they are being read. All the inflection just sounds like it's coming from a book as opposed to his actual first/second hand knowledge of the information at hand. Great information, poor execution. 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 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.
From Coppola's Dracula to Hammer's and Andy Warhol's twists on the theme, they all got their inspiration from the one and only Bela Lugosi! This is a classic in every sense of the word. Langella did it well, Lee was masterful, Oldman was inspired but Lugosi was the best! Just pick this one up, you won't be disappointed…"Now, I say"-Count Dracula 1931 Collector's series