Produced and directed by Dan Curtis (probably best known for bringing Dark Shadows to life) and written by none other than the great Richard Matheson, this 1974 take on Bram Stoker's Dracula begins in the late 1800's when Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) voyages to Hungary at the behest of his employer to visit Count Dracula (Jack Palance). As he nears his destination he pays now heed to the fact that the natives seem more than just a little anxious when they learn where he's going and who he's going to visit, and upon his arrival he's greeted by the Count himself. They sit down to dine but the Count is very anxious to see photographs of the properties that Harker's employer have deemed suitable for him. He plans to relocate to England and he finds that a property not too far from Harker's own residence will be quite suitable. He also seems unusually obsessed with a photograph that Harker has brought along for the journey depicting an image of he and his wife Mina (Penelope Horner) with their friends Arthur (Simon Ward) and his fiancé Lucy (Fiona Lewis). That night, things get odd for Harker. Dracula wants him to stay for a month and becomes quite demanding of him. When Harker is attacked by Dracula's three female companions (Virginia Wetherell, Barbara Lindley and Sarah Douglas) the Count saves him but mentions that he wasn't finished with him yet. Harker later finds the Count sleeping in a coffin but before he can take him, he's attacked by a servant.
A few weeks later, a ship arrives in England, empty save for the corpse of the captain lashed to the wheel and a few coffins containing nothing but dirt. Around this same time, Lucy takes ill due to the two bite marks discovered on her neck. Arthur brings in some help from Doctor Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) who tells her that she may have been attacked by a nosferatu. Though Arthur is skeptical of this, they nevertheless take precautions and place crosses and garlic around her bedside. And of course, it turns out that Van Helsing is right in his assumption and when Lucy is found outside, all of the blood drained from her body, Dracula's past and her unfortunate present begin to mesh. Arthur and Van Helsing realize that the Count will not rest until he gets what he wants and that they are in very real danger…
Palance is an interesting choice to play the Count. He was almost always typecast as a villain and even TV roles like Ripley's Believe It Or Not played up his unconventional looks, squinty eyes and dangerous vibe so on that level it makes sense that Curtis would want him for this role. At the same time, he has a completely different acting style than anyone who had played the part before or after him. The story is clever enough in how it ties his obsession with Mina into the events of his past to ensure that we understand why he wants her as much as he does and as such, we can sympathize with him a bit. He's not a completely inhuman, unfeeling monster in this adaptation and it's all the better for it. On the other hand, Palance does bring a fairly strong sense of menace to the character, whether he's skulking around outside a window at night (some goofy looking day for night photography is hard to ignore here) or watching as a loyal dog under his control attempts to tear the throat out of Arthur.
While the top billed Palance delivers the most memorable work in front of the camera, the supporting cast do fine work here too. Nigel Davenport makes a very good Van Helsing, he doesn't overplay it the way other actors have, while Simon Ward is quite good as Arthur. Not to be outdone, the ladies also deliver fine performances, with Fiona Lewis really vamping it up in impressive ways in the latter half of the film and Penelope Horner doing a fine job as Lucy.
The movie is quite well shot, using locations from Yugoslavia as well as those in England (Oakley Court, best known as the house from The Rocky Horror Picture Show is featured prominently) and using some nice compositions to build mood and atmosphere. The story plays out at a good pace and Curtis' direction is more than capable here. This one really comes together nicely and it holds up well.
Note: Although this was a ‘made for TV movie' in the US, it did get theatrical play in both England and France where some of the more intense scenes were slightly gorier than what would have been allowed to have been shown on broadcast television. The version contained on this Blu-ray release is the full strength uncut theatrical version of the movie. It's still not particularly strong, but there are a few scenes that do contain a bit of bloodshed in them.
Dracula debuts on Blu-ray domestically from MPI framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in a transfer that the packaging states was newly scanned in 2k from the original 35mm negative. There's minor print damage throughout, mainly just specks and not any really noticeable scratches or anything, and a fair bit of grain in pretty much every frame of the movie but better this than heavy noise reduction. The detail in the image is definitely there, you'll notice it not only in close up shots but medium and long distance ones too and it's evident on the faces of the performers as well as the sets and furnishings that are used throughout the movie. Black levels are typically pretty solid and although there are one or two spots where there's a bit of crush, shadow detail isn't bad at all. Some day for night shots look a little goofy, but that's the way that the movie was shot and not an issue with the transfer. This is a decent film-like transfer that would seem to be pretty true to source.
A lossless track is provided in English DTS-HD 2.0 and it sounds pretty solid. The score has noticeable depth to it and the dialogue is fine. Some scenes sound a little bit flat but this would have more to do with the source material than the disc itself. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and if this won't blow you away, it sounds just fine. Alternate language options are offered in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 with optional subtitles provided in English only.
MPI haven't jammed this disc with extras but they have included a few supplements starting with a four minute Interview With Jack Palance carried over from the previous DVD release. Here he shares some thoughts about the character of Dracula and about what he tried to bring to the role. The disc also includes a four and a half minute Interview With Dan Curtis (also carried over) who praises Palance's performance and about how he tried to create a more sympathetic vampire with his take on Stoker's source material. There are six and a half minutes' worth of Outtakes here, which are all presented without any sound and which show the cast and crew on set shooting a few key scenes, as well as just short of four minutes of material culled from the TV Cuts of the movie. These are basically alternate takes made for the American TV broadcast that are a bit less gory than some of the scenes seen in the theatrical cut. Rounding out the extras is a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.
Dan Curtis' Dracula is a really underrated take on Stoker's novel that features enough style to ensure that the visuals are up to par and some decent character development as well. Palance is pretty good in the role once you get used to seeing him in the part, and the supporting players all deliver fine work as well. MPI's Blu-ray release offers up a pleasing, film-like high definition transfer and lossless audio to go along with it as well as a few decent extras as well. All in all, this is a fine presentation of a very good movie. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.