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Dracula - The Legacy Collection (Dracula / Dracula's Daughter / Son of / House of)
I grew up watching monster movies on TV. Every Saturday afternoon there would be a different horror show on Creature Feature, a show the local UHF station broadcast. I'd be riveted to the set, watching the Invisible Man, the Mummy, or the Wolf Man wreaking havoc in some small town. But of all the monsters, Dracula was always my favorite. He was easily the most powerful. While Frankenstein's monster was strong, he was a lumbering oaf, and the Wolf Man was only a monster a couple of nights a month. But Dracula was always strong, could turn into a bat, and could hypnotize people! He seemed to be the most carefree monster also. While poor Larry Talbot was always worrying about his next transformation, Dracula reveled in being a vampire, often trying to convert young women to his lifestyle.
After being out of print of a while, Universal has now brought these classic tales of horror and slight camp back into print as the Legacy Collection. This set presents five classic Dracula movies (including two versions of the original film) on two DVDs (one of which is double sided.) The movies in this collection are:
This is the movie that started it all. Based on a popular play, that in turn was an adaptation of a novel by Bram Stoker, Dracula is one of the most famous and lasting of the Universal horror movies. While it is a little slow in parts by today's standards, it is still a great movie.
Most people are probably familiar with the story of Dracula, but for those who might have missed it, a brief recap. Renfield (Dwight Frye) is a realtor who travels to Transylvania to finalize the sale of some property in London. Though the locals warn him, Renfield goes up to the castle of Count Dracula, his client. There, after the papers are signed, he is driven insane by the vampire. Dracula and the mad Renfield travel to London, where Dracula sets his sights on Mina Seward (Helen Chandler) the daughter of a prominent physician. When Mina starts falls ill and bite marks appear on her neck, Dr. Seward consults with Professor Van Helsing, who recognizes the work of a vampire right away. Can Van Helsing and Mina's fiancé John Harker defeat the undead vampire before it's too late?
The first third or so of Dracula is almost perfect. It sets an eerie, grim tone for the movie and has some magnificent sets. After the narrative moves to England, the plot slows down somewhat. While it doesn't quite drag, it comes close. The magnificent performance of Bela Lugosi saves the later part of the movie. Whenever he is on screen, the movie comes alive (no pun intended.) His intricate hand movements and swarthy looks give him a lot of screen presence.
This movie was very successful, and launched a series of horror movies that Universal would be known for over the next decade and a half. It made an instant star out of Bela Lugosi, who just as quickly found himself typecast. (His next movie was the first zombie film ever made, White Zombie.)
Dracula – Spanish Version (1931):
With the coming of sound films, many studios lost a good amount of revenue. With silent movies you only had to translate the intertitle cards to market a movie overseas, but with sound films you had to create a whole new soundtrack. One way studios overcame this problem was to shoot a movie twice, in two different languages. Sometimes they would use the same cast and crew, writing the dialog phonetically for the actors to read. In the case of Dracula, Universal hired a whole new crew for the Spanish language version. This second version of the movie was filmed concurrently with the English version of the same sets. The English crew would film during the day, and the Spanish crew would film at night. Director George Melford, as the story goes, would sit and watch Tod Browning film all day, and then incorporate what worked well into his production that night. Though the story is the same, this movie plays a little better than the English version. The images are framed better, and the camera work makes the movie flow a little smoother. The one thing that the Spanish version doesn't have is Bela Lugosi. Carlos Villarías was an adequate Dracula, but he didn't have the fair and panache that Lugosi did. This foreign language version is a good movie, and one that Universal horror fans are lucky to have included.
Dracula's Daughter (1936):
Universal's fortunes were waning, and the studio needed an influx of cash. After the success of the wonderful Bride of Frankenstein, what could be more natural (or un-natural as the case may be) than a sequel to their first monster movie? This production, destined to be one of the most expensive Universal movies from this period, went through rewrites and casting changes galore ratcheting up the costs. The film wouldn't be able to save the studio, and this was the last horror movie the Universal made under Carl Laemmle.
The movie opens immediately after Dracula ends, with two police officers finding the dead body of Reinfeild. They meet Professor Von Helsing (inexplicably changed from Van Helsing, Edward Van Sloan reprises the role he played in the original movie) just as he finishes driving the stake through Count Dracula's heart. Arrested for murder, Von Helsing calls on his good friend Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) to help convince the authorities that he is sane. Before Garth arrives, a mysterious woman goes to the morgue and steals Dracula's body. This turns out to be his daughter, who uses the pseudonym Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden.) She takes his body, and in one of the best scenes in the film, cremates his remains. She is trying to rid herself of 'the curse of Dracula.' With her father dead and in ashes, she hopes that she will no longer need to drink human blood to survive. This turns out not to be the case, and when she hears Dr. Garth explain his theories of modifying behavior, she asks him to help her. But Dr. Garth figures out what the Countess is, and when he wants to have her arrested, he finds out that vampires can be devious and cruel.
Unfortunately, though a lot of money was spent on the production, Dracula's Daughter comes across as a low budget B film. It is a poor sequel to Tod Browning's splendid 1931 movie. There are hardly any horrific elements in this movie, save the cremation of Dracula, until the last reel. Dracula has be criticized for being wordy, which it is, but there were eerie elements throughout the film. This movie lacks those and plays like a melodrama up until the conclusion. The casting was very strange too. Otto Kruger, who did a good job, was 50 at the time he played the dashing romantic interest to a girl who was not even half his age. Gloria Holden was very wooden and acts as if she is sedated during the whole movie. The idea of a sympathetic vampire, one who wants to be 'cured' was an interesting concept at the time, but Holden's acting skills were not up to the difficult role. She was neither sympathetic nor menacing. Overall, a very weak entry in the series.
Son of Dracula (1943):
For some reason, Universal didn't utilize Dracula as much as they did their other monsters. By the time that Son of Dracula was released, the second sequel, Frankenstein had appeared in four sequels. Whatever the reason may be, in the 1943 Universal finally revisited this popular monster, and it turned out to be one of the best Universal horror movies of the 40's.
Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) has invited Count Alucard ('Dracula spelled backwards, played by Lon Chaney Jr.) to her father's estate, Dark Oaks. The first thing he does when he arrives though is to kill her father, so that Katherine will inherit the plantation. The count and Katherine then run off and get married. This action understandably disturbs Katherine's fiancé, Frank Stanley (Robert Paige.) The evening that they wed, Frank confronts Katherine and Alucard, but the vampire merely picks Frank up by the throat and throws him across the room. In a fit of rage, Frank pulls out a gun and fires at Alucard twice, but the bullets pass through him and hit Katherine. Distraught, Frank runs off into the night. He eventually makes it to his friend, Dr. Brewster's (Frank Craven) house and tells him what occurred. Brewster goes to Dark Oaks to check out the situation and finds a live Katherine, but the next morning when the sheriff shows up he finds her dead body in a coffin. Putting two and two together, Brewster realizes what is going on, but will he be able to stop the pair of vampires before more people are killed?
This was a fun movie. Unlike the previous vampire movie, there is action throughout. Dracula turns into a bat on camera, and the vampires both disappear into a cloud of smoke. The special effects were very good for the time, and were sufficiently chilling. This movie doesn't suffer from excessive dialog as the previous efforts do. Lon Chaney was miscast as the vampire; his voice was all wrong for the part. Lugosi was expecting the role, but was considered too unreliable by that time. It's assumed that Chaney was given the part because of the fact that he was a name horror actor at that time, rather than due to his ability to fit the part.
House of Dracula (1945):
At last Universal has released House of Dracula on DVD! When Universal's monster series was first released on DVD in 2000 and 2001, they put out most of the series. One of the more glaring omissions was House of Dracula, a fun filled monster-fest with Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster all appearing. Not only was this movie packed with monsters, it was notable as being the final Universal monster movie. While not the best in terms of quality, it is still a fun film to watch.
Late one night, Count Dracula (John Carradine this time) enters the castle of Dr. Edelman (Onslow Stevens) and wakes him up. Dracula is tired of being an undead monster, and is hoping that the doctor can cure him of being a vampire. The doctor agrees, and suggests a series of blood transfusion over the course of a month. No sooner does Dracula leave, than Larry Talbot aka The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) turns up. He too wants to be cured of his lycanthropy and has turned to Edelman too. After an examination, the doctor determines that pressures on certain areas of Talbot's brain are triggering the transformation. He can relieve this pressure with an experimental drug, but it will take a month to distill enough of the compound. There is to be a full moon that night, and Talbot can't stand the thought of spending another night as a monster so he throws himself off a cliff into the sea. There happens to be a cave in the area he plunged, and early the next morning the doctor has himself lowered into it. There he finds Talbot, and a great surprise, an inanimate Frankenstein's Monster, which he brings up to his castle. Things seem to be going well, Dracula is taking his transfusions, the drug is being distilled, and everyone agrees not to reawaken Frankenstein's Monster. But Dracula has set his sights on Dr. Edelman's nurse, and decided seducing her will be more fun than becoming human again. When he is getting a transfusion, directly from the doctor himself, Dracula reverses the flow and gives some of his blood to Edelman, turning the doctor into a monster himself.
By the time this movie was made, the monsters had pretty much run their course. No longer a movie aimed at adults as the earliest movies in the series were, this film was definitely a kids film. There were very few horrific elements (though I still remember being delightfully scared as a young child in a couple of parts) and a lot of amazing coincidences. The plot was weak in a lot of places too. While they explain what happened to Frankenstein's monster after the previous movie, House of Frankenstein, they never explain how Count Dracula and the Wolf Man managed to survive. Another oddity is Dr. Edelman after he receives Dracula's blood. It's not clear what happens to him. He no longer can bee seen in a mirror, but he can also go out into sunlight. He goes through Hyde-like transformations that turn him into a monster, but they don't seem to be triggered by anything, just occurring at random.
Critiques aside, this very short movie (it runs a mere 67 minutes) is enjoyable to watch, even more so when you realize that it is the swansong of the Universal monster films. Soon after this movie was wrapped up, Lon Chaney's contract with Universal lapsed and was not renewed. Jack P. Pierce, the man responsible for creating the makeup for Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy amoung many others, was also dropped from Universal payroll in 1947. This movie was the end of an era.
All of the movies in this set had a two channel mono soundtrack with English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Dracula also has an optional original score for the movie writen by Phillip Glass and preformed by the Kronos Quartet in 5.1. Though this sounded very good, and the music fit with the movie, I prefer the original soundtrack that I grew up with.
The sound quality was about what you would expect for movies of this age. There was some hiss and the occasional instance of background noise, but these were not distracting. The dialog was clear and easy to hear, and the sound effects, while not forceful and dynamic, did not distort. Dracula had the worst sound of the lot, with a good amount of hiss and many pops in some areas, which was unfortunate. Overall, a good sounding set of movies.
My biggest disappointment with this set is that Dracula didn't get the restoration that it deserves. They used the same print for this release, but it looks like they preformed some digital noise reduction on the movie because it is a little bit softer in some areas. It was hard to notice the difference, and it was only by freezing on the same frame in both movies and switching between the two on my monitor that I was able too see the slight difference. For all practical purposes the two DVDs look the same, but if I had to judge, I'd say the original looks very slightly better. The movie does have a lot of scratches and dirt on the print, the contrast isn't great and many details are lost. This is easily the worst looking film in the lot.
The other movies in the set seemed to use the exact same transfers that the previous released did, and these were quiet acceptable. They all were a little soft, but not overly so. Dracula's Daughter was the softest of the lot, and Son of Dracula was the sharpest. There were a few spots of dirt on the films, but these were very rare and are hardly wroth mentioning. The encoding was done very well, and there were no artifacts to speak of. This set has a good set of transfers for films this old (with the exception of Dracula,) and should please most viewers.
The extras from the original releases are all present in this set, a wise movie on Universal's part. They originally provided a very comprehensive set of bonus material, and I was very glad to see them all included.
There is also a new 6 ½ minute promotional piece with writer/director Stephen Sommers talking about the Dracula movies interspersed with clips from the originals and his new monster movie, Van Helsing. This was a fluff piece, and I can't see myself watching it again.
There is a 35-minute featurette, The Road to Dracula, hosted by Carl Laemmle's neice, Carla. This is a great documentary covering the history of Dracula from the original novel, the play, Nosferatu, and the making of the 1931 film. There is a lot of information in this bonus, a top notch extra.
Film Historian David J. Skal provides a commentary track to Dracula. This is a great track, with Skal providing information not only on the making of Dracula, but the differences between the film version in and the novel and play. He makes comparisons between the original shooting script and what made it to the final cut, and compares the English and Spanish versions. If only all commentaries could be this informative.
There is also a picture gallery with production photos and movie posters, and trailers to all the movies.
The question of whether to upgrade or not is always hard to answer. Since the prints on these films look to be the same in most cases, and they have the same extras (save for a short promo piece for the upcoming movie Van Helsing) I'd normally recommend that people to stick with their original copies. But this set gives you an additional movie, House of Dracula. It is a very short but a fun romp, and the last of the Universal monster movies. Another factor to consider is that the price of this set is very reasonable. Retailing at less than $27 for all five movies, that's $3 less than the previous releases cost for one or two films. Personally, I'm a big fan of these movies. I purchased them all when they were originally released, and I would have upgraded just to get House of Dracula. If you aren't a fan of the later movies, or don't have to have absolutely every movie is a set, then you should probably stick with your original DVDs.
This series of films is a must buy for monster fans who don't already have them. These movies are classics. Though Dracula's Daughter is slow and plodding, and the later films were did not have the production qualities or budgets that the earlier ones did, there is something wonderful about each of the movies presented in this set. Highly Recommended.