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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Tod Browning
Cast:
Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye
Writing Credits:
Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston

Synopsis:
Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula bends a naive real estate agent to his will, then takes up residence at a London estate where he sleeps in his coffin by day and searches for potential victims by night.

MPAA:
Rated NR.

DISC DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
French DTS Monaural
Castillian DTS Monaural
German DTS Monaural
Italian DTS Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Castillian
French
Japanese
German
Italian
Dutch
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Chinese
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Castillian
Japanese
German
Italian
Dutch
Chinese

Runtime: 75 min.
Price: $79.98
Release Date: 10/5/21
Available As Part of “Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror” 4-Movie Collection

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian David J. Skal
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian/Dracula: Dead and Loving It Screenwriter Steve Haberman
• “Monster Tracks” Subtitle Commentary
• “The Dark Prince” Featurette
• “The Road to Dracula” Documentary
• Alternate Philip Glass Score
Dracula Spanish Version
• Spanish Version Introduction by Lupita Tovar Kohner
• “Dracula Archives”
• “The Restoration” Featurette
• Trailer Gallery
• Blu-ray Copy


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RELATED REVIEWS


Dracula [4K UHD] (1931)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 7, 2021)

Right off that bat I'll warn you: this may be an oddly constructed review. That's because Universal's release of 1931's Dracula delivers an unusual disc, and my reaction to its contents compels me to address it in an atypical manner.

Normally I'd start my review with a discussion of my reactions to the film itself, and I’ll do that, but the movie I'll describe may not be the one you expect. This disc includes two full-length versions of Dracula - or three, but more about that later. One of these provides the famous Bela Lugosi picture directed by Tod Browning, which is the movie most people think of when they hear the name "Dracula".

However, another version of Dracula also appeared in 1931, and it bears an awful lot of similarities to the better-known edition. Cheap rip-off? On the contrary - it's actually a companion piece made by Universal as well.

Both come with the same story, as a man named Renfield (Dwight Frye English version/Pablo Alvarez Rubio Spanish) travels to Translyvania to assist the mysterious Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi/Carlos Villarías) in a business transaction. He soon becomes the vampiric Count’s slave and escorts Dracula and minions back to England.

There the Count becomes part of society and entranced with lovely young Mina Seward (Helen Chandler/Lupita Tovar). Will she eventually succumb to his charms?

Back before dubbing into foreign tongues become typical, studios would sometimes make entirely different versions of films that would be shot in another language. This second Dracula used the same sets and essentially the same script, except it featured a different cast and crew and was entirely in Spanish. The English crew worked during the day and the Spanish filmmakers took over at night.

Normally one might regard this alternate version of Dracula as nothing more than bizarre curiosity, a cheap thrill that can't compare to the English edition, especially since so many consider the Browning/Lugosi version to be such a classic.

However, one would be way off base if one thought that way. Not only is the Spanish Dracula a competent piece of film, but also I think it's vastly superior to its more famous brother.

Almost everything about the Spanish film tops the English one. The movie runs for almost an extra 30 minutes, and director George Melford makes good use of that time.

While none of the scenes added to the Spanish edition seem crucial, they flesh out the piece and allowed it to feel more complete. Even before I watched the Spanish version I felt that the English Dracula appeared choppy and rushed, so the sight of a more full film made the English edition feel even more problematic.

Ironically, although the Spanish version is almost 40 percent longer, it seems to go by much more quickly than the English film and actually feels like a shorter movie. I occasionally grew impatient or bored during the English Dracula, for as it plodded along, I kept waiting for something to happen that would spark some suspense or excitement, but those instances were pretty rare.

That wasn’t the case in the Spanish version, which may feature mostly the same scenarios and sets but seems much better executed. Take two early examples to see what I mean.

First, compare our introductions to the Count himself. The English edition abruptly jettisons him from his coffin, so we start to see him emerge and there he is!

In the Spanish film, however, Drac's appearance comes about more slowly and eerily. It establishes a much greater air of mystery and suspense.

Even more glaring is the difference in the scene that takes place during Dracula's boat voyage to England. Both versions feature carnage, but the English film simply depicts Drac's release from his coffin and the aftermath.

In the Spanish edition, the scene adds one wonderful touch: we watch Renfield and his maniacal laughter as he witnesses the violence. It may not sound like much, but it makes the entire scene much scarier and more compelling.

In the Spanish Dracula, little touches abound that add to the film's atmosphere. Sound effects are used more skillfully.

For example, doors creak open ominously, while they just open in the English film. The list of differences is long, and the vast majority favor the Spanish edition.

For the most part, the Spanish cast offers much better acting than the English performers. Of the five main performers, I think two of the Spanish actors are clearly superior, one's a little stronger, another's a draw, and only one is inferior.

That latter role is Dracula himself, as Bela Lugosi remains the definitive Count. His combination of menace, charm and creepiness made him perfect for the role.

Spanish counterpart Carlos Villarias does a decent job as Dracula but he doesn't approach Lugosi. Villarias' Count has the charm down pretty well, but he can't muster much terror.

Whenever Villarias - who bears a certain odd resemblance to Nicolas Cage - tries to look scary, he just appears goofy and semi-psychotic. There's a disturbed gleam in his eyes that seems more appropriate for Renfield.

Speaking of whom, Renfield is one of the two roles that I definitely prefer in the Spanish film. English-speaker Dwight Frye was a solid actor who made his Renfield memorable, but he was pretty hammy as well, and he makes the character seem too cartoonish. That silly laugh of his seems unusual but it doesn't work for me.

On the other hand, Pablo Alvarez Rubio turns Renfield into a much more believable person. With Frye, you get the impression he was always like that, but Rubio creates a more effective transition in the character.

Renfield spends much of the movie battling his urges as he wishes to regain his humanity - he knows what he does is wrong but he's too weak to stop himself. That sense of pain comes through much more clearly in Rubio's performance, and he gave Renfield's more lucid moments greater heft and reality.

Also superior to her English counterpart is Lupita Tovar as Eva, who completely outdoes milquetoast Helen Chandler's Mina. (Most of the characters in the Spanish version either retained their English names or altered them slightly - as for "Juan" Harker or "Lucia" - but this name has been completely changed for some unknown reason.)

Chandler is so dull that you think zombies beat the Count to her. She barely registers in all of her screen time, and I couldn't help but wonder why Drac was so drawn to such a dud.

In the Spanish film, we get a better idea of the attraction, as Tovar provides a full-blooded and well-rounded portrayal of Eva. She's believable at all times, whether as proper young lady or as lusty vampire-to-be.

The difference between the two actresses comes out most clearly in those latter instances. Chandler can handle acting like a priss, but she just has no idea how to display other emotions.

Tovar makes Eva come to life, and we really see the changes through which she's gone during the scene with Harker in which it becomes most clear that she's on her way to undead status. Never for a second do I buy Chandler's "transformation", but Tovar makes it convincingly real.

Speaking of Harker, Argentinean Barry Norton slightly tops the work done by David Manners in the English version. Harker remains a terribly flat and dull character - I don't think any Dracula has made him seem otherwise - but at least Norton creates a bit more passion in the part.

I find his love for Eva more convincing and true. The only drawback to Norton is that the guy looked like he was about twelve-years-old, though he was actually 25.

The one part I find to be a toss-up is that of Professor Van Helsing. Overall I believe Eduardo Arozamena to be a more natural and honest actor, but Edward Van Sloan scores points just because he looks better in the role.

He seems a lot closer to my idea of Van Helsing, unlike the kind of tubby and unimposing Arozamena. Both men are good actors, though, so both work well.

Both versions of Dracula merit your attention, but in the case of the American edition, I think it should be watched more due to its historical status, as the end result doesn’t entertain me much. On the other hand, the Spanish version delivers a creepy, effective rendition that easily surpasses its more famous sibling.


The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus A

Dracula appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. This was a borderline stunning representation of the film.

Overall, sharpness looked positive. At times, I thought wider shots appeared a smidgen soft, but those examples created only minor distractions. The majority of the flick provided quite good definition.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Natural grain appeared here, so the flick maintained a nice film-like appearance.

Blacks seemed solid. The film’s many dark shots demonstrated fine depth and contrast looked positive.

Low-light shots occasionally seemed a little murky, but they usually offered acceptable to good delineation. HDR added oomph to contrast, blacks and whites.

Source flaws were minimal; occasional instances of small specks appeared, but these were rare. Honestly, this was a pretty amazing image for a 90-year-old movie.

I also felt the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Dracula held up well for its age. Speech showed a thin, trebly side but was perfectly acceptable and lacked significant edginess or other flaws.

The original soundtrack featured almost no music. The biggest distraction came from background noise.

Though without clicks and pops, the audio suffered from a fair amount of hissiness. However, those levels remained below average for a movie from 1931, so I wasn’t bothered by the hiss.

Films of the day generally didn't offer scores, so we only heard music to accompany the opening credits and also in a theater scene. Those elements seemed adequate given their restrictions.

Effects were a bit harsh but didn’t suffer from significant distortion. I felt that the audio worked pretty well within the expectations of its era.

How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray version? Both offered the same DTS-HD MA monaural audio.

The 4K appeared to come from the same transfer used for the Blu-ray, so any improvements related to the 4K format’s superior capabilities. Blacks and contrast looked stronger due to HDR, but definition didn’t really change.

Did I prefer the 4K to the Blu-ray? Yes, but not to a significant degree. While the 4K looks very good, so does the Blu-ray, and given the limitations of the 90-year-old source, I can’t find major differences between the two.

The Blu-ray replicates previous extras, and we open with two separate audio commentaries. We first hear from film historian David J. Skal, as he offers a running, screen-specific chat.

Skal looks at the source novel and its adaptation, other story/character areas, cast and performances, sets and locations, comparisons with alternate versions, crew biographical notes, and a few other domains.

Though the track occasionally sags, Skal usually makes it interesting and informative. He covers a nice array of issues and does so in a bright, concise manner. While not one of the best historical commentaries I’ve heard, this one satisfies.

We also get a commentary from film historian/Dracula: Dead and Loving It screenwriter Steve Haberman. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion that discusses the same kinds of production and cast and crew elements covered by Skal, but Haberman also offers his comparison between the English and Spanish versions of the flick.

He strongly prefers Tod Browing’s English edition and tries to convince us that he’s right. I don’t agree, and I think he too easily dismisses the Spanish version. However, it’s interesting to hear his rationale, and he provides a spirited look at the production’s ins and outs.

Again, much of this becomes redundant after Skal’s track, as both men detail the flick’s path to the screen. Haberman does it better, though, as he offers more depth and less down time. Haberman creates a satisfying track that’s probably the superior of the two.

More info appears in Monster Tracks, a subtitle commentary. It covers basic facts about the film’s production and its various participants.

Given all the info that appeared during the two audio commentaries, it becomes inevitable that quite a bit of redundant material appears. Nonetheless, “Monster Tracks” covers the movie in a satisfying manner and creates a good synopsis.

Next find a 35-minute, two-second documentary called The Road to Dracula. The Skal-produced program is hosted by Carla Laemmle, niece of producer and Universal founder Carl Laemmle - and also an actress, as she appears in one of Dracula's opening scenes.

We hear from Skal, author/filmmaker Clive Barker, film historians Scott MacQueen, Ronald V. Borst, Lokke Heiss, Ivan Butler and Bob Madison, Rosenbach Library and Museum’s Michael Barsanti, author Nina Auerbach, Universal Studios Archives and Collections director Jan-Christopher Horak, playwright’s son John Balderston, makeup artist Rick Baker, writer/director Gary Don Rhodes, actor Lupita Tovar Kohner, Bela Lugosi’s friend Richard Gordon, and actor’s sons Dwight D. Frye and Bela G. Lugosi.

It makes for an interesting discussion of the film's history, though it's a fairly undistinguished piece, and one that suffers from more of that inevitable redundancy; as our fourth look at the flick, it can’t avoid repetition of many facts. Still, some new info does appear.

For instance, the documentary indicates there actually is a silent version of Dracula from 1931: since at that stage, many theaters were not yet wired for sound, an alternate English edition intercut title cards for all the dialogue. The program does not mention if a Spanish release did the same.

Next we see Lugosi: The Dark Prince. This 36-minute, six-second documentary includes remarks from Haberman, Gordon, biographer Gregory William Mank, director Joe Dante, author/screenwriter Peter Atkins, author/film critic Kim Newman, screenwriter Christopher Wicking, film historians/authors Sir Christopher Frayling and Darryl Jones, author Ramsay Campbell, screenrwriter/director Jimmy Sangster, and author/editor Stephen Jones.

I figured that “Prince” would provide a standard biography of Lugosi, but instead, it concentrates on the actor’s work on Dracula and his subsequent career. The latter elements are the most interesting since the former material gets covered pretty thoroughly in the prior commentaries and programs.

Too much of “Prince” comes across as a simple appreciation of Lugosi, though, so it doesn’t present a lot of facts. Nonetheless, it’s good to see clips from Lugosi’s career, and we learn a reasonable amount about him.

After this comes from the Spanish version of Dracula. Since I already discussed it during the body of my review, I’ll not discuss my opinion of its as a film.

We can watch the Spanish Dracula with or without a four-minute, 15-second Introduction by actress Lupita Tovar Kohner. She gives us her memories of the production and her co-workers. It’s really a short interview, not an intro, but it’s interesting.

I’m happy to report that the Spanish Dracula underwent a restoration similar to the work done on the English version, though the results aren’t as consistent. The film runs one hour, 43 minutes, 16 seconds and the image often looks great.

However, it displays more than a few flaws along the way, though the 4K decreases the issues found with the Blu-ray. While it still suffers from a mix of defects, it looks more stable and cleaner than the Blu-ray.

Similar thoughts greet the audio. For a while, the sound beats the English track, as it comes with much less hiss and noise. However, this also becomes up and down, so some scenes appear quite flawed.

Still, the Spanish mix is still stronger overall when compared to the English one. The best parts of the Spanish transfer also look better than the English version’s most appealing elements, but it lacks the Browning edition’s consistency.

In my main review, I also alluded to a third Dracula. That would be the English version with a modern score written by Phillip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet. The Glass work is not terrific, so I must admit that I prefer the version with its music to the score-less standard edition.

Next we get a featurette called Dracula: The Restoration. It runs eight minutes, 46 seconds and delivers comments from Universal Vice President of Content Management and Technical Services Peter Schade, Universal Senior Vice President of Technical Operations Michael Daruty, Universal VP of Image Assets and Preservation, NBC Universal Director of Archives and Collections Jeff Pirtle, Universal Technical Services mastering supervisor Ken Tom, Universal Digital Services project manager Seanine Bird, Universal Digital Services Inferno artist Eric Bauer, Universal Digital Services colorist George Cvjeticanin, Universal BluWave Audio executive director Richard LeGrand, and Universal Technical Services supervising sound editor John Edell.

They discuss the work that went into the restoration of both the English and Spanish versions of the film, though they emphasize the former. Programs like this tend to feel a bit self-congratulatory, but we still get a fairly informative look at all the technical challenges involved here.

The Dracula Archives offers the usual conglomeration of film posters, lobby cards, and both production and publicity photos. These come as a nine-minute, 11-second running montage. We find a good array of materials here.

We finish with a trailer gallery. It includes promos for Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula, House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Note that this Dracula release drops a 95-minute documentary called “Universal Horror” from the prior DVD. It appears on the Frankenstein disc, however.

Despite its status as a classic, I have to admit that I'm not wild about Dracula. However, I did really enjoy the Spanish version of the film made simultaneously, as it offers a very creepy and exciting rendition of the story. The 4K UHD delivers excellent visuals, more than acceptable audio and a nice set of supplements. I’ll probably never embrace the English version of Dracula, but I feel delighted with the high quality of this release – and I do enjoy the included Spanish edition quite a lot.

Note that as of October 2021, the 4K UHD version of Dracula appears only as part of a four-movie “Universal Classic Monsters Icons of Horror Collection”. In addition to Dracula, it also includes Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Wolfman.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of DRACULA

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main