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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/3/99

Classic Monster Collection - 1931 (1999) - Universal Studios

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Dracula: Classic Monster Collection Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A

Specs and Features

75 mins (English version), 104 mins (Spanish version), NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch - one version per layer), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with film historian David J. Skal, documentary The Road to Dracula (hosted by Carla Laemmle - written, directed and produced by David J. Skal), original Spanish version of Dracula, remastered soundtrack composed by Philip Glass (performed by Kronos Quartet), poster and stills gallery, production notes, cast and crew bios, theatrical trailer, web-links, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), language: English & Spanish (DD 2.0 mono) & separate Philip Glass score (DD 5.0), subtitles: English & French, Close Captioned

Those piercing eyes, that regal cape, and the weird, wavy hypno-hand thing on my TV screen can only mean one thing: I've been up too late again. Okay... it also means that Dracula has finally found its way to DVD. Yes, everyone's favorite Transylvanian is now on home theater screens where he belongs, and he's packed into one nifty little package.

There can be little doubt that the original 1931 version of Dracula is a classic and important film in the history of cinema. I'm sure most of you know it well, so I'm not going to discuss it too much here, except to say that Bela Lugosi rocks. Period. To discuss this DVD fully requires breaking it down into its three basic parts: the restored 1931 version with English dialogue and the original score, the same film with its new Philip Glass/Kronos Quartet soundtrack, and the 1931 Spanish version of the film (all of which are provided on this DVD).

The original restored version is quite good. It's obviously an old film with flawed source material. The picture can be dark at times, and there's a bit of a light flickering going on. It's nothing too alarming, but it's there and it has nothing to do with the DVD or the restoration. The sound is 2.0 mono and seems pretty strong. I noticed a weird sound glitch in first 30 seconds of original score, where there's a muffled dropout. It doesn't repeat itself, but having happened once early on, it had me listening quite intently for more faults. These minor issues aside however, this restored version of the original Dracula looks and sounds great on DVD, and I'm happy to have it.

You also have the option of watching this version with a newly-recorded Philip Glass/Kronos Quartet score, which is quite cool. I'm usually not too excited when people fool around with a film like this, and try to update the soundtrack. That said, Philip Glass' music fits the film perfectly . The new score is weird and freaky, and it's everything you'd want and expect to go along with this film. A separate title card introduces this version, so you'll know right at the beginning which is which.

The 1931 Spanish version of Dracula has got to be one of the coolest extras ever put on a special edition DVD. It's on the second layer, with a nice long video interview/intro with Lupita Tovar Kohner (she plays Eva, this version's Mina). If you go to the menu, you can also access a separate production notes section that explains more about this version of the film (it's also discussed in great detail in the documentary, but "more on that later"). The Spanish version was filmed simultaneously with the English language version, using a separate cast. It feels like pretty much the same exact movie, with perhaps a bit more flavor (go figure). It's actually about 30 minutes longer as well. Some of the acting is even better (save for Carlos Villarias as the Count). What sets this version apart, is that some of the camera tricks leave Browning's version in the dust, while others strangely fall flat. I honestly couldn't say that one version is better than the other, but it sure is fun to watch and compare the two. When it comes to film quality, it's funny to see that this version seems better-preserved (and a bit better looking) than the original English version. Maybe sitting in a vault (not being seen) all these years did a service to this version. In any case, the blacks are richer and the source print is mostly free of flaws.

This final entry in the first wave of Universal's Classic Monster DVDs was well worth waiting for when it comes to special edition material. David J. Skal, producer/writer and director of the series, participates pretty hardcore with this release, giving his own take on the film in a really nice commentary track. Skal has a very enjoyable, NPR-type radio voice, and he fully covers everything (and I mean everything) that you'll ever need to know about this film. He walks us through Dracula's origins as a novel, its true-life historical roots, the stage versions, and the overall influence the film has had on the genre and cinema in general. You'll find a few long gaps in the commentary, and a bit too many "more on that later comments" early on, but the information eventually does pour out. If you're patient, it's definitely worth it.

As for the other extras, they're pretty great actually. The documentary The Road to Dracula is very well done. It's hosted by Carla Laemmle, niece of producer Carl Laemmle, and speaker of the first words in the film. It covers a broad range of topics, serving as a nice little overview to the film and the information you'll hear in the commentary. All the standard interviews with historians and living relatives that we've come to expect from the Classic Monster Collection are featured here, along with examples of the silent 1931 Browning version, and a bit of "lost" footage originally tacked onto the end of the film. Also included on the disc is a poster/photo montage set to music, some production notes, cast and crew information and a re-release trailer (that looks so bad, it gives new meaning to the expression "getting jiggy with it"). About the only thing I didn't like about this DVD, was that the only way to switch between the two versions of the film is from the initial start-up menu on the disc. And you can't go back once you've chosen, so you have to keep re-starting the disc in order to select the other version -- a notable complaint.

All in all, however, I'd have to say that this is a really great way to top off the first wave of Classic Monster DVDs from Universal. And it's an even better way to get us ready for the discs to come, which will include Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera (1943 version), It Came from Outer Space and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This is one of those special editions that makes collecting DVDs so much fun. Discs like this are why my bank account is so empty. Guess I need a different hobby... ;-)

Todd Doogan
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