Although I've seen this classic Universal film dozens of times starting at about age 10, this is my first look at the excellent Blu ray transfer available as a stand-alone film or part of the "Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection."
The well-known tale stars Bela Lugosi in his most recognizable role. The Hungarian actor also played the character in the stage production from which much is adapted for this early talking picture. Some will snicker at the mannerisms and heightened theatrics more common in the theater. Even as a great admirer of the movie, I chuckle when I see a couple armadillos scurrying across Dracula's Transylvanian castle.
Lugosi, still struggling with English accentuates his dialog not only with an unusual cadence, enunciating each syllable but seemingly each letter. But Bela was a charmer, especially of the ladies which transformed the Count from the Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel and the first production on film, "Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror" (1922). In F. W. Murnau's film, the Count (Orlok) was ugly, sinister and more in tune with what Stoker had in mind.
One of the things that always bothered me about the film was the lack of a musical score. The story has extended moments of silence, except for noise coming from old tape or DVD transfers. The cleaned up version here, eliminates almost all of the surface noise, and makes the silence even more...well silent. I much prefer the included optional Philip Glass score performed by The Kronos Quartet. I was fortunate to see Glass perform this live accompanying the film a few years ago in Dallas. Which ever audio track you prefer, the sound quality has never been better.
This exquisite 1080p transfer maintains the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (mono) option. It is the way to go. Extras include some interesting short documentaries including one introduced and narrated by producer Carl Laemmle's niece who had a small role in the film which included the first words spoken. The package also includes a Spanish language version which was filmed using the same sets at the time, a couple commentary tracks, trailers and more. If you are a fan, you'll want this Blu ray.
"DRACULA" (SPANISH LANGUAGE VERSION): When Tod Browning's game-changing Dracula was being filmed in Hollywood, a Spanish language version was being filmed at night using the same sets and a slightly altered script. In some ways, this is actually a better movie. Unfortunately in some ways it is not.
The first noticeable element is that the film runs nearly 30 minutes longer. Much of this actually provides some context and continuity especially during the voyage of Dracula from Transylvania to England. Some of the length is also just laborious dialog. There are two big improvements over the English language version. First, the creepy atmosphere lingers throughout the movie, rather than just on those early scenes in Drac's castle. For example, when Dracula rises from his daytime slumber, wisps of smoke exude from his coffin before he is seen.
Secondly and most importantly, the leading lady, Lupita Tovar is much sexier and a better actress than Helen Chandler. Now Eva (rather than Mina) has a clear attraction for the Count. Her clothing reveals a bit of décolletage rather than Chandlers buttoned up look. Here Lucia is played by beautiful Carmen Guerrero although her role is scaled back. Like Eva, Lucia is taken with Drac's charms.
To offset these improvements however are two more issues. First and foremost, Carlos Villarias' Dracula is, well...terrible. His over-acting is often laughable to say the least. Bela Lugosi certainly is much better and inhabited the role. I would also point out that in this Spanish version, Renfield takes on a much bigger role and like Villarias, Pablo Alvarez Rubio is no match for his counterpart, Dwight Frye in the English-language version. All in all, this is an interesting comparo to the better known Dracula and is all the better with this Blu ray update included on the same disc.