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It is unfortunate that this collection of Universal Dracula films were only released in this mega-DVD collection as a means of promoting the film Van Helsing, but the important thing is that they were released - including the inimitably weird House of Dracula on DVD for the first time. This collection inspired its own kind of bloodlust in my Dracula-loving heart, and I imagine all fans of Dracula and Universal's classic monsters movies of the 30s and 40s have either already purchased this set or are saving up the money to do so. Just look at the bounty of riches included here: the original 1931 classic Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, which you can view with both its original score as well as the modern score composed by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet; the incredible and technically superior Spanish language version of Dracula; Dracula's Daughter (1936); Son of Dracula (1943) starring Lon Chaney, Jr.; House of Dracula (1945); an original documentary, The Road to Dracula, discussing the making of the English and Spanish versions of the original film; a commentary by film historian David J. Skal on the original film; theatrical trailers for the films; and, last and certainly least, a look at how the original Dracula franchise influenced director Stephen Sommers in the making of his new film Van Helsing.
I waited a long time to watch the Spanish version of the Dracula, and it lived up to its reputation. A much more complete and compelling version of the film, aided by an additional half hour running time, this movie equals or excels the English language version of the film in all ways - except, of course, for the performance of Bela Lugosi, who simply is Count Dracula. As for the Lugosi version, I'm torn between the two scores. As a traditionalist, I tend to favor the original score, but certain scenes, particularly those involving Dracula's predatory approach to his victims are made much more powerful with the addition of the Glass score. Either way, though, Bela Lugosi is the main attraction, and his iconic performance defines Count Dracula to this very day.
The three Dracula sequels vary in quality, none of them living up to the reputation of the original. Dracula's Daughter takes the story in an interesting direction, giving us a vampire who seeks help in freeing herself of the Dracula curse, and Gloria Holden gives a formidable and nuanced performance as the daughter of the Count. Son of Dracula, on the other hand, pretty much lays an egg in my opinion. The only interesting thing about this movie is the debate over the true identity of the Count - is he Dracula? the son of Dracula? a relative of Dracula? In the end, it really doesn't matter, but it seems obvious that the blood of Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula certainly doesn't run in the veins of "Count Alucard" because this new bloodsucker on the block isn't the smartest vampire in the castle. Many Dracula fans will of course be aware of the fact that Lon Chaney, Sr., was the original choice to play Dracula in the 1931 film; his death opened the way for the relatively unknown Bela Lugosi to take on the role he had already played hundreds of time on stage. In Son of Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr., gets the chance to don the cape; Chaney earned his spot of fame in the Universal monster pantheon, but he didn't earn it as the Count - his performance is nothing short of boring, aided not one iota by a surprisingly weak script from the hand of Curt Siodmak.
The addition of House of Dracula to The Dracula Legacy Collection is a very big deal, for this is the first time this film has found its way to DVD. House of Dracula is a really weird film, as this sequel of sorts to House of Frankenstein features not only Count Dracula, but Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man as well. John Carradine plays a quite pedestrian Count Dracula, while Lon Chaney, Jr., plays the Wolf Man; Frankenstein's monster is played by Glenn Strange, but the monster plays only the most minor of roles in the story. The action takes place in Vasaria (wherever that is), where Dr. Franz Edelman (Onslow Stevens) is pursuing his own rather wacky scientific experiments, placing great hope on some new kind of spore he is growing in his private little hothouse. Both Count Dracula and Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man) come seeking his help; Talbot's wish to banish the Wolf Man manifestation from his life is understandable, but Dracula's reasons for seeking help are never made clear. In the course of trying to help these two special patients, Edelman runs into the body of Frankenstein's monster in a cave underneath his sanitarium (in a rather ho-hum fashion, no less). As you might expect, this association with three monsters turns out to be a bad thing, leaving Edelman in a pretty bad fix himself. It's somewhat difficult to take this movie seriously, but it does provide some wacky good fun in a campy sort of way.
There is a slight risk involved with purchasing The Dracula Legacy Collection, but the rewards are worth the risk. Just be careful opening the case - even if both of the DVDs (one of which is double-sided) remain in position, you are likely to find a little knob underneath each one just dying for the chance to scratch a disc.
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"Dracula - The Legacy Collection" is a 2 DVD set which includes five Dracula films from Universal's earlier years. The first DVD is a single sided disc which contains the original 1931 film staring Bela Legosi as well as several features, a theatrical trailer for the original movie, photos, and an audio commentary with the film historian David J. Skal. The second DVD is a two-sided disc which contains the other four films and trailers for two of the films. I found the second DVD to be problematic in some DVD players, especially on the Spanish version and "Son of Dracula".
"Dracula" staring Bela Legosi is the key film in this collection. Legosi's Dracula became the model which most of the film adaptations since have used. Being made during a period where sound in films was new, results in a very quiet movie, which in some places adds to its eeriness. The direction, by Tod Browning, is fairly bland, and there are some truly odd moments, such as the shot of armadillos in Dracula's castle in Transylvania. Nevertheless, this is a key film from an historical standpoint, and it should not be missed, and its premier on February 12th, 1931 in New York City marked the arrival of the Universal Horror movies.
"Dracula" (a.k.a. Spanish Dracula in the U.S.) was filmed at the same time as the Bela Legosi movie. Sound was new in movies, and the studio thought that people would respond better to a movie shot in their own language as opposed to the use of dubbing. This movie used the same sets as the other movie, filming at night where the other cast filmed during the day. They also used some long shots cut from the English version, because their budget was significantly smaller. This movie was made for about $66,000 where the English version cost $355,000. The direction by George Melford is superior to that of Tod Browning, and in many ways this is the superior version of the movie. This movie premiered on March 20th, 1931 in Madrid.
"Dracula's Daughter" (a.k.a. Daughter of Dracula) picks up at almost the exact moment where the first movie ends. The police arrest Van Helsing (played in both movies by Edward Van Sloan) for killing Dracula. Countess Marya Zeleska (Gloria Holden), who is Dracula's Daughter, steals Dracula's body and destroys it, hoping that she will be free from the curse. When it does not work, she decides she wants Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) to return with her to Transylvania. When he refuses, she kidnaps Janet Blake (Marguerite Churchill) and returns to Transylvania knowing that Dr. Garth will follow and try to rescue her. This film is supposedly based on a Bram Stoker short story titled "Dracula's Guest". I don't know if that is true, but the chase back to Transylvania is reminiscent of the end of the novel "Dracula". The logic of the plot of this movie was rather poor, as the viewer can only wonder as to why the Countess didn't simply hypnotize Dr. Garth the way she did so many others, and then compel him to return with her. This movie was released on May 11th, 1936.
"Son of Dracula" features Lon Chaney Jr., as Count Alucard (Dracula backwards) who comes to the United States feeling that it has new blood which will help energize him. The plot has a few twists in it, and the viewer learns through events about things which must have taken place before the events in the movie. The traditional roles are filled here with Katherine `Kay' Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) being Dracula's interest, Frank Stanley (Robert Paige) as Kay's boyfriend, Professor Harry Brewster (Frank Craven) the traditional man of science, and Professor Laszlo (J. Edward Bromberg) being the Van Helsing type. This film premiered on November 5th, 1943.
"House of Dracula" (a.k.a. The Wolf Man's Cure) is the most bizarre film of this collection. It opens with Dracula (John Carradine), apparently no longer destroyed, visiting Dr. Edelman (Onslow Stevens), apparently interested in a cure for his curse. Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), who is the Wolf Man, shows up the next night, also in search of a cure. Events result in the discovery of Frankenstein's Monster (Glenn Strange), and later in a Jekyll and Hyde situation. Throw in the beautiful hunchback Nina (Jane Adams), and Miliza Morrelle (Martha O'Driscoll) who is the love interest for both Dracula and the Wolf Man, and don't forget some angry villagers, and you have a very strange mix. This was the sequel to "House of Frankenstein" (a.k.a. Dracula's Doom) which came out the year before. For some reason, this movie was nominated for a retro Hugo for Dramatic Presentation for the year 1945. This is a fun movie to watch, but hardly a great film. It premiered on December 7th, 1945.
This is a good collection of movies for those who like the early Universal films, but I do wonder about the overall quality of the DVDs, because of the problems I had with the dual-sided second DVD. I thought it was also rather sparse in terms of documentation for the films themselves. There is no booklet, just a single sheet which has a very short description of the movies and is really more of an advertisement for the other sets in the collection and the Van Helsing movie. The movies themselves vary quite a bit in terms of picture quality and sound. I would say it is a good collection, but they could have done much more with it.