31 Days of Halloween-Day 15: Dracula (1931)

Getting back from a visit with my parents in Oklahoma this past weekend, I was surprised to find that my Universal Monsters Blu-Ray set from the UK had finally arrived. The coffin packaging is great and, being half the price of the US set, makes it a sound investment for any Universal Horror fan. I dived into the set and started with 1931’s Dracula. I decided to do a double feature, first with Bela Lugosi and then the Spanish version starring Carlos Villarias. Now, I’ve seen the Lugosi version more times than I remember. However, I was truly blown away with how good it looks here. I was worried the restoration would take away the charm of the hissing soundtrack and rough visual images. In fact, the restoration did just the opposite, it positively enhanced the experience. The soundtrack sounds almost flawless at times and the picture is sharper and more stunning than ever. If you’ve somehow never seen this movie, do yourself a favor and check it out. The first half of the movie has some great visuals, although I was surprised at how rushed it seems compared to Nosferatu. After just watching that last week, it was fresh in my mind and I wanted to see more interaction between Dracula and Renfield at the castle. The second half of the movie does come off a little stagey. However, Lugosi is giving the performance of his career here. Dwight Frye is entertaining as ever in the role of Renfield. I don’t think Edward Van Sloan is the most engaging version of Van Helsing but works here.  Flaws aside, it’s a cinematic piece of history that is required viewing.

As for the Spanish version, I must admit I’ve never been a huge fan. This makes my third or fourth viewing and I can’t honestly say I’ll be watching it again anytime soon. Visually, the movie is more stunning than the Lugosi. Director George Melford surpasses Tod Browning in my opinion. Some shots are virtual copies of each other while other times Melford clearly took chances that pay off. The film is substantially longer by some 30 minutes but works at expanding the story in a way I wish Browning’s version had. However, it loses me in the cast. Carlos Villarias delivers a good performance at times. Yet other times he comes across as almost comical with his facial expressions. It’s evident that he watched the dailies of Lugosi as his performance comes across as a copy of Lugosi’s and not very original. Pablo Alvarez Rubio is definitely not Dwight Frye and his performance as Renfield just doesn’t work as well for me. Again, it works better visually than the Lugosi version but in the end isn’t as enjoyable.

The Blu-Ray has all of the original extras including the great documentary. We also get a new documentary on the restoration. There are still multiple DVD versions available but this new Blu-Ray has become the definitive version. Highly recommended October viewing!

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