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DVD Pick: "Dracula" (1931)

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There have been other movie adaptations of the Dracula story, but to my mind, nothing can top the 1931 classic starring Bela Lugosi in the title role. Lugosi has always defined Count Dracula in my mind, and no other actor can match his distinctive brand of menace. Of course, circa 1931 special effects don’t match the visual wizardry of modern movies, but I believe the eerie atmosphere this film creates in my imagination is perhaps the most potent effect ever invented.

The way Bela Lugosi looks, acts, and sounds is truly vampiric, and the power of his performance is embodied in his subtly creepy delivery of such lines as “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make!” when he hears wolves howling. His stylized body movements, strange accent, and facial expressions all help to add to the sense of horror in this film.

This DVD enhanced my enjoyment of the film that already was one of my favorite horror movies. In particular, I found David J. Skal’s scholarly commentary fascinating, which was very detailed in terms of the actors and production. The DVD also has a 35-minute documentary “The Road to ‘Dracula’,” which I thought was both interesting and entertaining.

The documentary covers the Dracula story’s origin in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel through Murnau’s “Nosferatu” through the 1920’s stage play “Dracula,” in which Lugosi played the lead hundreds of times.

Film buffs will want to watch the Spanish-language version of “Dracula,” which was filmed using the same sets, but a different cast and crew. The Spanish-language version is more artistic in terms of camera work. In addition, it’s twenty-nine minutes longer and has a different dramatic feel. The female lead (Lupita Tovar) is much earthier and sensual than is Helen Chandler, pointing up the prudishness of the English-language version, which strips the story of many of its sexual overtones. Nevertheless, the presence of Bela Lugosi in the English-language version is so towering that I can’t help preferring it to the Spanish-language version.

All in all, this is a DVD that every cinephile and horror movie aficionado will want to watch.

The DVD is released by Universal and comes with a number of special features, which I have listed below.

Selected Special Features on the DVD:

  • English-Language Version of Film (1 hr. 15 min.)
  • Full-Screen (1.33:1)
  • Original Theatrical Score
  • New Score by Philip Glass Performed by Kronos Quartet
  • Feature Commentary With Film Historian David J. Skal
  • English Captions for the Hearing Impaired
  • French Subtitles
  • The Road to “Dracula”: An Original Documentary (35 min.)
  • Poster and Photo Montage
  • Production Notes
  • Cast and Filmmakers Bios and Film Highlights
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Universal Web Links
    • Spanish-Language Version of Film (1 hr. 44 min.)
    • Full-Screen (1.33:1)
    • English Subtitles
    • French Subtitles
    • Introduction by Actress Lupita Tovar Kohner
    • Production Notes
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