Featured Blu-ray review: Dan Curtis' Dracula
May 25th, 2014
Dan Curtis is best know for creating Dark Shadows, a Gothic supernatural soap opera that ran for five years starting in 1966. He also directed a number of other projects, mostly TV projects like a couple of mini-series and TV movies. One such TV movie was Dracula, starring Jack Palance. This TV movie came out 40 years ago this year. How does it compare to other adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel? And has it aged well?
This adaptation of Dracula is very faithful to the original novel, which leaves me with not a lot to talk about. You know how the story goes, which is a bit of an issue when it comes to suspenseful movies like this. Dracula isn't revealed to be a vampire until 20 minutes into the movie, but you know Count Dracula is a vampire from the moment you realize you are watching a movie called Dracula. Because of that, we will go with a shorter plot summary than usual.
The film takes place in Bistritz, Hungary in 1897 and starts when an Englishman, Jonathan Harker, arrives to help Count Dracula purchase a property in England. While looking over photographs of potential properties, Dracula becomes enthralled with one of the women in them, Lucy, Jonathan's fiancée's best friend. Dracula decides to purchase a home near where Lucy lives, and since Jonathan is of no real use anymore, he is dealt with.
About a month later, we see a boat crashed up on the shore near Whitby, England. The captain is at the wheel, dead, with a crucifix in his hand, while Dracula is on the shore. We then jump to a train station where Mina arrives in Whitby. She's come, because Lucy has become ill and the doctors aren't sure why. Arthur, Lucy's fiancée has called in a new doctor, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. Van Helsing notices two puncture wounds on her neck. He tells Lucy she will be fine, but it is clear is he greatly worried and takes precautions that includes garlic. Sadly, these precautions are not enough.
I'm sure nearly everyone reading this knows how the rest of the story goes, but even so, I will end the plot summary there to avoid too many spoilers.
Like I mentioned above, the familiarity of the story makes it hard for the filmmakers to generate as much tension as they otherwise would. There are a few major changes to the story, the biggest of which is having Lucy be a reincarnation of Dracula, a plot twist Dan Curtis used in Dark Shadows. It is also a plot twist that has since been used a number of times when it comes to adapting Dracula, so much so that I was actually surprised it wasn't part of the original story. Fortunately, while there are not a lot of surprises in the movie, it still works thanks to a number of reasons. Firstly, Jack Palance was a great choice to play the titular Count Dracula. This was the first pleasant surprise. Don't get me wrong, I really like Jack Palance as an actor and he's played more than his fair share of villains. Hell, even his heroes tend to be menacing. That said, he isn't the obvious choice to play a vampire. He really does an amazing job with the role creating a more complete character than we usually see. Granted, he isn't as good and Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, but he's could be in the top ten. That's really impressive, as Dracula has appeared in over 200 movies over the years.
Jack Palance wasn't the only cast member to bring a lot to the movie. The supporting cast was also strong in their roles, especially Nigel Davenport. The directing was excellent with Dan Curtis bringing much needed tension to the early parts of the film where the audience was most likely ahead of the story. Additionally, he helped guide the most important change to the story and that element is a very important one. It helps humanize Dracula, for lack of a better term. It makes him a more complex character and that makes him a more compelling villain.
Extras begin with a four-minute interview with Jack Palance and another four-minute interview with Dan Curtis. Both are archival interviews, but I'm not sure when they were recorded. Jack Palance mentions the movie was 20 years old, so that would put it in the mid-1990s. There are nearly seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage presented in high definition, but without original audio (there is a score). Finally, there is a look at a couple of scenes showing the differences between the TV cut and the theatrical cut. (It was common for movies made for American TV to be shown in theaters in some markets.) Even the theatrical cut with its additional blood would be considered tame by today's TV standards.
The film was shot on 35mm and transferred to 2k for this restoration. You can tell. The film looks great, given its age and its likely smaller TV movie budget. The level of detail is strong throughout, while the colors are vibrant. Contrast and shadows are never an issue. On the other hand, there are signs of print damage here and there. Like I said, it is 40 years old, so this isn't that surprising. The audio isn't as good as the video. The dialogue is clear and there are no serious problems. However, it is a 2.0 track that lacks depth. You can't blame the audio track for that, as it is very likely a limitation of the source material.
A lot of people compare Dan Curtis' Dracula to a Hammer Horror movie, and I think that' is both a compliment and a fair assessment of the movie. There's not a lot new to this adaptations that isn't in others, but the reincarnation twist and the performance by Jack Palance make it one of the better Draculas you will see. There are not a ton of extras on the Blu-ray, but the technical presentation is enough that it is worth the $17 asking price.
Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review