Dracula (DVD, 2006, 2-Disc Set, Edition) Reviews
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Dracula (DVD, 2006, 2-Disc Set, Edition)

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Count on this Dracula

Oct 15, 1999 (Updated Mar 29, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:the new Philip Glass score, Bela Lugosi

Cons:hokey dialogue

Often imitated but never duplicated, Bela Lugosiís performance in the 1931 "Dracula" is a justifiable legend. The image of Lugosiís face is synonymous with the vampire of popular culture. Imagine if F.W. Murnauís "Nosferatu," made 10 years earlier had been the more popular vampire movie! The elegant Count with his cape and widowís peak would have been replaced by a bat-eared, long-nailed ghoul as played by Max Schreck in "Nosferatu."

But Lugosiís Dracula is the one that caught the publicís imagination and sent fear running through the veins of long-necked young maidens in the early 1930s. The film, directed by Tod Browning, is by all rights a sloppy mess of hammy acting and leaden pacing. But Browning, who helmed other landmark horror classics like "Freaks" and "London After Midnight," somehow turns "Dracula" into a stylish exercise in Gothic horror. The ornate sets, the swirling fog, the exaggerated lightingóall combine to make a gorgeous film. At times Browning seems to be borrowing from the German expressionists like Murnau and Fritz Lang, but itís 100% Hollywood.

If youíre in the mood for a Dracula that sticks to Bram Stokerís classic novel, youíll probably be disappointed by this version. Apart from the fangs and the wooden stakes, thereís little of the literary Count here. Browningís version is based on a stage play popular at the turn of the century. The theatricality still creaks through the film like a door with a rusty hinge. Only Browningís style and Lugosiís delicious performance rescue the flick from being a complete howl.

If you believe the depiction of the actor in Tim Burtonís recent "Ed Wood," Lugosi felt like a fish out of water in Tinseltown. Heíd been trained in Hungarian theater and was having trouble wrapping his tongue around the English language. Heíd played the Transylvanian Count on stage, but wasnít yet a Hollywood star. (In fact, he was only paid $3,500 for his performance in his film.) However, his stilted, formal line delivery is perfect for the undead Count and, by now, anyone saying the words "Good evening" in a Hungarian accent will have no trouble getting admitted into any Halloween party. Lugosiís success with this, his first big role, was ultimately his undoing. He was never able to shake typecasting and spent nearly the whole of his career in horror films. In fact, the role of Dracula was so associated with the actor that after his death he was buried in the Countís costume, cape and all.

I recently watched "Dracula" with my teenage kids and they spent most of the film cowering on the sofa. Imagine that. The old black-and-white Count still has the power to scare even the most jaded youths raised on a culture of Freddy and Jason. When I asked what scared him the most, my son said, "The music." Indeed, a new score by modern composer Philip Glass is the best reason to seek out the digitally enhanced and remastered version of "Dracula" at the local store. As played by the Kronos Quartet, the new soundtrack throbs with an urgency that keeps even the most hokey dialogue moving right along. The pulsing cello will definitely jangle your nerves while Lugosi mesmerizes you with those piercing eyes.

If youíve never seen this classic version of "Dracula," or even if itís been a few years, you canít go wrong with the legendary Lugosi. Turn out the lights, pop it in the VCR and settle in for a "good evening."


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