Monday, June 9, 2014

Dan Curtis' Dracula Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Scott Meyers
Academy Award winner Jack Palance stars in this terrifying adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel Dracula, written for the screen by sci-fi/horror master Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone, I Am Legend, "Duel") and produced by the legendary Dan Curtis ("Dark Shadows," Trilogy of Terror, "The Winds of War"). Palance (City Slickers, Batman, Shane, Contempt) is Count Dracula, whose centuries-old existence is threatened after he attacks the lovely Lucy Westenra (Fiona Lewis, Dr. Phibes Rises Again), and her fiance (Simon Ward, The Tudors, Young Winston) calls in famed vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport, A Man for All Seasons; Mary, Queen of Scots) to investigate. Originally shown on CBS-TV in 1974, Dan Curtis' Dracula has long been considered among the most frightening versions of the Dracula story.
Film (4 out of 5 stars)
This 1974 made for television adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic stars Jack Palance as Count Dracula. Filmed entirely on location in England and Yugoslavia; this film has been remastered from the original 35mm negative and restored in 2K High Definition on Blu-Ray for the first time.

Our story begins and we meet Jonathan Hacker (played by Murray Brown) as he is receiving a letter about going to meet Dracula. Jonathan travels the countryside to Castle Dracula, and as soon Jonathan gets there he meets Count Dracula and they start to work on a business proposition (Jonathan has some property he might be interested in). Dracula finds a picture of Jonathan's fiance and her friends and is instantly drawn to one of the women named Lucy who lives near of the properties Jonathan is trying to sell him. The Count informs Jonathan that he will require his service for the next month. During that time Jonathan soon finds a hidden section of the house where he soon realizes that the Count has been hiding secrets. While trying to escape Jonathan gets ambushed by three beautiful women who attack him.

Five weeks pass and we meet Mina (played by Penelope Horner), who is Jonathan's fiance, as she travels to England to see her sick friend Lucy. Lucy has a mysterious wound on her neck and they bring in Dr. Van Helsing (played by Nigel Davenport) who quickly realizes what her condition appears to be. Dracula cannot handle being apart from Lucy and stalks her nightly in hopes of being with her again. She is under Dracula's power and is drawn to him, and soon he bites her neck and she appears to becoming one of the undead. Using modern medical procedures Dr. Van Helsing is able to treat her symptoms and get her better. Taking advantage of Lucy's fiance, Arthur (played by Simon Ward) fighting off a dog attack, Dracula comes to Lucy's bedside and carries her off into the night, She is later found dead the next morning and buried.

It's not long before Lucy comes back and runs right to her fiances' arms where she tries to bite him and turn him into the undead, but she is thwarted by Dr. Van Helsing. Soon Van Helsing and Arthur go after her to release her from the curse. Van Helsing warns others of Dracula and what he is capable of in the hope of being able to catch him and kill him. Dracula soon goes crazy after finding out Lucy is truly dead and will stop at nothing to kill Van Helsing. Van Helsing tracks Dracula down to his home to try to bring an end to his reign of terror, knowing that when they finally meet it will be the end for one of them.

I have seen other adaptations of the Dracula story and this was one of the better versions. I find it interesting that this version was made for television, since a movie with this kind of questionable content usually does not make it to television. I liked that the love story that was written in a different way that the the original story. While I have seen Palance in some modern roles, it was interesting to see him in one of his older roles where he still had the same mysterious persona that I've always enjoyed in many of his other roles. I also enjoyed the fact that this move was made before much of the technology, which forced the producers to figure out how to make the movie scary without all the modern special effects.
Audio (2 out of 5 stars)
In Dolby Digital 2.0 English with option of French or Spanish and the ability to turn on English Subtitles. Sound effects were a little too loud compared to the dialogue. It's not a good mix, as it's difficult to hear the dialogue due to the excessively loud sound effects. On the other hand, the music helps with the suspense and adrenaline while watching and it doesn't overwhelm the rest of the audio mix.. 
Video (3 out of 5 stars)
Remastered from 35mm film to 2k high definition and shown in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The quality of the film is really good. You are able to see texture on peoples skin and the overall quality is something you would see on a modern made for TV movie. Not too big on visual special effects the film tried to make this movie a psychological thriller. Shot on location in England and Yugoslavia they were able to have some beautiful backgrounds as well as buildings and rooms were extravagant. 
Extras (4 out of 5 stars)
Interview with Jack Palance: We learn that Palance was frightened while playing this role and at times felt like he was becoming Dracula and had to take breaks from filming. He had worked with Curtis before so he knew that the film would be a great opportunity. Palance also reveals that he has never watched his version of Dracula, and he is not sure he would ever want to.

Interview with Dan Curtis: Dracula is one of Curtis' favorite stories, and he explains that he made some changes to original story (changes which have since been used in other remakes of this story). Curtis also shares that he feels that Palance was the best and most frightening Dracula ever portrayed.

Outtakes: Six minutes of various outtakes from the film all pieced together, with no option to play specific outtakes (and only one chapter, cannot skip chapter to get to next scene)

TV Cuts: There's four minutes of cuts that show the differences between the original television cut and the theatrical version. 

1. Lucy's staking version and what made it on TV.
2. Vampire bride's staking 
3. Dracula's staking

Trailer: Three minutes trailer that you would see before a movie in theaters or possibly on TV promoting film
Summary (3 out of 5 stars)
For being a made for television movie in the mid 70's, the quality of the film was really well done, the story-line along with a few special effects would have made this a scary movie to watch. The remastering of the film was nicely done to bring it up to modern quality, but the one thing I wished they worked on more was the audio mix. I enjoyed watching the interviews of the director Dan Curtis and actor Jack Palance and getting their take on the movie. It was also interesting to see how they edited the film for television by taking out the blood was interesting. For any Dracula fan this is a must watch version.

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