Surely there's no real point in recounting the plot of Dracula here; suffice to say that the vampire Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) moves to London, where his predations run afoul of Prof. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), a scientist wise enough to believe in the old ways.
This Universal disc has an embarrassment of riches, not only containing a restored (but still very worn in places) print, but also the Spanish version, and an alternate score composed by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet.
Watching the Spanish version immediately after the English version is a revelation: not only does it reveal exactly how much difference things like camera placement and staging can make, but it also provides a quick education in economy, as one notes which scenes were used in both versions - some even including Lugosi! Shot on the same magnificent sets at night, the Spanish crew felt a very healthy sense of competition with the American version. And it shows in a livelier product. This production also hews closer to the original shooting script, answering some questions left hanging in the English film, and weighing in at almost half an hour longer.
A lot of bad things have been said about the new Glass score, but I did not find it offensive. Its major problem, besides the fact that it is so identifiably a Glass composition, is the music rarely stops; like a score for a silent film, it seems to continue underneath the entire film. A good film composer knows that sometimes silence is the better choice. That said, oftentimes the new music is quite effective, and even welcome in a notoriously under-scored early talkie.
The restored English version, as noted earlier, still shows a surprising amount of wear, especially when compared with the Spanish Dracula, which was struck from the original nitrate and is absolutely gorgeous. Fate conspires to let us know exactly how good we have it, as the third reel had deteriorated beyond reclamation and Universal was obliged to use a show print located somewhere in South America. For the entirety of that reel, we see the Spanish print in the way we were used to seeing the Lugosi version all those years on TV: washed-out, contrasty and heavily lined and speckled.
"The Road to Dracula" is a half-hour featurette that seems a bit scattered, since it seems to have interviews with everyone from Clive Barker to Lugosi's son to Lupita Tovar (who played the Mina character in the Spanish version) to practically anybody who's written a book about vampires in the last decade. Not as messy but as far-ranging is David J. Skal's audio commentary during the English version, which delights the viewer with stories of what happened to the major players later in life (some tragic, some mundane) and details such as the ragged piece of cardboard taped to a lampshade in Mina's room, mysterious not only for its presence, but the fact that after so many viewings I had never seen it before! Unfortunately, it also annoys at times, as Skal fills the occasional space by reading from the novel. Also included are production notes on the Spanish version and a taped intro by the aforementioned Lupita Tovar, which is excerpted in the "Road to Dracula" piece.
Universal is to be commended for cramming this much bounty into a single disc - for the student of the genre or the filmmaking craft, it is an valuable disc, indeed.
Dr. Freex, 3/15/00