Dracula (1979): Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1979 (November 26, 2019)
Studio(s)The Mirisch Corporation/Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
“He has walked through centuries—untouched by time. He has seen empires rise and fall. He possesses the wisdom of the ages. Throughout eternity, no man has provoked such terrible fear, and such haunting desire... Dracula.”
1979’s Dracula is an interesting film because it’s one of the first, at least in the mainstream world, to explore the character as a figure of eroticism and romance. He’s less of a terrifying creature of the night and more of a charismatic demon in the sheets, so to speak. Although the film isn’t overtly sexual, one can’t deny the presence of Frank Langella, who only played Dracula once on film, but managed to make a memorable mark upon the legacy of the character.
On the other hand, Dracula is also a somewhat confused film. While the character is being portrayed in a much different way that relies less on horror and more on sex appeal, the more obligatory elements surrounding him seem to clash a bit. The story, though taking minor u-turns as the story often does from one interpretation to another, follows the original tale as we know it in a relatively straightforward fashion. It’s also interesting that we never see Dracula with his fangs extended, not unlike Bela Lugosi.
The film also features interesting locations and performances from all involved, including Laurence Olivier, who at the time was quite ill. Donald Pleasance offers himself up as a mostly ineffective character, scarfing down food at inappropriate moments. Kate Nelligan is memorable as Dracula’s potential bride to be, while Jan Francis has little to do until her reveal as the undead Mina (which is arguably the most effective scene in the film, at least from a horror fan’s perspective). The bloodshed is minimal outside of the opening scene when the crew of Dracula’s approaching ship is attacked.
Even with its flaws, there’s plenty to enjoy about Dracula besides Frank Langella’s performance. It’s beautifully-shot by Gilbert Taylor with a wonderful score from John Williams, both fresh off Star Wars. While making it, there were split camps of people who wanted it to be different things, but that conflict doesn’t always wind up on screen here. It’s a different take, one that other filmmakers (as well as authors of books and comics) would later dip into as well.
Earlier in 2019, Universal re-released their Blu-ray of Dracula (which was previously released in 2014). That version contained a desaturized version of the film, a process that was carried out in the early 1990s as a retroactive stylistic choice on the part of director John Badham. As such, the film hasn’t been seen with its full theatrical color palette in nearly three decades. Scream Factory rectifies that with a new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of the film, presenting both versions of the film on separate discs.
Disc One presents the desaturated version where colors struggle, but manage to come through occasionally, such as the lovemaking scene between Dracula and Lucy. Outside of that, it tends to lean more towards black and white. Grain is sometimes so thin that it can barely be seen and blacks levels are often crushed. Speckling, lines through the frame, and occasional scratches are leftover, though minor in appearance. There’s also mild destabilization from time to time, which is obviously more noticeable in static shots. Despite its shortcomings, detail manages to poke through and everything is sharp and well-defined when given the chance.
Disc Two presents the full color version, which is sourced from a new 4K scan of what’s touted as “original elements.” The opening 20 minutes or so of the film are much softer than everything afterwards, while the final minutes feature much more obvious leftover damage, particularly black and white speckling, as well as sporadic instability. Detail is improved over its desaturized counterpart, as is the obvious aspect of its existence: the color palette. It’s richer with warmer skin tones and bolder uses of red, blue, and purple, among other hues. It’s also brighter with blacks that aren’t quite as crushed comparatively, though some are inherent to the source. This presentation also comes with the vintage “When in Hollywood, visit Universal Studios” card at the end, which is nice to see.
The film’s audio is presented in English 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH on both versions. The stereo is quite aggressive, particularly in the opening moments aboard the ship at sea, and later when the sound of horse-drawn carriages pans across the sound field. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernable, while sound effects have plenty of weight to them. John Williams’ score is perfectly realized, settling in nicely with the other elements without feeling overabundant. Everything is mixed together well, offering some nice atmospherics and no leftover distortion, hiss, crackle, or dropouts. It’s a fine sound experience, overall.
Each disc also comes with its own set of extras, some newly-produced for this set:
DISC ONE: DIRECTOR’S VERSION
- Audio Commentary with Director John Badham
- Introduction by Director John Badham (HD – 1:10)
- King of My Kind: John Badham Remembers Dracula (HD – 32:18)
- What Sad Music: W.D. Richter and the Writing of Dracula (HD – 33:26)
- Interview with Editor John Bloom (HD – 21:13)
- Interview with Assistant Director Anthony Waye (HD – 15:54)
- Interview with Production Manager Hugh Harlow (HD – 21:36)
- Dracula’s Guest: An Interview with Jim Alloway (HD – 6:17)
- Interview with Make-Up Artist Peter Robb-King (HD – 25:18)
- Dracula’s Guest: An Interview with Colin Jamison (HD – 4:36)
- The Revamping of Dracula (SD – 39:12)
DISC TWO: THEATRICAL VERSION
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian and Filmmaker Constantine Nasr
- Introduction by Director John Badham (HD – 1:10)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:44)
- Still Gallery (HD – 8:27)
- Radio Spots (HD – 3 in all – 1:33)
Most of the new material is found on the first disc, which includes a slew of new interviews by Michael Felsher and Constantine Nasr. John Badham’s introduction to the film is the same on both discs, basically asking the viewer to make up their own mind about which version they prefer. His vintage audio commentary goes into detail about the making of the film while he watches it by himself, pausing a bit too often. In his interview, he goes over his impressions of Frank Langella from the original play and how he utilized him for the film. W.D. Richter speaks about his adaptation of the material and his retrospective feelings on it. John Bloom talks about working with John Badham and how several scenes were re-shot. Anthony Waye speaks about the troubles while filming, including the surviving of a storm while shooting scenes on the ship at the beginning of the film. Hugh Harlow discusses his work setting up locations and dealing with the cast and crew, specifically Laurence Olivier. Jim Alloway talks about shooting the film and the difficulties that lay therein. Peter Robb-King speaks about his work on the film, including the make-up effects he took part in. Colin Jamison discusses the hairstyles he did for the actors. The Revamping of Dracula is a vintage documentary about the making of the film, which interviews Frank Langella, John Badham, Walter Mirisch, and W.D. Richter.
On the second disc is an audio commentary by Constantine Nasr, which provides plenty of illuminating information in a mostly off-the-cuff manner, which is a little different from his usual commentaries, while also featuring a fun cameo from one of his fellow commentators for a quick laugh. The animated still gallery features 155 images of on-set photos, behind-the-scenes pictures, promotional stills, posters, lobby cards, and promotional materials. Three radio spots are also included, but the film’s TV spots are missing in action. This release also sports reversible artwork with new art on one side and the original theatrical art on the other.
1979’s Dracula isn’t a perfect film, but it’s hypnotic and fascinating, and it’s a shame that newer generations haven’t seen it the way it was originally intended. Scream Factory has seen fit to repair that, making this Blu-ray release a major feather in their cap, as well as a long overdue wrong that has been properly righted. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons