Dracula: The Legacy Collection (Dracula / Dracula (1931 Spanish Version) / Dracula's Daughter / Son of Dracula / House of Dracula)
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For the first time ever, the original Dracula film comes to DVD in this extraordinary Legacy Collection. Included in the collection is the original classic, starring the renowned Bela Lugosi, and three timeless sequels, featuring such legendary actors as Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine and others. These are the landmark films that inspired an entire genre of movies and continue to be major influences on motion pictures to this day.
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"Dracula" staring Bela Lugosi is the key film in this collection. Lugosi's Dracula became the model which most of the film adaptations since have used. Being made during a period where sound in films was new, results in a very quiet movie, which in some places adds to its eeriness. The direction, by Tod Browning, is fairly bland, and there are some truly odd moments, such as the shot of armadillos in Dracula's castle in Transylvania. Nevertheless, this is a key film from an historical standpoint, and it should not be missed, and its premier on February 12th, 1931 in New York City marked the arrival of the Universal Horror movies.
"Dracula" (a.k.a. Spanish Dracula in the U.S.) was filmed at the same time as the Bela Lugosi movie. Sound was new in movies, and the studio thought that people would respond better to a movie shot in their own language as opposed to the use of dubbing. This movie used the same sets as the other movie, filming at night where the other cast filmed during the day. They also used some long shots cut from the English version, because their budget was significantly smaller. This movie was made for about $66,000 where the English version cost $355,000. The direction by George Melford is superior to that of Tod Browning, and in many ways this is the superior version of the movie. This movie premiered on March 20th, 1931 in Madrid.
"Dracula's Daughter" (a.k.a. Daughter of Dracula) picks up at almost the exact moment where the first movie ends. The police arrest Van Helsing (played in both movies by Edward Van Sloan) for killing Dracula. Countess Marya Zeleska (Gloria Holden), who is Dracula's Daughter, steals Dracula's body and destroys it, hoping that she will be free from the curse. When it does not work, she decides she wants Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) to return with her to Transylvania. When he refuses, she kidnaps Janet Blake (Marguerite Churchill) and returns to Transylvania knowing that Dr. Garth will follow and try to rescue her. This film is supposedly based on a Bram Stoker short story titled "Dracula's Guest". I don't know if that is true, but the chase back to Transylvania is reminiscent of the end of the novel "Dracula". The logic of the plot of this movie was rather poor, as the viewer can only wonder as to why the Countess didn't simply hypnotize Dr. Garth the way she did so many others, and then compel him to return with her. This movie was released on May 11th, 1936.
"Son of Dracula" features Lon Chaney Jr., as Count Alucard (Dracula backwards) who comes to the United States feeling that it has new blood which will help energize him. The plot has a few twists in it, and the viewer learns through events about things which must have taken place before the events in the movie. The traditional roles are filled here with Katherine `Kay' Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) being Dracula's interest, Frank Stanley (Robert Paige) as Kay's boyfriend, Professor Harry Brewster (Frank Craven) the traditional man of science, and Professor Laszlo (J. Edward Bromberg) being the Van Helsing type. This film premiered on November 5th, 1943.
"House of Dracula" (a.k.a. The Wolf Man's Cure) is the most bizarre film of this collection. It opens with Dracula (John Carradine), apparently no longer destroyed, visiting Dr. Edelman (Onslow Stevens), apparently interested in a cure for his curse. Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), who is the Wolf Man, shows up the next night, also in search of a cure. Events result in the discovery of Frankenstein's Monster (Glenn Strange), and later in a Jekyll and Hyde situation. Throw in the beautiful hunchback Nina (Jane Adams), and Miliza Morrelle (Martha O'Driscoll) who is the love interest for both Dracula and the Wolf Man, and don't forget some angry villagers, and you have a very strange mix. This was the sequel to "House of Frankenstein" (a.k.a. Dracula's Doom) which came out the year before. For some reason, this movie was nominated for a retro Hugo for Dramatic Presentation for the year 1945. This is a fun movie to watch, but hardly a great film. It premiered on December 7th, 1945.
This is a good collection of movies for those who like the early Universal films, but I do wonder about the overall quality of the DVDs, because of the problems I had with the dual-sided second DVD. I thought it was also rather sparse in terms of documentation for the films themselves. There is no booklet, just a single sheet which has a very short description of the movies and is really more of an advertisement for the other sets in the collection and the Van Helsing movie. The movies themselves vary quite a bit in terms of picture quality and sound. I would say it is a good collection, but they could have done much more with it.
Dracula's Daughter starts off promisingly with Van Helsing arrested for the murder of Dracula only to be let off the hook when the count's daughter steals the body, but despite trying to bring something new to the formula through her desire to lose her family curse and live a normal life, in the end its all premise and no payoff. There's a mild lesbian frisson in Gloria Holden's scene with Nan Gray's model, but the film feels under-developed all the way and Marguerite Churchill's heroine is one of the most malicious and thoroughly unpleasant female leads imaginable.
Son of Dracula is in many ways the best of Universal's Dracula movies despite the studio's obsession with relocating their monster stable to the Deep South. Lon Chaney Jr. isn't quite as bad as usual as Count Alucard, but the real backbone of the film is a strong script with an interesting plot twist that's not afraid to leave its nominal hero in the throes of madness. The smoke effects are particularly enjoyable.
House of Dracula is another one of the studio's monster mashes, but and enjoyable one with good doctor Onslow Stevens finding himself with Dracula, the Wolfman and the Frankenstein Monster among his patients. But having spent so much time killing Dracula and curing Talbot (his lycanthropy is psychosomatic, apparently), it suffers from a rushed ending that barely has time to fit the good doctor going mad, reviving the Frankenstein monster, killing his loyal hunchbacked nurse before everything goes up in flames: in fact, he's so rushed off his feet that even Lionel Atwill's police chief and the rioting villagers only get a couple of shots, turning up just in time to run away. The real star of the show is John Carradine's Dracula, one of the most interesting screen interpretations, seducing his victim through music with a sad dignity that reminds you that sometimes the Devil really is a gentleman.
Sadly, once you get past the Lugosi film, the presentation falters. By putting the remaining four films on both sides of one disc, extras are suddenly non-existent and the discs are liable to problems: despite going through two copies, there are problems playing a couple of scenes in Son of Dracula and House of Dracula on a number of different players. Be aware that you might find yourself returning this one a few times to get one that plays properly!