Dracula - Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler
Drácula - Carlos Villarías, Pablo Álvarez Rubio, Eduardo Arozamena
Dracula's Daughter - Gloria Holden, Otto Kruger, Edward Van Sloan
Son of Dracula - Lon Chaney Jr., Robert Paige, Louise Allbritton
House of Dracula - Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Glenn Strange
Dracula - Tod Browning
Drácula - George Melford, Enrique Tovar Ávalos
Dracula's Daughter - Lambert Hillyer
Son of Dracula - Robert Siodmak
House of Dracula - Erle C. Kenton
Well, if there is anything good to be said about the tragedy that is Van Helsing is that it gave Universal a reason to release it's Legacy Collection - a group a boxed DVD sets featuring the old Universal monster stalwarts - Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. The Dracula set features the original 1931 Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi in what can be considered one of the most important horror films ever created. For those who don't know (shame you), Dracula is based, albeit loosely, on the Bram Stoker novel of the same name about a Transylvanian Count by the name of Dracula who moves to London. It isn't too long before he is discovered to be a bloodsucking monster known as a vampire, who drains the life from his victims by biting them. When renowned "know-it-all" Van Helsing shows up, a showdown to destroy the vampire ensues.
While the description may make the story seem more action-oriented, it is told more like a dark drama, where the characters have depth and personality. There is a strong conflict between the count and the humans and the way the movie is filmed gives a lot of strong atmosphere to help the story along. While one can say that the story takes a lot of liberties with the original book, the heart of the tale remains and a number of the performances are standards that the genre has followed to this date. Bela Lugosi is great as Dracula, a horror icon played to the fullest. Dwight Frye plays possibly the most deranged, and possibly the deepest in character, Renfield to date. Edward Van Sloan's Van Helsing is likewise a great role realized.
While this film may not have all the modern conveniences, like high-tech effects, it still does wonders with sets, costumes and sheer ambiance. Later versions of the Dracula tale may be more action-oriented or laden with effects, this version does a great job, though it tends to be more glossy and polished in comparison to Nosferatu (1922), which is considered an unofficial first-telling of the Dracula story. The movie quality itself still shows some age in the transfer to digital media and I wish they had displayed the film in letterbox, but all-in-all, it's nice to finally have Dracula on DVD. Since the soundtrack can be kind of bare at times, Universal had Philip Glass (composer) and the Kronos Quartet (performer) create an alternate soundtrack which is a nice touch for those wanting a "little boost" to their film.
What really makes this DVD set great is the fact that it comes with four other films, including the Spanish version of Dracula, which was filmed at the same time as the version with Lugosi. Many film fans argue that the Spanish version is actually a better film because it includes more of the story and feels more complete, but the performances of Lugosi, Frye and Sloan from the English version are hard to beat.
Along with these two competing versions are a trio of sequels that, while good, don't hold a candle to the two original versions. Dracula's Daughter (1936) picks up the story after the original ends - Van Helsing is arrested for the murder of Dracula as he comes out from just staking the vampire. The mysterious Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden) arrives and steals Dracula's body in hopes that destroying it will release her from the vampire's curse. The story itself is far more a dark drama, or melodrama one might say, than anything remotely close to horror. Holden isn't even close to being intimidating, and her assistant Sandor (Irving Pichel) looks more like a morbid Shemp than anything. With that said, this film isn't bad, but it's obviously a B-Rated cash-in sequel that just accents the original. Sloan's time in the film outshines the rest of the cast and one has to wonder why Lugosi couldn't have made at least a cameo.
Son of Dracula (1943) features one of Universal's other big-name actors - Lon Chaney Jr., who plays the role of Count Alucard. Alucard shows up in the U.S. at the request of heiress, Louise Allbritton (Katherine Caldwell), so that she can be married to him and turned into a vampire. Of course, she wants to do this to be able to turn her lover into a vampire as well so they can love together, but with all the twists and turns the story creates, one might not see everything coming, especially the ending. I'll be honest, even with the limp vampire present in this film (Chaney just isn't intimidating or mysterious), the story is excellent enough to carry it. Plus, there are a number of well-done shots and even the effects look good, especially for the time the film was done.
The last film in the set is House of Dracula (1945), which proves to be a cavalcade of Universal's Monsters crammed into one flick. You have your Dracula (John Carradine), who goes by the name Baron Latos, your Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.), your Frankenstein's Monster (Glenn Strange), a hunchbacked nurse, a Jeckyl and Hyde-like doctor.... Well, you get the point. Where some of the other films lack the "bang-for-your-buck" in excitable horror action, this one more than makes up for it. A lot of the special effects show signs of being perfected by now and the film has a strong flow to it.
Even though the original Dracula film seems to lack the polish of the digital transfer, the three sequels all look clean and crisp in their new digital forms. The sound, while mono, is also well transferred. The DVD set, which features one single-sided disc and a double-sided disc, also comes with the documentary The Road to Dracula and a lot of little extras.
If you're a fan of the original Lugosi Dracula or old Universal Monster's horror, this set, which isn't priced too badly for five movies, is a must buy. Yeah all of the films have their low points and I have to wonder why they didn't do a better job at remastering Dracula or even if it was possible to show the films in letterbox, the nostalgia factor with these films is worth it for the occasional viewing and just to have it in your collection.