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Dan Curtis’ Dracula (Blu-ray Review)

Dan-Curtis-DraculaI’m pretty sure I’d never seen this version of Dracula prior to this review.  A few things seemed familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure if it was this film I was being reminded of, or just that it was the Dracula story that I knew and other similar Dracula films that were in my brain.  Anywho, this televised Dracula classic starring Jack Palance just got a brand new 2K transfer and is coming to your Blu-ray players in the next couple weeks.  The Dan Curtis film was a hit when it aired on CBS back in 1974.  How does it hold up in the sea of many takes on the legendary Count?  How was legendary film actor Jack Palance in the title role?  Come along with me as I take a look at this piece of horror television history in the new edition coming May 27th from MPI Home Video.

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Film 

This rendition of the Bram Stoker novel Dracula was a television film starring Jack Palance that aired in February of 1974.  It was originally slated to air in October 1973 but was postponed because of president Richard Nixon giving an address on the resignation of Spiro Agnew.  It is helmed by Dan Curtis of Dark Shadows fame and stars screen legend Jack Palance as Dracula.

This is probably the first commercial attempt at Dracula tale in the wake of the Hammer Films.  There’s a little change to the film’s story as it borrows a plot element heavily from the show Dark Shadows.  In an interview on the disc, Dan Curtis even admits to knocking himself off by borrowing his key element from his TV series and infusing it into the Dracula story.  I don’t think this is a bad thing.  I like that infusion of putting your own touch on something even if you’re borrowing from something else.  It’s an added element that makes this Dracula more interesting than just watching that same story again but with a different cast and crew and era.

The film doesn’t completely feel like a television movie, but it moreso wavers from feeling like a feature film to feeling like a made-for-tv film.  Its definitely a slow moving affair and does its best to restrain itself and not go completely big all the time.  I don’t know if it was originally planned to head to TV, as there are some alternate takes with scenes that are more graphic labeled as “Theatrical Edition”.  But, sometimes our TV movies in the US end up getting theatrical releases overseas.  Maybe that’s what happened with this one.

Jack Palance made for a pretty good Dracula.  It sounded kind of campy a choice to me going in.  But, I was a kid of the 80s that didn’t grow up with the actor he was for the generations behind me.  My go-to films on him were things like Batman, City Slickers and Cops And Robbersons (as Aaron Neuwirth would say “Cops And Robbersons? Now THAT’S a callback!).  Palance total commits to Dracula and plays him just as a person.  He never relishes in being a bogey man of sorts.  Of course there’s attack scenes and the like, but Palance underplays them rightly.  I honestly think he might be a very underrated Dracula looking back.

As a fan of the tales of Dracula and Frankenstein, I’m always sort of giddy to see new takes on them.  I had never seen this one to my knowledge or memory and it was a decent piece of work.  I liked some of the new angles and Palance’s calm take on the title character.  It does kind of drag a bit and is pretty slow plodding (probably in order to keep in the TV’s time slot), but is definitely worth a look for horror historians like myself.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1:78.1

Clarity/Detail: This picture has plenty of detail and is surprisingly pretty sharp.  It looks like they took a very “hands off” approach to this transfer and I applaud them heavily for that.  Its an overall cold looking image (as I’m sure was intended) and one that should impress.

Depth:  Pretty standard.  Nothing jaw dropping, but its a pretty typical looking catalog title.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty dark and detail does get lost at time in it.

Color Reproduction: Blood looks rather awesome.  There’s not really a strong palette from which this film ranges, but everything has a nice realistic tone to it.  Lots of browns.

Flesh Tones:  Flesh tones are cold, detailed and consistent.  The only parts in question is when there is a wipe to another scene or a fade about to happen it flickers a bit or changes a slightly different tone.

Noise/Artifacts:  There’s some dirt and spots on the print and a layer of grain, but that’s it.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA, French 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics:  This is a rather solid 2.o track.  There’s really no analog distortion or peaking or hissing of S’s that comes with some of these.  Its a pretty impressive and balanced track.

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clear and pretty rich.

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Extras 

Interview With Actor Jack Palance (SD, 3:57) – A segment from an old interview with Jack where he discusses playing Dracula and how he became too close to the character it frightened him a bit.

Interview With Producer/Director Dan Curtis (SD, 4:23) – Like the other interview, this is a portion from a bigger interview where Dan Curtis discusses bringing it to life with his own touch, adding Dark Shadows’ love story.

Outtakes (HD, 6:28) – Appears to be some alternate takes and screen tests.  There’s no audio in any of them, so its just the score played over the scenes.

TV Cuts (HD, 3:41) – A comparison of the alternate bloodless scenes for television to their theatrical counterparts.

Trailer (HD, 2:51)

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Summary 

I’m guessing this is going to be a pretty niche item.  But for those of you fans who may be on the fence with this one, I can easily tell you to pick this up.  The new transfer and lossless 2.0 track are quite outstanding for what this is.  Its reason enough alone to plop down your money for it.  You also get some solid bonus features.   The interviews may be short, but they are full of really good information.  This is a solid recommend for fans of this film and vintage horror fanatics in general.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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