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Dracula (1979) – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

1979 was the year of Count Dracula in cinemas. And now, 40 years later, all 3 films featuring the dark prince can be found on Scream Factory Blu-rays. Joining the previously released Love at First Bite and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu comes John Badham’s follow up to his cultural phenomenon that was Saturday Night Fever. The film debuted on Blu-ray a few years back but has remained controversial on home video ever since the days of VHS. But, no longer, as Scream Factory will be including the theatrical version of the film featuring the original color timing (We’ll get to that in the review). It also features an impressive lineup of all new interviews (Unfortunately none of them Frank Langella). This release is under the Collector’s Edition banner and encompasses its content over 2-discs (Each color timing is presented on its own disc). You’ll be able to own this one just before your Thanksgiving feast (If you’re an American) when it arrives on Scream Factory Blu-ray November 26th.

Film

Throughout history, Dracula has filled the hearts of men with fear and the hearts of women with desire. In this stylish production of Bram Stoker’s classic gothic horror tale, Frank Langella, reprises his electrifying, award-winning stage performance as the bloodthirsty Count Dracula as he goes in search of his ultimate bride. Meanwhile, the renowned and relentless vampire hunter, Professor Van Helsing (Sir Laurence Olivier), seeks to end the dark prince’s reign of terror over the citizens of Transylvania. Featuring an all-star cast, fine direction and a superbly atmospheric score by the great John Williams, Dracula is an unforgettable adaption of one of the most enduring horror legends of all time.

Let’s get right to it; the original color timing on John Badham’s Dracula is absolutely fantastic! Shame on him for not giving us the option to view it like this for all these years. While not his intention when making the film and overcompensating afterward to be closer to said intention (He wanted to shoot in black and white which the studio rejected), he absolutely delivered here in its original appearance. This movie breathes a whole new life and walks a whole new walk. And its a BETTER film in this form. There is a period richness that comes out, things and textures are VISIBLE. Horror is more effective. The scene where Van Helsing and Dr. Seward are making their way through the underground tunnel and run into a vampire is a world’s different. She is F***ING frightening with vivid blood-red pupils and one of the scariest looking make-up jobs ever. In addition these sets are even more gorgeous. My whole life I’ve gone back to this movie time to time, wondering what this color timing would be and it might be the thing that’s held me back from full respect and actually loving the film.

I’ve always been fascinated by the film a director does when they get their “one for me”. Or their big self indulgent opus. We don’t see it much anymore because once they get noticed they are awarded with nothing but “Which franchise will you be directing a film for?”. They are handed gobs of money and told “Make something, anything you want!” after a smashing success. Famous examples of this are Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Hell, even George Lucas doing Star Wars after American Graffiti could fit this category. But of the former two, I’m moreso interested in the ones that didn’t go over well with audiences. Grand swings and a miss. Sometimes they age VERY well (Sorcerer could quite possibly be Friedkin’s best film) and others somehow manage to gain a cult following (Heaven’s Gate is better than its reputation, but I’m still not calling it great as some seem to have re-assessed). John Badham’s huge breakout came with Saturday Night Fever, an awards attracting film and cultural phenomenon. His follow-up; a new rendition on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Badham’s Dracula just feels grand and epic of the moment it was made. In casting, getting the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier to portray Van Helsing just feels humongous. Donald Pleasence comes right on the heels of his comeback after the success of Halloween. Frank Langella is that kinda lesser known breakout that would fit the title role and not distract. Other people in the cast may have been much larger names from around the time it was made, but many have faded in terms of public consciousness. John Williams doing the score is just the capper on all of this as he had become THE guy to do your big movie score following iconic successes on Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters and Superman. His Dracula score may not be as well revered as those or the ones that came after, but once it starts it immediately feels iconic, perfectly compliments look and feel of this film and elevates it to a much grander scale.

There’s an appreciation to be found in this Dracula as it takes its own spin on the story. While going for a more romantic and sex-symbol Dracula within the narrative, there’s a big locale change of sorts with the setting of the film. It also skips some of the more familiar introductory scenes and starts some where different. Its intriguing and gives the film its own flavor. The characters have themselves some unique flavor as Dr. Seward gets a lot more facetime here it and thanks for that as Donald Pleasence is a joy to watch deliver his lines. Olivier fits his role perfectly. They do make Jonathan Harker quite unlikable here, which is a more adventurous choice. Langella has a bouffant that is pretty striking and silly at first glance, but once you settle in, you realize he’s pretty damn captivating and perfect in this role. I’m not sure he’s anyone’s favorite Dracula, but he’s a damn fine one and the guy became known for it.

1979’s Dracula is a real treasure to revisit. I’ve mentioned that I enjoy it more and more with each return, but now in its original color timing my assessment of it has improved tremendously. This is a film that just looks and feels really big. Badham really makes this one epic and every single penny spent on this movie lies on the screen. Everything from set design, to performances to gore (Yes, this one bleeds and gets nasty when it wants to) really works. Some may not vibe it, and that’s fine, but you really have to respect the effort that went into it to make a big movie. Perhaps being one of 3 Dracula movies in 1979 didn’t help and people had that on the brain when experiencing it. But now, its been 40 years and we can just find it on its own merits and maybe enjoy some things that could possibly be a little more ahead of its time or not so bothersome now.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: For this review I will only be covering the original theatrical timing from disc 2. Since the desaturated color timing has already been available and reviewed, there is no reason to repeat what is already know. This new image has been given a 4K scan from the original film elements. The film has a whole new life to it with this added character of color. Now, its not just this rich vivid appearance now, its rather just full of more natural colors, with a few that stand out. But nonetheless, it feels a major improvement. The print here reveals a little bit of unfocused camera work at times that has some blurry moments here and there that I feel are a result of the source and not the transfer. Its a softer film by design, but carries some pretty strong detail. For me, I prefer this easily over the desaturated look in both experience and Blu-ray picture quality.

Depth: Some decent depth here, coming more in the just above average range. However, the camera movements prove enough confident and there is solid spacing on the interiors from foreground and background. Movements are smooth and cinematic with no motion distortion issues.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and on a more natural level. Things are a hair grainier in the darkened sequences. Minimal information is lost to darkness. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Color now is actually a part of this film. Even though its not of the EVERYTHING POPS NOW! kind of fashion, its still refreshing to look at. Reds are the most striking of colors from blood, red eyes or mainly that damned love scene that roars off of your screen. Orange fall colored leaves take on a nice tone as well. Grays and darkened char colors impress on the castle and cavernous sets as well.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Facial features and textures are more noticeable the closer the camera angle peers in. The make-up touches look fantastic here, especially on the underground vampire as well as just seeing bite marks on a neck or the pale skin.

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Both versions of the film feature the same English 2.0 Stereo track that was used for the previous release from Universal. Its a pretty fine mix that really lovingly displays the score. There’s only a hint that really shows its analog origins or limitations. But honestly, its clean, loud, deep and effective.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are pretty clean and crisp with a nice romantic and prescient feel to them.

Extras

Dracula – Collector’s Edition is 2 Blu-ray disc set and has a reversible cover featuring the original theatrical poster. Each color timed version of the film has its own disc.

Disc 1 – Desaturated Color Timing

Audio Commentary

  • With Director John Badham

Introduction By Director John Badham (HD, 1:10) – Badham explains the difference and reasoning for the color timing of the film. He asks you to let him know which one you feel is better, but doesn’t give you any way of doing so.

Interview With John Badham (HD, 32:18) – Badham goes over being offered this to follow up Saturday Night Fever, finding Langella playing Dracula onstage, buying into Richter’s take on the source material and then goes over the film with a very actor’s perspective slant. Badham carefully skirts around how Langella was working with other actors on the film without sounding to harsh on him (Mentioning that he didn’t like working with certain actors, yet brought it and was very professional the whole time). He then discusses his decision and technique with desaturating the film and appreciates that it found an audience even if not the large audience it was supposed to upon release.

Interview with writer W.D. Richter (HD, 33:26) –  “Do it in a different way” was the idea behind this version of Dracula, an attempt to try to reign the character back to a more serious version again. Very excited to talk about the film/script’s many moments, he ultimately got a thrill out of shaking things up, especially at the end. He notes that American audiences tend to have trouble with open ended closes to movies and sticks by their choice on that with this film. Richter feels he can thank Dracula for making him legitimate as a working writer, validating him on a low level.

Interview With Editor John Bloom (HD, 21:13) – He calls his introduction to Dracula “slightly bizarre”, inquiring about the film after seeing a parking spot reserved for “John Badham – Dracula” and thus he pursued it. Through going over some of his processes, he has an interesting aside about how difficult it was to just transport stuff to show the director footage as he was shooting. He mentions it was rare back then for an editor to be taken on location.  He hopes people give it another look as there’s “a damn good film in there”.

Interview with assistant director Anthony Waye (HD, 15:54) – The film came in a “peculiar year” for him. Waye is a bit monotone and mumbly, but he goes over plenty of scouting talk and gives his experience and some stories he can recall.

Interview with production manager Hugh Harlow (HD, 21:36) – Harlow worked on the stage production of Dracula and was working on Flash Gordon when he got the call to work on the film version. He recalls many things, including repainting mattes to be as period accurate as they could, but one of them involves Laurence Olivier revolving him be unable to perform certain neck movements due to his “condition”.

Interview with camera assistant Jim Alloway (HD, 6:17) – He opens on a tale of being dismissed and being paid for 2 weeks work. Alloway talks about Kate Nelligan being flown in and out during the shoot so she could be in a play and how Olivier preferred being called “Sir Larry” or “Lord Olivier” on set. There’s a story about consistently running out of film running out quickly because Kodak was sending them the wrong length labeled incorrectly.

Interview with make-up artist Peter Robb-King (HD, 25:18) – “What a film and what an experience.” He opens discussing on Badham’s having to become accustomed to working in England on a film. Robb-King considers the film an example of working on a film that went against the typical image (Dracula as a romantic lead) compared to the other well documented films of the same subject matter.

Interview with hair stylist Colin Jamison (HD, 4:36) – “Frank Langella insisted on wearing a wig…he was terribly fussy about his look.” He did work on Frank, Laurence Olivier (A wig, and mentions he took steroids) and Kate Nelligan (Who wore hair pieces), whom was supposed to resemble Dolly Parton (Whom Badham thought was the epitome of the most beautiful woman in the world). Jamison considers it a happy film.

The Revamping of Dracula Featurette (SD, 39:12)

Disc 2 – Original Theatrical Color Timing

Introduction with Director John Badham (HD, 1:10) – Same intro as appearing on Disc 1.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:44) 

Image Gallery (HD, 8:27)

Radio Spots (HD, 1:33) 

Summary

John Badham’s Dracula continues to strengthen for me with every viewing. Scream Factory’s latest release of the film, finally with its original color timing has helped the film to take a significant leap in that regard. Its a shame (I feel) there doesn’t seem to be a huge buzz over this release as this is a pretty significant triumph and one of those things you’d never think would finally see the light of day like Halloween 6 Producer’s Cut or Nightbreed’s Cabal Cut. And to boot, they’ve stacked it up with some terrific interviews. This truly is a must have for any film fan, a complete collector’s item you never know when it may ever be available again.

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Writer/Reviewer, 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, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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