• Dracula (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 26th, 2019.
    Director: John Badham
    Cast: Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Kate Nelligan, Donald Pleasence, Trevor Eve, Jan Francis, Tony Haygarth
    Year: 1979
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    Dracula – Movie Review:

    Directed by John Badham (right after the success of his 1977 film Saturday Night Fever) for Universal Pictures and released in 1979, Dracula, based on the stage play by Hamilton Deane which was in turn based on Bram Stoker’s classic novel, stars Frank Langella in the iconic role.

    When the film begins, a large ship has crashed up on the shore of Whitby, the only survivor a man named Count Dracula. It just so happens that the wreck happened near an asylum overseen by Dr. Jack Seward (Donald Pleasance) and when they learn that Dracula has just purchased the nearby crumbling Carfax Abbey to serve as his new abode, Seward and daughter Lucy (Kate Nelligan) have the Count over for dinner. Here he makes quite an impression on Lucy and her friend Mina (Jan Francis), much to the dismay of Lucy’s fiancé, Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve).

    Soon enough, Mina is found dead, two holes on her neck serving as the only clue to what may have caused her demise. Lucy is his next victim, though after she’s bitten she returns to cause further complications for her father. Meanwhile, Mina’s father, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Sir Lawrence Olivier), arrives in the area and quickly figures out what has really happened here. While Dracula uses his new servant, Renfield (Tony Haygarth), to help obfuscate his activities, Van Helsing and Harker set out to put a stop to Dracula once and for all.

    Quite an interesting and atmospheric take on Stoker’s story, Dracula is an effectively moody piece featuring some impressive set design and solid acting from pretty much all involved. Pleasance is quite strong as the man in charge of the asylum, playing his part without chewing the scenery as he’s done in quite a few of his other pictures. He’s very good here. Trevor Eve isn’t particularly remarkable as Harker but neither is he particularly bad, he’s sufficient enough at least. Kate Nelligan and Jan Francis are both quite alluring in their respective roles, Nelligan in particular once she’s given the bite and turned. Tony Haygarth is delightfully insane (and surprisingly sympathetic) as Renfield while Olivier makes for an interesting choice to play the story’s main vampire hunter, lending his inimitable screen presence to the film and the picture all the better for it.

    Of course, the real star of the show is Frank Langella as Dracula himself. He’s suave and slick, you can see why women would be taken by him. Langella delivers his lines with the right mix of dark brooding and proper enthusiasm, never overdoing it but really fitting into the part quite nicely.

    Production values are strong. The English locations add a lot of impressive atmosphere to the movie and most of the effects work holds up better than you’d expect. Add to that a genuinely great score from John Williams and this one really does turn out to be quite underrated and underappreciated.

    Dracula – Blu-ray Review:

    Shout! Factory brings Dracula to Blu-ray in two separate AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers framed at 2.35.1 widescreen on two separate 50GB discs. The first disc contains the desaturated version of the film, which is how director John Badham prefers the film to be seen. This version takes up 42GBs of space on the disc and it looks quite good, no problems with compression to note and crisp detail throughout, and solid black levels as well. The colors are, as you’d likely have guessed, desaturated so the film almost looks black and white at times but stylistically speaking it looks quite cool. It’s also pretty much spotless, showing no noticeable print damage at all.

    The second disc contains the more colorful theatrical version of the film, and this transfer uses up 33GBs of space on its disc. Noted as being taken from a 4K Scan 'of the best available film elements' this one looks noticeably softer than the desaturated version and was likely taken from a print. It’s watchable enough to be sure but it doesn’t look as sharp or as detailed as the version included on the first disc. It also shows a bit of damage here and there, mostly just small white specks.

    Both versions of the film are given 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 tracks in English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems with the audio here at all, it sounds fine. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow and the score sounds quite nice, as do the sound effects used throughout the picture.

    Extras are spread across the two discs in the set as follows:

    Disc One:

    There’s a lot of new material starting with a quick seventy-second introduction from director John Badham, included on both presentations. King Of My Kind sees John Badham sit down on camera for a thirty-two-minute talk about the film, covering some of the same ground as he does in the commentary track included here, such as the importance of casting Langella in the film, the set design, adapting the material for the big screen and more. What Sad Music is a thirty-three-minute piece with writer W.D. Richter. He speaks about how he landed the role, his thoughts on the stage play that inspired the film and how they tried to make the titular character just a little bit different to the screen versions that audiences had seen in movies before. In Dracula’s Guest we get to spend six-minutes with camera assistant Jim Alloway who notes that after certain scenes were shot the team was dismissed by the studio. There’s also a new interview here with editor John Bloom that clocks in at twenty-one-minutes where he talks about how and why he took the job on this picture, his familiarity with the stage version when his family saw it in New York, why certain scenes required reshoots and his thoughts on the cast. Make-Up Artist Peter Robb-King gets twenty-five-minutes on camera to talk about his work on the picture, including how he wound up becoming involved with the movie, working with Badham and some of the tricky continuity that he had to contend with. Hairstylist Colin Jamison is up next in a five-minute piece where she talks about dealing with Olivier and Langella, both of whom were a bit difficult in their own unique ways. Assistant Director Anthony Waye talks for sixteen-minutes about his work on the film, the state of the industry at the time, the location work that the film demanded, what it was like on set and more. The last of the new featurettes is a twenty-two-minute session with production manager Hugh Harlow where he talks about what it was like working with Badham, who became quite frustrated with the studio at times, dealing with the different cast members assembled for the picture, and dealing with Olivier in particular.

    Carried over from older releases is an audio commentary with director John Badham. It’s a good talk that goes into quite a bit of detail as to the intended look of the film, casting the picture, the locations, the effects, the studio’s involvement and much more. Also carried over from older releases is the thirty-nine-minute The Revamping Of Dracula featurette. This piece from 2004 is quite interesting as it contains comments from John Badham, Frank Langella, Walter Mirisch, Kate Nelligan and John Williams about their work on the film, what it was like on set, how they tried to do something a little bit different with this revamp and quite a bit more.

    Disc Two:

    Aside from the intro from Badham, disc two also includes a new audio commentary from film historian/filmmaker Constantine Nasr. All of the recent tracks from Nasr that have popped up on various releases over the last year or two have been very good and this one is no exception. He offers up plenty of interesting facts and trivia about the film as it plays out, sometimes offering a scene specific talk, but he also gives us plenty of his own thoughts on the film, about what he feels works well, what makes the picture effective and things like that. It’s well-informed and delivered in a very listenable tone.

    Rounding out the extras on the second disc is a theatrical trailer, a few radio spots and a still gallery.

    Both discs include menus and chapter selection is provided for the feature. Shout! Factory includes some slick reversible cover art as well as a slipcover (for the first pressing only).

    Dracula – The Final Word:

    John Badham’s take on Dracula is a good one. The movie has plenty of atmosphere, strong performances and impressive production values. It tells a classic story with style and builds good tension along the way. Shout! Factory’s two-disc presentation is a nice set. The transfer on the more colorful version is less than perfect but the desaturated transfer is very strong and they’ve once again gone above and beyond with the extra features on this release. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Dracula Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      This was the first film version of Dracula I saw, I remember thinking Langella was pretty suave.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -