Dracula Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Badham
Written by W.D. Richter (novel by Bram Stoker, play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston)
1979, 109 minutes, Rated R
Released on November 26th, 2019
Frank Langella as Count Dracula
Laurence Olivier as Prof. Abraham Van Helsing
Donald Pleasence as Dr. Jack Seward
Kate Nelligan as Lucy Seward
Trevor Eve as Jonathan Harker
Jan Francis as Mina Van Helsing
Tony Haygarth as Renfield
We all know the legend of the most famous vampire, Dracula, the mysterious Transylvanian Count who lives in a remote castle and sleeps in a coffin. He is a monster who drinks the blood of his victims and can turn into a bat or a wolf. The only way to repel him is with a crucifix or garlic and he can be killed by sunlight or a stake through the heart. His story has been told in books and movies the world over for more than a century, each version adding to the mythology and building on what came before. But what if there is something more to this diabolical figure, a sadness and yearning to be loved and accepted?
In Dracula (1979), the titular character is presented as a tragic romantic figure, an anti-hero coping with his curse of immortality and isolation. Based on Bram Stoker’s acclaimed novel and in part the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, this version contains many familiar elements but updates the story for a new generation. Written for the screen by W.D. Richter (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978), and directed by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever), this is the most lavish production of the story to date. The film was shot by famed cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (Star Wars) and features a dramatic score by composer John Williams (Jaws).
The script forgoes the material set in Transylvania, instead opting to begin with Dracula’s arrival in England. There we meet familiar characters, including Jonathan Harker and his fianceé Lucy; her father Dr. Seward who runs the local asylum; and Lucy’s dearest friend Mina. The Count charms his way into their company and is taken by Lucy’s strength and beauty. He claims Mina as his latest victim, which results in her father, Prof. Van Helsing, coming to England to grieve and exact revenge upon the vampire. It is the budding relationship with Lucy that serves as the heart of the tale as Dracula is given a chance to be happy.
Frank Langella (Brainscan) reprises the role of Dracula, which he previously played on Broadway to rave reviews. He is a dashingly handsome and physically imposing figure who brings a gravitas to the character and plays the material with deadly seriousness. The iconic Laurence Olivier (Marathon Man) stars as Van Helsing, lending the picture some impressive street cred while delivering yet another commanding performance. Langella holds his own against the legend and the two share some great moments together as rivals. Donald Pleasance (Prince of Darkness) brings a touch of comic relief as Dr. Seward, a man in over his head but determined to help where possible. Leading lady Kate Nelligan (Eye of the Needle) is captivating as Lucy and her scenes with Langella are some of the best in the picture.
Dracula features some truly amazing sets and costumes as well as top-notch special effects. Universal Pictures completely supported this film with a proper budget, a lengthy shooting schedule and a high-profile cast. John Badham’s film is atmospheric and occasionally intense with some truly impressive set pieces. The movie did well upon release, but had some of its thunder stolen by the comedic Love at First Bite with George Hamilton as Dracula opening only a few months earlier. The character would return to his Gothic romantic depiction in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee cast a long shadow when it comes to the infamous vampire, but Langella makes it his own with a performance you won’t want to miss.
Video and Audio:
When Dracula debuted on Laser Disc in the early ‘90s, director John Badham made the controversial decision to drain the color from the 2.35:1 picture for a desaturated nearly black and white image. This transfer was carried over to the later DVD release, with the original palette only available on VHS. For the Blu-ray, Scream Factory restores the full-color theatrical version with a 4K scan of the original camera negative while offering the alternate desaturated edition on a separate disc giving audiences the option to see it both ways.
The original stereo audio is presented in a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is more than satisfying. Music and sound effects are well-balanced without stepping on dialogue levels, which remain clear and distinct.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Disc 1: Desaturated Color Timing
There is a brief introduction (1 minute) to the film in which the director explains his decision to drain the color from the image, but encourages viewers to experience both presentations.
Director John Badham provides a laid-back and informative audio commentary track wherein he praises the actors’ performances, the set design, cinematography and score. There are several interesting production stories, including working with special effects and the effort to make the love scene the central set piece of the story.
Badham returns in the 2019 interview King of my Kind (32 minutes) and remembers seeing Langella in the play and being drawn to the material. He talks about shooting in England and the stellar performances from Langella and Olivier. He applauds the visual style of the picture, particularly the set design and cinematography and shares many stories from the shoot.
In What Sad Music (33 minutes), screenwriter W.D. Richter details his writing process and the challenge of adapting the novel into something fresh with the decision to make Dracula a tragic romantic figure. He shares fond memories of his time on set and relays stories about Langella and Olivier and working with Badham.
John Bloom details his editing style in an untitled interview (21 minutes) and shares his memories of the production. He has kind words for the Badham and the cast but is not a fan of John Williams’ score.
Assistant director Anthony Waye tells many production stories in a new interview (16 minutes); topics include location scouting, his memories of the cast and the decision to replace the cinematographer early in the shoot.
Production manager Hugh Harlow appears in an untitled interview (22 minutes) in which he discusses the logistics of shooting on location. He also talks about working with the producers and the shakeup of the camera crew.
Dracula’s Guest (6 minutes) is a segment with camera assistant Jim Alloway, who was part of the original crew who left during production. He remembers the hassle of receiving film roles of varying lengths from Kodak and the problems it caused on set.
In another interview, also titled Dracula’s Guest (5 minutes), hair stylist Colin Jamison shares stories of Langella, Nelligan and Olivier and their various wigs.
Make-up artist Robb King appears in an untitled interview (25 minutes) and stresses the importance of teamwork on set and recognizes Badham’s appreciation of the crew. He reflects on the stylized look of Dracula as a beautiful figure compared to the look of the classic Universal monsters.
The Revamping of Dracula (39 minutes) is a vintage featurette that first appeared on the DVD release and includes reflections from Frank Langella, John Badham, producer Walter Mirisch and writer W.D. Richter. It is nice hearing from Langella and his thoughts on the character.
Disc 2: Original Theatrical Color Timing
The same director’s introduction from disc 1 appears on this disc.
Film historian Constantine Nasr is excited to provide an audio commentary for the full-color version of the picture and delivers an impressive amount of information without fail. He marvels at the level of studio support when it comes to budget and the scope of the production. There is much love for Langella and the set design and cinematography as well as Badham’s collaborative directing style. He reveals information regarding Olivier’s failing health and analyzes how this production fits into the long history of Dracula films.
The theatrical trailer is paired with three radio spots.
A still gallery slideshow (8 minutes) includes both color and black-and-white publicity photos, behind-the-scenes images, lobby cards and international poster art.
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