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The blood is the life
on March 3, 2007
Bram Stoker's vampire novel has been remade dozens of times, but perhaps the best adaptation is the classic Bela Lugosi version. And "Dracula - The Legacy Collection" collects not only Lugosi's movie and the Spanish version, but three inferior sequels that are still moderately entertaining -- basically a vampire-lover's delight.
A solicitor, Renfield (Dwight Frye), is travelling to Count Dracula's castle for a real estate deal, despite the locals freaking out and crossing themselves whenever Dracula's mentioned. He soon finds out why -- the Count (Lugosi) is a vampire, who enslaves a mad Renfield to his will. Soon after, a ship with a dead crew (and Renfield and Dracula in the hold) arrives in England.
Soon Dracula has moved into his new home, Carfax Abbey, and is insinuating himself with the Seward family -- and especially with pretty Lucy Westenra, who dies of blood loss and is reborn as a vampire. Only the intervention of the mysterious Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) can stop Dracula's attacks in London.
Then there's the Spanish-language one, which is virtually identical and was filmed on the exact same sets, during the hours when the English-language one was not being shot. It's incredibly good, and although it lacks that iconic intensity that Lugosi brought the English-language film, it's full of atmosphere and amazing acting.
And there's an immediate sequel, "Daughter of Dracula," about a beautiful Transylvanian vampire -- created by Dracula -- who comes to England seeking a way out of her eternal torment, now that her "father" has been permanently killed. But her sinister servant wants to keep her enslaved to her bloodlust.
Then there are two inferior sequels: "Son of Dracula," which is basically a whittled-down plot set in the early twentieth century, with an exceptionally wooden "Count Alucard" played by Lon Chaney Jr. He moves in next to an heiress's house, kills her father, and marries her, so it's up to her ex-boyfriend to save the day.
And finally there's "House of Dracula," in which the very popular Dr. Edelmen (Onslow Stevens) gets two requests for supernatural cures from some kind of miraculous mold: Count Dracula (John Carradine), and the wolfman Lawrence Talbot (Lon Cheney Jr). Talbot is suicidal over his transformations, and Dracula is secretly pursuing Edelman's vacuous nurse and driving the good doc insane. And they stumble across Frankenstein's monster too.
It's a mixed bag, vampirewise. The first two are among the best classic horror ever made, but the sequels deteriorate as they proceed -- "Daughter" is a very solid movie on its own, and "Son" is cliche and wooden. By "House," they've decided to just be silly and campy, and throw in as many fictional monsters as they can fit in.
The direction in the first three movies is quite solid, eerie and gothic, with plenty of memorably haunting moments ("I never drink... wine," Dracula says smilingly). Lots of cobwebbed castles, foggy London streets, bats and women drifting around in white dresses. The last two are strictly B-movie fare in terms of directorial skill, and some moments like the flaming mine are simply awful.
Lugosi is simply brilliant as Dracula. While not the stately, imposing figure that Stoker described, he has a blazing intensity that works just as well, as well as great charm. Carlos Villarías is not quite as good, but does an excellent and faithful job in the Spanish version. Carradine doesn't seem to be trying too hard, and Cheney just doesn't work as a vampire (though he's glorious as Talbot).
These actors are backed by casts that range from the sublime (creepy, bug-eating, cackling Frye) to the ridiculous (the dreamy-eyed, hammy nurses in "House"). Gloria Holden deserves special kudos for her tormented, bisexual vampiress torn between good and evil, and Edward Van Sloan as Dracula's nemesis, Van Helsing.
"Dracula - The Legacy Collection" has a dud and a campy monsterfest, but the first three movies are divinely dark horror/suspense movies. Definitely worth getting and enjoying.