Just released on Blu-ray, Dan Curtis' Dracula features Academy Award-winner Jack Palance (City Slickers, Shane, Barabbas) in the title role of the Transylvanian count. Produced and directed by Dan Curtis of Dark Shadows fame, the film adds a more romantic spin to Bram Stoker's classic tale, with Dracula obsessed with a beautiful young woman who resembles his long-lost wife. The film was written by science-fiction and horror legend Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Box, Trilogy of Terror), who pared down Stoker's epistolary tale to a fast-moving, but still scary 98-minute film.
The always charismatic Palance is impressive as Dracula. The story starts as Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) travels to Hungary to meet his new employer at Castle Dracula. The Count seems at first just odd and secretive, but soon becomes a creature of menace. As the action shifts to London, we learn that the Count has an agenda — the beautiful Lucy Westenra (Fiona Lewis) appears to be the reincarnation of his long lost wife — and Dracula is determined to make her his own, forever. Lucy's fiancé Arthur Holmwood (Simon Ward, of Young Winston, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, and father of actress Sophie Ward) and her family are worried and perplexed by the usually vivacious Lucy's sudden weakness and newly formed habit of walking in her sleep. They call in Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport, of Chariots of Fire and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and father of actor Jack Davenport), who seems to know quite quickly what ailment Lucy is suffering from, but hesitates to share that knowledge with Arthur. Lucy's sudden, violent death forces the truth from Van Helsing — they are being plagued by a vampire, and Harker's fiancée Mina Murray (Penelope Horner) may be next.
Dracula was originally filmed in 35mm, and has been transferred and restored in 2K high-definition for this Blu-ray release. The picture looks good, for the most part, on a large-scale high-definition television screen. Scenes which feature a lot of dark and shadows (no pun intended) do tend to be on the murky side. Lighted interiors look great, as do exterior daytime locations. The Blu-ray has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish. Sound quality, originally mono and transferred to DTS-HD MA 2.0, is good, with dialogue and music both crisp and clear.
There are some nice extras included on the singles disc:
Interviews with Jack Palance ("I think this the only character that I ever played that frightened me ...") and Dan Curtis ("Jack was the best Dracula that ever was.")
Production out-takes, and cuts that were made for airing on television of some of the more gory scenes (the film was released theatrically in Europe). The film's romantic score also plays over the out-takes reel.
The original trailer
Jack Palance as Count Dracula
Fiona Lewis as Lucy, after she has spent some time with the Count
Considered one of the scarier versions of the tale, even co-star Nigel Davenport seemed put off by Palance's take on Dracula, "I was pretty frightened of that gentleman, because he was so bloody tall! He was six-foot-four and, as he wanted to look like Dracula, he had three-inch lifts in his shoes, so he was like six-foot-seven ..."
Dan Curtis' Dracula, although adapted from Stoker, made some changes to the origin story that turned up in subsequent vampire films. Dracula's search for his lost love was not only similar to Curtis' anti-hero Barnabas Collins love for Josette from Dark Shadows, but was also echoed in Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula and Gary Oldman's more romantic take on the Count. Coppola's Dracula also followed Curtis' version in taking Stoker's inspiration for the character, historical figure Vlad the Impaler, and making him and Dracula one and the same. With an emphasis on scares, and even (gasp) blood, it's great to re-welcome Dan Curtis' Dracula to the filmed pantheon of the infamous bloodthirsty Count.