Blu-Ray Review: Dracula (1973, Dir, Dan Curtis)

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 I was born in ’69, coming into this world at the tail end of Dan Curtis’ Dark Shadows (1966-1971) series, but fear not Curtis still managed to remain in my life through out most of my childhood. And I don’t ever remember Dark Shadows being re-run during that time either; if it was I never knew it. As with most memories from those formative years despite having them they’re sometimes out of order, so for the sake of argument let’s say my first run in with Mr. Curtis was through his 1973 TV movie The Night Stalker.

I remember calling out, “There’s some movie on called The Night Stalker!” My Father comes running into the living room saying, “You’re not watching something called, The Night Walker!” His assumption being it was a movie about hookers. I said, “Night Stalker! It’s about vampires!”

“Oh,” he replies. “I thought you said, “Night Walker.”

Curtis’ Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975) series I kind of remember too, but only portions of certain episodes. It didn’t really resonate with me, though my brother loved it and has more memories of it than I do.

It was one summer from the late 70s or early 80s that I finally saw something related to Dark Shadows. Up till then I was only familiar with the series through my mother who told me she used to watch it before I was born. This particular summer afternoon I came across a movie called, House Of Dark Shadows (1970), in the TV guide. Back then titles were sometimes enough to get me to watch a movie, and a movie about a house full of dark shadows was catchy.

How strange, though, but aren’t all shadows dark?

That question rolled through my little head as I debated on whether I wanted to watch it or go outside and play.

I was stunned I was watching a horror movie about vampires that was interesting and not frightening. Seeing it late in the day might have helped. Had it been night, I’m not sure of my reaction.

So that day I became a fan of his first Dark Shadows movie, but the flick I equate most with Dan Curtis, outside of Kolchak and Barnabas Collins, is the 1978 TV movie, Curse Of The Black Widow.

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TV GUIDE AD, CIRCA 1978

It was that TV guide ad that made me want to see it so badly, unfortunately half way through the movie I was ushered to bed. So I told my grandmother who was watching to make sure she didn’t fall asleep because I wanted to know if that spider-woman in the movie looked exactly like she did in that ad.

The next morning my grandmother said she did.

It was years later, early 80s, perhaps, when Curse Of The Black Widow was aired again but this time under the alternate title, Love Trap. This time I was old enough to stay up and was consequently disappointed to see this woman change into just a giant spider, one that roared like Rodan even, which disappointed me even further.

In conclusion, my grandmother fell asleep, never saw the rest of the movie, and lied to me the next day. That flick, however, still remains a favorite of mine.

Curtis had is hand in a lot more TV movies back in the 70s (The Norliss Tapes, Burnt Offerings, Trilogy of Terror, The Night Strangler) and I ended up seeing all of them eventually. Trilogy Of Terror being another favorite and a memorable one in that I was unbearably tense throughout that segment where Karen Black takes on that crazy Zuni fetish doll. I remember my feet being all sweaty when it was over.

When it comes to Curtis’ version of Dracula I’m still surprised to this day that I never saw hide nor hair of it when I was a kid. I remember reading about it somewhere, most likely in one of the myriad movie monster books I got my hands on then, but I can’t ever recall a memory of it being re-run. Keep in mind I was 4 years old in 1973 during its debut.

I’ve never read Bram Stoker’s novel; tried to when Francis Ford Coppola’s version was coming out in 1992 but I couldn’t get past the antiquated language. I’m only familiar with Stoker’s character through John Badham’s 1979 version, Hammer Films’ 1958 take and finally Coppola’s 1992 interpretation. Each one making changes to the narrative and characters.

I was dubious as to whether Jack Palance would make a convincing Dracula, since I don’t really equate him with that, but after finally see this movie last night, I thought he was pretty good at the portrayal.

In Curtis’ version Drac is smitten with Lucy not Mina when he first sees her photo after Harker brings it with him, and that same “reincarnation angle” is one Coppola used in 1992 but making Mina the subject of his long lost love.

Hammer’s version is the only one I’ve seen that has Harker turning into a vampire and Curtis does the same for his as it’s revealed at the end when they are skulking around the dungeon of Dracula’s castle and Harker attacks, revealing himself now to be a bloodsucker. I’m so used to seeing Harker and Van Helsing fighting the forces of evil and not Arthur Holmwood and Helsing as I saw in Curtis’ movie.

I didn’t know Fiona Lewis was in this either. I remember her mostly from Dead Kids (1981, aka Strange Behavior US title), Strange Invaders (1983) and Innerspace (1987).

Curtis’ Dracula does not turn into a bat or a wolf or even into mist, he just terrorizes in his Jack Palance human form. Not that I had any kind of problem with that, I was just expecting to see more “iconic vampire elements” in this movie.

MPI has released this movie a couple of time previously, first in 2000 as a double feature with the Curtis/Palance 1968 TV movie, The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, then in 2002 as part of The Dan Curtis Macabre Collection and finally as a standalone DVD in 2008. This is the first time MPI has released it on blu-ray and without seeing any of the previous transfers I can’t compare quality, but it looked good to me.

The previous releases of Dracula have all been in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio; IMDB states it’s 1.85:1 and this new blu-ray puts it in a 1.78:1 ratio—“transferred and restored in 2K high definition from the original 35mm camera negative.”

Audio options are English 2.0 lossless DTS-MA track, which sounded perfectly fine to me, and French and Spanish Dolby Digital mono tracks.

There are English SDH subtitles only.

The extras from the previous editions, including the trailer, have been ported over:

  • Interview With Jack Palance (3:51)—Palance dates the interview by saying it’s been 20 years since he did Dracula, which would put this interview at roughly 1993. He says it’s the only role he’s done that actually frightened him and was offered the role again years later but declined.
  • Interview With Producer/Director Dan Curtis (4:23)—Curtis reveals that Stoker’s novel had no romance elements in it whatsoever and the “reincarnation/lost love” angle he put into his version he lifted straight from his Dark Shadows series.

But MPI added some new ones for the blu:

  • Outtakes (6:28)—This is pretty much what it sounds like. Brief snippets of scenes not used set to music from the movie. There is no audio for them.
  • TV Cuts (3:41)—Comparisons between the theatrical version and the TV version when it comes to  scenes where blood is gushed from mouths. In 1973 it’s no surprise those staking scenes were filmed bloodless for TV consumption.

I wasn’t wowed by the movie, but I didn’t dislike it either. It still deem it a keeper and expect it’ll grow on me more in future viewings.

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