The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Classic 'Dracula' returns
with new soundtrack


March 30, 2000
By Franklin Harris

You can drive stakes into their hearts, shoot them with silver bullets or burn them alive, but they keep coming back. Old monsters don't die because they're dead already.

"Bela Lugosi's dead/Undead, undead, undead."

Ironically, they've never looked livelier.

Universal Studios has re-released the best of its classic horror films as the Classic Monster Collection. The eight-film set is available on both VHS and DVD and includes "Dracula," "Frankenstein," "The Bride of Frankenstein," "The Mummy," "The Wolf Man," "Phantom of the Opera," "The Invisible Man," and "The Creature From the Black Lagoon."

All are remastered for the best video and sound quality, and all come in new packaging that features each film's original movie-poster art.

The three best and best-known of the series, of course, are Tod Browning's "Dracula," starring Bela Lugosi, and James Whale's two "Frankenstein" films, both featuring Boris Karloff as The Monster.

As with the other films in the collection, the DVD versions of all three are loaded with the extras most film aficionados are coming to demand. Film historian David J. Skal provides a commentary track for "Dracula," while fellow historians Paul M. Jensen and Rudy Behlmer do the same for "The Bride of Frankenstein" and "Frankenstein," respectively. Also, all three feature new making-of documentary footage and theatrical trailers.

"Dracula," however, has two special extras.

The first is an alternate soundtrack featuring newly composed music by Philip Glass, performed by the Kronos Quartet.

Other films Glass has scored include "The Truman Show," "Mishima," and "The Thin Blue Line."

When the talkies first came along, they usually had sparse musical soundtracks. If a scene was accompanied by music, it was because someone was actually playing music in the scene itself. The 1931 version of "Dracula" is a good example of this. Apart from the music that plays during the opening credits, the only music in the film occurs during a scene at an opera.

The version of "Dracula" with the new soundtrack is the only one available on the new VHS release, but the DVD gives viewers the option of either the new soundtrack or the old.

While Glass' score fits the movie well, it is, unfortunately, distracting. At times it threatens to drown out the dialog. The score is best listened to in isolation, and, conveniently, it is available on CD from Nonesuch Records.

The other extra is the Spanish-language version of "Dracula."

Shot at the same time as Browning's version, using the same sets and the same shooting script, the Spanish-language version, directed by George Melford and Erique Tovar Avalos, is actually superior to the English-language version in every way but one.

Browning reigned in his cinematographer, Karl Freund, who had worked on such German silent classics as "The Golem" and "Metropolis," and the result is a static film with almost no camera movement. By contrast, the Spanish-language version is far more daring, starting with a vastly improved version of Dracula's appearance at the top of the staircase early in the film.

Which brings us to the one area where Browning's version is better.

As effective a Dracula as Carlos Villarķas is -- and he certainly has a creepiness about him at times -- he cannot approach Lugosi.

Without Lugosi's commanding persona, halting delivery and unforgettable glare, "Dracula" would be a footnote in film history.

Universal has done horror fans a great service by releasing such strong editions of its classic films. If only Warner Bros., which owns the rights to many of the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" films from the 1950s, would do the same.

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