Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Bid You Welcome

When out looking for Christmas presents recently I stumbled across a Dracula triple bill DVD in Asda of all places. This is one of the previously released Universal Collection, but here is was £5 ... so I snapped it up. The collection contains the original Universal Dracula with Bela Lugosi, the 1931 Spanish version of the same film, then two other films: Dracula's Daughter and House of Dracula. I'd not seen the latter three at all, and so we were set for a few evenings entertainment. In reverse order, House of Dracula is a curious beast. Not quite a horror film but also not quite a comedy - that would come later when Abbot and Costello got in on the scene. But the set-up is distinctly farcical. Count Dracula visits a Professor to try and find a 'cure' for his vampirism, and the Professor and his beautiful hunchbacked nurse set about helping him. Then Larry Talbot arrives seeking a cure for his lycanthropy, and, when it's not forthcoming, jumps off the cliff into the sea ... the Professor goes down the cliff and they find a cave wherein lies the Frankenstein monster ... as well as some sort of fungal spores which will cure Talbot. Dracula is however trying to trick the professor and passes some of his blood into the human, so the Professor turns, Jekyll and Hyde-like into a human/vampire hybrid ... Honestly if you submitted this as a plot for a film or book then you'd be laughed out of the office ... It's all very hokey, but all played straight, and this helps matters. The cast are all pretty good and make the most of the ludicruous script, and the whole thing is entertaining in its own way. Dracula's Daughter is pretty dire though. Lacking the real thing, the plot is about Dracula's daughter and her attempt to ressurect her father ... it's slow and tedious and has comic characters inserted for no good reason. Not the best thing I've ever seen by a long shot. Then we come to the two Draculas. I'd always been told that the Spanish version was superior to the American one, but I beg to differ. The Lugosi version is far far better, with more atmosphere and character. That Lugosi was very comfortable in the role of the count is obvious, and he takes it all very seriously, wheras in the Spanish version, Carlos Villarias is something of a ham, playing it much like generations would spoof the character later on - all expressions and raised cloak. Carlos Villarias as DraculaIt is interesting to compare the two versions though as they both used the same script and were filmed on the same sets - but with different actors and directors, the end results are quite different. I preferred Dracula's appearance from his coffin in the Spanish version - wreathed in smoke and mist, but the general settings are better in the American one. I think that perhaps the cinematography just has the edge in the Spanish, but Tod Browning is a better director with more interesting ideas as to how it should all come together ... it's a fascinating exercise and I'm aware of only one other film which has two versions, both from the same script - though in this case filmed on entirely different sets. This is Psycho, where the 1960 Hitchcock version is reportedly vastly superior to the colour 1998 Gus van Sant version.

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