As years pass, Universal’s concurrently shot Spanish Dracula has become a critical darling in horror circles. Coming in at 30-minutes longer than its English language counterpart, the wholly unique, historical cinema concept is rife with unique tricks, styles, and flair. Non-Spanish speaking director George Melford is a little wilder, with eerie zooms and better angles, this despite sharing exact sets.
Is it better? Probably. It is easy to pick the piece apart for many of the same concerns. Dracula often languishes, and those extra scenes are redundant. Renfield (Pablo Alvarez Rubio) breaks from his psychiatric ward confinement via a bow in the steel bars. Via dialogue, this information is told, but the film takes time prior to craft a small scene around the discovery of the escape. It adds nothing.
Dracula here is a little more vicious. Instead of cut-aways, Dracula (Carlo Villaias) covers his victims with a cape and the camera holds as he feeds. The effect is less jarring than a fade to black, and Villaias’ wild eyes are more indicative of a crazed, hungry creature. His victims look dazed and stunned, completely powerless in comparison to the US mix. There, they sort of limp around.
Lupita Tovar is more energetic as a love interest under Dracula’s spell. Both weary and full of life, her transition is freeing while her wardrobe exposes. Dracula has little fear of regulations, and for 1931, the film is often brazen with regards to cleavage. Tovar’s Eva almost seems to be offering herself the further she enters the trance.
What’s missing is what the film cannot have: Lugosi. Villaias, for his mannerisms and spirit for the role, doesn’t have the look. He comes across as clean cut, not unnerving. He is an odd gentleman, while Lugosi can frighten with craggly fingers. No amount of motion with the camera can recover that loss. Spanish Dracula is often more methodical than its instantly comparable counterpart, and that benefits the film certainly. It allows for additional mood. That still doesn’t create the aura of Lugosi.
For years, a 10-minute chunk of this film was lost, a critical section that shows Dracula’s first meeting with his soon-to-be-neighbor at a concert, Renfield’s first drop into insanity, and the first on-screen victim. A print was discovered in Cuba that has served as a splicing point, and thus the pieces now fit, although not without an obvious drop in quality.
Universal has treated this version right, even if it is second billing on the disc with the English edition. It has been given enormous space, and room to breathe as to make compression invisible. The grain structure is spikey but clean, and resolution is outstanding. Sharpness, with focus at a peak, is revelatory. Set design has never been this easy to appreciate.
With minor specks of damage (hidden well in the midst of the grain structure) and a minor handful of light scratches running down the right side of the frame, damage has been dealt with via the utmost care. The source seems close to the camera negative, and details will prove striking, even to those with viewing experience. A handful of dropped frames are likely unavoidable, especially when you are dealing with a film this vintage that had lapses in content through the years.
What of the Cuban content? It is a mess. Clearly, it comes from a negative miles away from the camera, probably a release print. Damage is abhorrent, and a strobing effect is further distraction. Add in a little judder and that sequence is an eye sore, and it’s doubtful clean-up would do much other than reveal how murky the remaining footage is. Maybe the day will come when the lost footage will be properly located in Universal’s vaults.
Universal techs “borrowed” the opening Swan Lake theme from this version so it could replaced a wobbly piece from the English credits. That should indicate the condition of this mix. Static is almost entirely absent, even in the presence of silence. Dracula’s first casket rise carries almost no age artifacts of note. That is a stunning piece of preservation and clean-up.
This mono effort will capture the dialogue with purity. A bit of patina only adds to the authenticity, and is expected. The issue? That found footage, which pushes high on the treble and peaks with a lack of clarity. At the least, there is no music within those scenes, only audible, legible dialogue, but again, it is a significant loss of fidelity. That said, it makes for a simple comparison in a debate over the quality of mono efforts. One is in its prime, the next is not. Nice showcase.
The only extra related exclusively to the Spanish version is a four-minute introduction from lead actress Tover Kohner. She speaks on a handful of topics with an appreciation for the end product.
Note: This review is based on the UK version of the disc. Contents (video, audio, extras) aside from the menus, are identical to the US release.