Dracula Untold (DVD Review)

15 – 92mins – 2014


 

SON OF THE DRAGON

In my post-cinema analysis of last summer’s Tom Cruise-headlined reboot of The Mummy (read my review HERE), I openly acknowledged my enjoyment of the film in spite of its skew away from horror and more towards a supernatural action-adventure. However, it seems audiences (or a lack thereof) were more critical; just one entry in and Universal’s newly-rebranded Dark Universe is already in trouble. But The Mummy wasn’t always to be the opening chapter of this Monster Movie Expanded Universe…

… Keep Scuttling!

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CASTLEVANIA – Season One (Netflix Review)

All 4 episodes streaming from: Friday 7th July 2017

Written by: Warren Ellis

Based on the videogame franchise produced by: Konami

Directed by: Sam Deats


 

SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT

In 15th century Wallachia, an aggrieved Vlad Dracula Tepes (Graham The Hobbit McTavish) sets his night hordes loose on the provinces of Romania after the Church burns his scientist wife, Lisa (Emily Swallow), at the stake for witchcraft. Giving the civilians one year to leave, Dracula unleashes his demonic creatures on a defiant and sceptical people. The hell-beasts tear through the land city-by-city, night-by-night, and the Wallachian’s only chance of redemption comes in the form of a disgraced drunkard.

… Keep Scuttling!

Dracula’s Daughter (DVD Review)

PG – 64mins – 1936 – B&W


DADDY’S LITTLE GHOUL

With Van – sorry, Von – Helsing’s (Edward Van Sloan) return in a linking, but ultimately subsidiary, role from 1931’s iconic Dracula, and with screenwriter Garrett Fort again on script duty, you would think that Universal’s first vampire sequel was always planned this way, but it turns out that the film we ended up with was at least five drafts, two screenwriters, three directors and innumerable cast members away from the hit monster-movie studio’s original plans.

Ostensibly based on Dracula’s Guest, a “lost chapter” by Bram Stoker which was released as a short story long after his epistolary novel became a success, this money-motivated filmic follow-up (which weighs in at a featherweight one hour and four minutes, including opening title cards) actually bears precious little resemblance to the source material.

Following on directly from Bela Lugosi’s coffin-bound staking in Carfax Abbey, Dracula’s Daughter begins promisingly with a stoic Von Helsing being carted off to Scotland Yard by two bumbling policemen, who guard the murdered bodies of Drac (a wax bust to save Lugosi showing up for a lifeless cameo) and Renfield at the morgue.

Enter the mysterious Hungarian Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who mesmerises poor bobby Albert (Billy Bevan) so to steal away her cursed father’s corpse and purge it in flames, in the hope it will break the spell and release her to once more live among the living. Sadly, Holden never comes across as particularly evil or troubled, only distant (uninvested?). Her aide/inabler Sandor (Irving Pichel), however, is a far more menacing individual – even if his role is never really pinpointed.

When purging fails, Zaleska turns to psychiatric help to battle her unwelcome impulses from beyond the grave. She becomes convinced that pioneering doctor Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), who works in hypnosis, is the key to freeing her from her father’s bloodsucking will. By ‘coincidence’, Garth is already linked to Dracula’s case, having been hired by the incarcerated Von Helsing in lieu of a lawyer!!

Despite clocking in at little over an hour, there is still ample filler in the strained and stretched plot, with a Scotland shooting party, a news montage and prank phone calls from Garth’s infatuated assistant Jane (Marguerite Churchill) all bulking up an otherwise verbose and terror-free story which doesn’t really get going until Zaleska flees back to Transylvania with a kidnapped Jane with ten minutes to go.

With the Countess only daring to reveal so much of her backstory to Garth, progression stalls in sluggish repetitive talk of the occult. Fort drops in a couple of riffs on the original legend, particularly when the Countess attends a swanky London cocktail party and is offered a drink, however Holden’s plain delivery lacks any tonal variation and the line falls flat.

With justice, science and supernatural folklore coming together, the clashing of ideologies and ideas in this probing sequel are to be praised, however the lack of any real horror or action deprives this narrative of any pace, and I soon tired of all the talk. It’s a shame, as Dracula’s Daughter opened brightly, but too many changes and concessions ultimately lead to a truncated and unimpressive experience and I soon realised why this was left off of Universal’s 2012 blu-ray Monsters boxset.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Dracula – The Restored Version (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 74mins – 1931 – B&W


WALPURGIS NIGHT

Excluding a silent take on The Phantom of the Opera in 1925 (which would be remade two decades later to great Oscar success), Tod Browning’s gothic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s immortal bloodsucker is often credited as the first in a seemingly never-ending production line of popular monster movies from Universal Studios throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s. It also occupies the first disc in a digitally restored high-def. box set of eight of the studio’s greatest genre flicks called Universal Monsters – The Essential Collection (2012), which I have gluttonously devoured recently.

Donning the now instantly recognisable cape and perfecting a hauntingly hypnotic stare, screen legend Bela Lugosi curls his Hungarian tongue around the Stoker-inspired script (“I never drink… wine”), which was actually adapted from a 1927 Broadway stage play, rather than straight from the page. This explains some of the more curious alterations from the 1897 source material – most obviously, it is Renfield (Dwight Frye) we follow on his business trip to Transylvania instead of Jonathan Harker (David Manners) at the film’s opening.

Nevertheless, the terse narrative still gallops apace, and Frye’s transformation from sound and logical solicitor to insipid, crazy-eyed, fly-craving vampire’s “pet looney” is scene-stealing. Also impressive are the vast gothic sets and the fog-shrouded portrayal of London’s cobbled streets. Such pitch-perfect atmosphere more than makes up for the plastic “bats” on strings and armadillos (!!) scuttling about Dracula’s shadowy castle, as well as a near-complete absence of score (besides an aged hiss).

“There are far worse things awaiting man… than death.”

Screenwriter Garrett Fort’s dialogue is also remarkably colourful and descriptive, perhaps knowingly making up for the budgetary and special effects limitations of the time. “Rats, rats… millions of them!” we are told, but most of the movie magic takes place off-screen, leaving us with an aptly stagey production comprising of long, largely static shots.

For this reason, the newspaper headline inserts upon the seafaring Demeter’s Vesta’s crash-landing on British shores impressed me by varying the delivery of exposition in a very postmodern manner. However, the curt and tension-less conclusion left me cold and craving a more satisfying resolution, reminded me how few classic films employed epilogues in their sprint for completion.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars