Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Vampire > Literature > Thriller > Countess Dracula (1971/Hammer/Synapse Blu-ray w/DVD)/Dan Curtis' Dracula (1973/MPI Blu-ray)

Countess Dracula (1971/Hammer/Synapse Blu-ray w/DVD)/Dan Curtis' Dracula (1973/MPI Blu-ray)

Picture: B- & C/B- Sound: B- & C+/C+ Extras: B-/C+ Films: B-

The early 1970s saw a boom of all kinds of vampire films from comedies (Old Dracula, parts of Blacula) to darker, bloodier visions with sex and mortality front and center (Paul Morrissey's Blood For Dracula, The Velvet Vampire) and even the rise of a classic children's programming character (The Count from Sesame Street) and humorous animated shows (Groovie Goolies). That is just the beginning of what a golden period it was for such storytelling and their characters.

The following two films happen to be arriving at the same time on Blu-ray and are very consistent, ambitious entries that all serious fans need to see once. Even when they don't always work, they are key works in vampire cinema.

Peter Sasdy's Countess Dracula (1971) is a latter Hammer Studios film with the great Ingrid Pitt in the title role, but instead of being the wife of the infamous Count himself, she is (based on another real life legend) about an old woman who stays alive by using the blood of young women to erase decades off of her decayed body. Returning to her castle home, she starts to engage with a younger soldier man (Sandor Eles) and only one man (Nigel Green) knows her dark secret.

Director Sasdy handles it with convincing pacing, has a nice supporting cast that also includes Peter Jeffrey, Maurice Denham and Leslie Anne-Down, costumes, sets and designs are period solid and this remains the best filmed version of the telling of this tale. I had not seen it in a long time and his is the cut with more blood and nudity than any other cut as intended. Synapse has issued the film in the version intended and I hope it finally gets the better respect it deserves in its tale of eternal youth gone awry. In some ways, it seems more relevant than ever.

Extras include edited TV Cut footage, Outtakes, Still Gallery, archival all-audio Ingrid Pitt interview, Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life Of Ingrid Pitt featurette and a great feature length audio commentary track with Pitt, Sasdy, screenwriter Jeremy Paul and author Jonathan Sothcott.

Dan Curtis' Dracula (1973) is a rare film like Spielberg's Duel that was a TV movie in some markets and theatrical film release in other countries. Both films are US telefilms that hit theaters in Europe. Curtis hired Jack Palance as he legendary Count which has aspects that work, but not overall for everyone. It does get us away from the Lugosi analog and mirrors Christopher Lee, but in a way that might seem too undistinguished in an even-then long line of actor's playing the role. It might even be more of a stretch as Curtis and writer Richard Matheson have the title character in a romance decades before Coppola did the same in his film version that I also had issues with.

Palance is just fine in the role and deserves points for trying to do something different, which is a plus for this film, joined by Murray Brown (Vampyres (1974)) as Jonathan Harker, Fiona Lewis (De Palma's The Fury) as Lucy, Simon Ward as Arthur, Pamela Brown as Mrs. Westenra, Penelope Horner as Mina, Nigel Davenport as Van Helsing and Sarah Douglas as one of Drac's wives. The love of the book and mythology is as strong as Countess Dracula and here too by people who understand, grasp and care about the material and the audience.

However, here more so than with Countess Dracula, even this much talent cannot avoid repeating things from past adaptations and Curtis/Matheson did this too closely to the original Night Stalker telefilm, so they repeat things (a problem with The Norliss Tapes (reviewed elsewhere on this site) as well) that hold this adaption back. Still, it is a key retelling of the Bram Stoker book and adds that romance aspect usually not in adaptations and not in the book. That makes it at least a curio, but fans are bound to find much more in it.

Extras include Outtakes, TV Cuts, Original European Theatrical Trailer and separate on camera interviews with Palance and Curtis.

The 1080p 1.66 X 1 digital High Definition image on Countess has a really decent transfer of the film. The anamorphically enhanced DVD version is softer than I would have liked and the HD master being used for both versions has some minor issues with the source material, but I strongly believe Director of Photography Kenneth Talbot, B.S.C. (Hands Of The Ripper, Nothing But The Night, Born Free) was rightly pushing for a more naturalistic version of the stylized Hammer look and succeeds enough here.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Curtis was originally shot 1.33 X 1 for its U.S. TV broadcasts, but definitely was done soft matte so it could be shown in theaters as it was. Early Dan Curtis horror telefilms were actually shot on color videotape following the success of his Dark Shadows TV series, but he started using 35mm film on the likes of Night Stalker (1972) and Night Strangler (1973, both reviewed elsewhere on this site) and stayed with 35mm here. Director of Photography Oswald Morris, B.S.C. (The Man With The Golden Gun, The Odessa File, Fragment Of Fear, Kubrick's Lolita) gives the film just enough style and atmosphere while also leaving it naturalistic, yet it also has some print flaws and minor issues that hold it back. I cannot imagine either film looking much better than they do on their respective Blu-rays.

Both Blu-rays offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes and Countess as a slight edge sounding just that much warmer, fuller and slightly more detailed, while Curtis sounds a little aged and compressed, so the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the Countess DVD is its equal.

- Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com