**** Out of 5
Release Date- April 24th, 1931
Running Time- 104-Minutes
Screenplay- B. Fernandez Cue
Director- George Melford
Starring- Carlos Villar, Lupita Tovar, Edwardo Arozamena, Barry Newton, Pablo Alvarez Rubio
The Spanish version of Dracula was shot at the same time and used the same exact sets as the English version and was released a couple of months after the English version. For quite sometime the Spanish version was quite rare, but now is easily found on DVD and Blu-ray releases of the English version. There are people who consider this version to be better than that of the Bela Lugosi version and I can actually see why and in many ways I like this film almost as much. From a technical standpoint I would actually favor this film and despite using the same sets the production values are a little stronger here and there is also a little more camera movement however what gives the English version the edge in my opinion is this one just doesn’t have the eerie feel Tod Browning created in the English version. For the most part the films are identical, but they are also quite different as the English version runs at 75-minutes and this one runs at 104, which is quite rare for horror pictures of the time. The good portion of horror flicks ran around 60-minutes with many not running much longer than 75-minutes, but the Spanish version of Dracula clocks in at 104-minutes and for the most part the film is very well paced.
From a technical standpoint I think the Spanish version of Dracula is the better film and despite using the same sets as the English version the production values are a little stronger and the one knock on the English version, which I guess is fair is that the production feels more like a stage play rather than a film and while I agree for the most part as it does at times feel like a play the Spanish version at least to me doesn’t really feel that way with a couple of scenes that have a play like feel. What gives the English version the edge is this one lacks the eerie feel of the English version. Spanish Dracula does have a couple of eerie moments, but that dark mysterious and eerie atmosphere isn’t present like the English version.
The screenplay by B. Fernandez Cue is more or less the same as the English version with a few changes here and there and like the English version the script holds up very well. Characters are strong and the film well plotted and I suppose Garrett Fort who wrote the English version gets more of the credit here since Cue does a straight up adaption for the most part and while I wouldn’t say the changes are for the better, but they still work and at least offer up an interesting alternate version.
Director George Melford delivers a fun film that while lacks the eerie atmosphere of the English version is the better paced of the two. Spanish Dracula turned out far better than I expected and like I said despite running at 104-minutes compared to the usual 60-75-minutes (English version was 75-minutes) the film never feels overly long and while I guess it could have lost a couple of minutes, Melford does a better job at pacing the film and has a little more camera movement, but again what gives the English version the edge is the eerie atmosphere, which this version can lack at times. Overall Spanish Dracula is a well directed film and its fun to watch to see an alternate take on more or less the same exact material.
Carlos Villar does a nice job as Dracula, but he lacks the charm and creep factor Bela Lugosi had in the English version and while Villar can be a bit campy in spots I’d actually rate him as one of my favorite Dracula’s, but just don’t go in expecting anything like Lugosi and you won’t be let down since he’s far inferior when compared to Lugosi. Edwardo Arozamena as Van Helsing was solid, but far inferior to the Edward Van Sloan and at times unlike Van Sloan who played the role straight, Arozamena can be a tad bit campy in spots. What I find actually really interesting is in the English version Helen Chandler who played Mina is very covered up and Lupita Tovar who plays the same character only named Eva is dressed a little more sexy and does bring some sex appeal to the film.
When a film is underground a lot of times it gets more praise and sometimes I can’t help, but think its people trying to be different just like when a film or TV show is really popular all of a sudden every review is bashing it and you have to wonder if its so hated how can it be so successful? In the case of Spanish Dracula I can see again how some might prefer it, but I also can’t help, but think its people wanting to be different as well. Spanish Dracula is an excellent film and I really didn’t expect to enjoy it nearly as much as I did and while again from a technical standpoint this was the better film, but the English version is loaded with eerie atmosphere and thus gives it the edge, but this version comes highly recommended.
The Blu-ray release, which can be found as an extra on Dracula gets off to a great start as the print is stunning despite being at the time of its release 81-years old. Clarity is amazing and early on it looks just as good if not better than the other films on the Universal Monster Movie Collection however at the 19-minute mark there is a major drop in quality where it gets grainy and has a few lines going down the screen and a couple of scenes lose a lot of detail and borders VHS. The print damage is actually a little distracting and made more so by being such a drop in quality as the start again is stunning. Though with that said at the 29-minute mark the picture starts to stabilize again and the print damage isn’t as distracting and within a minute or 2 the print once again looks beautiful in clarity with some great detail. The HD quality from Universal deserves all the praise it gets since putting less work into it and due to the age of the film nobody would question it, but Universal gave this film the proper treatment and is a revelation.