Saturday, October 17, 2009
Scott gets a double dose of Spanish Vampires!
“Buenas noches, senor Renfield.”
In the early days of sound or “talkies”, Hollywood studios would sometimes produce alternate foreign language versions of their films. Shooting at night with identical scripts, these alternate versions would be filmed simultaneously with the regular versions utilizing the same sets. Such is the case with the 1931 Spanish language version of DRACULA.
The Spanish version of DRACULA will now and forever be compared to the Lugosi version. When it comes to DRACULA, Lugosi is the man. The role is his. I love Christopher Lee’s interpretation of the character, but even he wore the same ring as Lugosi in tribute to his performance. So poor Carlos Villarias as Count Dracula has some big shoes to fill. I think he does an admiral job considering. While I find his performance a little bug eyed, it’s been growing on me over the years. And Pablo Alvartz Rubio gives his all in the role of Renfield. But the Spanish version’s real strength lies is atmosphere. From a technical standpoint, the Spanish version of DRACULA is vastly superior to the Lugosi version. This is probably due to the fact that the Spanish crew would look at the dailies of the English version then attempt to top it by coming up with better camera angles and lighting. This gives the film a wonderful gothic look. The Spanish version is also a little more risqué when it comes to the ladies wardrobe. Necklines tend to plunge a little deeper.
The Spanish version of DRACULA runs 104 minutes in length, nearly a half hour longer than the Lugosi version! It stars Carlos Villarias, Lupita Tovar, Pablo Alvarez and Eduardo Arozamena. It was directed by George Melford, who never understood or spoke Spanish!
Sadly, universal has kind of fumbled the ball when it comes to this movie. It has been released on DVD three times, always with the Lugosi version. First with the Classic Monster Collection DVD in 1999, then with the Legacy Collection DVD in 2004 and finally the 75th Anniversary Edition DVD set in 2006. The 1999 version gets the Spanish version right. The disc offers straight English subtitles. The subsequent releases only offer the film via closed caption subtitles. That means you have to sit through descriptions like “door closing”, “footsteps”, ECT. The 2004 edition, however, offers more bonus films that include DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, SON OF DRACULA and HOUSE OF DRACULA. The 2006 edition offers a better print of the Lugosi version. I’ve personally have stuck with the 1999 version. Perhaps if these films ever hit blu-ray, they will get this right! Overall, the Spanish DRACULA looks great on DVD with the exception of a “lost” reel that was discovered in Cuba of all places! This reel encompasses Renfield’s seduction by Dracula’s brides through Dracula’s first arrival in England.
Next up I screened 1957’s EL VAMPIRO (THE VAMPIRE). Made in Mexico, this is the perfect film to follow the Spanish DRACULA, perhaps even more so than the Lugosi’s DRACULA. Not only because of the language but for just the pure gothic atmosphere.
Produced by Abel Salazar, who also plays the character of Dr. Enrique, this film was an attempt to mimic the success that Universal studios had with its Monster cycle of the 1930’s. Salazar succeeded and was able to bankroll his own studio.
The pull no punches music score of Gustavo C. Carrion is also a huge asset to the production. He’s not afraid to “hit you over the head” with some music cues. I found his score refreshing. Too many composers nowadays tend to hide in the sound mix. I like my films scores front and center.
While a little weak in story structure, EL VAMPIRO is still a blast to watch. The film is like a bridge between Universal and Hammer horror. It’s also reportedly the first film in which a vampire bares his fangs but I find that hard to believe.
EL VAMPIRO features Abel Salazar, Aridne Welter, Carmen Montejo (as the creepy but memorable Eloisa) and German Robles as Count Karol de Lavud. The DVD from Casa Negra also features the films sequel EL ATAUD DEL VAMPIRO (THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN). Both films look great with EL VAMPIRO showing a bit of film damage early on. The 2 disc affair is housed nicely and each film is presented full frame 1:33. While this is not the full aspect ratio of the films, it doesn’t hinder the enjoyment of these films severely. The DVD package does come with some nice extras, so overall it’s a nice package.
This is a double feature that I highly recommend! And remember, watch our for those Spanish eyes!