2.5 stars out of 4.
For years we’ve been told that the unearthed Spanish language version of Dracula was superior to the English language film that became a classic. Filmed at night while the main production slept, the Spanish film certainly avoids the main pitfalls of the other film’s staginess. Technically it’s brilliant and much more detailed with greater Expressionist influences. (The director was a great admirer of F.W. Murnau and even referenced direct moments from Nosferatu.) Some of the secondary characters have much better performances and aren’t so devoid of emotion.
The trouble is, where there’s all this brilliance there’s really no heart. Even with thirty minutes extra screentime the Spanish language version struggles to obtain one iota of the mystical charm of the Lugosi film. Say what you will about the flaws in the English version, but you simply cannot stop watching it. The Spanish version is much more like a later 1940’s era Universal horror film. Churned out, somewhat inventive, but lacking in all of the things that made people enjoy the films to begin with.
It can be said that some elements of the Spanish version should have been in the English version. The Lugosi film is devoid of anything truly interesting cinematically. The Spanish version has this in spades. But it just drags on and refuses to stop. Where the original uses it’s 75 minutes quickly and effectively, the 104 minute Spanish version is allowed to chew the fat a bit and as a result gets lazy in its exposition.
Adding to this is the re-usage of many shots from the English version. Anyone familiar with that film can easily spot them as they weren’t hidden at all. In fact, Bela Lugosi appears so many times in the Spanish version that he probably should have been credited as an actor!
The performances are quite good, surprisingly even that of Renfield. All of the performers are much more lively than their English counterparts and you can almost feel their racing heartbeats that must be unmistakable to Dracula. Unfortunately, the Count is laughable. Carlos Villarias plays Dracula in an almost parody of Lugosi’s performance. This is completely at odds with the seriousness of the film surrounding it and so the supposed Prince of Darkness never does anything to really earn one’s horror.
Today, the film plays as an odd experiment that does not work in every way. It is technically superior but laughable in other elements. Those who argue its superiority over the English language version are much like those who proclaim the earlier more linear 1945 edit of The Big Sleep the better version than the eventual 1946 theatrical release version. In that film, the original edit was a well made but rather lifeless gathering of scenes. The second version added some re-shoots which transplanted mere exposition into vibrant one liners between Bogart and Bacall. This badly needed infusion of life made the film the classic that it is. The same goes for Dracula.
The English language version is Mina, cold but still with blood flowing through her veins.
The Spanish version is contained on all three DVD releases of Dracula. (1999 single disc, 2004 Legacy Collection, 75th Anniversary 2 Disc) The 1999 and 2004 use the same interlaced transfer. The 75th Anniversary Disc is progressive and better looking but suffers from all sorts of digital manipulation just like the English transfer on the same set. Either of the first two discs are recommended, (Although you need the 1999 disc for the best version of the English language film.) The 75th Anniversary release is to be avoided for both films due to interference with the original compositions.