Dracula (1979) arrives on 2-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray on November 26 from Scream Factory, including both color-timed versions of the film.
A Tale of Two Color Timings
John Badham’ gorgeous 1979 version of Dracula is possibly my favorite screen version of the tale. While it takes tremendous liberties with the novel by swapping, combining, and recontextualizing characters, it’s well paced, features a terrific cast, gets really creepy, and is absolutely beautiful.
In 1991 Badham, who had desired to shoot the film in black and white like Universal’s classic monsters, retooled the color timing for home video with a desaturated look, and that’s been the widely available version ever since.
Universal previously released the film on Blu-ray in 2014, featuring only Badham’s preferred version of the movie, but fans have clamored for the original version which screened in theaters. For their 2-Disc Collector’s Edition, Scream Factory has delivered on that request and included both versions of the film. Plus a bevy of interviews and extras, including the sole supplement from the prior release — so upgraders can retire that disc altogether.
In creating these comparisons I also captured and reviewed Universal’s 2014 Blu-ray, and found it to be essentially identical to the Director’s Edition disc, so those comparisons are not included.
Again, to be clear, Scream Factory’s edition includes both of these versions of the movie. This is not a product comparison, but rather simply an idea of how both artistic visions of the film look.
Let’s get the rougher parts out of the way first. The director’s restoration is a higher fidelity print, with superior clarity. The theatrical print is much softer by comparison.
The theatrical edition also exhibits a greater degree of print damage. In the example below, I specifically isolated this frame, trying to show this damage at its absolute worst. This chafey segment is concentrated toward the end of the movie, most noticeable for about a minute as it gradually diminishes. The rest the film does not look like this, as the majority of screenshots in this article demonstrate.
Or course, the more important factor for comparison is the color timing, which dominates the discussion of home video versions of the film.
There really is a quite a difference in the versions. Whereas Badham’s version is desaturated to nearly black and white, the theatrical edition feels positively bursting with color by comparison. This is my first time viewing this version of the film since catching it on TV as a child, and I’m floored by the richness of the palette: skin tones, landscapes, and backgrounds, all popping off the screen.
I can see why Badham likes his preferred version of the film; it’s elegant and does give the film a more classic feel.
Note the film has some wildly colorful sequences which were kept as is in the director’s edition; notably the psychadelic love scene — these scenes look pretty similar across the two editions.
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.